Laser Level Optional

Like so many things south of the border, building anything is a different adventure than what you may have experienced in your country of origin. This is fact in virtually every aspect of the building process.

And to add to that fact, there are even remarkable regional differences right here in Mexico.

You will relearn, unlearn and discover some remarkable variations in the building process. And it is not just materials, tools, methods and codes (or lack thereof) found different, prepare yourselves for entering the world of the macho Mexican. You must develop some people skills. It is best to come prepared for that from the start.

Perhaps it is not just Mexican macho but male ego in general that is the challenge? After doing several building projects here over the last seven years, tradition and attitudes abound even before you pick up a martillo (hammer).

This brings us to a side point that deserves an interruption: Rolly Brooks, a long time expatriate living here in Mexico has a wealth of wisdom and information on his Blog. I often refer to his English-Mexican Spanish Illustrated Glossary of Building Terms’ sectionBookmark this very handy link:

Building quality comes in a variety of classes. Labor is cheaper; often slower. But with all these things to take into account there is an adventure lurking behind even the simplest project and a chance to bond with your new Mexican neighbors. There are few things more pleasurable than having a cold-one with your Mexican building amigos on site as you admire your progress at the end of any hard working construction day.

If you have been reading along you know we are midstream on constructing a bodega; a fancy name for a storage shed. To put your mind at rest if this all seems trepedatious, those ready made storage buildings are available in larger cities here in Mexico.

Sam’s Club – 8′ x 10′ Lifetime® $1000.00

Where would this have landed after Hurricane Carlotta?

We have had those metal and even plastic sheds in the past. Our two bodegas built here in Mexico from scratch will be here long past the life expectancy of those store bought beauties. Probably long past my life as well. And did I mention the satisfaction of building these higher quality little buildings? (Insert a ‘Tim the Tool Man’ manly grunt here).

Simplicito is an albañil (mason or helper), as well as often acting in the higher status of maestro (a journeyman craftsman). We have worked on several projects together over the last two years.

Our ability to communicate is strained by my little command of Spanish and his complete lack of English. Regardless, coming out the other side of that, he is a fine fellow that I have enjoyed working with immensely. He is also trusted and honest – highly valued qualities here in Mexico (anywhere for that matter).

We are on day five of our little project. Here are some photos and comments continuing from the previous Blog entry:

The First Wall Rising

An experienced Mexican Mason can deftly apply pasta’d blocks quickly and amazingly accurate plum and level.

End of Day Three

The blocks are 28x14x10 centimeters – small blocks even by Mexican standards. This project will require 600 or so pieces.

End of Day 4

The four walls are now about half way up. We created air holes in the back wall, taking advantage of the 11 foot drop just behind. We still may have to do some critter proof screening later on. We will make a cement designer block window on the opposite side for air flow – always a good thing in humid climates.

End of Day 5

The walls nearly complete. Next will be the front window and concrete posts at the corners.

Up to now we have defaulted to Simplicito’s judgement on concrete mixtures; not this time for the posts. We will have to see how that goes. We have left the laser level in its box defaulting to the water tube leveling method (they both realize the same results). But it was hard to resist not using that clever modern day miracle tool.

Monday (tomorrow we take a day off from building to start the process of applying for our Mexican visas – hardly a day of rest. Soon further adventures on both construction and the wild and unpredictable world of getting legal in Mexico. Stay Tuned!


  • sparks

    I thought there would be a whole story about the laser level. Not so much needed on a small structure I guess. My Canadian neighbor insisted on using his and almost drove his workers crazy with his perfection. Of course it didn’t come out perfect but that’s the way he is … and he’s happy

  • John Calypso

    Sparks I have included stories of laser level experiences in Mexico within four other entries

    Did not want to over state the issue – but as I have noted this device really drives the natives WILD – as if they saw fire for the first time (and did not like it). I found the magic laser level indispensable when doing the two bathrooms wall tile here in Puerto – makes for some accurate and straight grout lines – whether they liked it or not – which is sometimes how one must put things.

  • Anonymous

    Our bodega is the 6×12′ cargo trailer in which we hauled our stuff to Mexico, 7 years ago.

    Don Cuevas

  • John Calypso

    And probably a fine facility ;-) We have THREE casa’s in Mexico – The beach property is totally void of storage – We have a 13 x 9′ bodega in Xico – Ursulo Galvan – and plenty of storage at our 3-story casa on the mountain in Xico. Reads like we are moguls rather than actually moles. Building is like a drug addiction – cannot stop the process!

  • Laurie Matherne

    If I ever build a home here in Honduras, I want a sturdy bodega, too. I want one that would withstand a Hurricane Mitch or Katrina, or at least put up a good fight. I have a practice of changing rental locations, and this new place has a funky upstairs apartment over the back patio where I can store things. Or I can rent it out as it is in serviceable shape.

  • Croft

    It will be interesting to compare your cost with the $1000 cost of the Sam’s Club piece of junk that dents when you lean on it.

  • Tancho

    On first look, your neighbors will think you have built a live in maid’s casita for her and her family! Your building as per your desire is another benefit of life down here. NOB you would have lost 50% of that space because of lot line offset codes. Your structure will both outlast the instant alternative all while providing local funding for a handful of appreciative tradesman and their families!

    Even if the monetary difference is not grand, keeping the peso moving locallay is more important most of the time.

    Let us know, your adventures in the new paperwork requirements or at least your regional interpretations of the new law. I can’t wait.

  • John Calypso

    I am sure a resourceful woman such as yourself can get a bodega built to your specifications. And then you can be a landlady to boot.

  • John Calypso

    I suspect my expenses will be about the same save the cement pad which is not included in Sam’s model either ;-) I am keeping a spreadsheet on it all – so Stay Tuned!

  • John Calypso

    Don’t need no stinkin’ offsets (well actually if the lots were not the size of a postage stamp they might be able to incorporate them ;-0

    Will indeed post the migrant trail experience.

  • Rick

    The local critters will love their new home :-)

  • Steve Cotton

    Looking good.

  • Kim G

    As someone who has near-constant Mexico real estate fantasies, I follow your construction posts closely. That said, I hadn’t read the older posts you linked to, so thanks for providing a link above.

    I had to chuckle at the comment in a 2007 post about building a bodega that while you enjoyed the process, “like climbing Mount Everest it is something you will probably only do once at my age – if at all. Reminds me of myself. In 1997, I bought the worst house on the block in Boston and became the architect and general contractor for the renovation. Afterward, I swore “Never Again!” But here I am considering doing the very same thing in Mexico some day. But the key difference will be that I won’t try to live in the house at the same time. That was indeed my worst mistake.

    As someone who tends (despite trying not to) toward perfectionism, I have worried about the challenges of working with Mexican albañiles. If I’m going to do something, I definitely want it done right, and preferably the first time. “Measure twice, cut once” is definitely my building motto. And I have specifically wondered about finding painters. While you see plenty of well-constructed buildings here in Mx, I’ve also seen many of the worst paint jobs I’ve ever seen anywhere. One particular one in Taxco stands out in my mind. It looked like it had been done with lots of paint and a bucket. No brushes needed….

    In any case, Buena Suerte, Amigo! I look forward to further installments.


    Kim G
    DF, México
    Where we wonder where the clash of gringo perfectionism and Mexican expediency will someday lead.

  • John Calypso

    Rick, Rick, Rick – We will probably screen over the air holes and the window (of course). But, at that lizards, geckos, iguanas, possums, turtles, snakes and of course scorpions are a way of life at the beach ;-)

  • John Calypso

    Thank you sir.

  • John Calypso

    Kim – I hadn’t caught that mistake about my future – funny that indeed! For some years now we have been saying “This is the LAST house we are going to buy.” More than a few houses back we started that – hmm.

    I have enough building stories on the adventures of that in Mexico to write a book – good, bad and ugly stories for sure.

    We do our own painting here by the way – a little color here, a little color there – splattered about like a Jackson Pollock painting is not our bent. In fact these days in Mexico we are tending to avoid paint altogether using colored stucco and colorful wall hanging (stuff) rather than painted walls – you may have noticed the predominant gray of our buildings ;-)