Sunday, November 30, 2014

Discovering Loreto - the short history of a long past

My bias that I live in a special place is clearly apparent from the contents of this Blog, and I have described many of the attributes that make me think that way, but last weekend I attended a lecture that gave me a new appreciation of another aspect of what makes this part of the world the special place it is.

Following the recent successful fundraising event that I wrote about in:, Eco-Alianza launched a new series of lectures they are calling Discover Loreto, to highlight what is special about this place, and how best we who live here can preserve this unique beauty and  environment for the future to enjoy.  The first Guest Lecturer was Markes E. Johnson, Professor Emeritus of Geology from Williams College, Williamstown MA who has published many books including "Discovering the Geology of Baja California, Six Hikes on the southern Gulf Coast" and his most recent, "Off-Trail Adventures in Baja California, Exploring Landscapes and Geology on Gulf Shores and Islands" which was the focus of his lively and engaging presentation. 

Professor Johnson has been travelling and studying in the Baja extensively for over fifteen years, often accompanied by graduate students, and he has made some significant geological discoveries during that time.  He has been a frequent visitor to the marine park around Loreto and has studied the off-shore Islands here in some detail, as well as numerous other significant points of interest in and around the Sea of Cortez. 

In his introductory remarks Professor Johnson made the point that most of the historical record of the Sea of Cortez can be traced back to two events, both of which took place in 1940.  The first being the voyage of the Western Flyer, a 75' fishing boat the John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts chartered from Monterey Bay California to collect marine biological samples in the Sea of Cortez.   This eventually became the book "The Log from the Sea of Cortez" about the 6 week expedition they embarked on to collect biological samples up and down the east and west coasts, visiting the Islands with stops in Puerto Escondido (just south of Loreto Bay) and re-provisioning in the town of Loreto.  About the town of La Paz, where they had seen a new Hotel under construction, they made the prescient observation  (considering this was almost 75 years ago):

"Probably the airplanes will bring the weekenders from Los Angeles before long, and the beautiful bedraggled old town will bloom with Floridian ugliness."  

Within 6 months of that expedition, there was a second historic journey of exploration undertaken by the E.W. Scripps, a 104' schooner that did the most extensive study up until then of the topography, geology and oceanography of the Sea of Cortez and later published "E.W. Scripps Cruise to the Gulf of California" which charted vast areas, often for the first time.  Although the volume of research that has been done about this part of the world has increased dramatically since, what struck me the most about Professor Johnson's comments was how recent that history has been.

Considering that these first explorations were made only about 75 years ago and the Transpeninsular Highway was opened about 40 years ago, giving road access to a 1000 mile cross section of the Baja from Tijuana to Los Cabos, the development that has taken place in the Baja during such a relatively short period of time is staggering!  Furthermore, if one considers that this Loreto Bay Development has risen from "chalk on sand" to a community of over 600 homes accommodating thousands of people within a period of less than ten years, one can only speculate what changes the next five or ten years will bring!  

So while much of the more geological content of the lecture was over my head, technically speaking, what made the biggest impression on me was how recent the discovery and exploration of the Baja Peninsula has been - and how much more of it is still to be done.  In a place where we are surrounded by man made history, such as the Mission Church in the center of town and the San Javier Mission  nearby in the mountains, it is apparent that man has only just scratched the surface (literally and figuratively!) of much of the natural history that abounds in this part of the world.

I also think it is worth noting that Professor Johnson expressed his surprise at the size of the standing room crowd that came out to listen to his lecture - commenting that the approximately 125 in attendance here was a far larger turn out than he had just had for the same sort of event that was just  recently held in La Paz (with a population 10 times the size of Loreto).  Well represented within this group were Loreto Bay Residents along with ex-pats from town and a number of Mexican Loretanos, for whom live translation of the English presentation was provided by Hugo Maldonado, one of the Eco Alianza executives.

This turnout, and the support by donations that were collected during the evening, is evidence to me of a high level of interest among many people here in Loreto to learn more about this beautiful place, and for many of us to become more involved in appreciating and preserving it for our own enjoyment now and that of others in the future.  In a world that is shrinking due to technology, along with the few small unspoiled parts that still remain, it is worthwhile to be reminded of the good fortune we have to be able to live in one of those special places that has largely escaped the exploitation that has damaged so much of the remaining natural world elsewhere.

Appreciating the fascinating geological history of where we live, while realizing how recently most of that exploration has been done and the level of local interest there is now among the residents of this beautiful place is one more reason to be grateful for the opportunity to be "Living Loreto"! 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Welcome Home! - the new Season is officially underway

Depending on how you look at it, the new Season started over a month ago as Homeowners began to return and the numbers have continued to grow week after week until now there are probably several hundred Residents and Visitors in Loreto Bay.  I say probably, because, as I have written before, it is difficult to give a reasonable estimate of our population at any given time, due to the fact that we are spread out across the Founders Neighborhood and Agua Viva and with miles of pathways and many clusters of houses.  However, one useful measure of the number of people here is the parking situation, and that would indicate that we are now approaching an average occupancy level for mid-season - earlier than usual this year.

Certainly a contributing factor to our current population level is the fact that this is the time of year that each of the dozen sub regimes holds its Annual General Meeting and many Homeowners make an effort to either arrange their arrival for the Season so they are here for their meeting, or if they still only visiting their home a couple of times a year, make this time of year one of those visits.  And, because so many people are here now, this is also the time that our Condominium Management makes plans for events that kick off the new Season.    

Last year at this time was the Inaugural Swim Off relay race which marked the official opening of our new Lap Pool which I wrote about in the post:  That event was so popular among both the swimmers and their cheering sections, that Associa sponsored the 2nd annual Swim Off which was planned for last Saturday morning.  As your intrepid reporter, I arrived at the Lap Pool before the 8:30 am official start time and saw that preparations had been made with colorful custom made Loreto Bay traditional Mexican pennants strung overhead across the lanes of the pool and a DJ was playing pop music on a poolside PA system for the first people to arrive.  Gradually over the next hour or so the crowd grew, about evenly split between swimmers and those who would cheer them on.

Eventually, the four teams of about eight to ten swimmers had assembled, ranging in age from under 10 years to, shall we say, 70+ (?) years and the relay began, with one swimmer at a time from each team swimming 4 x 25 meter laps, with each lap recorded by a lane judge.  After the build up to and initial excitement of the start, the action quickly settled down to a steady routine of laps that varied greatly in speed and style, depending on the relative age and ability of the swimmer in each lane. Meanwhile the resting swimmers and their supporters kept the level of encouragement high throughout the 2 hour event which ended with the winning team having swum over 6,500 meters, followed remarkably closely by most of the other teams.

But the Welcome Home festivities were not over yet - in fact the "main event" was still to come!  Saturday evening there was one of the largest community parties I have ever attended here in Loreto Bay.  Organized by Associa and funded from our Condominium budget, Homeowners were invited to gather on a vacant Beachfront lot near the Lap Pool for a Season starting party with free Paella and Beer and the first performance of the "large band" version of Los Beach Dogs, featuring the original four members; Rich, Steve, George and Tony with Adolfo and Ruben, joined by the "young dogs" that often play with them now.

As regular readers of these Blogs know, I have written about numerous Beach Dog performances over the years, and have commented before about the development and evolution of our favorite home-grown entertainers, but I will remember this 2014 Welcome Home concert as the "high water" mark - the combination of the venue on the Beach, the professional stage and PA set up, the crowd of over 300 happy Homeowners, and the occasion celebrating the beginning of another Season - all came together to make for a memorable evening.

When the Paella was ready to serve from the 6' diameter pan it was prepared in, a "conga line" of hungry Homeowners snaked their way through the crowd to receive a steaming helping of the savory rice dish, meanwhile on the opposite side of the party area there was a more modest set-up for serving a smaller vegetarian version of the same dish.  There were also two beer dispensaries located on the perimeter, with members of our popular Security Staff serving up a steady stream of draft to keep the party lubricated and the dancers dancing the night away.

Circulating among the crowd, mingling with friends, neighbors and acquaintances, enjoying the music, the food, and the ambiance, and surrounded by the beautiful architecture of our Community bordering the crescent beach that we take our name from, I found myself reflecting on how far we have come in the past five years.  Five years ago, when the world was an uncertain place and we were all feeling vulnerable, many of us were unsure if Loreto Bay would continue - and if we could be part of it.  Contrast that to the substantially completed Community, the garden like surroundings, the recently finished amenities, the growing number of services and commercial establishments - and most importantly, the steadily increasing numbers of us who are spending more time here and contributing to the positive heading we are now on.

Welcome Home, a familiar phrase, one that rolls easily off the tongue - and yet in our case, it sums up the recent history which has forged clusters of raw new houses into a solid, thriving Community that is so much more than the component parts - and the reason that most of us are now "Living Loreto"!      

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Eco Alianza - working with young people for the future

Here in Loreto, often important social occasions are linked with fund-raising events to benefit local organizations and this past weekend it was the seventh anniversary of Eco Alianza celebrated with a buffet dinner and silent/live auctions at the beautiful La Mision Hotel overlooking the Malacon and Marina in the center of town.

Eco Alianza as an organization has a unique focus of providing education and experiences to the children of Loreto, introducing them to the natural environment and instilling them with conservational values to protect and preserve that environment for the future.  With Loreto at the center of a protected Marine Park that extends for 35 km on the Sea of Cortez, much of the Eco Alianza focus is on that Ocean and the surrounding waterways that replenish it.   As such, Eco-Alianza is also a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance and part of the network of Waterkeepers of Baja Californias, whose primary mission is defend and protect the local beaches, watersheds, and ocean for the benefit of our communities.

Photo courtesy of Eco Alianza
While it might be reasonable to assume that kids in a place like Loreto, historically a fishing village and on the coastline of a body of water that the famous Jacques Cousteau once proclaimed as "the aquarium of the World", would grow up intimately familiar with the natural world and particularly the sea life that surrounds them - but in fact the reality is very different.  I was surprised to learn that  the vast majority of young people in Loreto may have never been on a boat or visited the nearby off-shore Islands - let alone snorkeled in the gin-clear waters that surround us here.

Photo courtesy of Eco Alianza
In addition to an extensive education program where the children are taught about the environment with a focus on conservation and sustainability, and learn about the rich sea life that surrounds them - much of which is endangered elsewhere, Eco-Alianza also celebrates environmental events where the community is invited to enjoy contests, games, clean-ups and workshops in the schools. Top-rated environmental movies and documentaries are presented, creating wonderful occasions where entire families can be together and enjoy learning about our environment and about the natural values and importance of the Bay of Loreto National Park.  Through these activities the child oriented focus of the organization opens direct access to the extended families of the participants, which in turn multiplies the effect and influence that Eco Alianza has on the larger community.

To support these good works I was one of the over 150 people who arrived last Saturday evening at La Mision Hotel for one their largest fundraising events of the year.  The tables in the beautiful Mezzanine Dining Room were decked out with special linens and centerpieces and as people arrived they were checked off the reservation list, issued a numbered bidding paddle and could purchase drink and raffle tickets for the evenings activities.  Most of the cocktail time before the buffet dinner was used to preview  the large numbers of silent auction items displayed on the two balconies off the main dining areas.    

There were displays of locally made silver jewelry, home decor items, artwork, pottery and pewter and they were attracting lots of interested bidders.  Along the main bar of the lounge section of the dining room was another collection photos and descriptions of other high end items that would be offered later during the live auction portion of the evening.  Many of these were experience opportunities including things like a private glass bottom boat excursion, a getaway at a locally famous waterfront estate for a party of 10, a private plane tour of the area surrounding Loreto including the off-shore Islands, a half day charter on a 65' yacht, a dinner party for 10 at a Beachfront home - any one of which could make memories that last a lifetime!

As dusk fell and the full moon rose over the Sea of Cortez, bathing the Malacon with its silvery light, people found their places at the tables for 10 that filled the Mision dining room and then made their way to the buffet line where they helped themselves to salad, steamed veggies, chicken and fish as well as vegetable lasagna and Mexican style rice.  As the delicious food was being enjoyed some of the more avid bidders returned to their favorite items to check on the silent auction's progress before it was closed at the end of the meal.

After Tom, the Master of Ceremonies, explained the mission and goals of Eco Alianza and told about the important work that was being done in Loreto by the organization, a group of children that were involved in the year long program  were introduced and, through one of their facilitators, shared some of their highlights with the program.  It was made very clear that an important part of the success of the program was the focus on the youth who, with education and guidance, can extend the influence of what they learn to their family and friends, thereby multiplying the impact the environmentally sensitive message that Eco Alianza spreads.

When we were all better informed about the good works that were made possible by the organization and the many volunteers and advisors that contribute their time and efforts to make it happen, it was time for the highlight of the evening and the live auctioning of the many special opportunities that had been contributed by local businesses and individual supporters.  The bidding was lively and many items quickly surpassed the $1,000 dollar mark netting a significant windfall that will underwrite a strong and growing role for Eco Alianza well into the future of Loreto and its spectacular environment.

When the final items were sold and the crowd congratulated itself and the many organizers and contributors that had made this special evening possible, people gathered in the registration area and began the somewhat complicated process of sorting out who had the winning bids on auction items and then paying for them.  As we left the beautiful nighttime Malacon and made our way back to Loreto Bay, I think all of us in the group of Homeowners I had attended with, felt good about the evening and the good work that would be possible because of it - enjoying a special evening and helping to preserve and protect the beautiful surroundings that brought us here is a perfect combination when you are "Living Loreto"! 

P.S. If you are interested in finding out more about Eco Alianza or making a donation to them online please visit their website:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Bi-Cultural All Hallowed Eve

Last weekend I was invited to a Halloween house party here in Loreto Bay which proved to be a great opportunity for many of the Homeowners who have recently arrived back here to get together and celebrate the beginning of a new Season and renew connections in our Community.  Halloween has become a more universal festivity than the mainly child-oriented event that it was "when I was a boy", and that trend was certainly in evidence here on this All Hallowed Eve!

That is not to say that Halloween in Loreto Bay is an exclusively adult occasion.  There is a small population of mainly younger children who live here, often their parents have businesses here and they choose to own or rent in Loreto Bay. For these younger "Trick or Treaters" there was  a circuit of homes that were occupied and whose Owners had stocked up on goodies to distribute, as well some of the businesses along the Paseo that were open and handing out treats, including the Wine Cellar that had organized an open party and encouraged people to spend the evening there and enjoy the kids in costume who stopped by for Halloweening.  I also saw several car loads of costumed kids, who were obviously "candy commuting" from town, under their parents supervision, and were apparently enjoying some sweet success in their pursuit of treats in Loreto Bay!   

I have observed this popularity of costuming here on other occasions in the past, and the party I attended was no exception, with 90% of those in attendance in disguise - which speaks to the planning and preparation, or in some cases, resourcefulness and creativity, of many of the people who had the forethought to bring costumes and/or accessories with them.  Particularly considering that many of them had made space within their limited airline luggage to bring these things with them for just such an event.

The scene of the  party was the large beautiful home of Dave and Sherry in a completed cluster of homes in Agua Viva, with the pathway approach lined with traditional luminaria (paper bags, weighted with sand holding a candle).  Inside the spacious courtyard area was decorated with other Halloween themed decorations and there was a table full of savory and sweet treats on the dining room table that had been catered by "Mrs. Baggets", a bakery and sandwich shop in the town of Loreto which has recently come under the new management of Jupiter and Laura.  The adjacent kitchen was (as usual) a popular focal point of the party where guests fixed their preferred beverages and visited, but I soon discovered that the real "action" was upstairs on the large second floor terrace where most of the ghouls and goblins congregated in the mild evening air.

While some of the costumed guests were "incognito" and maintained a mysterious presence most of us were more or less recognizable, if not immediately, then during the ensuing conversations.  Recent arrival dates and length of stays were a common topic as people resumed friendships or made new acquaintances, and a number of the conversations I had during the evening confirmed my earlier impression that more Homeowners are here earlier in the Season and planning on staying longer than in past years.

While these Halloween traditions that were familiar to us, and had been successfully transplanted from where they had been a part of our holiday calendar since childhood, my observation is that since I have been here there is more attention being paid to the celebration of Halloween than I was aware of when I was newly arrived.  This higher profile Halloween takes the form of numerous parties, both public and private, and even the availability of some basic costume pieces and decorations available in local stores (including pumpkins, which I don't think I've seen before).

But of course Mexico has their own traditional celebration at this time of year, Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, which traces its origins here back hundreds of years to the Aztec culture, and is celebrated in the days following Halloween.  There is also some overlap with the observance of All Saints Day in this predominantly Catholic country.  Here in Loreto the public observance of honoring the deceased is mainly evidenced by the appearance of elaborate displays of artificial flower arrangements that seem to "blossom" around town and are offered for sale in the weeks leading up to the end of last month.

 These flowers are an essential part of paying respect to family members who have passed away, as it is the tradition to visit and maintain their grave sites over this holiday, tidying the site up, painting doing necessary repairs etc, decorating it with new floral arrangements, fresh remembrance candles and even leaving token gifts of favorite possessions, food
and drink - often culminating with an overnight party at the grave- side for family and friends of the deceased.  I took the opportunity of this holiday to visit the Loreto Cemetery on the day after the 31st and saw what I'm sure was an unusually busy scene (for a normal Saturday) of Loretanos doing their annual maintenance of their ancestor's resting place in preparation for this uniquely Mexican tradition.  Which significantly also extends to the many roadside shrines that are a sobering feature of Highway 1, marking the scene of where accidents have taken lives in the past, and now are the destination of annual pilgrimages for the families to pay their respects.

And so another holiday celebration passes, as we who have come to adopt Loreto as our winter home bring our own traditions, create some new ones, and see the influence and evolution of those traditions here in our new home on ourselves as well as the local residents, whose own traditions are making an impact in turn on us.  Combining the appeal of our North American festival of dressing up in costumes with the age old traditions of remembrance and respect for family and friends who have passed away is just one more unique aspect of "Living Loreto".

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Doctor's Point - good for what ails you!

Last weekend I took part in a relaxed hike that was organized by Norm who started an informal group about a year ago of ex-pats from in and around Loreto, who get together in the Fall and Spring for outings into the areas around Loreto, and occasionally further afield on overnight expeditions.  I have been following the announcements of these hikes with interest for some time, but up until now I had not been able to participate due to timing conflicts (yes, some of us have to keep to schedules even in paradise!).  So when I received word of this, the first hike of the new Season, I made sure I was free to join them.

Norm and his wife Maxine live on the north side of town and these outings often begin at their home, which is where I was heading, driving along the Malacon in town, when I saw a cruise ship anchored offshore of the town Marina.  Loreto has been a cruise ship port for years now, but this Season there are more stopovers than in past years, with 15 scheduled between this October and next April almost all of them belonging to the Princess Cruise Line.  With thousands of passengers on each ship, the impact is definitely felt in a small town like Loreto, when these tourists come ashore and can be seen strolling the streets, stopping in stores and restaurants and photographing some of our historic sites.

I was the first to arrive at Norm and Maxine's, but we were soon joined by their daughter, who was visiting from the US, and two other hikers.  Norm commented that last year about 20 people had shown up for the same outing, but he never knows how many of the 100 or so people on his email list will participate in an event.  We left in two vehicles and headed further north of town on a rough dirt road heading to our destination: Doctor's Point, a rocky point of land across from Coronado Island, just past Picazon Restaurant, which I have written about in past Blogs like:

After a short 20 minute drive over what would only be called a "road" in the Baja, we came to a somewhat structured parking area at the edge of a well maintained chain link fence.  After everyone (including the two dogs who were our companions on the trip) collected their stuff out of the cars, we paralleled the fence as we climbed a small rise heading towards the Ocean.  Just before we reached the shoreline there was a passageway through the fence that we crossed through and then continued north along the shore towards the point of land ahead that was our destination.

Sometime in the past apparently a Doctor had purchased this rocky outcrop with a 270 degree view of the channel separating it from Coronado Island.  The Doctor had started to build an ambitious home of natural stone which featured a high domed roof that became a landmark for sailors passing by (hence the name, Doctor's Point).  But the building was never finished and was apparently abandoned for years before a Developer purchased a large tract of land, including Doctor's Point, and erected the perimeter fence around 2008 - just before the global Real Estate crisis - since which, any future development of the area has been on hold.     

The reportedly beautiful beginnings of the stone residence are now long gone, and in its place is a rather utilitarian long low concrete building with a thatch roof apparently built by the current Developer/Owner, half of which is devoted to a couple of bedrooms and the remainder is a storage room for several boats and other equipment.  Although the building is well maintained, except for some damage to the thatched roof which may have occurred during the recent storms, there was no evidence of recent usage and our group of happy wanderers were grateful for a shady place to rest after our half hour hike from the parking lot.

After a snack and something to drink, the rest of the group headed down to the shore for some snorkeling while I enjoyed wandering around the shoreline watching crabs scuttling over the rocks and hundreds of butterflies drifting with the breeze and lighting on the odd flowers that have blossomed since the rains this Fall.  Thanks to Norm, I am including beautiful shots of some of the fish he saw while snorkeling the rocky shore, in addition to which there were several large eels, an octopus and a lobster spotted.

After the snorkelers came ashore we gathered up our belongings back at the building, we made our
way back the way we had come and drove the cars the short trip back to Picazon, where we rewarded ourselves with cold drinks under their Palapa, enjoying a cool breeze off the water.  There was some discussion at the table of future destinations for hikes, and plans for some overnight excursions to come.  But mainly it was a pleasure just to enjoy meeting some new people, seeing some new sights and enjoying a drink at one of my favorite spots in the Baja.    

I hope to be able to participate in more of these outings in the future, time will tell how busy a Season it will be in Loreto Bay Real Estate, but I enjoyed the simple pleasure of getting out and going for a "stroll" (we all agreed afterwards that "hike" was too strong a word for this outing), see some new sights and meet some new people - all in the beautiful surroundings that I never want to take for granted - this was another wonderful way of "Living Loreto"!