A Shady Deal

Have you run into this – you buy a house that has some expensive accouterments – the cost of which impresses you, the actual item not. For going on five years we have had just such an item(s) in our Puerto Beach casa (Casa Las Brisas del Mar). The wall lamp shade in question is shown in the photo below – actually four of them.

Do you like these wall lamp shades?

You begin to question your taste after seeing the price tag and commencing to be bewildered that that thing could cost that! This is a metal framed shade with a leather/bark like covering. What I like to call a dust catcher. And not pleasing to look at, at that. Upon arrival we started shopping for something else only to see these shade covers at several of the nicer stores for a high price – oops better leave them and modify our taste (or lack thereof).

A couple of weeks ago Puerto’s fanciest lighting store had a 20 percent off sale – twice in as many months.

Puerto’s High-End Lighting Store’s Onyx and Marble Showroom

The Calypso Couple seized the moments and bought a few  table lamps.

Table Lamp by my workstation.

Another Table Lamp

as well as replaced the four offending high-end wall shades.

One of four new wall sconces.

Another of our new shades.

And another…

And another….

All these fixtures had a common thread – onyx – kind of a throw-back to the sixties that multi-colored light. SOOTHING. The best part is, for we beach dwellers, the lamps will resist the salt air; probably lasting longer than just about anything with which you can wrap a bulb.

When Steve Cotton was here last month, during the ten cent tour of our little beach casa, he keyed on the wall shades like a kid in a candy store. “Where did you get that shade?”

Apparently he has a need for something like this in his new luxury casa over in Barra de Navidad.

We also replaced a fixture in our downstairs bathroom (yes, we have two); again with a lovely onyx shade. Very intimate lighting, which is probably not required in our small bathroom (if only there was a tub for two – then….).

Downstairs Bathroom Light Sconce Upgrade

Bathroom Shade Closer-up

So there you have our latest upgrade-the-beach-house report. Next a new kitchen cabinet – Stay Tuned!

REASONING

Logic would dictate…. Here in Mexico using logic to make something clear or alter a situation’s outcome is likely to be less successful than in the U.S. or Canada.

The Mexicans seem to have a way of ending a questioning situation by ending the communication – it goes no further – What you get at that point is a stare off into space – logical conclusion NOT HAPPENING. In other words end-of-conversation.

Take this recent experience with the local powers-that-be running the Hood’s water company. First you should know one’s water bill receipt is oh so much more than the tab for receiving an unpalatable liquid best known around these parts as aqua.

In any number of situations involving authorities of some sort  (visa issuance, driver’s license and car registration efforts etc.),  the water bill is used as an identifying document – one that says you live here in Mexico at the address shown on your water bill – it of course must be in your name.  The water bill is the defacto I.D. document even over and above your passport, visa or driver’s license.

Obtaining a water bill in your name is a step and achievement towards being an expat residing in Mexico.

Anita and I have been using water bills as successful I.D. documents for going on ten years. But back to the wrinkle of the other day.

We pay our water bill here in Puerto annually in January. We are billed a flat rate that is due and payable each month – however, to avoid having to go in 12 times a year we simply pay ahead for the entire year. This year there was a special assessment added to build a new office – 100$ Mexican pesos or about $7.50 usd – no problemo!

This time as once or twice before we were asked to return with documents proving we own the house – that is a long story in itself. But for this complaint session (or essay as my amigo Steve Cotton likes to call it), let’s just move on to the fact we returned the next day with requested documents.

At that time we were advised that we would be required to pay 500 pesos ($35.50 usd.) to change the water bill into our names – huh?

“The water bill is in our names.’’ We showed them receipts from previous years, and the current water-official is a store owner we have also know for about five years. And yet he insisted our names did not appear in ‘the book’. “But where are your copies of the receipts we showed?”

“They are in a different book” he said.

We should add here that at least once in the last 5 years during a regime change all the money in the coffers and the records disappeared with the previous administration. This a very common Mexican occurrence.

We assured him we had already paid, we think more than once, the 500 pesos to change names; and furthermore, “Why would we have receipts with our names as owners going back to 2011 if the service was not in our names?” But we did not have a copy of a ‘contract’ – more huh?

Anita suggested that perhaps we as foreigners were being taken advantage. Blank stares on that comment.

Seems logical. But that was the end of anything logical. We moved into the final act of any of these encounters – the blank stare conversation came to an end. Others waiting were starting to be attended to. Maddening!

We decided to abandon the good fight and of course logic, and just pay the 500 pesos – gladly accepted; and we have another receipt and a brand new ‘contract’ in our names. Will this be the end of confusion? Time will tell. But, if I were a betting man, I would not lay down one on this not reoccurring next year. Stay Tuned!

Been Around the Block
A Few Times

Last year to avoid the ‘red mud’ we started adding simple cement stepping stones strategically around the yard here in Puerto .

The mix of red clay and sand which makes for the bulk of our soil is nasty stuff indoors. It will even stain your clothing. We shopped around town for premade stepping stones with no luck. They all were small, more decorative than utilitarian. We came up with a simple handy designed cement stone. There have been requests for information on my block project – specifically how to make them. So here goes with that:

North of the Rio Bravo small cement jobs usually start with purchasing some blend of ready mix – just add water. Here in Puerto there are no convenient (read expensive) bags ready mixed. We make our own mix from the basic materials – gravel, sand, Portland cement/or mortar cement and of course water.

In this case the mix ratios are a full bucket of gravel; a half bucket of sand; a third of a bucket of mortar cement; and about a half of bucket of water. This is a slightly more gravel recipe than is shown on the bag or the typical 3-2-1 blend (gravel, sand and cement) The ubiquitous plastic buckets are of the 5-gallon paint or pig-fat variety.

The Mexicans tend to use too much water in their cement. This will weaken the finished product. So try and keep water at less than ½ bucket per block.

The aforementioned portions make one 4 inch (10 centimeters) thick by 20 inch (51 centimeters) by 16 inch (41 centimeters).

The extra centimeter or about half inch is to accommodate the possibility of applying a 40 X 50 centimeter tile on the surface. The extra centimeter will allow a beveled edge to where one will not catch their toe on the side of a tile. At this point we have not decided about tiling the stepping stones.

One cubic yard of sand is about 50 buckets as is one cubic yard of gravel. One bag of mortar yields about six and a half completed stepping stones. I should mention here that the Mexican 50 kilogram (110 pounds) cement bags of cement are heavy suckers!  My 145 pound, 68 year old body just about reaches maximum lugging capability moving those bags around; and a 5 gallon bucket of rock also nearly reaches critical mass lugging capacity.

The Mexican albañil  (mason worker) will swing up on to his shoulder a full bucket of mud (mixed cement) and haul it around. I do half to three quarter-bucket loads, usually bringing the bucket waist high rather than lifting all the way to the shoulder. The point here is move about what is comfortable for you – do not try and compete with the albañil. That competition is not a healthy one.

One Stepping Stone Batch Ready to Go

 

You will need to buy a clear pine (no knots) 8 foot (200 centimeters will work) 1 x 4 inch board. Cut two pieces 56 centimeters and two at 41 centimeters. The short pieces will be over lapped by the longer, joined with two wood screws per corner. Use -2.5 inch wood screws to assemble the frame. You might want to make two or more frames depending on the number required and your production speed. I pretty much just did one a day – allowing a full 24 hours of drying time before removing the frame.

The frame should be level in both directions and of course higher than the surrounding surfaces. I pounded the dirt inside the frame with a hand dirt compactor. Our yard has hills, valleys and slopes. So it took a little effort and planning to get the stones at appropriate heights. For the most part the stepping stones are 26 centimeters (10 inches) apart. This seemed to be a comfortable stepping distance.

Wait 24 Hours – Unscrew a side and gently pound loose.

We roughly calculated each step costs about $3 usd in materials. Come rainy season we will be able to get around our yard without acquiring clumps of red dirt on our sandals. In the future, perhaps we will tile all or some of the stone surfaces. In the mean time we will remain high and dry at our beach casita.  Stay Tuned!

Pull Up a Seat
If There is One

Nobody likes a complainer. I am sure few come here to read my complaints. However Mexico has its dark-side even beyond the obvious U.S. and Canada scare tactics spreading the word about the narco wars and many deaths. Today we are going to visit a few of my personal gripes.

Ron and Roxanne, two of our favorite folks here in Puerto, and the Calypso Couple went to dinner Tuesday night; something we do regularly. This time we would meet at a restaurant just a couple blocks from our casa. An eatery they had not tried, although they were familiar with the owner/chef as he has worked in several restaurants around town.

There will be no names to avoid hurt feelings and perhaps personal threats on our lives. The four of us had the same meal, fish and chips. Word had it that this is arguably the best fish and chips in town. Anita and I had eaten there recently a couple of times and concurred with the claim, which we passed on to Ron and Rox. Recommendations put people’s taste and credibility to test – often better to not get involved; but yes we are armed with no shortage of opinions.

Looks Good

Let us start with the short summation of this most recent visit: The fish – not in the above photo – was not good. There are a lot of restaurants that serve fish and chips. A coastal tourist community surely needs to have fish and chips restaurants. One word of advice to participants in creating this meal – CONSISTENCY – if it is the best one day, it should be the best all the days to follow or until a more highly skilled competitor arrives on the scene. Truly Puerto restaurants have often been a letdown in the consistency department.

Here of course the most obvious variance that may affect quality is volume of service. This is Puerto’s busy season. The tourists ramp up the servings in a big way – we allow for a little of that. But still our reputation as local reference providers suffers when our evaluation is far from accurate. There is no way to find safe ground as a critic without an advanced disclaimer warning of ‘Tourist volume may vary your experience’ – kind of thing.

The slow times should be used to develop and practice – hone the skills for the onslaught of diners. At the beginning of this dining experience the other night, the owner explained/disclaimed quickly that while steak and baked potato appear as an entrée, in fact, unless we have called ahead to notify him that we were coming for steak and potato it was not available. He went on to explain that he was being left with too many  leftover steaks. Could this be because his quality is slipping and less rather than more folks are showing up? We being vegetarians were not phased. Ron and Roxanne were there for the touted best fish and chips – no problem there either.

The batter on our fish was soggy, oily. it appeared that the fish may have been cooked lacking in heat. the fish itself was heavy – not light puffy; it lacked flavor and had areas gray in color.

OK so we were disappointed. We currently have no recommendation for best fish and chips here in Puerto.

Another restaurant related beef from a vegetarian: at the same restaurant the other night a visit to the restroom was required (beer almost guarantees this). A tiny cubicle packed with a toilet and wash basin was in pretty much deplorable condition. The lid was totally absent from the water tank of the toilet as was the ubiquitous missing toilet seat. Rather than a handle to flush, the plastic line going down to the flapper that actuates the flushing action was draped over the front of the fresh water compartment wherein should one choose to touch this they could pull on the plastic line and dispense water in the lower bowl. I MEAN COME ON! This is an 8 to 10 U.S. dollar fix. In the U.S. this public establishment would be closed down immediately.

Not Much To It 

Sadly this is typical here in Mexico. Without getting into disturbing details, the U.S. is hardly exempt from public bathroom nightmares – but it is all too common in Mexico. Odds are the bathroom will be a disaster one way or another in MUCH of Mexico’s restaurants. Sad but true.

Then there is the toilet seat, or lack thereof. We suspect there are more public bathrooms in Mexico sans toilet seats than those with. And I am not even going to get started on the signs requesting unusual instructions for the dispensing of spent toilet paper.

People from Amerrika are typically civilized. We think you can judge a lot about people by the way they keep theirs and treat others bathrooms. It amazes us that there are many that when convinced their actions are without consequence have some very disgusting bathroom habits. I mean how hard can it be to neatly go to the bathroom?

As a libertarian I am all for freedom – but freedom to get a dose of e coli contamination is not desired. Honestly Mexico needs to get a handle on this – literally in the case of this restaurant. Stay Tuned!

Getting Eaten Out
of House and Home

A look at our weather for this coming week. SWEET!

It has been a busy week here at the casa and around Puerto (see previous installment). On the home front a few weeks ago we spied our favorite (a love/a little unhappy relationship) woodworker next-door, corralling him to come and checkout some upgrades we wanted.

First off was an eminent need for replacing the screened windows downstairs in the dining room and kitchen. When we bought the place there was nothing but bars and cement – we had some frames made. Anita and I installed screening and she painted – we were happy. But that happiness would turn out to be fleeting.

Original casa kitchen before we bought it. It came with dishes in the sink and just bars on an opening.

We added a screen (and did the dishes) ;-)

Shortly after completing that work and painting an existing dining room table, we started to see the telltale signs of ‘polios’ or termites as we know them. Termites, also known as white ants, are voracious devourers of wood and other organic material, and they are endemic here in our tropical region. They like to consume wood as a colonial enterprise, and go about their business with a remarkable degree of caution and secrecy, surreptitiously eating wood from the inside out. But, man!!! Can they consume the fibrous material.

Removed chewed window frame.

We recollect that the window frames are less than three years old. In places along the framework one could pierce right through with a light push of a finger or thumb.

Tivo made measurements and we discussed the project of replacing the screens with Parota wood (the expensive – yet bug resistant, and sustainable building material).

At the same time we requested he make us a dining room table and chairs like the ones we had seen at the restaurant Guadua and later at the restaurant One Love. Guadua was destroyed by hurricane Carlotta. You might remember Carlotta was a direct hit back in September, 2013. Tables and chairs were purchased by the owners of One Love. Some needed repairs which Tivo performed. So he knew the chairs and tables intimately. These are sort of a Danish modern (think (IKEA), but with a Mexican flavor.

One Love restaurant tables.

Saturday was delivery of the window treatments and the table and four chairs. Arriving ahead of schedule I should add. Four hombres showed up and went to work.

We were very pleased with the table and chairs, a little less so with the window treatment – but things are being resolved back at the shop ;-0 Truly a vast improvement.

Our little casa is becoming more and more like a real house ;-) Still in the dream stage is our cold room, and third story patio. Stay Tuned!

Book Your Activity Now

We have an exciting weekend of happenings here in Puerto this weekend, and beyond. Check it out:

Tonight right here in our Hood is an art opening.

The Calypso Couple shall attend. Then tomorrow and Sunday there is this!

The Calypso Couple will attend at least some of it ;-)

Then we have the 6th Annual Weavers Exhibition and Sale.

The Calypso Couple has been to all 5 previous weavers get-togethers. We own a number of chachkas (or nic nacs) from those events including a wonderful sacred-snail purple tapestry weaved with wool dyed from special PURPURA! SHELL DYEING. Still more of the story HERE. Maybe we will go?

If none of that floats your boat perhaps a three day Shiatsu training seminar – again held right here in our neighborhood.

Watch a one-minute video of this opportunity here.

The Calypso Couple will probably not be in attendance – but looks like fun!

So if you are wondering what we retired folk do here in the south end of Mexico – there you have just a smattering of the opportunities available just this weekend.

Stay Tuned!

 

 

Devils and Guardian Angels

Now this is going way back – to 1960 when Bobby Vee released a cover record of “Devil or Angel” original done by The Clovers in 1955. To this day if I hear the words devil and angel together that tune springs into my head:

“Devil or angel, I can’t make up my mind
Which one you are I’d like to wake up and find
Devil or angel dear, whichever you are
I miss you, I miss you, I mi-i-iss you.”

We all after all want a little devil in our angel – no?

Here in Mexico there is a lot of mysticism. Of course a country that is 90 percent plus catholic would be attached to things mystical ;-)

That brings me to the point, we are fans of Mexican folk-art. The colors, the faces and the themes of the pieces are titillating and pleasing to the eye.

If you have been reading along you know we are not fans of paint.  It just seems that by the time you get it on it is time to do it again – time goes by that fast these days. Therefore the Calypso Conclusion is to avoid the stuff whenever possible.

If you come to visit the first thing you may notice at casa las brisas del mar (current Calypso Casa name – subject to change) is the lack of paint – our place sports plain stucco or bare block walls – the place is almost totally void of paint and we like it like that. Only our bathrooms are painted – hanging things on the wall in the bathroom – no. Over the last couple years we have been applying stucco to protect the block. We are decidedly importing color through folk-art etc.

I purchased two devils that Anita probably would not have bought – she puts up with a lot for me. As a peace piece offering I added three angels (the devils became outnumbered). They all will be mounted higher reining over the devils. Those bad boys do not scare me.

Definitively a Devil

Another Rascal

The one on the left I am thinking Elvis Impersonator ;-) Yet to be mounted. There are some possible termite issues here – more later.

A view of part of our somewhat stark living room

Oh and I am back to pouring cement blocks around the yard to keep us out of the red clay (it stains by the way) when it is wet and as opposed to paving the entire area.

Nothing staged here – our cluttered side-yard – work in progress.

 

I had to laugh at Kim G’s comment the other day regarding my Blog style, “A typical two-subject post: termites; and retirement in Mexico.” I must admit I am guilty of two-subject posts. I tend to reject conventional journalism, and instead prefer to create a subjective approach to essays (as Steve Cotton calls our Blog entries), a style that is my own.

I left my construction notes for the 40 X 50 centimeter cement stepping stones in Xico. I re-figured everything and made a couple. Needing to get more gravel. We hope to go around to the front yard and complete the project while we are here this time.

We continue to enjoy great weather and the beat goes on – Stay Tuned!

Party Time

Yesterday on the beach just east of the main Zicatela Strip and a mile-and-a-half or so west of us, construction took place for a major fiesta. We knew of no more seasonal celebrations until the Virgin of Candelaria Day on the 2nd of February (so many virgins to choose from here in Mexico). We could not guess what this was all about.

A Pink Floyd Concert or???

It turned out this was being setup for one lucky fifteen year old girls’ birthday party – wow! In the evening the cars were lined up on both sides of the street for blocks. There was a live virtuoso violinist topping the usual canned quinceanera music – awful stuff! High candle-power lights beamed about for miles, uninvited guests in our bedroom. Eventually there were fireworks grander than New Years Eve’s here in Puerto.

This is the country in which a belief in the literal interpretation of Genesis has slipped imperceptibly into a belief in the literal interpretation of the official Catholic account of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the country of vapid smiles and visible bra-straps and the girls for whom all life’s promise comes down to a quinceanera dress followed by waltz-length white wedding dress and the marked birth of a little Juan or a Maria and an abandoned marriage and never a return to school.

The party went on through the night. At 5 AM a gringa living across the street from said party had enough! She actually called State and County cops. “ …to tell them to shut it off and, miracle of all miracles, both showed up and music stopped.”

There is peace and harmony in our little town at 7 AM – everyone is sleeping in.

Cumbia, Cumbia – Stay Tuned!

The Meat Up

Puerto Escondido Sunrise

Let us get right to the meat of the matter – the meet up with Steve Cotton was pretty terrific as one might expect. Steve is the genuine article. All our expectations were exceeded. What a charming fellow he is.

Steve and his cousin and cousin’s wife arrived in our fair city the other early evening. They had decided to split up the following day which provided a great opportunity to share a few hours with him and us.

It is a busy time here in Puerto Escondido. The town is pretty much full up even now and will last probably until a week from today. This make for a more difficult opportunity to show off our town. For example today in Steve’s Blog his mentioning of our encounter included, “…breakfast at one of their favorite spots.”

In truth Dan’s Deluxe is in fact a Calypso favorite. But not so much this time of year where we noted increased prices, long time to be served and a rather lack luster common eggs and bacon plate (Steve was the recipient of my bacon – still wondering how my order translated to include that).

We were seated to where we expected to be in-line with the small live jazz band that plays music Sunday mornings. This time the band was relocated on the other side of the restaurant to accommodate more seating – so that part of Dan’s was a non-issue that day. This was OK as getting know one another face to face was a higher priority.

The food itself which is usually quite good was rather pedestrian, almost institutional, in order to fill a lot of plates – dry potatoes and haphazard service are the bedfellows of capacity crowds when out of the norm.

Here we are thinking this gets us off on the wrong foot bringing a distant friend to one of our “favorite” restaurants only to be disappointed. We did not qualify the experience – just left it at what it was – breakfast at Denny’s. In his defense Dan did come by our table, as a good host should, to say hello and confirm we knew each other ;-)

From there we headed to our casa in Las Brisas – La Punta. We gave Steve the tour which is brief in our 1600 square foot two story beach house, settling at our dining table for a many topics discussion – fun. It quickly became apparent we could have easily spent many times our allotted time together.

We drove through a couple areas of our fair city and returned Steve to the front road to his hotel in what seemed way too quick time. It was a good first meet enticing us to wishing for more which is the best outcome one might expect in brief new encounters.

In conclusion we would have to say again Steve is the real deal. It is unlikely you will get an opportunity to really know him unless you live in his neighborhood and can capture time with him. Short meetings are but an enticement, a teaser for wanting more – that is perhaps the best outcome of personal interaction. If you have a chance to hangout with the dude – do not miss it.  Stay Tuned!

Out From Behind the Masks

 

About this time back in 2007, which seems like yesterday but is actually eight years ago, Steve Cotton started his Blog. He had been lurking for some time before this. In any case we were communicating via his commenting on my Blog and eventually his own that far back, and farther.

Steve is an erudite guy. He is faithful to the blogging process posting almost daily for many years now. We stopped that a couple years back and now post a couple of times a week at best. We remain faithful readers and fans of Steve over a long stretch.

It is easy to refer to Steve as a friend as we have gone through a lot of ‘living’ together over these eight plus years. And yet we have never laid eyes on each other. Well today may very well end that long drought. Steve, his Cousin and cousin’s wife are three hours or so west of here, and heading in this direction (southeast).

We actually talked on our cell phones yesterday (also a first).

We have met a number of people with whom we have had various length Internet relationships. Our friends Jim and Mindy go back to the early 90’s (as in 1990’s) as example. Jim and Mindy decided based much on this Blog to up and move to Mexico sight unseen some years ago. They are still here in Mexico and still loving it. But, I digress.

We have had mixed success with finally meeting people we were otherwise engaged with via the Internet yet never met face to face; to the point that I personally have avoided Blogger-get-togethers out of fear of disappointment or the possible change these face-to-face meetings could effect.

But Steve…well that is a horse of a different color. I am pretty sure our meeting will be successful. We are quite familiar with some in depth perspectives of one another after all this time and these many, many words. Like Oz as we both come out from behind our screens it should prove to more complete a rather fine friendship. We are excited to that end. Stay Tuned!