Sunday, January 30, 2011

"A Little Night Music" - Loreto Style!

One aspect of life here that is lacking is live entertainment. With the exception of the roaming Mariachi bands that you can usually expect to encounter when you are dining in town, the opportunities for live music are few and far between. When you factor in language, the chance to hear any live entertainment in English is rare indeed.

Occasionally, a Hotel in town will have a music evening, but it is usually in Spanish, also I have previously written here about how I have occasionally volunteered to provide recorded music at events like the Paella competition or the Animalandia silent auction – but real live “home-grown” music is another matter. One of the reasons for this is the strict visa requirements that apply to anyone working for pay here in Mexico. Reasonably enough, the purpose of these restrictions is to protect the livelihoods of citizens working here and so it is difficult for foreigners to be “legal” playing music professionally. Therefore, it is important for an ex-pat musician to maintain a scrupulously amateur status, so as not to run into any issues with the local Immigration Office.

This situation is not unique to Loreto, several years ago I got to know an American in La Paz who was an excellent guitarist and played regularly at a local bar there. Living, as he was, on a “Retired Status” visa, he was ineligible to receive payment for any kind of work, including playing in the bar, which he did purely for the pleasure it gave him and the friends and acquaintances who came to listen. However, so as to avoid any appearance of compensation he was always careful to pay cash for any food or drink he consumed during the evenings he performed – he didn’t even run a tab – so as to avoid any perception of receiving payment, even in kind, from the Bar.

As a result several Homeowners here in Loreto Bay, who are also musicians, occasionally perform informal, in-casa concerts and I was fortunate enough to be invited to one such evening recently. The hosts were my friends and neighbours Boyd and Camille and they set up the date with a trio of guitarists who live in this community and enjoy playing together. Then they spread the word among a group of their acquaintances and people started arriving at their beautiful custom home in the early evening with a bottle of wine or whatever beverage they preferred. Since it was a cool evening there was a cosy fire burning in the living room fireplace, which is an uncommon feature of their home and helped to set a perfect mood for the evening.

When the three musicians, Rich, George and Steve arrived, they settled in at one end of the living room and the dozen or so guests found their places to sit comfortably around the rest of room and so the music began. And for the next 2 hours or so, the “tunes” flowed, one familiar folk, blues, or soft rock piece after another. Just a room full of friends and neighbours enjoying good company and good music together – it was almost a flashback to (dare I say) my “hootenanny” days!

But it also was a new experience in the context of my home here in Loreto. Sharing the enjoyment of music and socializing together with a group of people who now make up my neighbourhood and community. While the musicianship was very good (these guys had obviously been practicing!) the enjoyment was more than just the music itself – it was made that much better by sharing it with a group of friends.

In a strange way I was reminded of a sort of “pioneer” experience, a community gathering to enjoy making their own entertainment together with the pleasure coming from the company as much as the music itself. I couldn’t help thinking how unlikely it would have been for me to have been a part of this sort of an evening in my previous life. Not because I didn’t have musical friends, but perhaps because of the pace of life and how busy and therefore isolated we all were in that “other” world that I have largely left behind in Canada.

Having said that, I don’t want to leave the impression that we are starved for entertainment down here, in fact, with internet, satellite radio, and international television we have access to most of the options available to anyone in North America. One of the differences is TIME. Since this is mainly a community of people who don’t have to work for a living (present company excluded) there is the time to plan and ability to attend an informal get-together like this. There is also time for the musicians to practice together and prepare the amount of material that goes into such an evening.

And finally, because we all live within a comfortable walk of each other’s homes the physical layout of the community is conducive to getting together without the complications of traffic, parking and all the other things that seem to get in the way of this sort of impromptu evening elsewhere. While the ability to walk everywhere in the development encourages people to do just that, there are some unique characteristics to our travel here within Loreto Bay, particularly at night.

Most of the homes have exterior lights which provide enough illumination to navigate safely at night – but, due to some unfinished areas within the development, there are some “black holes” that can pose a real hazard for anyone without a flashlight. Therefore, it is not uncommon at nocturnal get-togethers like this for there to be quite an assortment of personal lighting equipment. Some people favour discrete penlights, others carry high powered industrial sized lights, I’ve even seen some people with the little head lamps favoured by back packers, among others, but my preference is a nice crank powered rechargeable avoiding the need for batteries which can be difficult to find here.

But, I digress! So eventually, as the repertoire was completed and the evening came to an end, people stretched their legs and visited together as the musicians packed up their instruments and talked about how this and that song had gone. Gradually we all took our leave, heading out into the now dark evening with our flashlights bouncing along ahead of us like super-sized Baja fire flies, and I for one, humming a tune I hadn’t heard in years.

Call it simple pleasures; friends and music, gathered together with a cozy fire on a cool evening, enjoying snacks, maybe a glass of wine and easy conversation, yes, simple pleasures but that is the true pleasure of “Living Loreto”!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tabor Canyon Hike - with Three Men and a Baby

Sometime before I began to write the Living Loreto Blog, I went on a memorable hike with some neighbors up the Tabor Canyon which drains a large section of the Sierra Gigante Mountains, and is accessible near the highway about 10 km south of the Loreto Bay development.  That trip has remained a fond memory from my "pre-Blog" days here, and so recently, when one of my friends and neighbors was telling me about his experience doing the same climb, I asked him if he would be interested in writing a Guest Blog about this adventure – and I’m happy to report he said yes! Enjoy the results that follow:

If you read Drew’s first blog of the season, from October last year, I am the “Grant” that successfully drove with Drew for 4 days from Calgary to Loreto. Drew on the other hand would probably say that he successfully drove the trip with me! Nevertheless, Drew and I got to know each other quite well on this trip and all as I can say - we have no secrets - we are “bros”!

So when he asked me to write a Guest Blog about my recent hike in the Tabor Canyon I was easily persuaded at the time.  However, on my return home, I have been procrastinating for several weeks, but, I have now finally put pen to paper (fingers to keys?) but I must admit that I write this with much sadness - looking out of my office window (back home in Edmonton) at 3 ft of snow and temperatures dipping to minus 25 Celsius - I miss my time in Loreto very much!

My story begins about a month ago, as my son Tony (age 19) and I bid goodbye to the women in our family (my wife Joanne, my daughter Robyn, and her friend Megan) after we had all spent two weeks together in Loreto this Christmas. Tony and I had the good fortune of being able to stay an extra week while the two younger girls had to return home to Edmonton and attend high school.

One of the highlights during this week of father son bonding was a hike we did through the Tabor Canyon which is located about a 15 minute drive south of Loreto Bay. I always wanted to do this hike (which is considered one of the areas most impressive natural features) but I had heard that you needed a guide to navigate the large boulders and steep slopes.

Fortunately I was able to retain my good friend Robert (a local Loreto Bay homeowner, self proclaimed boat captain and now, mountain guide) who had hiked the canyon on at least 4 occasions. After stocking up with water, we jumped in Robert’s vehicle in the early afternoon and drove to the trail head at the base of the canyon near Porto Escondido. To get to the start of the hike you turn off the highway opposite to the Porto Escondido turnoff and follow the concrete viaduct until you can’t drive any further.

After we parked at the base of the canyon we met Kurt from Seattle, an avid bird watcher who was camping at Porto Escondido and had heard about the hike from other campers.  Armed with binoculars and a bird identification book, Kurt asked if he could join our group, admitting he had no idea where he was going.  As it turned out, Kurt never looked at a single bird through his binoculars on the whole trip - he was too busy watching his feet on the rough trail ahead.

Before I get into the details of the hike – let me give you some background about the canyon. From my rough estimate, the canyon is about 3 miles long with an elevation increase of over 1000 ft.  Not for the faint of heart, the hike requires scrambling over huge boulders, pools of water and scaling steep ridges strewn with crumbling rock.  At the higher elevations there are beautiful views to the ocean across Puerto Escondido.  My guide, Robert, said that the round-trip typically takes about six hours including rest stops.

The first part of the hike was the easiest as we jumped from boulder to boulder maneuvering the canyon slopes and the huge dry granite cauldrons had been carved by the runoff from torrential downpours collected in the mountain ranges above. But as we progressed further up the canyon the hike became more challenging as the trail deteriorated and at several places disappeared or seemed to be impassable.

However, the greatest challenge was just beyond the half way point where we encountered a huge cluster of boulders (as big as buses) that seemed impenetrable. As the rookies on the climb, we were ready to turn back, but Robert assured us that there was indeed a route through this massive obstacle. Bird dogging on our behalf, Robert left the group and confidently looked for a passage.  A few minutes later we heard a faint hollow “here it is” that sounded like someone talking from the bottom of a well.  To our amazement he had found the route through a series of very tight, dark crevasses that we later named the “Birthing Canal” for reasons that will become clear.

When I say that the passage was tight, I mean it was very tight! In fact, I had to throw my pack ahead, suck in my gut and use a rope to get through the 30 ft long by 2 ft wide squeeze. After I had made it through what we had christened the “Canal” it was then the turn for our new companion Kurt, and finally, my son Tony.

Tony’s journey through the “Canal” is a story on its own. Being Tony’s father, I can tell you that, as a child he was somewhat claustrophobic and so you can understand that he was not too thrilled about squeezing through a 2 ft wide crack between boulders the size of a house. But, in the spirit of the adventure, and with the competitive pressure of the three men who had preceded him, he carried on with great courage.

For me, his proud (and concerned) Father, it was almost like watching his re-birth when he eventually popped his head out of the now named “Birth Canal” and said “I did it dad, my fears are gone”. It was at that moment that I knew we were now bonded by this experience - Three Men and a Baby!

But this passage only marked the half way point of our hike and from this point on you really get rewarded for your efforts. Every few minutes I paused to look back and immerse myself, in the beautiful views of the sea of Cortez which unfolded more dramatically below us, as we climbed steadily higher. The higher we climbed the narrower and steeper the canyon walls became and many of the eroded pools cut into the solid rock were now filled with water – some of them were even large enough to swim in.

Due to our late start, we ended up hiking about half of the upper leg, before the light started go, and we began the long climb back down. Robert said that the remainder of the hike went on for about another mile beyond where we stopped before you reached a 1000 ft headwall that marked the end of the trail. By the time we had returned to where we had parked the truck, the total hike had taken about three hours with the return trip taking about half the time of the climb up.

Now I have done a fair amount of hiking in my life but this was a spectacular experience! Here in Loreto’s glorious Tabor Canyon, surrounded by boulders the size of a bus, I felt as though I was not only in a different world, but in another era as well. After having owned my home in Loreto Bay since 2004, and have visited many places in the surrounding area, this was my most memorable experience so far! Therefore, I can encourage any of you who are lucky enough to visit this amazing part of the world – the Tabor Canyon is a must see – but, if you are planning to make the climb let me offer the following tips:

• Tell somebody where you are going and when you are expected back

• For your first trip have someone with experience guide you

• Wear good hiking shoes

• Bring lots of water

• Wear long pants

• Plan your hike for early in the day


Monday, January 17, 2011

Internet Access - and a visit to the future of Loreto!


My apologies to you all! I understand that for some of you, reading my new postings on Sundays has become somewhat of a ritual – and, of course, this past weekend there was no posting. Let me set the record straight, we lost our regular internet connection in Loreto Bay sometime late on Saturday and as I post this Monday afternoon (from a temporary source) it is still out until further notice.

While there have been brief interruptions in the past, we have never had this long a period without our connection to the outside world before. The immediate impact for me was not being able to post the following blog on Sunday morning, an obligation I take seriously and felt guilty about – much like a snow day that brought an unexpected holiday from school when I was growing up.

Being cut off also meant that there was no email or Skype access and not only could I not communicate with friends or family – but obviously I couldn’t tell them why I couldn’t contact them. As a result, after I reconciled my guilt, I enjoyed a relaxing day, reading in the sun on my terrace, going for a bike ride and doing things that I often don’t take the time for normally.

The events of the past weekend provide a glimpse of what life here would be like in a World without a Wide Web – and it would be a very different place indeed! In fact, I seriously doubt if many of the ex-pat population that have settled here in the past decade would have considered life in this remote and isolated place without easy and constant access to all the related services we have come to expect. You don’t appreciate what you have until you lose it – so I hope you all enjoy reading this and stop and think about how the internet affects us all!

Last week I mentioned that I had seen the new Villa del Palmar development in Ensenada Blanca while I was on the boat trip and I included a small picture taken from a distance. This week I was invited on a tour of the property so I am excited to bring you a much closer view of this impressive project.

The Villa Group is one of the most prestigious resort developers in Mexico with eight other properties established in other destinations, including three in Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of the Baja. They began work on their latest development near Loreto several years ago and now they are very close to completion of the first phase of this huge project.

The location of the Villa del Palmar resort is on a picturesque bay called Ensenada Blanca which is about 20 kilometres south of Loreto Bay on the main highway. Currently the access from the highway is by a well graded road that runs through an arroyo for several more kilometres and then passes through the small hamlet of Ligui before reaching the construction entrance gate to the project. However work is underway on a new paved road that will connect directly from the highway to the Guest main entrance.

The first phase of the project consists of three 7 story buildings with a total of 167 suites ranging in size from one to four bedrooms. These buildings are on two sides of a large pool courtyard area where most of the finishing work is currently underway in preparation for the opening of the resort early this year.

This pool area will be spectacular with 6 separate pools which, when viewed from above take the form of a sea turtle – appropriately enough, as these turtles are one of the protected species that calls the Marine Park surrounding Loreto home. Surrounding this pool area and covering several acres there will be terraced lounging areas, many sunken to provide shelter on the occasional windy days.

Eventually the project will have 5 restaurants providing a variety of cuisines and dining styles. A Rees Jones designed Golf Course will begin construction soon. The 30,000 sq. ft. Spa building is now under construction and will provide a wide range of services to the Guests on completion. In addition to this there will be a fitness facility, water sports from the adjacent beach, and all of the other amenities that are associated with a first class resort property.

Villa del Palmar will operate as a vacation resort and offer memberships in their time-share ownership program and eventually, in later phases of the project, there will also be full ownership Villas located on the Golf Course. In short, this is major project with long term impacts on Loreto and the surrounding areas, including Loreto Bay, where I live and work.

When the marketing campaign for the resort gets underway it will draw attention and interest in Loreto as a destination, as demonstrated by the New York Times article I mentioned last week that touted Loreto as #8 on a list of 41 places to visit in 2011. Increased interest will lead to demand, which in turn will eventually lead to increased airline passenger capacity on flights to and from Loreto.

Since the completion of the new airport over a year ago there has only been one flight from the US (LAX) into Loreto by Alaska Airlines. This Fall that flight went from 4 days a week to 7 days a week, a good sign, and we are optimistic that Alaska will increase the size of the planes they use on this route, but we are also looking forward to more airlines offering flights from more locations in the not too distant future. But the importance of opening a major resort like Villa del Palmar, backed by a company like the Villa Group, with a long and successful history in the resort vacation and time-share business, cannot be overestimated!  By creating the demand they will play a major role in the eventual growth and development of Loreto and the surrounding area.

When you add the impact of the yet-to-be-announced marketing plans of Homex and their continuation of the residential development adjacent to Loreto Bay, and the launching this spring of a major advertising campaign by the Mexican Government promoting the Baja in general, it is clear that the momentum is shifting to a positive direction and Loreto will benefit in many ways with increased business opportunities leading to improved employment for many townspeople.

It would be naive to think that this progress will not come at a cost – I can imagine someday looking back on the past couple of “quiet” years and remember them as “the good old days” when you could almost count on running into someone you know, just about anywhere you go! But I also am conscious of the fact that we ex-pats are guests here – and there are many Mexicans who have the right to call this place home, and who want the progress and development that will bring good jobs and opportunities here. This in turn will mean that they can stay in this beautiful place and raise their families and their offspring will not have to leave to find those opportunities elsewhere.

So after visiting the nearly completed resort, which will be the largest such development in Loreto’s history, and seeing beyond the construction and fancy rooms and amenities and looking into the future to a growing and thriving community, fuelled in part by this development, that is an exciting week to be Living Loreto!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Of Hockey - and Messing about in Boats!

For those of you who are not Hockey fans the context of this posting may not be relevant – but there was an International Under 20 Championship that has been going on since Christmas with the games being played in Buffalo NY. Canada’s team was not considered a favourite going into the competition (Canada had lost at the same tournament last year to the US) but after a few “soft” games to begin with, they had an impressive winning streak going and had beat the Americans in a semi-final to play the Russians for the Gold Medal.

I had a couple of Canadian friends over to watch the final game one evening this week and we were very impressed with the dominant way the Canadian’s controlled things for the first two periods and had an apparently commanding lead of 3 – 0 going into the final 20 minutes. Our cozy little Canadian Club was joined by an ex-pat American during the third period and, coincidentally, things began to change at about the halfway point of that period.

The Russians scored a goal – and another one 12 seconds later! It was now 3 – 2, with half the period to play! Another unanswered goal and it was now tied at 3, but not for long – next the unthinkable happened, 3 – 4 for Russia! As time wound down without Canada regaining the tie, spirits around the TV monitor were low and getting lower, until the game was put out of reach by Russia scoring their 5th unanswered goal and winning the Gold Medal!

Sad times in Mudville!

I am sure most of you reading this will appreciate what a tragedy such an upset is for born and bred Canucks! It is, after all, OUR GAME! And we had beaten this Russian team convincingly earlier in the competition. But to be beaten by FIVE unanswered goals in the last half of the final period – after leading 3 – 0 and dominating play for the first two periods – well it was a black day for Canadian Hockey fans!

So, to cheer us up, after such a devastating defeat, our American friend invited us out on his boat the next morning – no particular purpose or destination, just a half day cruise south of Loreto Bay with some vague plans to finish up with lunch. Needless to say, our spirits were lifted and the bitterness of the defeat we had just witnessed was soon washed away with the sweet anticipation of our outing the next morning. It was decided that we would meet at 8:00 am, as the forecast was for calm winds in the morning with clearing skies.

This was important because it has been very windy the past few days, with unusually overcast skies – for Loreto – so the report of calm winds were reason enough for the boat captain to celebrate with an outing. Our Captain Robert, who is a Loreto Bay Homeowner, is lucky enough to have secured a marina slip on the estuary at the south end of the development so we had a short trip to the boat after we all met the next morning. Soon the four of us were aboard his nice center cockpit fishing boat and with little delay we were motoring our way slowly through the mangrove bordered estuary that winds through part of the Golf Course and out to join the Sea of Cortez. 

(I am trying out my new video camera so click on the link below and watch an unedited 4 minute clip of the beginning of our trip.)

Now, although there was little or no wind, there were still some heavy swells from the previous windy conditions, once we were in the open water off Punta Nopolo at the exit from the estuary, but we started to head south and although we rocked and pitched about some, it was wonderful to be on the water! Before long, we saw the choppy water break in a few places about 100 – 200 yards off our port side, either dolphins or seals, or both, but other than various cruising seabirds that was the extent of wildlife on this trip.

While I settled in on the bench in front of the cockpit and enjoyed the sea air and breezes and shot these pictures of the most beautiful part of Loreto – the water – my companions Grant and Tony and Skipper Robert chatted easily in the back of the boat. Although they were all Homeowners, they were here on visits of less than a month and their conversation touched on how they felt about heading back north. Once again, I was reminded how happy I was to be able to call this place home, and not have to think about leaving again for a while.

We passed outside Puerto Escondido and continued south past Isle Danzante heading along the coast until we were approaching Ensenada Blanca, where the new Villa del Palmar Loreto is preparing to welcome it’s first guests early in the New Year. With 171 villa suites, this resort will soon become one of the most desirable resort destinations in the southern Baja, with restaurants, a large spa and several pools. Although we could see that there was still some heavy work being done on the grounds surrounding the tower complex, the buildings themselves looked substantially complete and very impressive!

It was time to head back and so we turned about and made our way back to Escondido where we entered the harbour and tied up at the dock, among some large yachts. After stretching our legs a bit on shore, we determined that the Porto Bello Restaurant would not be open for about another hour for lunch, so we boarded our boat again and after a circle tour of the bay, where hundreds of boats could moor in protected waters, resumed our trip back to Loreto Bay.

Heading north was considerably “bouncier” than the outbound trip had been, due in part to the fact we were going a lot faster on the return, possibly because there was going to be lunch at the other end. As we re-entered the estuary and slowed down in the calmer water we were following several sea kayaks and then we passed a group of golfers teeing off on their 16th hole which dog-legs around the estuary – what a special place this is, where so many activities can be happening at the same place and time!

After tying up again in the slip, we washed down the boat and left it ship-shape for it’s next adventure, then, after many thanks to our noble Skipper Robert, we headed off to Del Borracho, a favourite saloon/restaurant for a feed of El Guapos, (loose translation “The Whopper”) arguably one of the best burgers in the Baja

So a story that began with disappointment at the result of a sporting event played thousands of kilometres away and turned into a mornings boat trip along the beautiful coast of the Sea of Cortez, and then concluded with great food enjoyed in a friendly atmosphere – this is the stuff that makes Loreto Bay such a wonderful place to call home and why I love “Living Loreto”!

SPECIAL NOTE: For any of you who have been thinking about visiting Loreto some day and sampling the lifestyle that I write about here, there may be no better time to make that trip! Alaska Airlines has just announced a seat sale to their Mexican destinations including Loreto - $119 + taxes, one way from LAX! You can find out more at the following link:

Perhaps you too will be Living Loreto soon?  Still not convinced?  Well, this week no less than The New York Times listed Loreto as #8 on a list of 41 places to visit in 2011 - the exerpt is copied below:

 8. Loreto, Mexico

A beach hideaway with sport fishing gets a luxury resort.

Long known for sport fishing, Loreto, on Baja California Sur’s eastern coast, is poised to become one of Mexico’s next luxury destinations.

On Wednesday, Villa Group Resorts, one of Mexico’s largest privately owned hotel groups, will open a $60 million Villa del Palmar resort with three restaurants, a 20,000-square-foot turtle-shaped pool and 150 suites from $250 to $1,500 a night. The resort is the first phase of an 1,800-acre development, Danzante Ba. It will add seven resort hotels, restaurants and a Rees Jones golf course.

Loreto also has longstanding attractions to tout. It recently started a public relations campaign, with help from the Mexico Tourism Board, to highlight its colonial architecture, deserted beaches and marine life. Founded in 1697 by Jesuit missionaries, Loreto is home to the historic Mission of Our Lady Loreto, one of the first “California” missions. The baroque Mission of San Javier can be found nearby in the Sierra de la Giganta Mountains.

Visitors can take day trips to see prehistoric rock art in the Sierra de San Francisco region of Baja California between Loreto and Bahia de Los Angeles. Five islands that make up the Loreto Bay National Marine Park, which covers 797 square miles in the Sea of Cortez, offer extensive snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, whale-watching and scuba-diving opportunities. The area is home to more than 800 species of marine life, including six-foot-long Humboldt squid.


You can read the whole article here:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year - In Loreto!

Happy New Year!

I am writing this while I am enroute (at 35,000 ft.) back to Mexico after spending the last three weeks visiting family and friends in Calgary. While the Holiday season is a good time to renew the connections, and I have enjoyed spending time with these people who live so far away from Loreto, I am excited and happy to be on the return leg of my journey.

The most obvious thing I have missed over the three weeks I have been away is, of course, the weather. When I left from Cabo the temperature was about 30 degrees Celsius and when I arrived in Calgary it was minus 17 – almost a 50 degrees difference! Although the temperature has fluctuated during my stay (it got up to plus 4 on Christmas Day) it has been a sharp reminder of the sort of weather that I grew up with, although I was never one of those people who claimed to ENJOY the winters in Canada.

But even more than the temperature, I think the thing that struck me most was the amount of sunshine – or lack thereof - that northern latitudes receive at this, the darkest time of year. When the sun did shine it rose late, and set early, and it was so low on the southern horizon – bearing in mind that Calgary receives more sunny days a year than many other places in that latitude. It continued to be a shock throughout my visit, to experience this scarce amount of light on a daily basis, particularly after having adapted to the almost continuous 11 hours of sun I had been enjoying in Loreto. Although I was conscious of my southern tan fading almost on a daily basis, some people were still remarking right up to the end of my visit “How tanned you look!” – I guess these things are relative.

Another vivid impression from this trip is the adaptability of the human body and spirit. While there are certainly extremes of temperature and humidity in Mexico, particularly during the summer months, and even the potential for occasional extreme weather events like Tropical Storms or Hurricanes in the Fall. But when it’s minus 27 degrees with the wind chill, exposed skin can freeze in a matter of minutes and there is a real risk of death from hypothermia, if one is not careful and prepared for the Canadian winter. And yet, in spite of these potentially lethal conditions, most people go about their day to day activities with remarkably few changes from their routines at more temperate times of the year.

One of the things that struck me most, was that I was making these observations as someone who had spent 90% of my life living and working in Canada, and while I grumbled and complained my share about the weather during that time, I never really thought about it as being abnormal – it was just the way things were. (I’ve heard it said that the reason Canadians spend so much time talking about the weather is that we have SO MUCH of it to talk about!) But now that I spend more than half the year in one of the most ideal climates on the continent – how soon I forget! So now I watch with wonder as I see people, old and young, fit or frail, coping with ice and snow, slippery streets and hazardous walks, bundled in winter coats and boots – apparently oblivious to the extreme conditions that they take for granted at this time of year.

But my reactions were not all about the weather. One of the biggest adjustments was the pace and complications of life in a busy urban environment like Calgary (population 1 million). To begin with – traffic! Between weather related slowdowns, commuter rushes, and construction delays, I found that I could spend a significant part of the day either trying to get to somewhere, or get back, or find somewhere to park while I was there. This situation was of course exacerbated by the time of year and the incredible amount of time and effort that goes into Christmas shopping in the North American consumer society.

With acres of cars packed around huge indoor Malls, the first challenge is just to find a parking space within sight of where you intended to go! Once you are inside these temples of commerce you are then surrounded by all the people whose cars are parked outside – the oldest and youngest with their various wheeled vehicles in common – and everyone else carrying numerous bags and packages. The people seem oblivious to the intricate decorations and displays that surround them as they work their way through the steady flow of shoppers making headway to their next destination in search of even more to buy.

When I see this scene of consumerism gone overboard I can’t help but compare it to the quaint, by contrast, alternative in Loreto. Simply put, shopping in Loreto is a necessity, not an activity. People buy what they need with a minimum of fuss and bother – primarily because there isn’t all that much to buy, beyond the everyday necessities. Sure, the toy aisle of the local Pescador supermarket is stocked with a larger variety of simple and inexpensive gifts, and there are some temporary kiosks set up with seasonal decorations and you can even find the odd natural Christmas tree for sale. But Christmas in Loreto is about things other than THINGS – time spent with family and friends, the church, posadas or parties where traditions are not measured by how much you spend and who you buy for.

But, as I reflect on the past several weeks spent in a place far away – that I used to call home – I am struck by how demanding the pace and complexity of life is for those people I have left behind, and how simple life can be in a place like Loreto. How it is not uncommon for my Loretano friends and neighbours to comment on how they manage to keep “busy” day to day, even though they are hard pressed to explain, or sometimes even remember, how they spend their time. How accomplishing one, seemingly simple task, represents a satisfying achievement for the day. How a trip into town to buy a few groceries, or just a walk on the Golf Course with the dog is a reasonable agenda.

I will admit that sometimes I have found myself chaffing at the slow pace of life in Loreto, and the time that it can take to accomplish seemingly simple things. But, as I return home after my visit to “the Great White North” perhaps the biggest gift I am bringing back with me is a renewed appreciation of the simple things that can be easily overlooked with familiarity. My return is also one of those “learning moments” where I take measure and realize how this special place has begun to change me from the winter dwelling, high achieving, materially driven person I was, into someone who lives in a different rhythm and is beginning to reflect those changes day to day, as I experience and learn about “Living Loreto”.

Let me say it again – Happy New Year!