Sunday, February 23, 2014

Water, Water, Everywhere!

I have often said that the "best" part of Living Loreto is on the water of the beautiful Sea of Cortez.  But for me there has not been the opportunity to enjoy that experience in over a year, due in part to increasing demands on my time from my Real Estate business becoming more of a full time commitment.  However, this past week I had the opportunity to spend a perfect afternoon on a 35 ft. Catamaran sailboat and I am pleased to be able to share that experience with you here.

The outing came about because a few weeks ago we started to organize weekly charter trips through our Loreto Bay Homes Office as a public relations exercise and the first trip booked up in a day or two. The next couple of weeks were soon booked in advance as word of mouth quickly spread, and on Tuesday of this week it was my turn to "Host" the trip.  We  had asked the people when they were signing up to check back at the Office the day before the trip to make sure the weather forecast was calm enough and the trip was a go.  Then the 18 passengers were to meet again at the Office to make sure everyone had a ride before we left in several cars for the 10 or 15 minute drive south of Loreto Bay to Puerto Escondido where we met Ward, the Skipper of the boat, his assistant Juan Manuelo and Bridget, the boat dog (who was actually in charge).

Normally this boat is chartered for private groups to go kayaking, snorkeling or just exploring the offshore islands surrounding Loreto through Wild Loreto a tour and guiding business that operates in town .  Since most Homeowners here do not have access to their own boats, we thought that it would be a good idea to organize these excursions through our Office and provide a way for a group of people to join together in larger numbers and experience the beauty of the "water side" of Loreto, perhaps for the first time.

In many ways Puerto Escondido looks similar to the way Nopolo (the area surrounding Loreto Bay) looked before this development constructed over 600 homes - there is a network of freshly paved roads, sidewalks and street lights making a grid of mainly vacant undeveloped land.  But in the last year or so the waterfront Marina facilities that includes dock area, some commercial space, a restaurant, fuel dock and boat repair facilities have been upgraded and new slips have been added.  Our Catamaran was waiting for us in a double slip in a new dock area of the Marina.

Our Skipper Ward was a live-aboard yachter who first visited Puerto Escondido and Loreto a number of years ago on a circumnavigation of the Sea of Cortez.  After visiting most of the ports around the shore of both the mainland and peninsula on an extended trip, he eventually returned here to put down the nautical equivalent of "roots", after coming to the conclusion that the marine park area that surrounds Loreto was the most beautiful place he had seen and the combination of the facilities of Puerto Escondido and the amenities of the town of Loreto made it the best place to settle down.  For the past three years he has been working with Wild Loreto as a Charter Captain introducing the beauties that the offshore has to offer to visitors and residents alike.

For those of you less familiar with nautical terms, the Catamaran boat we were on is a twin hull sailboat with the two parallel hulls joined by a deck that provides much more "flat" space for passengers than a traditional mono hull boat with a cockpit, so there was room enough for us all to find a comfortable spot to sit, either on the raised cowling over each hull or on cushioned pads on the deck in between.  One of the advantages of this wide stance dual hull design is that a Catamaran is much more stable than a single hull in choppy water, but fortunately for our trip the winds were calm and the Sea of Cortez was barely rippled as we motored along at a comfortable speed.

Once we were all settled on the boat with a cold drink in hand and Jimmy Buffet tunes on the stereo
providing the soundtrack, Ward got the boat under way and we headed out of the Marina and through the mooring bay off the fuel and service dock.  Just outside the entrance to the mooring bay is another sheltered area near the docks that will be the site of additional slips for more boats.  A large passenger ship was docked nearby and Ward explained to us that it carried kayakers up and down the Sea of Cortez, stopping at places like Escondido where the passengers could leave the "Mother Ship" on kayak excursions - a great way to see the amazing sights in this part of the world!

We continued past another cluster of live aboard yachts anchored in a bay at the approach to Escondido, referred to locally as the "Waiting Room", and then we headed for the open water of the Sea of Cortez towards Danzante Island in the distance.  Danzante is the most southerly of three Islands offshore from the area around Loreto; with Coronado, a smaller volcanic Island north of the town, and Carmen Island which is 18 miles long and an average of 2 miles wide extending from Loreto south of Loreto Bay.

Our course took us between Danzante and Carmen and we paused in Honeymoon Bay near the north end of Danzante before continuing across to the southern tip of Carmen where Ward pointed out a salt cliff which dropped into crystal clear, but intensely turquoise water that was teaming with fish.  Our relaxed cruise continued north along the shore of Carmen until we spotted a pod of Dolphins travelling parallel to us about 100 yards away.  As Ward adjusted course to take us closer for a better look a couple of the Dolphins leapt from the Sea and flipped over about 6 feet out of the water.

When we got to a comfortable distance from the pod we could see that there were a couple of dozen of them travelling together, both adults and babies, keeping in a close formation, surfacing and diving several times in a regular pattern before disappearing for a couple of minutes and then reappearing 20 or 30 yards further on and resuming their breathing cycle.  This tight knit group traveled that way beside us for 5 or 10 minutes, with adults on the perimeter slapping their tails on each dive, presumably conducting the pod and protecting the young ones.  At one point our boat was surrounded by the Dolphins who were swooping and diving around the prow of the boat, apparently playing in the currents created by our passage through the water above them.

When the pod eventually tired of "playing" with us they disappeared into the depths and it was time to make our way back to shore and our return to Escondido.  As the sun dropped lower over the Sierra de la Giganta Mountains to the west, we cruised over the still calm dappled water retracing our course back into the protected harbor and finally returning to the slip where our tour had begun.

And so ended another perfect day on the water, enjoying the "best" part of this beautiful place, creating memories for all aboard, both Visitors and Residents, that we will cherish as just one more part of "Living Loreto"!         

P.S. If you are lucky enough to be in Loreto, please drop in to the Loreto Bay Homes Real Estate Office across from the Hotel in Loreto Bay and sign up for the next available Catamaran Tuesday Excursion, we plan to continue to offer these trips as long as the demand continues!

And finally, I have added a new "widget" to the Blog for those of you who do not make a regular habit of reading it every week - now you can enter your email address near the top of this page on the right and receive a notification when I publish a new posting every week.  Never miss Living Loreto again!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

My Sister's Guest Blog

This week I am pleased to offer you, my dedicated Readers, an alternate view of where I live.  Currently my Sister and Brother-in-Law are staying with me and I have asked Janice to write a Guest Blog while she is here.  Now this is not her first visit to Loreto, nor her first contribution to this Blog (she added some perspective to a posting during her last visit here at Christmas a year ago ", but her involvement with the Blog goes beyond that, for each of the past five years I have been writing this she has presented me with a hard copy transcript of each Season of Living Loreto, complete with edited pictures from the postings recomposed for the page.  Needless to say this publishing effort of hers has involved a considerable amount of time and effort and it has been most appreciated by me and so it seems only appropriate for her to have a turn.  I will also hasten to add, any writing skills I may have I come by legitimately - both Janice and I thank our Father for passing on a love of words and composition.  I hope you enjoy . . .  

Trite to say, but what strikes me as most exciting about a holiday here in Loreto Bay are the routine and trivial details of this alternate lifestyle. Details that, apparently, are so much a part of the pattern of life here that the long-term Loretanos seem hardly to notice or celebrate them anymore. But the very simplicity of these elements stirs a stronger response than the more exotic tourist attractions available, for me. I would hate to lose my enthusiasm for this gentle charm.

The heat, of course. Chilled bone-deep by the past months of winter, with vividly unpleasant memories of the six day ice-storm, the sub-zero temperatures (that’s sub-zero Celsius, mind!), topped off with the remains of a miserable cold too recent to forget, I sit on the rooftop terrace and wallow in the heat baking into every cell of my aching body – muscles I had forgotten I owned finally relaxing in tentative gratification, the dull throb of arthritis seeping out of my fingers and arms. I felt nourished by the heat, soaking up the sun’s rays greedily, even as I feel my winter-white face tightening and flushing under the impact of the intense sunlight.

Simply to sit and absorb this bounty of warmth, hesitant to move in case I find myself suddenly back in the cold again – how can this heat become commonplace, too familiar to occasion any comment?

Even still, days later, I am still inwardly chilled, my long trousers and shirt branding me newly-arrived among the locals in their shorts and tees. Simple logic would have the natives more sensitive to the slight temperature variation, bundling warmly when the air drops by a degree or two. But instead, it is we incomers who are suddenly shivering as the soft breeze asserts itself and the shadows fall chilly at the end of the afternoon.
In the morning, I waken to the sight of blue sky and sun, the vivid greens and stunning primary colors of the flowers and the knowledge that for another day I will be immersed in heat and color and light – every day another vibrant gift!

Another great pleasure I anticipate as a component of my holiday here is the gift of total relaxation – peacefully sitting. Just sitting, chore-free, guilt-free, with no deadlines, appointments, reminders, routines or the interruption of phone calls. To sit with a book or a tangle of knitting, to nod off in the warmth, to migrate to the dappled shade, and then back again into the sun. The tranquility of silent, empty space in my usually cluttered mind.

Somehow, back at home, there is always something nagging at the edge of my attention, no matter how justified a quiet moment may be. There is never really time off there. From my rooftop vantage point here, I can see people busily on their way up and down the inviting pathways, intent on their destinations, some on mobile phones, some striding briskly along, others silently sweeping past on golf carts – but busy. Perhaps not as busy as the population of the city streets I am familiar with, but still with that appearance of business, seeming an anomaly in this tranquil oasis!

For me, there is no busyness at all! Serious relaxation is my holiday goal.  There is no compulsion to spring out of bed in the morning on this holiday. Instead, one can watch the rising sun painting colour into the landscape, listen to the muted rush of the surf if it is calm, or the rattle of palm fronds if there is a breeze, and wait for the day to reveal itself. The morning is enlivened with the darting and chirping of dozens of brilliant little finches – ruby and golden breasts flashing as they dart and twitter among the trees in the early morning light, like handfuls of colored popcorn tossed into the air.

This morning I woke to watch our little community of emerald green hummingbirds embarking on their mysterious daily endeavors. One by one they emerge from the shadowy depths of the tree in the courtyard, perch for a moment, mimicking plump green buds incongruously materializing on the spiky blades of a potted palm. Thoughtfully assessing the day, they sit motionless, absorbing the angled rays of the rising sun, and then suddenly they dart away, buzzing off vertically like little seahorses across the perfectly crayon-blue sky. As soon as one flies off, another takes his place.

First stop seems to be the glorious tumble of ruby bougainvillea blanketing the white wall of the rooftop – and then away into the open sky until sunset, when they began to return, one by one, peeping excitedly to each another as they buzz into the sanctuary of their treetop neighborhood like little homing drones.

And there is even a resident household bird! A bird by choice, not in a cage; not captive, but living free to come and go, perhaps nesting in the palm tree in the side garden, or perhaps with his own, larger accommodation in the shared courtyard tree with the humming birds - a glorious, robust, marigold-coloured oriole who flits and dives among the bright leaves in the early morning and then disappears until twilight. His piercing, liquid whistle punctuates the day around the casa, but the best comes at the last.

When the sun finally tucks itself behind the buildings, and the courtyard is dark except for the glow of the lanterns, he comes to rest in the tree, and sings – sings for a full half hour, a liquid cascade of vibrant, thrilling harmony pouring up and over the walls, into the warm and fragrant kitchen inside, and across the now-silent pathways outside the courtyard walls.  Every evening.  On and on and on … “The lark ascending” pales to insignificance against this vitality, and I am drawn out into the darkness to share in the moment.

Coming from a climate which predicates a defense against brutal cold for far too much of the year, I am most familiar with houses built of substantial red brick or heavy wood; those few communities that incongruously mimic the south-western palette with their pale taupe and grey siding look bleached and insubstantial in the flat northern light. Against the monochrome winter landscape, dark colours and low, dense structures promise warmth and safety. But here, the extravagance of pastel candy-coloured stucco, the gracefully arched and pillared courtyards and windows feeds an appetite for colour and luminance, promising a climate where one can finally relax and thrive, rather than just struggle to survive.

And during the heat of the day, up and down the pathways between the houses and the gardens I walk – savoring the joy of walking on the flat paving stones, without the ridged snow or the hidden treachery of icy ruts that I have had to become accustomed to there, free to stride out and feel the ground secure beneath my feet.

Walk on the sunny side, and feel the heat deep in your back and against your limbs, so different than the bite of the cold.  Walk in the shade, and feel the air still warm against your face, the intense contrast between dark, cool shade and hot white light, knife-edged across the pale stones.

But more than the sunlight and shadow, the immaculate setting captures my attention. The curving doorstep gardens and flourishing boulevard plantings unfurl beside the pavement, no two repeating the colors or specimens of another, and each tied subtly to the tone of the buildings beside it. Hot magenta and scarlet bougainvillea vie for attention against sienna-toned stucco, pale pink and white lilies nestle demure against a shell-toned wall, whimsical little tufted balls of cactus are tucked in beside the miniature and polished lamp posts, and everywhere, lava-rock pebbles border the soil with their multi-hued accents. Like sand paintings, the arcs and swirls of rock fill the empty ground, here bordered with black and filled with sparkling white, there a creamy edging holds rough red stone, there smooth, pale grey pebbles are framed with ochre chips. Somehow these creative embellishments blend with the colour of the flowers rising from among them, the visual harmony flowing unbroken through the community. I am reminded that genius is the capacity for infinite attention to detail – how I would love to explore this landscape with the mind that imagined such components, here on the edge of the desert.

 And where the soil itself is bare, the delicate lines of the small-tined rakes and the soft brush-strokes of the brooms decorate the surface of each area, showing where patient gardeners have raked away the fallen leaves and blossoms. By day, the workers tend these little gardens patiently, their compact trucks piled with the debris they have harvested. Not a cigarette stub, not a scrap of paper, not a dead leaf, remains behind them; they leave only those Zen-like whorls and spirals in the damp soil, inviting contemplation.

At the end of the day, the expanse of ink-black sky is lit with more stars than I have ever seen before in my life – a swath of the Milky Way flowing like froth across the sky, and the moon shining ice-blue on the rooftop terrace where I spent the afternoon dazed with sun. Rattle of the wooden slats in the evening breeze – looking out, serene, without concern, on the isolated roofs in the darkness – fear no evil.

Truly, “Living Loreto” is a soul-renewing experience to cherish!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Loreto Bay General Store - a family affair!

Regular readers of this Blog may recall a couple of earlier postings about a small Convenience/Grocery store in Loreto Bay a few years ago, ), and more recently a produce store that operated in the community one Season (  However, following the closing of both stores by last Season, it has been almost a year since we have had access to a food store within Loreto Bay.  That changed about a month ago with the opening of The Loreto Bay General Store.

Jeff and Claudia have lived in the Community for about eighteen months with their 3 school aged children, and without a local store for about half of that time (meaning a round trip to Loreto 15 km each way for a loaf of bread or a jug of milk) they were acutely aware of the need for local shopping.  Because Claudia comes  from Toluca on the mainland, which is the center of the cut flower industry in Mexico, she was originally thinking of opening a flower shop.  But with the economics of staffing and overhead they soon started to think on a larger scale and the concept for The General Store began to develop.

After several months of planning late last year, the store opened just after New Years with small selection of basics, from which their inventory continues to have grown as they establish more suppliers and determine what their Loreto Bay clientele want.  To begin with Jeff started with the basics that were everyday staples that his family regularly used, but in response to the early feedback (no pun intended) from customers he is developing a niche market for organic, gluten free, vegetarian and even vegan foods. 

This is perhaps not surprising, given that these types of products are hard to impossible to find in the regular food stores in Loreto, and often have to be imported from the US.  Jeff has also observed that the customers who want these specialty products are not as price conscious about them because they are used to paying a premium for them "back home" and so expect to pay more for them here. 

In my own experience, living here over the past 6 or 7 years, I do not pay a lot of attention to the prices for my regular groceries for a combination of reasons, depending on where you shop often the prices are not posted, and if they are, then you have to convert from pesos to dollars to make a comparison. Also, in most cases basic foods here are relatively cheap by North American standards and the more exotic imported specialties which are more expensive are an indulgence that I am prepared to pay for.  One example that comes to mind is a roasting chicken, when I return to Canada it takes me a while to get used paying up to the $10.00 or $12.00 price for one in a Supermarket there - after only spending about $5.00 for one here in the Baja.

Another good source of business that Jeff has found since opening the store is the large numbers of workers here in Loreto Bay who are usually his first customers in the morning buying coffee and breakfast snacks and cold drinks during the day, including of course the ubiquitous Coca Cola.  Mexico has the highest per capita consumption of Coke in the world, and a two or three liter bottle is not an unusual daily ration for a typical worker here!  

Jeff's wife Claudia receives regular shipments of cut flowers on Thursdays by air from the mainland and assembles arrangements to order for delivery in Loreto Bay, and then she usually prepares the rest of the week's shipment into other displays that are for sale in the store.  It is important for me to point out how unique it is to have access to fresh cut flowers here in a relatively remote place like Loreto.  Although I have often said that living in Loreto Bay is like living in the middle of a garden, as we are surrounded by acres of beautifully manicured plantings along the pathways and courtyards that separate our homes - having a beautiful display of cultivated flowers in your home here is a luxury that was previously hard to find. 

Currently, in addition to a growing selection of packaged foods, several types of wine and a variety of liquor, with of course beer and other cold drinks and dairy products, a small stock of regular and organic fruits and vegetables, a rack of packaged breads, and a freezer of ice cream novelties, The General Store also has a small "transportation department" with a brand new 4 passenger electric golf cart and a pair of electric scooters available for rent.  Aside from being a lot of fun to drive around, these vehicles can provide an important option, particularly to renters or Homeowners with visitors who have mobility issues.  With all of our gas powered vehicle parking limited to the Paseo (or main street that bisects the Development) with battery power the cart and scooters can be used anywhere on the miles of pathways in Loreto Bay.

In the near future, Jeff promises that he will soon be adding a freezer with fish filets and other seafood, steaks, and packaged meats, an expanded selection of dairy products including cheeses and more shelving for fresh produce.  In addition to a display counter for floral arrangements there will be refrigerated storage for cut flowers and an expanded gift and souvenir selection with some more Loreto Bay wearables and other products.

In addition to the cash and carry business, The General Store is set up for online shopping as well.  There is a website for the store: where, in addition to the products they have in stock, they can provide a shopping service for any foods available in the town of Loreto for a flat fee of $12 including delivery to your Loreto Bay home.  This should be a popular service particularly for those short term residents who do not have access to a vehicle and have to pay double that amount for a taxi one way into town for shopping.

Flowers can be ordered online at with delivery to a Loreto Bay home included, making it now possible for friends and family of people spending the winter in Loreto Bay to order a sure to be appreciated gift from anywhere in the world and have that special floral arrangement delivered to a loved one at their home here - World Wide Web indeed!

For Jeff and Claudia The General Store is a family affair.  Jeff usually starts his day opening the store in the morning with their employee Leilani, and then he puts in his regular work day as Director of the Homex operations here.  Claudia takes daughters Paula, Megan and Madeline into town for school in the mornings and then often spends most of the middle of the day at the store or running errands. Jeff closes the store after his "day job" and so the week goes until Sundays, which is "family day" at the store when they and the kids all spend the day there together.

So it is with thanks to this hard working family, who are making a sizable investment of time and treasure, to bring all of us who live here the convenience of a neighborhood store with a combination of staple foods, hard to find imports and the luxury of fresh flowers to beautify our homes.  I trust that they will receive the custom and support of the community they are making this important contribution to "Living Loreto"!    

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sabor! - the Flavor of Loreto

Loreto and the surrounding area is blessed with an impressive number and variety of restaurants, due in part to the large ex-pat community and the growing numbers of visitors who come here.  One of the unique new additions this Season is Sabor! Restaurant, which I have enjoyed on several occasions, and thought would make an interesting subject for this week's Blog.

I first heard of Sabor (which means flavor in Spanish) last Season when they appeared on social media introducing a new Bakery specializing in North American and Mexican deserts.  Although I was intrigued I never got around to visiting their business last year for a number of reasons; first of all the directions to their location just outside of the town of Loreto were a bit vague and confusing, secondly they only baked to order and they needed a day's notice to pick up a desert, and finally living alone a whole pie or cake would be more than I could (or should) consume.  However, this Fall they launched a restaurant under the same name, and so I resolved to satisfy my earlier curiosity (and appetite) and meet the challenge of figuring out where they were located, and finally making a visit. 

Just south of the main Highway bridge as you are leaving the town of Loreto I had seen their modest sign off the side of the road and the beginning of a primitive road heading east into some low hills towards the Sea of Cortez.  But with the ongoing roadwork that begins at the bridge and is widening the Highway south of town, there has been no defined "exit" from the road onto the dirt shoulder where their sign is posted and the apparent roadway to the restaurant starts.  However, once I made it off the Highway and onto their road, I found my way through several twists and turns and up and down a couple of rolling dunes about a hundred yards to where I arrived at the corner of an sturdily walled compound with another "Sabor!" sign at the open gateway.  I had found it!

The gate opened onto a large gravel parking area with a big 5th Wheel  trailer along one wall and a low concrete building with a thatched roof viewing tower and palapa covered patio stretching along the far side of the compound.  After parking the car I followed a neat pathway through a natural desert garden to the main building where I was met by Chris, the Owner/Host of Sabor!, a big friendly "gringo" who by all appearances  enjoyed good food!

The patio area held 7 or 8 tables for four, mostly under the shade of the thatched roof palapa, with a small pool and fountain at one end.  Up a flight of stairs there were more tables on the patio of the tower with a panoramic view of the Sea of Cortez to the east and the Sierra de la Giganta mountains to the west.  Tucked in the corner between the garden and the pool was a compact outdoor kitchen with a wood burning grill separating the patio from the parking lot.  My first impression of this unusual set-up was that it didn't look like any other restaurant I had been to before - here or anywhere - and in spite of the outdoor ambiance (which is not uncommon here), things were meticulously tidy and spotlessly clean. 

I sat down with Chris and began by asking him his "Loreto Story".  He had worked in the US for over 20 years overseeing the development of Golf Courses all over the country.  While he enjoyed the work, it kept him apart from his Mexican born wife Mari for more than half the year and so about 7 years ago he started thinking about doing some small scale residential development somewhere they both wanted to live.  In 2005, on the advice of a friend, Chris and his family saw Loreto for the first time and they thought this might be the place they were looking for.

Eventually Chris purchased a parcel of land just south of town, between the Highway and the Ocean and started making plans for developing a cluster of homes there.  Using the many construction skills he had from his previous experience, he started by building a compound where the family started living in their 5th Wheel RV.  Next he started building a house to accommodate his growing family. 

However, a few years later, as they were getting comfortably established and ready to start the small housing development he had planned for the adjacent property, the world had changed and the market for the type of new homes he was planning was no more.  So Chris refocused and decided to apply his carpentry skills as a cabinet maker and he started a woodworking business in Loreto.  This kept him busy for the next few years, during which time the home compound continued to be developed with expanded buildings and an in-ground pool. 

Meanwhile Chris and his wife Mari had often talked about the idea of taking advantage of her well deserved reputation as an excellent cook and baker and start some sort of food related business.  This had its beginnings in last year's Bakery business, which met with enough success that over last summer  that they decided to expand into a full menu restaurant in the beautiful patio of their home.

True to the namesake, Sabor! specializes in fresh wholesome foods and flavors in the
Southwestern/Mexican style, using the best ingredients available and many family recipes from Mari's home in Jalisco, combined with fresh baked breads and decadent deserts, including North American favorites - this is truly Home-cooking in the best sense!  While Mari (with assistance from some local hired helpers) prepares most of the varied menu items from the regular kitchen in the house, Chris' friendly personality welcomes their Guests and he also doubles and the Grill Chef working over fragrant Acacia wood fires from his outdoor BBQs, while Ashley, their eldest daughter, provides the charming and attentive table service that is the finishing touch to a memorable meal.  While youngest daughter Dani does not have a Sabor! job yet - given the family involvement, it's can only be a matter of time!  

(Speaking of the finishing touch, here is a bit of advice (based on my own experience with the generous helpings of the main plates on the menu) if there's no room for desert after you have finished your meal don't pass up Mari's deserts - get it to go for a late night snack or a treat for another day - yumm!)
In many ways Chris' story (and finding his Restaurant) is an analogy for much of what appeals to me about Loreto - an uncertain, if optimistic beginning, with some ups and downs and twists and turns along the way, before finding yourself in an unexpectedly beautiful place meeting friendly interesting people - topped off in this case with a delicious meal!  Meeting new friends and learning their story while enjoying great food in stunning surroundings is it any wonder why I'm "Living Loreto"!

(Sabor! open Wednesday through Sunday, 11:30 - 9:00 pm, see menu and details: