Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Arrangements had been made to rent a little house on Ninos Heroes, just around the corner from ours, on Venus, but only for 2 months. We knew the pressure would be on and that we would be busy, but I don't think we realized just how hectic it would be. We simply had to have everything finished by the end of December, or we would be homeless. I was determined that we would be in our new home by Christmas Day. We had accumulated some larger pieces of furniture before we left Mazatlan last spring, and had stored it with friends, but there were still countless things that were needed. We were lucky to hit the sales when we arrived early in November (similar to the 'Black Friday' sales in the USA) and purchased all of our appliances and TV at a considerable savings. It did mean getting up at the crack of dawn to get to the stores to do this, but it was worth it in the end. That was the easy part. We needed tiles, lots and lots of tiles. We found tiles we liked for the floors easily enough, but they were either not in stock, or if they were, there were not enough of them. Finally Jesus took us under his wing and spent the day shopping with us and we found what we were looking for. We then started the search for the tiles necessary for the bathrooms and kitchen. We knew we wanted Talavera tiles, but they are difficult to find in Mazatlan in the quantity we required. We had friends who had `left overs` from their renovation projects and we were able to purchase three different patterns from them, and after more days of searching, found a store that was able to supply us with the plain colours we wanted. Of course, nothing is ever simple and at first they told us that the blue we needed was discontinued. I was quickly moving into panic mode, until we realized that `discontinued`is just another way to say `not in stock`. After what seemed to be forever, but was really only a few weeks, the blue tiles appeared in the store, and we were set to go. The staff at Home Depot were getting to recognize us. We needed light fixtures, ceiling fans, faucets for the bathrooms and kitchen, everything imaginable for building a house from scratch, the list went on and on. Our stack of receipts is close to two inches high! When we first heard that a Home Depot was arriving in Mazatlan and I was a bit put off, it just seemed so `nothern`and just not right. Don`t feel that way now, no way, don`t know how we would have managed without them. Other than the range hood for the stove, and the under the counter lights in the kitchen, we managed to achieve our goal to purchase everything that was required for the house right here in Mazatlan. And so, it is finished, and we are in. We made the move on December 29th, not by Christmas Day, but close to it. We still have things we want to do, and there are blank spots on many of the walls, but it doesn`t matter. We are in, it is home, and we are thrilled.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

So Close, So Very Close

At times, it seemed to take forever, but we were finally almost ready to move in. Everything was covered with a thick layer of dust, but we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Every night, after the crew left, we came over to clean up. But we never did manage to completely control the chaos. Rubin finished the floors, a special challenge in the living room as we opted to use a porous clay tile around the perimeter of the room. Our home was built in an area that was once even closer to the beach than it is now and there is still a great deal of water in the ground. It was suggested by INAH, the National Preservation Society, that the use of these tiles would allow the water to evaporate and not move up into the walls of the building, which because of their age are considered historic. We have never seen this done, but felt that if it helped preserve the integrity of our home, it was worth the aggravation. We are not sure if Rubin felt the same way! I have to confess I was not too thrilled about the idea, but now that the tiles are laid am pleased with the results. The tiling had been completed in the bathrooms. Notice the dust! Mario and the crew had finally finished the staircase and railings for the upper landing and installed the circular stair case on the terrace to enable us to reach the upper roof top. At the moment we have no plans for this space, but perhaps, someday. Mario is a really nice guy, but extremely unpunctual, and we joked with him about buying him a watch, and a calendar! We learned never to expect him on the day he said he would be at the house and certainly not at the time he mentioned. The staircase was removed after the first installation as it was not level (high frustration level here), but, eventually, the job was completed and it looks great. The generator is 50 years old by the way, it is a wonder any of these men are still alive. Augustine did an amazing job laying the talevara tiles in the kitchen, which we immediately covered with cardboard as there was still other work to be completed. Why were the tiles laid before everything else was finished? We never did figure that one out, and just kept our fingers crossed that the cardboard would do the trick and keep everything intact. Elias, our carpenter, had started work on the interior doors. All of the openings in the house are different, so each and every door was made to measure. We showed him a picture of what we wanted and the doors are perfect. We were unable to save the original exterior wooden doors as they were just too dilapitated to repair, but Elias duplicated them exactly and we are thrilled with the results. We will have him back next season for a few additional projects. The electrician Mike installed the light fixtures and fans and after a struggle managed to get the vent hood installed in the kitchen. Mike, who told us his real name is Javier, works without a level, ruler or tape measure, so getting the fan level was a challenge. That project came close to driving my Mike out of his mind. Martin arrived to do the painting. We knew it was almost time to make arrangements for moving day. There were times we laughed, and times we felt like exploding. I learned a new phrase in Spanish, “Que estabas pensandos” which means "what were you thinking!" and I used it more than once. We arrived one evening to find piles of wet black concrete on the kitchen counters (so much for the cardboard). We realized that when Mike aka Javier figured that when a light fixture or fan was installed, it didn't matter if they were crooked, or if he had left a six inch hole in the ceiling beside it. If it worked, it was “OK”. We knew that eventually the water leaks in the bathroom would be tracked down and repaired. And that the walls could be repainted, again. We discovered very quickly that it was best not to leave the iron workers unattended as they were not the tidiest of craftsmen and they could not seem to grasp the concept of protecting the tiles and walls from the sparks that flew around as they were welding. We are still finding little black spots on the tiles on the staircase. We missed out on a lot the first two months of our trip this year, as we felt that we needed to be at the house every day, or no further than a phone call away. We cancelled plans with friends more than once because someone (that would be Mario) arrived at the house at 4:30 p.m. instead of 10:00 a.m. as he had promised. There were also nights that we were just too tired, or stressed, to go out. But, would we do it again? Definitely, in a heartbeat!!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Our Casita is looking like a house!

Well things moved along very quickly after we arrived on Nov 1. We had our plan all nailed down and got to it the very first day. We already mentioned our contractor, Jesus. He had all of the sub's lined up and the work moved along very quickly. Fabio was the young fellow who did most of the final concrete work before tiling. He would build forms out of old pieces of scrap wood and mix the concrete on the floor and build the final shape and let it harden over night. He spent a lot of time in the kitchen and as you can see the counters are just about done, then we tile!!!!!!!!!!!
Jesus and Chico unloaded all the tiles and thinset and grout for the whole house. I jokingly kept telling him that if he brought in many more bags I was afraid the house would sink in the mud! It just never seemed to stop.
The final shape of the upstairs deck and landing were completed. We decided to move the large door used to get to the deck. It was in the middle of the wall so we asked to have it moved, a little worried it was going to be a big hassle. But we had forgotten Jesus's famous words, "It's only concrete" so sledge hammers and chisels went at it and next day we had our new door.
And finally we get to see some tiles. They work from the top down so the ensuite bathroom was first to be tiled with the talvera tiles and we loved it. Bright and just the right colours. They took a few trips to Chosa our tile store but we eventually tracked down what we needed.
Our main tiler was a very nice fellow by the name of Rubin (Rubin is actually Fabio's brother in law, lots of family ties in the renovation business in Mazatlan). He and his helper, Chico did all the floors and the bathrooms. I must also tell you how unbelievably hard these guys work. It was very hot in the house when we first got here but they worked through it every day. Rubin also was a very good singer and we would always hear him just burst into song while he worked.
And we got our main deck finished. The tile and grout looked great and the first night it was done Sandie and I went up there after dark with some wine and beer to have our very first drink on our new deck. It was very dirty all around us but we could sit and imagine what our Casita was finally going to look like.
We also got our new window which will be great to keep the bugs out. We usually don't notice any but we do have a large tree just outside our window and just in case the screen would take care of any little creepies that we would rather leave outside.
Sandie also put the final touches on the tile design for the end our kitchen counter. We found if you make up the pattern first on the floor then have the tiler put it in place as is then we always get what we were looking for. When you don't then sometimes the idea gets lost in translation and the design is a little off. Then out comes the chisels and it gets knocked off and redone. Remember, "It's only concrete"

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Little Bit of History

Our new home is located on one of the older streets in Historico Centro and it is estimated that it was built approximately 125 to 150 years ago. Our street, Calle Venus, is especially narrow in front of the house and was, in effect, simply a carriage lane, As the houses are built right to the edge of the sidewalks, there is no room to widen it, ever. Works for us, keeps the traffic down to a minimum!
The homes in this area were huge, and our new casa was once part of one large hacienda, which has been in the same family for generations. As has happened to many of the older homes, many years ago the hacienda was split into 3 separate dwellings and given to the daughters of the family. Alterations were done to interior of the homes at that time. In the case of ours, from what we can figure out, the terrace at the rear was enclosed and the space was turned into a bedroom and bathroom. At some point a second story, not visible from the street, was added and the original peaked roof was leveled, which allows us to have a roof top terrace. Our casa is the middle house and two of sisters are our neighbours on either side. They were very patient with us through the renovation progress, which can be very loud and messy at times, and have told us that the finished product is 'gue bonito'. We really do feel lucky. As well as finding a house in Historico Centro, on flat land, on our favourite street, in our favourite neighbourhood, we also have been blessed with good neighbours! We have wandered around with the camera, just capturing a few images of our new 'hood. There is a real mixture of very very old, beautifully maintained, and also ultra modern. We have a huge ruin directly across the street from the house, and it fascinates me. The very old I love, the ultra modern, not so much. Guess it's all a matter of taste.
Where are we on the street? We are No. 71, and this is the 'Before' ...
and the "After'? We are moved in, and the house is done. I have just decided that you will have to wait to see the finished product, just like we did! Soon though, very soon ....