The Joy of Home Ownership in Mexico

We have a lovely hacienda style home in Nuevo Vallarta. There is a small center courtyard with a single tiered fountain. The casa is called Copa de Oro after the beautiful flower, by the same name, which grows around the back yard.

Besides being a lovely fountain with the pleasant sound of water running, the water feature serves as the home for two Red Eared Slider turtles. They truly enjoy swimming around the circle. Our daughter placed rocks in various spots to give variety for the small creatures. Sometimes I think they must think it is an endless river with similar rocks along the way.

Over the years the fountain developed a tiny leak which caused the water level to lower to the bottom within a week. Twice, we had the tiles resealed. Each time the movement of the water and actions of the turtles caused the sealants to come off and the water to escape from its man-made container, so we decided to have the fountain re-tiled.

After sending out a plea for help on the Bucerias Yahoo Group on the Internet we met a wonderful contractor by the name of Mitchell. He came to the house to view the problem, then quoted the job at a reasonable price and set off to Home Depot for supplies. I received a call from Mitchell inquiring about the tiles. “Do you want the same yellow color tiles as the ones currently in the fountain?” I said “Yes.” Mitchell then suggested that we replace the bottom tiles with a larger size for less leakage and the side tiles small, as before, to conform to the curve of the tank. I agreed whole heatedly.

That evening I came home to find the turtles relocated to a small fish tank, which I called their temporary condominium. A bit cramped, but… with the addition of their familiar rocks, they seemed quite content. I imagined they were seeing the situation as a temporary stay in a part of the river that held them tight. After all, their two main activities are eating and sleeping. As long as the food kept arriving I didn’t think they would have much of a problem. One of the turtles had actually been found in the Mismaloya River. My daughter thought she was rescuing the animal which she perceived trapped under a rock. We later learned through our own observation that turtles wedge themselves under rocks during their sleep period in order to remain safe and underwater. It is absolutely amazing how long a turtle can stay underwater taking into consideration that they are air breathing creatures like us.

The old tiles had been chipped from the fountain and the area looked quite prepped for the beautiful new tile to be installed. Mitchell called that evening to give me an update on the project and let me know that he would arrive the next morning to install the new tiles. I thanked him for the update and mentioned, that since he was a full contractor, that he might look at the water faucet that led to the fountain because it had ceased working. Mitchell indicated that there would be no problem to my additional request, just a small addition to the cost estimate.

The second day I came home to a beautifully tiled fountain, actually only the bottom tile, but… still beautiful. It was a vast improvement over the older tiles. Additionally the new larger tiles had a pleasant circular design to them that enhanced the floor of the fountain. The curious thing was while the circles within the tiles had a hint of yellow, the tiles themselves were light brown. Again that evening Mitchell called with a status update. This time he asked that I meet him the next morning at the house to discuss the water spigot.

The morning of the third day I met Mitchell at the house. By the time I arrived back from work, Mitchell had installed the tiles around the curved sides. While quite impressive in statue, they were tall and thin (not small) and definitely brown, not yellow. My first statement to Mitchell was that the tiles were not Amarillo (yellow). No Senior, they are a better color and look better in the fountain. I could not disagree although I would have preferred to being told, before he made an executive decision. We that subject set aside we began a discussion over the small spigot which allowed the fountain to be filled with water. Previously to this time I had daily dragged a garden house through the house to refill the leaking fountain.

In order to fix the spigot it would be necessary to tear up some of the floor tiles. This section of the twenty five year old house was original and the tiles were much worn with no sheen left to them. Replacing just a few tiles would not match and so it was decided to replace the entire courtyard floor. Mitchell was off to the tile store with the explicit direction to bring the tiles to my office before installing them. Two hours later my professional contractor showed up at my office with three tiles. They were all the same, wonderful Mexican pavers in sizes of small, medium and large. It was decided that the medium sized tiles, while larger than the original would work quiet well as a better replacement.

Now, the fourth evening, I arrived home to my entire center courtyard encapsulated in black, 10 foot high plastic and a large demolition site within. The house was a site and the turtles were quite restless in their cramped condominium, most likely due to the loud banging and cracking of tiles more than two decades old. This to would pass and the turtles would, someday, have a better home. I wanted them to be happy during my tenure as they live longer than me and I do not know what that future will bring. Actually we had a third turtle at one time and it simply went over the wall of the fountain and crawled away, out the opened back door.

As always the phone rang around 7:00 P.M. with the friendly voice of Mitchell on the other end. “Please meet me at the house tomorrow morning for a small discussion before we continue.” I got the same feeling as being called in by my elementary school teacher. What was wrong now?

The next morning Mitchell explained that the construction styles of old were unacceptable in our modern era. The original construction of the courtyard did not include compacting the soil and use of rebar to hold the floor together. While the floor had withheld the test of time, a new improved floor would be too heavy and the surrounding area would collapse in short order. Once again Mitchell consoled me to say that the additional work would be “No problem Senior, just a slight addition to the cost estimate. Is this the definition of a money pit, in the center of my house and growing deep?

While working hard the next morning to earn the money for each slight addition to the cost estimate, the phone rang. It was the maid at the house to say that cockroaches were crawling out of the construction site by the hundreds. “Senior, they are coming out faster than I can step on them!” I assured her that I would have the exterminator over within five minutes. My monthly exterminator chuckled when I contacted him and said he would be over within four hours. The next phone call came from my Mother-in-law that lives with us, to demand that I come home and take care of this most unacceptable situation. I explained again, as I have done quite often, that in Mexico we have service people to handle all our needs and that my job was to stay at work and earn the pesos to pay for the small additional labor of the exterminator.
My spouse, who works with me, smiled and said to our fellow office workers that the turtle tank job was becoming an amazing architectural feat!

That evening I arrived to the now, large construction site to view the incredible progress. It seemed that when the old concrete floor was removed that the sewer line was unearthed. A concrete box, part of the system was the residence to an incredibly large city of cockroaches. The exterminator had kept them at bay, away from the interior of the house, but… not from their own residence. Their home had now been sprayed and sealed. I do not want to think what else resides in the earth below my abode.

That evening I needed great assurances from Mitchell that there was an eventual end to the project. My family was no longer pleased with my good intentions for the turtles. We had become a full fledged construction site and the pile of debris outside the house had become a mountain rather than a mole hill. During the discussion of the project with Mitchell that evening it was agreed that since the floor was torn up and the opportunity would not show itself again that we should seize the moment and have recessed lights installed in the four corners of the courtyard. After all there would only be a slight addition to the cost estimate, which was also, no longer, a mole hill.

Now the process well ensconced, Mitchell brought by the lights to my office before installation. What we say and what is interpreted are quite often not the same. The lights, while based in recession into the floor had the actual bulbs above ground. I explained that the maid’s mop would see these lights as golf balls to be hurled across the room like Jack Nicklaus. Mitchell returned to Home Depot and returned with suitable, flush to the floor lights.

Now with the week at an end I decided it was time to take my family to San Pancho for a get-a-way. My dear mother-in-law volunteered to stay home and supervise the continued work of the fountain repair. The drive is only thirty minutes. Half way through our sojourn the cell phone rang. Mitchell spoke softly and said that there was no big problem, but… my already battered soul sank another level. It seems while digging for the placement of the sunken lights that a leak had been discovered in the water line. The electrical line was next to the twenty five year old water line buried in non compacted soil! Long story, short, the now five person construction team worked until 9:00 P.M. to complete the additional repair. And yes, with a slight addition to the cost estimate.

Sunday evening we returned from our weekend retreat to find the tiles in place and the lights permanently sealed under clear plastic. While a pretty site, this method of installment made it impossible to replace the light bulbs. For anyone who has resided in Mexico for any length of time you know that light bulbs do not last a lifetime. I called Mitchell and voiced my small concern. “No problem, Senior.” He explained that the light bulbs were a new design intended to last a long time, but… He would be over Monday to discuss a resolution to the flawed design.

Monday morning I met Mitchell and it was decided that the lids to the lights would be enhanced to include screws for easy removal. Additionally Mitchell agreed to paint the clear plastic the same color as the tiles in order to achieve a matched view and retain the old world charm. My neighbor asked me why I worked so hard to make the new site look old. I explained that I was not out to change the courtyard, but… simply stop the leak. Like the boy with his finger stuck in the damn. I’m not sure I should have ever pulled my finger out.

Tuesday the work was completed. Now all we had to do was wait. Wait until the sealer dried. Then allow the fountain to run a day and work out dust and anything else that might have accumulated over the extended period of non-use. Mitchell patiently waited for his final pay while we tested the system in real time.

Wednesday I awoke to the sound of a simple fountain with little water left in the tank. What? Had the fountain leaked? Were we back to square one? Had all this work been done just to leave us with the original problem? A quick call to Mitchell and he explained that the test amount of water was small and probably splashed out of the tank, so… we filled the tank to the brim, restarted the pump and left for work.

Upon my return home that evening, the fountain was running well with lots of water. We placed the two turtles back in their home and sat back to watch the turtles content in being able to swim in circles until the cows came home. I have never worked so hard to repair and modernize an area while fighting to keep the original design and integrity of the architectural design.

Thursday morning I once again awoke to the sound of the pleasant fountain, this time with the addition of two happy turtles. The water level was only slightly down and a hint of moisture was in the soil of the planters around the tank at the point where the seams meet. Mitchell felt that the very small leak may have occurred after the tank tiles had been sealed, while the floor was being demolished. We agreed that the droplets of water would be good for the eventual plants that would reside in the two planters. Now, with the new faucet, I could add water when needed without hauling the garden hose across the patio, living room and into the courtyard. Life was once again livable.

The work was completed in time for our holiday visitors to enjoy the sights and sound of a true Mexican courtyard fountain with Mexican poinsettias adorning the built in frame. It is, after all, the simple things in life that bring us true beauty and enjoyment. What seems simple to one person is incredibly complex to another person. But… to the professional, it is “No Problem!”
Merry Christmas Tortugas (Turtles).

Epilog: During the two weeks that construction work took place, the older turtle grew and is now able to crawl out of the fountain, so… onward we go.

7 comments for “The Joy of Home Ownership in Mexico

  1. jeanne simari
    December 14, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    would like to find a little casita near the beach in San Pancho or Sayulita for a month next winter. Thought this might be a good place to ask for a referral. Happy Holidays!

  2. jeanne simari
    December 14, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    loved your story by the way

  3. December 14, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    Happy to hear the project was a success!

  4. robin miller
    December 14, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    I loved your story! It reminds me of the bok “God and Mr Gomez”, where an American couple came to Baja to build a home and purchased a lot from Mr Gomez, the lot kept moving, and they had several adventures, Mr gomez had the same philosophy “no problem”

  5. December 14, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Hilarious story. That sounds a heck of a lot like a situation my wife and I would get ourselves into. Great sense of humour throughout!

  6. jody gittins
    January 24, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    What a wonderful story about “turtles”..incidental to remodeling an entire courtyard..I am sure you are going to have years of enjoyment with “no problem”s.

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