Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hurricane weather

Zoe is not a happy camper in all this rain!
It was one hell of a summer and now it's one hell of a Fall as Hurricane Paul makes for our part of Baja. The storm is approaching Baja at a Category 2 level, but will hit our area as a Category 1, bringing 30-40 mph winds (which doesn't sound too bad, but that remains to be seen) and even more rain. Hurricane Paul : 5 Day Forecast Map | Weather Underground

Jorge Macias, our home owner association administrator, stopped by a few minutes ago to warn us about the impending storm with suggestions on safeguarding our home. Thanks, Jorge, that's what I call going above and beyond! We'd already started stockpiling water and shoving towels under doors and now we've moved our lighter outdoor furniture to safer locations, so we're as ready as we're going to be. 

Aargh! Not again!!

The problem we all face here in Loreto Bay when the winds kick up is loose tower tiles flying through the air and wreaking havoc. And all this rain means more leaks and more interior damage. We heard of a couple of cases of water just pouring in through people's ceilings after the last rain and this go-around sure isn't going to help. More mildew, more mosquitos and more slogging through water. 

I suppose it helps to think of this storm as an adventure, but that's hard to do when we've had to deal with all the earlier rain and storms. I know I'm not alone in saying, "Hey, nature, enough's enough!"

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Next up: A plague of locusts?

It’s been a summer of rain, earthquakes and brutal heat, which is making me wonder what’s in store for us next.  Locusts, perhaps? 
Just a few days ago we experienced a 6.3 magnitude earthquake here, which probably caused some cracking of plaster around Loreto Bay but no real damage from what we've heard. According to the really cool earthquake app on our iPad, there were also several distinct smaller quakes about 20 minutes after the “big” one and then several more shortly after midnight later that day.  The quakes were located closer to us than we’ve seen before, originating a little more than a 100 miles south of us in the Sea of Cortez.
I was at a neighbor's house during the quake and didn’t feel a thing, but George was shaken awake while taking a snooze and it really freaked him out. It was a first for him, but I doubt that anyone ever gets used to that weird sensation. Creepy!
Flooding from maybe an inch of rain!
This morning we woke to the sound of pounding rain and once again (sigh) the Paseo is flooded and will stay that way for at least several days but probably longer. Homex, the developer that came in and bought up pieces of Loreto Bay a couple of years ago, repaved the road a year and a half ago, but didn’t do the proper engineering so there’s no drainage in the area around us and in areas of the Founder’s Neighbor to our south. Rain and heavy equipment traffic has already worn away parts of the road and it’s doubtful that Homex will repair it. Sigh.
Get out your kayaks!
Water beads up nicely on new waterproofing
And speaking of bugs! For the past month, we’ve been plagued by really aggressive flies that aren’t content with just landing on us. No, these killer flies dive bomb our heads with the apparent goal of getting in our noses, ears and mouths. Yikes! Taking our dog Zoe out for a walk has become a real nightmare as we duck, weave and flap our arms trying to keep the flies away. We’re also seeing monster moths and other strange creepy-crawlies, but that’s normal for this time of year. Happily, though, I’ve also seen a couple of dime-sized frogs in the landscaping in front of our house, which is a nice sight since our house frog, Sparky, apparently bit the dust this year. RIP Sparky! 
After that epic 20-inch rain in August we sprouted several leaks in the house, so we bit the bullet and paid to have the roof terrace and tower re-waterproofed. And it was finished just in the nick of time this past week. Not only do the tiles look much better, we shouldn’t have any leaks this go-around. 
Another huge problem with the rain down here is that the wooden doors and window tend to swell, which means doors and windows stick, or in some cases, swell completely shut. Fun. It’s too bad (and frankly, ridiculous) that the design guidelines down here prohibit the use of anything but wood for doors and windows. There are a few homes that have managed to squeak by the rules and install beautiful clad windows and doors, which look just like wood but are more durable and earth-friendly. 
Considering the fact that this community was marketed as green and sustainable, it’s anything but! Founder’s is an all-electric community, for crying out loud! How green is that? At least here in Agua Viva we’ve got solar water heaters and gas, but many home owners have had to replace their solar panels with regular water heaters because the panels didn’t work.  Sigh. Until those guidelines prohibiting anything but wood are changed, we can all look forward to continue shelling out more money every year to apply possibly toxic stains to all the wood in our homes to keep it from disintegrating. Now, how green does all that sound?

Friday, August 31, 2012

The greening of Baja

To think all it took was 20 inches of rain in a couple of days to turn our desert landscape into an incredible green wonderland. 

Highway 1 between Mulege and Loreto

We missed the big downpour, but we were still in Baja, just much farther north in Ensenada.  This is the third summer we’ve left Loreto for a break from the heat and a quick trip to the States for shopping. 
Our house on left with new lake out front

At first, I was really disappointed we weren’t here for the big rain event, but that disappointment turned to relief when we saw the photos of the mess that deluge left behind. Good grief, there was one photo of a resident kayaking in the new lake outside our home, which covered the road and all of the area below our house. Our neighbor, Maryanne, said the water was up to her knees when she crossed the Paseo to check on our house and up to the top of the tires on her car. What a mess!
Agua Viva looking south

Then we started getting reports on our house and learned we had some leaks and decided to head home a week early.  Once we hit the Sea of Cortez side of Baja we noticed a big change from our journey north less than a month before. 
All along the highway it was green. Goats were resting on lush green grass beneath beautiful green trees. It looked downright idyllic and totally unlike anything we’ve seen here before. This year there’s plenty of grass to fill the stomachs of all those cows, goats, donkeys, horses and burros that forage alongside the highway. A very welcome change from the usual view of half-starving livestock searching for any little sprout of edible green. I expect we’ll be seeing some happy-looking livestock for the next couple of months.
We arrived home, unloaded our packed-to-the-rafters SUV and started checking out our house. Considering the amount of rain we got in such a short time, the damage wasn’t too bad. And nothing thus far has diminished the pleasure we get from seeing all this green.

Storm clouds roll in over the mountains every day

But there can be too much of a good thing. It's already rained twice since we arrived home Monday and every day the storm clouds roll in and the humidity shoots up. I really wouldn't mind some more rain, but I sure hope it holds off until all our repairs are done. And if you're planning a trip down here anytime soon, be sure to pack the insect repellent. The mosquitoes are out in full force!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A magical, mystery tour Baja-style

Is there anything better than sharing the things you love with the people you love? I’m thinking not, and I’m guessing you probably are, too.
A perfect example is the recent visit of my brother, Richard, and his beautiful wife, Belinda. For such a long time we thought no one would ever visit us. The cost of airline tickets has skyrocketed and these days, who has the time? But I finally persuaded my newly-married brother to bring his bride to Loreto, and, boy, did we have a blast!
Richard and Belinda on the Malecon in Loreto
I’ve always known my outdoors-loving, back-packing brother would go crazy over Baja. Like me, he has an affinity for the desert after living for so many years in New Mexico. And like me, he likes the wide open spaces more than people-populated places. I knew it would be a match made in heaven. And it was.

Thank goodness Belinda is such a good sport. She’s a city girl through and through, but she’s naturally outgoing and friendly and she very gamely put up with the inconveniences that routinely confront visitors, like less than sanitary banos (in some cases, downright disgusting) and hotels that aren’t up to U.S. standards. She was a real trouper and we love her for it.

It was a long and frustrating trip for them from Orlando to Miami to Mexico City and finally La Paz, where we met them at the airport (surprisingly small for such a large city) after midnight. Our first night was spent at a nice little place off the Malecon, which was billed on Trip Advisor as very quiet and probably would’ve been if the Baja 1000 wasn’t finishing up in La Paz that night. We were serenaded by the sounds of revving engines well into the wee hours, but that didn’t diminish my excitement the following morning as we did a little a sight-seeing and then headed to Loreto.

View from Loreto Bay and Punta Nopolo
Although it’s a long and boring trip from La Paz to Loreto, there’s a terrific payoff when you finally arrive at Loreto Bay. It's such a beautiful place and such an unexpected sight after traveling through miles and miles of scrub, cactus and desert. It's a beautiful oasis with the incredible Sierra de la Gigante mountain range on one side and the crystal waters of the Sea of Cortez on the other.
Agua Viva, Loreto Bay
It was a whirlwind of activity from that point on and the highlight of their visit for me – and I think for them – was the time we spent on Poco Loco. We saw huge pods of bottle nose dolphins that leapt and cavorted and surfed through our wake on both trips, sting rays flying out of the water and even a small whale (a young fin whale, we think). That was a real surprise and an amazing end to a wonderful day that included snorkeling at Honeymoon Cove and anchoring in the bay at Villa del Palmar where we took the dinghy in for a fabulous lunch.
A prime spot at Honeymoon Cove
A day of leaping dolphins
We also had an unexpected detour to Isla Montserrat on our second Poco Loco outing, but that side trip is worth it's own post, so look for it here or on http://www.sueslifeinbalance.com/ sometime in the near future.
Yellowstone Beach, Isla Montserrat
And speaking of food (my favorite subject), we ate the most awesome meals and drank the most delicious margaritas during their week-long stay. In other words, we had a great time.  Another highlight was going to a Los Beach Dogs gig at Bajaja Bar & Grill, where George, Rich and Steve put on another great show. Sadly, this was Bajaja's end of the season grand finale, so we'll all have to wait until Fall for more of those great hamburgers and french fries and more of the Los Beach Dogs, too.

What's not to love?!
But the very best part of their visit was that George and I got to know and love Belinda and I got to spend time with my little brother and share in his excitement and wonder of this incredible place. It’s an awesome thing to see the place you love through someone else’s eyes. 

It was hard to see them go but the good news is they’re building a pool at their home in Orlando and Belinda works for Disney! You can’t beat that combo, so we’re hoping to visit them next year. In the meantime, we’ll continue to beg our family and friends in the States to come visit us. It really is a joy to share this wonderful place with those we hold near and dear and we can’t wait to do more of it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A whale-sized adventure

One of the highlights of living in Loreto is the annual opportunity to see gray whales (ballenas gris) up close and personal. Hundreds of gray whales make the yearly trip to the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur from the cold seas around Alaska to calve in the warmer waters along the coastline. Luckily for us, one of the prime breeding grounds is only an hour and a half away at Magdalena Bay located at Puerto Lopez Mateos, about 25 kilometers outside the small town of Insurgentes.

The whales start their migration in October, making their way down the west coast of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. The 5,000 to 6,800 mile trip takes two to three months and by late December and early January the whales arrive and the calving begins. We plan our trips for mid-March when the babies are older and less shy. By this time, most of the mothers seem relaxed about their little ones socializing with humans and even proud to show them off.

For the second year in a row we made the trip with our friends, Tracy P. and Tracy W., with the addition of Tracy P.’s cousin, Meghan, from Alexandria, Virginia. It was Meghan’s first time in Loreto and her first time to see and touch the friendly, playful mothers and babies.

We all decided that last year was good, but this year our experience was spectacular! Check out the video and you’ll see just what I mean…

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A mad case of puppy love

Call it puppy love, puppy fever or just plain old insanity – whatever you call it, George and I have it. Zoe entered our lives more than a week ago when a friend who visits here regularly (and has five dogs at home in the States), decided to rescue her from the noisy, crowded vet store in Loreto.

Meet Zoe!

Her intention was to bring the little miniature schnauzer (a breed noted for being steadfast, loyal, affectionate and obedient – think dog version of a Boy Scout) home with her as the newest addition to her dog menagerie. But the morning she stopped by our house with the adorable puppy (formerly known as Frannie), her plan changed. Maybe it was my stupefied reaction at seeing her standing on my doorstep holding what looked like a baby Ewok (you’ll remember those tree-living cuties from the old Star Wars’ movies). Maybe it was the way I swooned when I held the fluffy little critter. Whatever it was, she suddenly seemed determined to gift us with the little bundle of joy.

She and our friend Tracy had tried in the past to persuade George to become a puppy daddy. They’d plied him with enough booze to stock a good-sized liquor cabinet, but to no avail. My occasional whining about wanting a pet didn’t move him one bit! He’d just pat my knee in a comforting way and smile sweetly - talk about infuriating! Yes, George stood firm in his resolve to remain pet-free in the face of all that pleading (mine), whining (mine) and alcohol (the two Tracys).

It took the sight of that furry little puppy to weaken his resolve. Suddenly, he was talking about the possibility by bringing up how much our lives would change if we took her. No more picking up at a moment’s notice for a quick trip to La Paz or to town. And what about the boat, he asked. How would we take overnight trips with a dog? (Zoe has been on Poco Loco with us twice now and has been good as gold!) He argued we’d no longer be free to do anything if we had a puppy. Oh, woe was he!

Zoe with Bradley and Shiloh

In spite of all those concerns it only took a few sessions of puppy sitting for him to cave. I can’t say he was as enthused as I, but he gave the go-ahead and now she’s ours. And, boy, have things changed around here! Our living room is a jumble of dog toys and puppy chews. Our time is taken up chasing her around the house, reading dog books, taking her for hourly walks in the hopes that potty-training will be a short-lived misery for all of us, grabbing naps when we can and laughing at her antics as she bounces and bounds around the house. In short, she’s made this place a lot more lively and fun. And George has gone from being puppy shy to puppy crazy. If you’d seen him at the store reading the ingredient’s lists on bags of puppy food, you’d laugh.

Zoe and her best buddy Monti

And to say she’s a hit here in this dog-centric community in which we live would be an understatement. Everywhere we go she’s besieged by admirers and she shows her appreciation with plenty of dog kisses for all. Just a few nights ago, she went with me to watch George and the other members of Los Beach Dogs (how nice that her dad is dog, too!) play an informal gig at the Wine Cellar here in Loreto Bay. I hate to say it, but she took a lot of attention away from those guitar-strumming dogs that evening. In fact, she stole the show!

Not to say it’s all sunshine and lollipops around here, though. Zoe is only 9 weeks old, so she’s into chewing everything in sight. We’ve had to hide all the scatter rugs we had out and we have to watch her like a hawk to keep her from taking off with our shoes and anything else that looks tasty. And let’s not forget the little “accidents” that keep me busy with papers towels and the mop.

We’re very lucky, though, that we have great neighbors and friends to go to for advice on how to train her, especially since neither one of us has been around a puppy in many years. She’s also got some great dog mentors in the neighborhood who happily play with her and teach her how to be a good dog. Thanks Monti and Shiloh!

This has really been a year of changes for us: Walkways, landscaping, Poco Loco, home improvements and now Zoe. Our roots here are really starting to take hold, just like Zoe has taken hold of our hearts…

Friday, February 3, 2012

Feathering the nest

Now that our neighborhood is looking more neighborly with beautiful walkways and plants, George and I decided it’s time to do something about our good-sized side garden which has stood dusty and forlorn for way too long.

Originally, we’d come up with an elaborate – and expensive – plan that would include a plunge pool to help us in our never-ending battle to combat the heat during our six-month long summer. But our purchase of Poco Loco put an end to that plan, because who needs a dinky pool when there’s access to the best and biggest pool around – the Sea of Cortez.

So now our plans are more modest, but we’re excited nonetheless, because this will give us more space for entertaining and relaxing and much more storage space in the form of a large storage shed or bodega, as it’s called here in Mexico. Finally we’ll have space to store our electric scooters and bikes, as well as all the other odds and ends that are now crammed into every nook and cranny of our casa. Maybe we’ll finally get organized! Then again, considering our penchant for disorganization, maybe not…

Already the floor of the bodega is in place and work on the flagstone paving has begun. We’re also planning on a decorative wall fountain and lots and lots of plants and at least one leafy shade tree. And finally, too, we’ll be able to use the Weber grill that’s been gathering dust outside, which is a real bonus as our upstairs grill seems to have only one heat setting – incinerate!

The only fly in the ointment is the half-finished home that towers over our side yard. To say it’s an eyesore is to say the least, so we’re trying to come up with some creative ways (other than hiring a bulldozer) to camouflage our unsightly neighbor. The simplest plan is to plant climbing vines and that’s where we’ll start.

However, the half-finished homes that comprise a large part of Agua Viva look like they’ll be an ongoing problem for years to come for all of us who finished our homes. What do you do when people walk away from their investment, leaving partially finished homes to deteriorate and devalue completed homes? Our hope is that some of those people will just deed the property over to the home owner association so we can deal with the mess they left behind. Otherwise, legal action is our only remedy. And for those who think they’re safe from legal repercussions because they live in the U.S. or Canada, think again! You can lose your property here in Mexico whether you live here or not.

But the problem with these derelict homes is much greater than just being an eyesore. Many of them are a safety hazard. Too often there is rusting rebar protruding from the concrete of these homes, which poses a threat to anyone walking by. We know of one home owner who fell face down on exposed rebar alongside a derelict home, leaving her with a terrible black eye and the knowledge that she could easily have lost her eye. Talk about a literal eyesore!

So, as much as we’ve accomplished in making our community more livable and pleasant, we’ve got a long way to go.