Loreto Bay 2006: That's my wife Loni trying to envision a home in the middle of the Baja desert.

It’s been about six years now since we purchased a plot of dirt, here in Loreto Bay. Many thought we were crazy to have bought into the then fledgling resort development located on the Sea of Cortez in Baja California Sur (the southern-most state on the Baja peninsula located directly below California). They were probably right. I mean, this wasn’t exactly a North American style tract-home style purchase; anyone who had yet to learn about Mexican land ownership, the construction process, and — learn it well mes amigos — the meaning of “mañana” we’re in for an eye opening experience.

Crazy is as crazy does

Looking back on the experience now that our little casa is completed — one among a few hundred homes of various sizes — my wife and I both agree that it was absolutely worth it. Unequivocally. As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. In the case of Loreto Bay, we can thank the community largely for that. Here’s Loni trying to locate the lot we had just purchased – if you think it’s the Wild West here now, you should’ve seen it back then:

Loreto Bay 2006: That’s my wife Loni trying to envision a home in the middle of the Baja desert.

In 2009, about four years into an ambitious plan that would see the construction of over 500 homes (and that was just phase one), the developer filed for bankruptcy. It wasn’t an uncommon headline. Developments across Mexico, Canada and the U.S. were facing the economic reality of the real estate crash. Donald Trump’s much publicized project, up north in Baja California on the Pacific side, ceased operation and investors lost everything; there was no recourse in that case (as far as I know). Loreto Bay customers who had taken the plunge (after placing a red dot on a map to select their lot after a few margaritas, only to later dance the night away, dreaming of what could be) also faced their worst nightmares. Construction came to a halt. The idea of sunk money, typically hundreds of thousands of dollars, was the new reality. Then there were the accusations. Had the developer misappropriated funds? How could so much cash go in, and yet so little come out in the form of home building, utilities and much-promised amenities (which at the time included a beach club, botanical garden, desalination plant, and more)? And why inquiries into Citibank go unanswered?

Thankfully, ex-pats, locals, and investors alike had fallen under the Loreto spell. The amazing blue sea, and the stunning Sierra de la Giganta mountain range just a few miles to the east, past highway 1, will do that to you. Stubborn would be a good word to describe the collective ethos at the time. We will not let Loreto Bay die!

And survive she did

No doubt in part because of the legal process. Also, social media played a prominent role. With home owners spread across the world, and news hard to come by for those not physically located in the area, it was hard to mobilize. Social networking enabled us to strengthen our voices – to share strategies related to dealing with a non-responsive, debt-ridden builder; to organize around clusters of homes (“sub-regimes”); and ultimately to put into motion a plan of attack that would see the development be taken over by the home owners themselves. In the end, though, it was the collective will of the owners. Thankfully when we pooled our resources and expertise, we realized we could be a formidable force. We had lawyers, accountants, construction experts, politicians, and — most important — singers, and entertainers. Cliche I know to say it, but laughing and smiling with future neighbors was often the best way to get through the process.

Despite her challenges and checkered past, when you walk around Loreto Bay today it’s impossible not to realize an impossible truth: the original visionaries and designers have delivered on their promises. Those early water colors depicting some sort of alternate universe (“Live fully. Tread lightly.”) and marketing brochures that promised European walkways, replete with vivid plants and sculpted landscaping, have become — against all odds, indeed — a reality.

6 years later

We’ve chronicled our Baja adventure over the years here on Stark Insider. I could fill volumes based on stories of all sorts. The financial aspects are mildly interesting, if not predictable. For example, when money stops coming in, construction stops. What happens, though, when you’ve paid 80% of the value of your home, only to discover the builder has completed just 20%? What happens when Stewart Title gets the go ahead to release insurance claims, with the erroneous assumption that utilities are in place? For anyone but the most vested, these become minutia and trivia. What’s far more intriguing is how a new community forms. Human nature being human nature means factions form. Years earlier during crisis it was home owners versus developer. Later, it occasionally would become home owner versus home owner.

What, me worry?!

In the end, for those who were able to weather the storm of buying a home in a risky project such as Loreto Bay, the dividends were significant, if not financial. Little things here make a difference now. Whether it’s a new cafe opening on the main street, or new landscaping or a community pool, we’ve gone from worrying whether the development would turn into a grave-land of half-finished properties with rebar jutting to the sky, to worrying whether the Internet on any given day will work well enough to allow us to upload photos of sunsets and stunning vistas to Facebook. After all, once you’ve come this far, you want to tell the world about it.

Loreto Bay – On the ground

Here’s a brief photo tour of the Villages of Loreto Bay development as it exists today. This is by no means comprehensive, just a random assortment of photos I snapped the other day as I began a short working vacation here.

In addition to all the homes, custom lots, and common areas, the original Loreto Bay plan called for two condo buildings – Posada Norte and Posada Sur. They four story structures never made it. Here’s a look at one of the unfinished ones:

Posada Sur: One of two unfinished condo buildings in the Villages of Loreto Bay resort in Baja California Sur, Mexico.
The view from a viewing tower across the Agua Viva neighborhood of Loreto Bay.
A finished courtyard – to see pathways, and not Baja dust and dirt is a minor miracle for those who bought homes here.
This is our little casa. Loni anointed it “Casa del Largarta Azul.” Yes, inside there are blue walls… and somewhere a lizard hangs.
Great room/Kitchen of our Loreto Bay casa.
Sunday Mornings: Don’t miss the Loreto Farmer’s Market.
Yours Truly: Can you spot the gringo?
A popular grocery store in town.

More soon, my Internet connection just died, and I’m borrowing bandwidth from a shop around the corner…

UPDATE 7:06pm Loreto time: Internet back up thanks to some hard work by the Agua Viva Management team. Photo tour continues.

One of my favorite features of the walkways around Loreto Bay are these stamped covers.
Recently street lights were installed along the Paseo in Loreto Bay. Not only are they pretty fixtures, but they add beauty to the development.
Okay, it’s not Rodeo Drive. But that’s not the point. In fact, it’s not even close — by a long shot — to offering the variety of shops you’d find in Cabo or even La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur, What you get instead is a laid back community with lots of relaxed personality, and an active, outdoor lifestyle.
Sierra de la Giganta — Make a move.

UPDATE 10:50pm Loreto time: Thanks for all your emails, and feedback via the Stark Insider contact form. As always I’m amazed at how many of you out there follow SI on a regular basis, braving my Loreto adventures and such. Some of you have asked about the dates for the next Loreto Food & Wine Festival. As you may know the inaugrual edition was held earlier this year. Mark your calendars, the next is scheduled for March 22-24, 2013. Here’ s a highlight reel of what to expect:

Clinton Stark
Clinton shoots videos for Stark Insider. San Francisco Bay Area arts, Ingmar Bergman and French New Wave, and chasing the perfect home espresso shot 25 seconds at a time (and failing). Peloton: ClintTheMint. Camera: Video Gear