Thursday, January 31, 2013

It's Only Concrete

Once we finally had the official ownership documents for our new Casa, we had to work quickly as we had only a month before it was time to leave Mazatlan and head north once again. We had a crew lined up and ready to go, and they were at the house the day after we had possession. There was so very much to do, it was hard to know where to start but our contractor, Jesus Guadalupe Castrejon Sanchez (he also answered to Chuie, Jessie, Maestro or Jefe)has done many homes in Centro and knew everything that had to be done. But Mike always was at the house asking him what was going on. He has worked with gringoes in the past so he was prepared for our pestering.
The first, and most important, issue for Mike was the height of all the doors. Each and every door was at least 4 inches shorter than he is, which was involving a lot of ducking, and the occasional very painful head bang. We really had no idea what would be involved to raise the heights of the doors, and were a bit apprehensive until we heard Jesus, our contractor, utter the phrase we would hear over and over again: "No problem, it's only concrete". He wasn't kidding. Out came the sledgehammers, and after a very noisy day, Mike was able to walk into every room without endangering his life.
Concrete is the main building material in Mazatlan, that and bricks. We arrived at the house early one morning to discover that the bricks necessary for building the walls on the roof top had arrived and were piled on the street in front of the house. How did they get upstairs? One by one, tossed up by one crew member to another.
The concrete and mortar are all mixed by hand. The sand and gravel required had also been delivered and they were piled in the corner of what would, someday, become our living room. We had no plumbing in the house at that point, and so an immense tank filled with water had materialized in the future kitchen. The sand, gravel and water were loaded into 5 gallon pails and were carried up the stairs to the second floor and then out to what would become our terrace.
The materials are all carried up a flight of stairs, the concrete is mixed by hand, it was hot, and they worked at it for days, with just a short break for lunch. And they still smiled at me when I arrived with my camera, and laughed with Mike as he attempted to 'help'.
Mike tried everything. He swung a sledgehammer (said it was very very heavy), laid a brick (somewhat crooked) and attempted to apply mortar to a finished brick wall (more mortar on Mike than the wall). Mike is very talented, knows how to fix toilets, install light fixtures, install drywall, just about everything a good Canadian man should know about basic construction techniques. He has discovered however that building a house in Mexico is a whole different story. Despite Mike's efforts at assistance, work processed smoothly, and we were still pretty much on schedule by the time we were ready to leave for Winnipeg in April.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

We bought ... now we shop

Well the house is now ours. So while there is heavy duty construction going on at the Casita we .. sorry, actually Sandie decided we should go shopping. Although we wouldn't be ready for anything like tiles, or sinks or anything really for 6 months at least it was nice to take a break from grey concrete and look at something a little prettier. So we jumped on the bus and headed up to the Sharks Den. A great place in the Gold Zone where we had shopped before. They have everything you want, many of the beach vendors buy from Guadalupe and her son Gustavo so we knew we could find what we wanted there. And what we wanted were a couple of Talavera sinks for the bathrooms and a couple of light covers for the outside lights on our decks. And tiles to go along with the sinks. The house is over 100 years old and we wanted it to look like an old Mexican style home with all the modern amenities in it. As we would learn from our contractor over the months that meant we wanted "Rustico" or as nearly as I could translate, nothing will ever be square in the house, or smooth, or fit together right so don't worry about it, "It's rustico!" Well we weren't disappointed. The number of light covers was overwhelming as you can see. We ended up choosing 3 nice size ones.
And the sinks were crazy. They had them all over the walls, the floor and in the back room. They had big ones, smaller ones, round ones, oval, square, modern designs, fish designs ... just about anything you could think of. You wander around the place being very careful not to knock anything over, believe me there isn't a lot of room so you have to be very careful. Then you pick out what you want. Gustavo goes and gets an extension ladder and deftly gets it past everything without hitting something then climbs up and brings down what you had asked to look at. We picked out two that we thought would go well in our new house.
Then we had to find tiles to match. That was a job. Think of hundreds of colours and styles and patterns and then for you folks that know Sandie and I,to actually agree on the tiles we like. We did eventually manage to find a couple that we thought would match the sinks.
Then you get everything together and start negotiating. That takes quite a while. Gustavo starts really high, we remind him we are regular customers, he comes down a bit. We tell him "aqui vivo ey Mazatlan no soy touristo" or I live in Mazatlan I am not a tourist, he drops his price a little more. I ask for my seniors discount and remind him we'll be back for more things, he comes down a bit more. We shake hands and have a deal. He wraps them up and we take them home. Unfortunatly we don't have finished walls yet, or counters to put the sinks in, or paint picked out, or any plumbing but we have a crazy vision what is under all the dirt and rubble and now we have something pretty to look at instead of just grey walls.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Well ... we went kind of crazy

I guess it was inevitable that we would at some time want our own house. I thought we might rent for a few more years but Sandie had other thoughts. One day last Jan she was walking to work at Look gallery which is on a pretty and very old street in Mazatlan. She saw a small, old home which was listed for sale by a local owner. After a couple of phone calls we had a chance to look inside. I've enclosed a couple of pictures of the place which actually might convince people we went, ... well, a little crazy. We had a contractor check it out who told us that it looked OK and used an expression we would hear a lot in the next year when we asked our contractor about doing something, (It's only concrete!)and decided to go ahead and make an offer.
And then just like that we were home owners in Mexico!!!! Well home might be an exageration, we had walls which needed desperatly to be repaired, no water, no electricity, no lights, no toilets, basically nothing. But we both thought we could see the possibilities.
We then had to go through the process of buying a home in Mexico. Although we have bought and sold and renovated a number of homes in Canada when it came to Mexico homes we were absolutly virgins. But we learned quickly. First down here you have to realize the buyer pays all of the closing costs and you need a Notario which is like a super lawyer to handle the paperwork. He checks land titles, taxes, other debts and ownership and guess what; one of the owners listed had passed away a number of years ago. Then the drama starts; the paperwork goes of to the state capital in Culiacan and on the Mexico City. The Mexican legal system does it`s thing and eventually all the corrected paperwork shows up back at the Notario to sign. We also get what is called a Fedicomicio, or bank trust. The bank actually holds the papers on the property for 50 years when you renew it so it is a real leap of faith that some government doesn`t come along and change the rules and foreign owners are sent packing but the chances of that happening really are virutually nill in the modern times. We sign the paperwork, every page of the Fedicomicio front and back (roughly 100 pages), they give us the keys and the house is ours.
And then, `We went kind of crazy` journey began. For the next few posts we`ll bring everyone up to date on the work we had done to the house, some pictures, Mexican renovation stories, our selling of our townhouse in Winnipeg and the purchase of a condo and the final push and move in at our new house in Mazatlan.