Sunday, February 24, 2013

Amigos de Loreto - Friends with Benefits!

A little over a year ago the Inaugural Loreto Food and Wine Festival was held here in Loreto Bay.  As luck would have it, I was making a visit back to Canada that weekend and so I had assistance from some of the organizers to put together the posting “Food, Wine and Fun . . . Mar. 2012” about the event.  Like so many things here in Loreto, the Festival came together in the final few days, but regardless it was one of the largest and most successful events of last Season.

With the considerable funds raised during last year’s Festival a full functioned EKG machine was purchased for the local hospital and training was provided for the operators, along with other local donations to Caritas, the Internado School, the local Optimist Club, the Loreto Baseball League and training programs for Loreto Paramedics.

When the small committee that was involved in organizing the first Festival was able to assess the dual successes of the social event and the charity funds that were raised, they realized that this event had huge potential to grow and become even more successful and generate more charitable benefits in the future.  But to realize that potential they needed an organizational structure to plan and co-ordinate their efforts; both in organizing future events and distributing the funds raised from them, and so “Amigos de Loreto” was born (note: at the time of this posting the website is undergoing some “construction”, if this link does not work please try it again at a later date).

As a Civil Association registered in Mexico, “Amigos” can issue Facturas (or Mexican tax deductible receipts) for donations and contributions by companies or individuals paying taxes in Mexico which greatly increases the pool of potential donors and how they can assist with funds and “in-kind” contributions.  But what really sets this organization apart in my mind is the fact that after the initial success of their first event they made it a priority to create an organizational structure with a Mission Statement, financial transparency, and accountability. 

Now that this structure has been established with a broad based mandate to benefit credible charities within this community, it can now play an important role as a conduit for contributions above and beyond the specific events that are sponsored by the organization itself.  Now, there is a channel that can efficiently direct the generosity of individuals or businesses toward the most deserving candidates where it can do the most good. 

To extend their charitable reach, Amigos de Loreto has established a relationship with Hermosa Beach CA, Loreto’s sister city, and through that website, www.hb­ there is a link to enable on-line donations, through which support can be directed by specifying “Amigos de Loreto” as the beneficiary.  It is a further goal to establish a similar relationship through an appropriate Canadian link to be able to facilitate contributions from there as well.

The mandate of the Amigos Association is to support local non-profits focused on Healthcare, Children and the Environment within Loreto and the surrounding municipal area, which extends about 30 km around the town itself.  But perhaps it’s most important role is providing a credible and transparent organization to raise funds and distribute them effectively and efficiently in the greater community area, with the main source for this fundraising coming from the proceeds of special events like the Food and Wine Festival.

There is also a longer term vision behind the organization, and that is to promote and grow the public awareness of Loreto as a destination through the publicity and exposure that these special events create.  That is why this ambitious group, while planning an expanded second annual Food and Wine Festival, is already working on plans for additional events in the coming year that will bring increased exposure to Loreto Bay and strengthen the connections with the surrounding community.    

This year the Loreto Food and Wine Festival will take place on the March 23 – 25 weekend, an increase from the two days of the inaugural event last year, with a “White Night” opening party on the Friday, the Festival Street Party on the Saturday, followed by the Golf Tournament on the Sunday.  Members of the Loreto Restaurant Association will again provide a taste tempting selection of foods to enjoy, complimented by a much expanded variety of Baja wines. 

Tickets for these events as well as raffles will be going on sale soon and will be available at most locations in Loreto Bay as well as at participating restaurants in town.  Word is that the same “big band” that was such a hit at last year’s Festival will be making a return appearance this year.  In addition to the expanded schedule for the upcoming Food and Wine Festival there are also exciting new plans afoot for an Octoberfest here in the Fall focusing on regional and micro-brewery beers. 

As many of you who have been reading this Blog understand, there is a strong appetite within this community for almost any excuse to participate in some form of party or celebration.  While logically, as these events grow larger and more ambitious – and more successful – they require a correspondingly larger and more sophisticated organizational and support infrastructure. With the established model of many of these events including a charitable benefit to the community, their growing success creates an equally expanding source of donations that have to be effectively distributed where the need and positive impact is greatest.

In answer to both of these demands stands a new organization, Amigos de Loreto, providing the logistical wherewithal to grow one of the largest events from last year into an even bigger celebration this year – while growing their capacity to administer the correspondingly greater source of funds that will be the result of such progress.  Bringing people and their skills together for the benefit of those less fortunate who live in the surrounding area – while, at the same time, providing a growing number of signature events that will add to the enjoyment of those living here and help to spread the good news of the lifestyle that is possible – these are powerful forces to bring together that will have a growing impact on “Living Loreto”!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mardi Gras - Mexican Style!

One of the biggest parties of the season happened this week in Loreto Bay – Mardi Gras, Mexican style!  This was the second annual celebration of “Fat Tuesday” and the party got even bigger and better than last year’s (“Mardi Gras in Loreto Bay”, February 2012) inaugural event.

The main instigator of this year’s festivities was the Nopolo Property Owners Association including my friend Shelia, and her husband Manfred.  This group is made up of Owners in the area surrounding Loreto Bay and, along with a dedicated team of volunteers, they spent much time in planning and preparation for this event for months in advance.  But the actual preparations on the ground were in full force during the day of the party, when the Golf Clubhouse was transformed by a crew of over a dozen, including Loreto Bay residents, who hung decorations, set up a temporary stage in the Clubhouse Courtyard which would be the dance floor, arranged bars and food stations and set out and decorated tables and chairs under tents for over 200 party goers.

I dropped over to check out the preparations earlier in the afternoon and was impressed with the “hive” of activity that was going on in and around the Clubhouse.  A crew of men was setting up a cluster of shade tents on the edge of the driving range and then arranging dozens of tables and hundreds of chairs under them.  There were two large open air grills with motor driven spits, each loaded with a full pork carcass slowly roasting over a bed coals that were replenished over the 6 – 8 hour cooking time from a fire barrel burning mesquite and ironwood.

The festivities got underway late afternoon, with the only blemish being that it was an unseasonably cool day, albeit sunny, and there were gusty winds, which thankfully died down somewhat as the evening approached.  Upon arrival people’s names were checked off against a list of presales which had been available at a number of businesses in town and Loreto Bay, and then we were given a wristband and drink tickets and some Carnival beads, to get in the mood.

The large open air Courtyard at the Clubhouse provided a great place to mingle and meet, see and be seen, and this year there was plenty to see – with even more costumes than last year, many exotic and dazzling to be sure! Lessons were applied from last year’s event and the logistics worked well, food and beverage stations were set up along the south and west exterior of the building, with the Brazilian Coconut Chicken entrée available on one side and the Spit-Roasted Pork on the other, with a third area in between where you could pick up the salads and side dishes.  With bars on each side serving the traditional Hurricanes, along with wine, beer and water, the traffic flowed well around the building and even the food lines moved more easily with the different entrées being served in separate areas.

When most people had arrived the entertainment began, with a solo Flamenco dancer and a quartet of Mexican folk dancers providing a colorful start to the evening’s festivities.  They were soon followed by Los Beach Dogs – the ever popular house band for any noteworthy events in Loreto Bay.  This time the ‘Dogs were backed up by a local Loretano drummer who added the backbeat that got people up - and kept them dancing through the evening.

Those who were not indulging their “dance feet” (or watching those who were) on the Courtyard dance floor, found places at the tables under the tents where they could visit and socialize while enjoying watching the sunset a few drinks and nibbling on snacks and appetizers .  This was a great opportunity for people watching and appreciating the time and thought that had gone into some of the more amazing costumes.       

As it was beginning to get dark, and the gusty winds were thankfully subsiding, food began to be served and lines quickly formed – and kept moving steadily, no small feat when it comes to feeding over 200 people!  The band called a break to enjoy their own dinners, and soon most of the tables and chairs were full of people enjoying their delicious meals.  While we were eating, another singer took the stage and serenaded the crowd with Mariachi-style songs to a recorded back up and then moved outside with his cordless mike and put on a side show for the diners.

After the break for dinner the ‘Dogs retook the stage and kept the dance floor jammed for the rest of the evening, meanwhile people moved easily around the colonnade surrounding the courtyard – listening to the music, watching the dancers and enjoying each other’s costumes and conversations or moved outside to refresh their drinks at one of the bars – because, even though the wind wasn’t blowing, the Hurricanes were flowing (if you get my drift!).

As the evening wound down and it was getting close to “Baja Midnight” (anytime after about 9:00 pm here) Shelia once again took to the stage and announced a number of individual costume prizes for some of the most outstanding getups.  Along with these (that space and my faulty memory prevent me from fully listing here) I too was selected to win - for which I was most grateful, although the category of “funniest” men’s costume, left me a little confused – recognition in any form is always welcome!  Let’s face it, the opportunities for wearing my McNabb tartan kilt here in Mexico are few and far between, but I trust the category was not a comment about my knees!

And so, another celebration came to an end, and as I made the short walk back to my home that evening I was struck again by what a unique and special community we are building here – big enough to successfully stage a party like this for over 200 people, and yet small enough so that most of the people there - knew most of the people there!  People from Loreto Bay and the surrounding neighborhood, Loretanos and ex-pats from town, all coming together to share the spirit of celebration and many of them going to great lengths to plan ahead and bring a costume in their luggage, or make it from scratch – or pull something together with last minute inspiration.  Making their special contribution to the magical energy of a special evening of Carnival spirit – that is what makes it special “Living Loreto”!      

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Dog Man of Loreto

This week I had the opportunity to meet a low key local hero – Patrick (who I call) “The Dog Man of Loreto” - when a friend took me to visit him at his animal shelter, which he has created on a side street in the town of Loreto.  Inside this compound there are about 20 or so dogs, most housed in open air kennels and the rest free to roam the open areas where there are improvised shade structures and storage containers.  

Patrick’s story in Loreto began about 10 years ago when he built his home here in Nopolo and later, when he retired from a law career in the US, he and his wife Monica came to live here fulltime.  As a dog lover, he soon had 4 or 5 rescued animals living with him and over time this led to friends and neighbors bringing him other injured or abandoned dogs they had found.

For Patrick, caring for these animals went beyond any first aid they might require and included spay or neutering them as well as vaccinations against the risks and hazards common to dogs in this environment.  When the dogs had received these treatments and had been restored to a healthy condition through good nutrition and care, the next challenge was to find good homes for them where they could continue to live in safe and caring surroundings. 

Over the years, many of these dogs have found homes in Loreto and a growing number with Homeowners in Loreto Bay, who have adopted a local dog that they take back and forth with them as they travel between their southern and northern homes.  When the supply of rehabilitated dogs exceeded the local demand for pets, Patrick would transport several of them north to the US where they would be “fostered” by other dog lovers until permanent homes could be found for them there.

Before I continue with Patrick’s story, for those of you not familiar with the realities of a “dog’s life” here in Mexico, some background may help put this into perspective.  Typically, many dogs in Mexico must fend for themselves, as part of an unwanted litter or after being abandoned by their original owner for any number of reasons.  The root of much of this problem is the widespread lack of spay and neutering - procedures that may be unaffordable to many average Mexicans, even when available.  This in turn leads to the uncontrolled population growth of stray animals, and in turn, more disease, injury and ultimately more uncared for animals.

This sad situation was also the case here in Loreto in the past, before the Loreto Bay Development began almost 10 years ago, with malnourished and/or injured animals not an uncommon sight in town and along the highway connecting the town with this Development.  With the increasing numbers of ex-pats choosing to make a home here (among whom were a significant number of dog lovers), one result was the creation of an organization called Animalandia, which conducts local spay and neuter clinics, made possible by volunteer vets (mainly from the US) and supported by local fundraising and volunteer support.  Over the years this has resulted in over 2,000 animals being “fixed” here, which has prevented who knows how many thousands of their prevented offspring from continuing the miserable cycle of suffering that would have been the case before.

Patrick’s approach has been different, as a private individual he chose to take on a personal responsibility to do what he could to rescue and rehabilitate many of the animals that he came upon, or were brought to him, that were trying to survive in desperate circumstances.  Typically, this commitment often first involved treating injuries or diseases, many sustained from being hit by cars or from attacks by other animals, then restoring their strength and vitality with good nutrition and vaccinations against disease and parasites, before eventually the animals were healthy enough to have the surgery that ended the downward reproductive cycle they had been rescued from.

This comprehensive approach towards the rehabilitation and eventual adoption of the dogs into safe homes where they would live healthy lives, would often involve months (and in some cases years) of care and hundreds of dollars of expenses for surgery, medications and food for each rescued animal – all of which Patrick quietly went about doing out of his own pocket.  Over time however, word of his good works spread among the growing numbers of dog loving ex-pats who were moving into the community and he began to get assistance from them in caring for the animals, often by just spending time walking the dogs and helping to socialize them to positive human contact.

Before too long, the demands of this private shelter activity overwhelmed the capacity of his home property in Nopolo and Patrick decided to move the whole operation into town, where he owned several undeveloped lots.  Starting with a simple perimeter fence, over time he added wire kennels and now the ongoing project includes several storage container boxes salvaged from trucks and even a small corral where a small burro and a blind pony are currently kept.  With this increased capacity, there is now the space for a couple of dozen animals to be cared for at a time, with a slow but steady turnover as the dogs regain health and new homes are found.

When there were not sufficient safe and healthy homes locally for the “graduates” of the shelter Patrick has slowly developed further options north of the border.  Most often this has involved putting together a group of 4 – 6 dogs, who have all been “fixed” and have been certified in good health by a vet, and then Patrick (or occasionally a volunteer) would make the long drive north with them to the border where they would import the dogs legally into the US. 

In addition to placing the dogs with individual foster homes, recently a relationship has been developed with a shelter in Portland OR (with the assistance of Kristen Winn) that will accept animals for adoption with a donation of $100 US per dog to support their placement work.  In the past, this has involved either driving the animals over 1,000 miles further north to Portland or arranging for them to travel by air direct from LA or San Diego to Portland - both of which options require considerable logistical and financial organization and support - which is now increasingly coming from a small but growing local network of volunteers and supporters. 

As our visit came to an end, Patrick made an emphatic point of acknowledging the support of the people in this community and elsewhere who are contributing their time and money to help him extend his good works to benefit the seemingly unlimited numbers of animals in distress.  One of the most important members in this network is Dr. Gabriel Meza Leon of La Paz, who is a gifted and generous veterinarian that does all of the work on Patrick’s rescue animals. 

He went on to mention by name more than half a dozen volunteers and supporters who assist regularly with the considerable daily care requirements of the sheltered dogs.  Others have transported animals either by car or by accompanying them on flights north, not to mention a growing number of adoptive owners here and further afield that provide loving and caring homes for these – the luckiest dogs in the Baja! 

Recently, these volunteers have also done some private fundraising to cover the donations to the Portland shelter, but Patrick continues to self-finance the rest of the operation, which over the years has provided a new lease on life for over 200 animals that would inevitably met a cruel end, had it not been for this canine’s Good Samaritan. 

For those of you who are in Loreto Bay and want to assist with this good cause by volunteering some time to walk dogs you can get in touch with Dee in FN 63 or Rich in FN105.  Rich will also accept cash donations, 100% of which will go towards the placement charges by the Portland shelter.  If any other readers are interested in contributing to this good cause checks made payable to TMRE with a note on the memo line “Segunda Chansa” (to direct the funds to assist with Patrick’s project) can be mailed to TMRE,  665 Tabor Lane, Santa Barbara, CA. 93108, US donors can get a charitable tax receipt.  There is also a website with more information.   

Learning about how the generosity and dedication of one man has saved the very lives of so many threatened animals – and touched those of so many more humans, whose lives in turn have been enriched through these adoptions – this has indeed been an important lesson for me in “Living Loreto”!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Property Management in Loreto Bay

There was an important (if subtle) change in my lifestyle here in Loreto Bay effective at the beginning of this New Year.  For the first time since taking possession of my home over seven years ago I no longer have a Property Manager.  With over 600 occupied homes in the Development there now are about 10 Property Management companies operating here, down by almost half from several years ago – due mainly to survival of the fittest.

For most people here a Property Manager is an important part of owning a Loreto Bay home, since a large majority of the owners spend less than half the year in residence.  Although the menu of services offered varies from one company to another, one of the most important functions that they all provide is regular home inspections – because it is unadvisable to leave a home in this climate unattended for over half the year.

Regular home maintenance can also be provided by Property Managers, either “handyman” type services by their staff, or for more complicated work and renovations they can sub-contract with local trades, oversee the work, handle the payment for it, and finally billing of the Homeowners.   

Another basic service is landscape maintenance inside the home, since all Loreto Bay homes have some open areas inside the home, most have main floor courtyards with landscaping and often potted plants on the second floor terraces and some have private garden spaces as well.  Pruning and tidying these plants, as well as checking the irrigation system that waters them, is “in-home” maintenance that is the responsibility of each Homeowner, while the HOA maintains the extensive common area gardens and courtyards outside of the homes.

 A small, but not insignificant service is paying taxes and utility bills – something that cannot be done unless you are here “on the ground” in Loreto.  Property Taxes, payable to the town of Loreto, are low, by North American standards, and (because of chronic municipal budget shortfalls) there is usually a further discount available before the end of the calendar year for pre-payment of the next year’s taxes.  This practice has become common over the past number of years, and now that that pattern is established it is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future and Property Managers can take advantage of the discounts available by seeing their Client’s taxes are paid before the discount deadline.    

Utility bills are a different situation – and one that may be, I think, uniquely Mexican.  Electricity is billed every second month, after a “CFE” employee on bicycle reads the meter at every house in the development, followed a week or so later by the same employee delivering a paper bill which he tucks into the crack of the front door of the house – or delivers a batch of bills to the Property Manager for the homes they take care of.  If, however, this paper bill say, blows away, or is otherwise lost and the Owner or their Manager is unaware, the power can be cut off, without further notice, requiring a reconnection charge not to mention an inconvenient period of time without electricity.

Because I have been living here for more than six months annually for the past five years, it was probably time for me to take over the responsibility of managing my own home, which happened at the beginning of this year.  As luck would have it, just a few days shy of the New Year there was a water leak somewhere under the kitchen sink and when my Property Manager sent one of her staff to check it out they determined that the leak originated in the faucet and he could not repair it.  After managing with only hot water at the sink for a few days, on the first working day of the New Year, I left the house for my three minute bicycle commute to the Real Estate Office, and bumped into (figuratively speaking!) Rick, the “premier plumber” who works here in Loreto Bay.

Arrangements were made on the spot for him to make a service call at the end of that day, when he confirmed the leak was in the faucet and it had to be replaced not repaired.  Which, given our limited access here to such things as plumbing hardware, could have posed another problem.  Except that (thanks to Loreto’s apparent synchronicity) Rick just so happened to have a brand new, high end faucet he had replaced in a custom home (because it was the wrong plated finish) that he could let me have at his cost.  The following day he returned with this beautiful new faucet, which when installed, was a big improvement over my original one.

But this was not my first accomplishment in self-management.  Last winter I had become dissatisfied with the landscape maintenance services provided by my then Property Manager and so I opted out of that service and did my own maintenance of the courtyard plants and the upstairs pots.  This worked reasonably well while I was here, but I needed to make arrangements to keep the garden maintained when I was away over the summer months. 

That is when I spoke to Lenin, who I had gotten to know back in the “early days” of Loreto Bay when he worked for what was then the only landscape company working in the Development.  Over the years since, Lenin had pieced together his own small maintenance business doing gardens and some pools as well as other odd jobs in the development to subsidize his “main” job working at a restaurant outside of town.

It was there that I met him and first spoke to him (his English is self-taught, and superior to my Spanish) about taking care of my garden during the summer.  By the time I was ready to leave I had also contracted for him to repaint the exterior of my home after some plaster repairs were completed during the time that I was going to be away.  On my return this Fall I was pleased with the job he had done and he has continued to my maintenance ever since, including a big project late last year which involved digging up all the plants in my courtyard, reconditioning the soil and replanting a new collection of plants.

This past week I took another small step towards my “independence” – the first electricity bill of the New Year was due and so I took my aforementioned slip of paper into town and found the CFE Office, which I recalled having been to once before several years ago.  When I arrived at the small cement block building in the Zaragosa district of the town, I didn’t think much of the fact that there were no other cars in the small parking lot, but as I was getting out of the car I noticed that the office hours painted on the office door said that they closed at 2:30 – and it was then after 3:00.

Before I had the chance to gnash my teeth over the vagaries of Mexican business hours, a smiling uniformed security guard I hadn’t noticed before approached me and with our combined “Spanglish” he confirmed that I was there to pay a bill and gestured me through the unlocked door to a vestibule area inside where there was an ATM-type wall mounted machine.  With a little help from the guard I quickly figured out how to scan the bar code on the bill which brought up my account details on the small screen and after feeding the required bills into the machine it coughed up the change owing and printed a receipt – one of the most high-tech transactions I have experienced here in Loreto!

Reflecting on these events while I was driving back to Loreto Bay afterwards, I took some real satisfaction from this admittedly small accomplishment as being yet one more step towards my independence here.  By taking responsibility for handling the small day-to-day things that make up a real life here in my adopted community, that is another important part of “Living Loreto”.   

P.S. Due to the nature of this week’s Blog it didn’t lend itself to pictures, but as a special treat I am passing on the following link for a great new video that I was sent this week – just the thing for any of my readers stuck in the mid-winter blues up north – enjoy!   

Loreto Adventure Tourism 2013