Concrete construction is not the norm for homes in the US but it is common place in commercial settings and most of the rest of the world. We build homes with wood because it’s what we have. It’s cheap and we know how to use it. Concrete in Mexico and South America is like wood in the US. It’s cheapest and all the builders know how to use it. Concrete block is durable and impervious to bugs but earthquakes can cause widespread tragedy since block comes down more easily in a tremor.
The typical home here is a post and beam style structure. The shape of the house is made with posts and beams of reinforced concrete. Cement block fill in the gaps. The block and reinforced concrete parts go up side by side. The block walls act as half the form for the posts. A word about words: I’m a civil engineer and civil engineers call posts columns. I once made the mistake of calling a column a post in my structures class. I was nearly laughed to the curb. Despite that I graduated and was offered a post-graduate slot studying structures. I declined. But post and beam is the style of construction and I work with a guy that builds wood homes and it’s easier to type post than column. So I have regressed back to my earlier usage.
Since our lot is sloped and the existing structures are at its peak we are building this site up to match the higher level of the existing bodega/rumpus room. That means our foundation is from four to five feet high and we have to add a lot of fill. We’ve reached a bottleneck in our construction. Fill is highly sought after and expensive. It’s been two days of waiting and it finally arrived today. Rather it started arriving today. It’s 2:48 PM and we have received only 3 of the estimated 8 loads we need. That’s about 40 yards of dirt. Our crew is staying busy building rebar forms for the beams to hold up the ceiling. Other than that we’re moving right along.
It’s Friday. We are officially temporary residents of Mexico. We succeeded in convincing Mexico to let us come and go as we please or stay as long as we want for the next year. In 2020 year we can renew our temporary residency visas for three years and at the end of that span we can apply for permanent residency if we so desire. There’s no telling what we’ll do in four years. I’m happy we can stay longer than 6 months and we’re on the road to residency. The process was surprisingly easy and we did it ourselves with a couple of interpretation assists. My favorite bit is that we succeeded during a change of government and the Christmas holidays. It took only two months from our first visit to the Mexican Embassy in Tucson and we only paid the normal fees. No lawyers, no advisors, no gifts. All on the up and up. The Mexican staff were very helpful and professional in Tucson and La Paz. I felt like they wanted us. It’s a nice feeling.
Our yard is full of construction materials and a staff of builders. We have finally plunged into the Mexican construction system. We’ve owned this lot for six years and ever since we bought it we’ve wrestled with the next big step. Build or permanently live in our gNash? If we build, how? Wood or concrete? Rammed earth? Prefab panels? It’s obvious we’d prefer wood since we could do it ourselves and we’d be in total control. The termites would prefer we build with wood, too. Or so most people think. We thought we’d solved the wood dilemma with an anti-termite treatment in our rumpus room. And we have. There’s no termites eating our treated rumpus room but someone wisely pointed out that if we wanted to be able to sell this place most people would be suspicious of wood. Termite bias is reasonable and most likely insurmountable in future buyers. Also, hurricanes. Concrete houses withstand hurricanes and we have hurricanes. With climate change we’re going to have more and stronger hurricanes.
So finally having decided to build meant we had reached the conclusion that we had to build with concrete block. Block is the local preference. There are many competent building crews to choose from here. Block is also less expensive than modular panels and rammed earth. Rammed earth is gorgeous but slow and very, very expensive. And it’s hard to remodel the interior. Concrete is easy to patch. Late last year we started getting estimates but really we wanted one crew, a team of guys whose work we’d seen and who we knew to be great workers. But that team had a boss and regular jobs working for their boss. We did not need the boss and we certainly didn’t want to pay the boss. Between Burt and I we can build a house in concrete and in Spanish. There was no need to pay money for the middle man. So we resigned ourselves to working with some other group but didn’t settle on anyone.
Over the summer we played with floor plans. Independently Burt and I realized an L shaped home would be best for our lot. The L would provide a secluded shady patio and allow us to cram in more floor space without crushing some nice cactii. When we arrived this year Burt noticed the guys we wanted were not particularly busy. So he asked them if they were available for some independent work. We got lucky. Things were slow and the dream team wanted to work for us and they got their boss to agree. The Magic 8 Ball revealed: All signs say YES. So we leapt on the chance to get our casita built by this team of quick and reliable builders. And here we are. The yard is a disaster. Rain fell into the mess yesterday so it’s an even worse situation than we could have imagined. But the workers persist. And the house is flying up while money flies out.
More later on construction techniques and the work culture.
So Burt and I are getting into the swing of things. We’ve just plunged right in. Spanish, yoga, surfing, birding, kid’s classes, Bridge. Our schedules are packed full of fun and meaningful interactions so it’s not like we were looking for anything to do. The annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is coming is these next three weeks. Birders all over the world work together to get an annual census. There are rigorous scientific protocols everyone agrees to follow. These protocols have given us 118 years of priceless data on birds. Todos Santos has had its own CBC for only 3 years. We’ve got some catching up to do. I noticed last week that I did not know when our CBC was planned so I contacted the organizers. There were a few emails back and forth where in summary I politely informed them that the answers they were giving me did not follow Audubon’s protocols. They very kindly said, “Will you take over for us?” I said, “Yes.” That old adage of no good deed goes unpunished comes to mind.
Now I am a scrambling to learn the formalities of running a circle and finding enough birders to cover our area. Luckily we know a bunch of the best and so far they are eager to get this thing underway with the new management. And by best I mean waaay wayyyy better than us best. So buh-bye. I’ve got a lot of work to do.
So there’s this thing I wanted to tell you about but so much time has passed it seems I should move on. So, next time I’m wondering what to write about remind me to describe Jack’s house to you. Burt calls it a unibomber cabin. He’s got the drift of it but Jack’s place is more interesting because he’s not intentionally leaving behind modern conveniences. Jack’s home is magnificently uninviting and it has water and electricity. I’d like to capture the sensations of visiting in writing. Meanwhile, here we are in Mexico.
After leaving Jack’s place in the Sierra foothills we’d planned to visit San Francisco area friends. The vast and thick plume of smoke from the Camp Fire forced us to keep moving south to look for clearer air. Smoke is nothing to mess around with when you have a heart issue and when you’ve already been exposed to severe concentrations in the past (Hello, Montana?). It was sad to bail on friends but bail we did. This brought us to the central coast for a few days of pre-Mexico chores and an early Thanksgiving feast. It was smokey but not deadly in the Paso Robles area. I was irritable. My constant state these days. Backache, eye blob, trumpitis and the hot flashes have returned. Our friends were nice to me, anyway. I dragged everyone out to see Bohemian Rhapsody and it did wonders for us all. It was a fun movie even if it strains credibility.
Finally we were on the road to Mexico. Then we realized we had more chores and it was Thanksgiving week in LA. We were slowed by our desperate need for new batteries for the gNash solar system and tires, too. This put us in the deadly no man’s land between Bakersfield and LA. The Tejon Pass area. OMG. An hour north of LA on the Monday before turkey day and the roads were full of semis all looking for a place to pull over and make their required rest stops. We drove ina circle for an hour. There was a Walmart we almost dared becuase teh manager said it ‘might be okay.’ They only rented the lot. Dispersed signs said otherwise when we finally spotted them. Rather than dare the LA spaghetti we headed back NORTH to a Pilot truck stop. It was full at 5:00 PM. We went to another huge vacant parking lot. Abandoned mall. More signs forbidding parking. Burt was tired. I was my usual crabby-assed self. Finally we decided to hit a state park about 15 miles west of the freeway. We arrived around 8PM. It was dark. There was room. We were up at 4 AM and on the road towards Potrero State Park. That place was empty when we arrived but due to fill by the next day. An entire family tree had rented the place for Thanksgiving. That disaster was barely averted. A day later and our usual spot to hang before we cross the border would have been full, too. We learned to avoid LA during the holidays after a couple of bruising trips early on. Ever since we’d made an effort to enter Mexico from points further east but we forgot there was a reason and it wasn’t merely because we happened to be there. Maybe we’ll remember this time. LA and San Diego and all points in between from the Sunday before Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day should be avoided at all costs. State parks on the coast are filled months in advance. And they cost too much, too.
My mood lightened as soon as we crossed the border and then a day later Burt was sick. He dragged his ass and our home down the peninsula in 5 days instead of 3. I did offer to drive but the thought of me one-eyed driving on the shoulder-less transpeninsula highway was an idea neither of us could stomach. The extra days gave us time in La Paz to start our visa process so it worked out brilliantly.
And so here we are. The gNach is on her spot in El Pescadero. Ants swarmed in as soon as we landed. Burt’s been unpacking these last two days. I have torn the trailer apart rooting out the ants. I found an open bag of raisins and a withered fig that they were using as their home bases. All food is tightly sealed and all crumbs swept away. Hopefully they will migrate on their own. When I’m not spraying the army of hormigas with white vinegar I am rounding up the paper work to finish the next stage of our visa application process.
Here’s an abridged version of the visa process: 1. Apply for the visa in the US. This means show up to a consulate with passports and many copies of evidence that you can afford to retire in Mexico. Bring photos. 2. Cross the border and make sure you fill out your new visa forms correctly showing you are seeking residency. You now have thirty days to finish the next stage. Go! 3. Freak out when you realize two weeks of national holiday and a changing of the federal government all occur within your 30 days. 4. Read online to make sure you don’t mess up. 5. Freak out and lose more sleep over the new president (AMLO) and his minions and the holidays. Last time the government changed all the immigration procedures went out the window. 5. Show up in the migracion office of your county or state. For us this is La Paz. La Paz ia an hour away from our home. 6. The migracion officer is very helpful but she says: you know the holidays are coming up. You must move fast. We ask when the holidays start. We are given a very vague answer with a shrug. Any day now what with the president changing this Saturday and the Virgin of Guadalupe of the 12th and Christmas on the 25th and then New Year’s Day….I’m verklempt just writing this. 7. There is an online form we must submit online and print. There are forms in hard copy we must fill out. There is a fee we must pay at the bank and bring back a receipt in triplicate. They ask for a bill that shows where we live, power or water, I explain we have solar power and use trucked water, we have no bills. She says bring a google map. We need more photos. The dreaded official ID photos of Mexico. Our officer suggests we can get it done in La Paz today. 8. I run to an internet cafe to fill out the online form but the guy has stepped out. He’s left a sign saying he’ll be back. Burt is off trying to park. 9. Burt returns but the internet is still closed. We head off to do the photos. 10. The photos are below. No hair on forehead or ears. There’s a communal pomade pot for slicking your hair into submission. You can imagine how inept Burt and I were. The results are stunning. 11. Head back to internet cafe. Guy still not there but two nice women want in so they call him. He shows up. He’s sad to inform me the internet doesn’t work. Then it suddenly does. I spend 40 minutes looking for and filling out the forms. I go to print them and the internet crashes. No charge. 12. I take advantage of this disaster to head back to migracion and ask a few questions about the forms. This works well because the officer now recognizes me and seems eager to help. She takes me step by step through the forms. 13. I decided I am too tired to face trying on-line forms in Spanish again. I’m too tired to make sure I don;t screw up. If you make a mistake on your forms the whole process is rebooted and you lose your fees. 14. Burt an I decide to head to Pescadero and make camp. 15. Ants. 16. I successfully fill out the online forms. 17. I head into town to pay taxes, transfer money, pay for visas at a bank and get my copies of all forms. 18. The tax office internet is down. 19. The bank informs me I am using a bogus number for my money transfer. I panic. Am I committing fraud or have I lost $3,000? 21. In a deep funk I swing in the tax office. The internet is restored and I pay my less than $100 in annual property taxes. 20. I go home to regroup again. 21. April prints out the online forms. 22. I find the correct transfer numbers. 23. We head to the bank to get our money and pay for the visas (we’ve been home 48 hours) with the plan to head to La Paz and execute the next step. 24. At lunch Burt says,”What time do they close?” I check. The answer is at 1PM. We give up for another day. 25. The car battery is dead. 26. Ants.
So tonight, after two days of ants, unpacking, cleaning, copying, form filling, and bureaucracy dancing we are going out to dinner. Tomorrow at 8AM we are going to La Paz with many more copies of everything than they said we would need. Please pray, cross your fingers or make sacrifices according to your beliefs. The office is open 9 AM until 1 PM. And here’s the gospel truth, this system is a piece of cake compared to the US and for this I am grateful. We have to get her done. The new president arrives in just two days.
The eye emergency took us to Tucson earlier than planned but it was on teh agenda so no biggie. Our buddy Turtle housed us while we ran errands and did some minor work for her. She has a new porch shade and we started the process for our Mexican Residency Visas. We also reestablished a banking connection so we can transfer money to Mexico more easily. We hope to build a casita for our later years and we hope to start it this year. Building requires cash.
Turtle is the Northern Jaguar Reserve Coordinator. We met her last year when we went in to the Reserve for a construction scoping trip. Turtle wasn’t with us during the actual building last December but we knew she was out there in the real world ready to help if we needed a hand. We’ve stayed in touch and she was helping with logistics of our aborted Aros River float. Burt had agreed to help her with a minor project during their many email exchanges regarding shuttles and river flows. Once I was reassured I did not have an exploding eyeball we headed over to Turtle’s place.
Despite my aching back and super annoying vision we managed to get a lot of fun and life chores accomplished while simultaneously building a shade structure. Burt and I are have finished step 1 of applying for our temporary resident visas. I compiled a few pounds of paper documentation showing our financial status and marriage license and current photos. We handed it over, and I wasn’t so comfortable handing a stranger a detailed accounting of our financial holdings but I did, and our able and friendly handler, Grace, gave us our visas in return. That was after she made sure we had enough pesos to qualify. We had to prove to Mexico we were not likely to become a burden on them. The temporary visa has lower financial requirements and offers a door to full time residency after four years at those lower standards. The temporary visa also allows us to drive US tagged vehicles in Mexico. If and when we switch to permanent residency we’ll have to formally import a vehicle to Mexico or buy a Mexican tagged vehicle. Mexico (like states in the US) requires its residents to register their vehicles with them.
After the trips to the Mexican Embassy and the copy center we hit our bank and got our on-line banking organized for the great bleeding of pesos we expect this winter. We’re only building a modest place and it will cost peanuts compared to the US but those peanuts (due to US banking laws) are hard to get into Mexico. This is an area the residency will help, too. Now it will be easier to have a Mexican bank account and I can just write a check on the US account and drop it into a Mexican bank. We’re building a redundant system of money moving tools.
One of the highlights of our Tucson spell was the Day of the Dead Procession. Our friend Randy is one of the organizers and founder of this event. He was the Northern Jaguar Reserve ranch manager but has moved on since we spent two weeks out in the wilderness with him last year. The procession welcomes and integrates a mix of cultures and their customs regarding death. It is a beautiful reflection of the complexity of our broderlands. This year’s centerpiece was a silver ‘urn’ where the public placed notes to the departed. At the end of the event the urn was lit on fire. Randy, dressed in red and wearing a mask, pulled the urn through the streets while his attendants placed the paper offerings inside. The quiet, stately parade of costumed participants moved me to tears.
It seems a long time ago when we finished up our float down the Rio Grande. The four of us arrived at the Heath Canyon take-out across from the defunct mining town of La Linda two weeks ago. It was a very smooth trip full of unexpected delights and a generally relaxed ambiance. You can read about it in the posts below if you haven’t already. As soon as we landed things went a little south for me.
Recent flooding wiped out the road to the shore of the Rio Grande so you either hump your gear a quarter mile or you pay some dude an unspecified tip to carry gear to wear the van and trailer can park. At least that was the rumor. Everything on the Rio Grande was shrouded in an air of uncertainty.
We arrived at the take-out a day before the shuttle was due because desirable camp sites were scarce near the take-out and the shuttle company charged $75 an hour so we did not want to arrive late. Better to pack up the night before and enjoy the wait the next morning. As storm cloud formed on the horizon we deconstructed our water crafts and did the best we could to wash away excess mud. Hardened mud was everywhere. It was in the seams of Stells’s tubes, under the decking, mashed into the cam straps. If there was a hollow spot there was mud. We threw water with our bucket and used sponges found abandoned on the gravel. It was heavy work but satisfying. After nine days with no hope of being clean we were finally heading in the right direction.
As soon as Stella was cleaned my back went out. I was reaching for sponge to hand it to M. I’d felt twinges of irritation all week so it wasn’t a complete surprise but I had hoped to make it off the river and get a rest to avoid the drama. Suddenly I could not stand up. I was stuck bent over for about 10 minutes. The gravel and mud prevented a collapse to the ground. I just hung there in terrible pain. My legs began to quake as I tried to keep from causing more damage. Eventually I pushed myself upright. From that point on I was in the position of having to tell Burt what I wanted done instead of doing it myself. I hate ordering Burt around. He was receptive given the emergency but it was very awkward for me. Burt rolled up Stella and then moved everything to higher ground because the storm clouds concerned me that a flash flood might be headed our way. With the chore done I paced the beach and hoped for relief.
What should have been a lovely evening of storm watching was for me just a sort of fizzle out of a great trip. Pffft. We retired to bed. The next morning a team of characters met us and offered tehir services to shuttle our gear up to the road. Rumors of the tipped based intermediary shuttle turned out to be true. These dudes were at the end of the road in more ways than one. Wives had abandoned them because Walmart was too far away. They wondered if we hand any marijuana we could spare. They could not stop talking. Me, grateful for any excuse, said, “I need a walk” and I disappeared for an hour of road walking. I saw a coyote. My back was killing me but I adhere to the keep moving or die school of back care. I walked.
Without more than some hugs and a see you next year, we bid farewell to our companions. I had the Olvis in mind. I wanted a shower and my dogs. As I lay in the Van Horn, TX cheapo hotel bed post shower I noticed a really big cockroach running across my bed. Huh. There’s another one. I looked for the black bug. I even swatted at it. I felt like I was hallucinating. I kept seeing a bug run by behind my computer as I wrote. I got up and looked for it. I was very calm. That was when I realized to bug was following me everywhere I looked. It wasn’t a bug it was a really big floater in my field of vision. Hmmmm. Seems like a bad thing.
I googled sudden eye floater and read not to worry unless there were flashes of light. I mentioned it to Burt and decided not to worry. There were no flashes of light. If there were flashes of light the interwebz said get to a doctor ASAP. Flashes of light combined with a new floater might be a medical emergency. Twenty-four hours later we were doing laundry in Portal, AZ and trying to decide our agenda for the next few days. I lay in bed and noticed a flash of light. Oh, shit. We were three hours from medical attention. I immediately went into a panic attack. Burt called my doctor. He agreed it was an emergency. We called Portalites. We tried to decide how to best get medical care for an eye emergency on a weekend in a city where we have no eye doctor. After many plans and phone calls we decided to head to an emergency room the next morning in Tucson. Burt would get up early and pack everything and we’d head out as soon as possible. So that’s what we did. I spent a night watching the cockroach scurry as flashes of lightening lit him up. I wondered if I should try LSD. It might have made me feel better. Medical emergencies when you are a transient in a remote location don’t come with straightforward solutions. More later.
Salmon snagging season opened up today. In the fall mature landlocked kokanee salmon swim out of their lakes upstream into small gravelly streams to spawn and die. For a short window we humans are allowed to snag them from the shallow water. By snag, they mean literally. The snagger drgas a heavy treble hook through the water and attempts to hook the flank of a fish. Sounds crazy. I’m gonna give it a go with some people I know soon. We’ll see what happens.
If you’ve been following this page since its inception you might recall our first holiday season was spent on the west coast. We had our first urban bloat fest while visiting Portland, OR. We had just left the limited culinary landscape of Helena and landed smack into an eaters dream world. During that sojourn we went to a holiday party. The party was hosted by the cousin of Dan Roberts (the maker of Burt’s Minstrel guitar), Suzanne Lauber. Dan and Suzanne wanted us to come by and show off the first Roberts guitar. I have not seen Suzanne since but with the wonders of the internet we’ve stayed in touch. You can read that post about our meeting HERE. Suzanne has had many a kind and encouraging word for us over these past 9 years. There’s a lot to dislike about social media but I feel like it has given us penpals all over the world. These penpals have opened doors and offered us a real community as we move from place to place. Last week we received about a hundred pounds of school supplies from Suzanne for us to take to our kids in Mexico. Pencils, crayons, erasers, easy readers, notebooks, pencil sharpeners. All brand new. I am thrilled and the kids will be delighted. Thanks you, Suzanne. Thanks also to my cousin Cara for sending a pile of fun stuff as well.
Burt likes to complain about the weight of all these things we accumulate. I told him to look on the bright side. We aren’t toting cat litter, cat food, or feminine hygiene products anymore.
The title refers to the fact that this sight is constantly barraged by Russian spam. They don’t even try to hide it. They write in Russian. The top categories this month are cash for clunkers, sex on-line, and Russians. Only the cash for clunkers has a chance of a response.
And this just in: It’s a new school year in Pescadero. Here’s the neighbors in their spiffy new uniforms. Burt and I miss them so much. It’s not the same without our gang of minions. We’ve been mostly working and playing some music. The last two weekends we camped out with musician friends and got some hiking and fishing in with the tunes.
My mind is moving towards Mexico. I’m wondering what type of things to bring back for the kids. I’ll have to hit the back to school sales here and collect some fun supplies. Anything pink will be popular.
Burt and I mean to leave this place pretty quickly. Too bad we’re both so sick that we haven’t packed. End of season social obligations have sucked all the energy out of us. Here’s what we’ve done instead of secured our property and stowed our gear.
Thursday we took my dad and SaraGay and 11 other kids and five more adults to the San Jacinto waterfall. It was a mob scene. Nobody died. Everyone is home. If you weren’t sick before the waterfall you probably are now or will be soon. Three people slipped and fell. One dead fox was found. A lot of fruit and veggies were eaten.
The next day I accompanied my fried Lorna to the cardiologist in La Paz. La Paz is an easy hour drive from here but 79 year old Lorna had a stress test scheduled and the Bridge ladies decided she shouldn’t go alone. I went. I needed to meet the cardiologist anyway and there’s good birding in La Paz and I adore Lorna, but everybody does so that’s not special. I have also had two stress tests and I knew exactly how it would go. She’d be fine and get pushed to the point of puking or she wouldn’t be fine and would have bad news for the ride home. Neither situation a good one to be alone. It turned out to be the later. That’s Lorna’s story so I’ll end it here. Lorna and I moved on and got her new meds and went to lunch and visited the wastewater treatment plant. I spotted two new birds. One was the black bellied whistling duck, a very funny looking creature. The other was an avocet. I’d seen the avocet many times but never in Mexico.
By that evening it’s obvious I’ve finally caught Burt’s cold. I don’t have time for this. I woke up at 4 AM and puzzled out how to get everything done until it was time to get up. After breakfast I ran chairs and blankets over to Mayra’s yoga studio. Our first birding class was scheduled for Saturday evening. We needed blankets to cover the windows and chairs for all our (hopefully) guests. Then we went to Bridge. Lorna and I played together and we kicked butt. It was a 66% game for us. Hence the we-fie above.
After Bridge Burt headed to round up the kids and I finished setting up the room and projector for Joaquin’s presentation. We’d planned an introduction to birding for children. Joaquin hit a homerun. He was personable and made quick and entertaining work of the subject for our audience. Everyone seemed enthused. Afterwards we went to dinner with dad, SaraGay, Joaquin, and Selene. We were home by 8:30. Joaquin and Selene stayed in the rumpus room.
This morning we were up and birding by 7:30. Burt and I wanted to go to bed but we aso wanted to share our bird spots with our guests. So we hit three places and walked several miles by 11:30. My recent spottings of the endangered Belding’s Yellowthroat at odd locations around town were confirmed by Joaquin. Yay, me. This means these birds are desperately clinging to life in tiny patches of water wherever they can find it. Hopefully we can use the information to build a network of small wetlands that will bridge the larger habitats.
Now I am in bed. While Burt and I were running around a neighbor was in the yard repairing our trailer’s suspension. We’d hoped to be closing things today and pulling out Tuesday. It looks like we might be a day later.