Julio, We Told You the Tree had to Come DOWN!

May 27, 2011 – It has been quite the eventful day here at Casa Madera Bed and Breakfast in Nuevo Vallarta.  We have a mirador or in english a lookout tower.  We have always wondered why.  The view is spectacular but really it performs no other use and we are really not sure how they got it built anyway as it seems to break every rule the homeowner’s association has.

Mirador up at the top and the TREE!

The previous owners of the house which became Casa Madera had not kept the maintenance which has required a fair amount of work on our part but that is a story for another day.  Today we are talking about the mirador.  It was in severe need of painting probably about 4 years ago.  It was also something that Heather and I debated about for quite a while.  Do we really want to keep it?  What do we do with it.  Either way it needed paint.

How the heck are we going to do that?  At the top it is 4 stories high.  There are areas that will probably require scaffolding.  Where are we going to get that?  There are areas that are not the easiest to reach even with scaffolding.  Either way we had to do something about it.

So today I had nothing better to do that would pay me money so I decided to paint it.  It was a good idea at the time.  It was cloudy and not too hot so I set up gear and went to work.  What a pain in the butt.  The stucco covering is streaked with gaps that make it extremely difficult to fill with paint.  Oh well it is not perfect but I did the best I could with a pole that could reach 18 feet.

The problem is the sun came out so after 3 hours I had to pack it in.  I had drunk 5 16 ounce glasses of water and a liter is rehydrating liquid (not sport drinks but actual medicinal rehydrater) and was dying up there.  I was half done so I was reasonably happy with what I saw and cleaned everything up.

The rest of the day was to be spent lounging in the pool with a cold beer and a good book.  That was going to be after we went to the print shop to print off a letter for the homeowners association about things that needed to be done to the lot next door and the farm land behind us as we have some tree issues.

I got myself cleaned up and ready to go but Heather was still tweaking the letter so she was not ready.  I sat myself down at the computer to deal with my email and check twitter and Facebook.  About 4 minutes in to that I heard an odd noise.  I did not think much about it as we hear lots of odd noises throughout the day with the various work that goes on throughout the neighbourhood during the day.  I kept reviewing the days events on the computer.

It was then I heard a much louder odd noise that sounded like a crack and then the sound of crumpling metal and breaking glass.  That was enough to get me out of my seat.  I made the 3 steps to the balcony to see the pine tree that we had asked the agricultural engineer from the Homeowner’s association to remove 3 weeks ago lying overtop of our Jeep Grand Cherokee.

ouch!

We were heading to Guadalajara for 5 days to do some shopping, some sightseeing and reconnect with our friend Marco who is living there.  Well so much for that.  Glass was all over the ground, I could see the roof was caved in, we were not going anywhere.

So while Heather called the Homeowner’s association I emailed the hotel, the kennel for the cat, the friends who were taking the dog and Marco to tell them that fate is not allowing us to travel tomorrow.

Once Heather was done with the Homeowner’s association we called our insurance broker, Juan Pablo.  I explained our problem and he said I needed to call the company in my best Spanish and he would call the adjuster and let him know what was happening.

I know we never used air conditioning but it would nice to be able to close the window every once and a while!

My best Spanish is just like my best French so I deferred the call to Heather who is better at it than I am.  She did the report and we went back outside to survey the damage.

While we were on the phone the Tourist Police drove by doing their usual rounds.  They slowed a bit and had quite the look at the car but did not stop.  I found it quite funny when a second set came through about 5 minutes later and again slowed to get a good look but did not stop.  What, were they thinking it was a new accessory?

The best was when the school bus driver brought the boy from down the street home after school.  He dropped the boy off and was coming back, he slowed to an absolute crawl…and then stopped about 30 feet past the house and I am pretty sure got out his phone to take a picture.  He could have backed up we really would not have cared!

It was about 5 minutes later the workers from the Homeowners association showed up.  Looked at the tree and started cutting.  They were then faced with the task of how to get it off the car without damaging the garage door or the palapa.  That was when the insurance adjuster showed up.

The insurance adjuster showed up!  One hour after the tree had fallen the adjuster was at our house.  I was involved in insurance claims for 20 years when Heather and I started this odessy and we always strived for excellent customer service but this was something else!

He looked at the Jeep and told me what was going to happen.  Did I have the policy?  I explained it was in the car as we have been told to do.  Until they moved the tree I could not get it at it.  It was then the workers motioned us over to get the tree out of the way.

One guy on the front end loader and two Fibba (homeowner’s association) workers and the adjuster were on the tree.  They lifted it up enough for me to get into the Jeep and back it out in the street.

No, the Christmas tree should be centered on the roof!

The Fibba men started cutting the rest of the tree up while the adjuster and I looked over the mangled vehicle.  He announced it could be repaired!  Damn.  In Canada it would have been a write off for sure which would have made us both happy.

This is a problem with low labour rates ( we like them everywhere else, our problem I guess).  Oh well.  He wrote the appraisal sheet, told me where to take it.  They would order the parts and it would be repaired, I only had to pay my deductible.  5% of the value of the vehicle.

So tomorrow we will take the car to the repair shop, they can see the appraisal, order the parts and the car will be repaired.

The interesting point in the entire dissertation is that the tree fell at 3:00 pm this afternoon.  The tree was cut and in a pile by our house and the repair order was done by the adjuster by 4:30 pm.

90 minutes.  Unbelievable.  I love this country!

The Quest to get a Mexican Driver’s License

When we arrived in Puerto Vallarta to start the quest of finding a house that would be suitable to turn into Casa Madera Bed & Breakfast we were driving a brand new Toyota Rav 4.  We loved that vehicle.  It was great to drive, good on gas and the air conditioning worked which was a BIG plus for those of us trying to get accustomed to warmer weather.

Unfortunately the fact that a good many of the roads are cobblestone caused us to think that this was not the place to have a new vehicle so we decided to drive it back to Canada in August 2009 and sell it while we were visiting family.  It hurt to sell it but it was for the best.

When we returned to Puerto Vallarta at the beginning of September we set about looking for a vehicle.  That was lots of fun as the main car dealers do not sell a lot of Semi-Nuevos as they call them here.  This meant that we were forced to go to the used car lots which was always so much fun in Canada.  Well its double the fun here when your Spanish is limited.

We did eventually find 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee that we could live with at a reasonable price and did the deal.  The car dealer was gracious enough to send his wife with us when we went to go register it and that was a good thing as the original bill of sale was written on a form that was 2 days past its valid dates of use.  This meant they had to procure another bill of sale that was valid before the state would transfer ownership of the car.  Without the sellers wife, we would have had nothing but frustration.

While there we saw that the driver’s license bureau was right across the hall.  Now we had noticed that driving in Mexico was unique at best but we figured they all had to have driver’s licenses, didn’t they?  So we asked our helper about getting Mexican driver’s licenses.

We wandered across the hall and spoke to the receptionist who said to come back at 4:00 that afternoon for the test.  Our helper said that we would take a written test and then an actual driving test!  Cripes, I had not taken a practical drivers test since I was 16, neither had Heather.  Well that will be fun.  Sure hope the examiner speaks english!

We arrived at 4:00 and were ushered into the room at the back and told to take seats.  We did and more people arrived so soon we were sitting with about 20 other people, all Mexicans, of ages from 16 to 35.

The instruction welcomed us and then proceeded to lecture us in Spanish for 90 minutes on the rules of road.  Heather and I looked at each other and laughed silently…RULES!  Get out-of-town.  There are no rules.  The only rule we could see that when the light phase was about to change from red to green someone was going to be honking at the front vehicles to get their collective butts in gear and get moving.

Apparently though, there are rules.  The driver must wear a seat belt.  You must not follow the vehicle ahead of you too close.  Speeding kills. etc.  All rules we knew from driving for 35 years.

This lecture took place in Spanish, of course, but we both found that we were able to understand a good part of what the officer was saying.  It became totally apparent that we did because he looked at Heather and asked her how long she had been driving.  35 years she responded and he looked to me for an answer to the same question.  I repeated the same answer and on he went through the room getting answers like 1, 2 or 5 years throughout most of the room.  He then said that because of the two people in the front row, gesturing to Heather and I, that no one would have to take the practical driving test because we brought the class average up to 15 years driving experience!  You have to be kidding me!  It was a little shocking but neither one of us was upset about not having to take a practical exam.

It was then he told us to come back tomorrow after 9:30 and do the written test.

We arrived right at the appointed time and got checked in.  The instructor from the night before motioned me over to the computer and gave me a demonstration on how the system works.  I had 20 questions to answer.  He did not tell me what the fail mark was  but during the course of the demonstration he answered the first question for me.  I wondered if it was my sparkling blue eyes or the fact that sitting in my hands was a Spanish/English dictionary.

We had been told that the test was in Spanish but we would be allowed a translation dictionary for help.  So there I was, facing my first real question that I had to answer and looking up words like there was no tomorrow.  We had taken 3 semesters of Spanish but you only learn so much and we found that out in spades.

After about 3 minutes I thought I had a grasp on what the question was about and then looked at the answers.  I caught a break as the answer was obvious even in a different language.  On to question 3.  I was rifling through the dictionary like my life depended on it.  And really it did.  What good are you at 51 when you cannot pass a drivers test after driving for 35 years?

After answering question 3 I was reading question 4 when I sensed a presence beside me.  It was a security guard.  I looked up at him and he said in English, “Do you understand Spanish?”  I replied that I could understand a little and words I did not know I was looking up and so far things were going ok.  I thought that was a little odd that he would come in and talk to me while I was working on the exam but quickly forgot about it.

For 35 minutes I flipped pages, tried to figure out words and gave what I could not get my best guess.  The people there were quite amused with the gringo trying to do this test.

I finished the test and called the instructor over who came over and scored the exam.  The look on his face when 90% came up was priceless.  Of course I could not stop beaming!

At that point it was quick, he took my picture and printed off my secure license right there.  No need to wait 15 days for it show up like in a Canadian province that I know.

They had a lot of people waiting to take this test and they had two computers.  After they got Heather sat down at the one I had been working on they put a 16-year-old boy at the other computer.  Heather was working diligently at her test and completed it faster than me and passed it as well.  It was a happy day for both of us!

And then we ran into a glitch.  The computer they were printing Heather’s license on froze.  The license would not print so they told us to wait while they called someone.  We were hanging around the door waiting when the sister of the boy at the other computer asked Heather what she put for this particular question.  WTF??  You don’t ask someone what they put for an answer on an exam question???

Heather went over and looked at the question figuring what the hell, the woman who acted as a proctor was sitting right there and did not bat an eye when the woman asked Heather for help.  Heather said “I put C”.  It was then that the proctor piped and said (without a word of a lie), “That is not the right answer, it is B”.  huh….You mean we could have asked you for help!  Give me a break!

I cannot speak for Heather but for 35 minutes I sweated over that test.  The Old Spice was working hard keeping me fresh during that time and my brain was tired.  What really irritates me is it did not need to be!  For a small fee, it turns out the security guard would have written test for both of us and we would have walked away as fresh as a daisy with no problems what so ever.  And from what we understand now many people we know have taken the small fee route which worked for them but I can tell all of you this.  They don’t have the sense of pride and accomplishment that Heather and I did walking out of the Motor Vehicles office, getting into our car and driving to Victor’s for a Corona and a shot to celebrate.

Where is Home Hardware when you really need it?

May 16, 2011 – It’s another spectacular day at Casa Madera Bed & Breakfast in Nuevo Vallarta!  I never get tired of saying that.  I don’t know why.  Is it the weather?  The fact that the sun shines virtually every day?  The fact that the air temperature is at least 28C (82.4 F for those who follow the real temperature)  for 8 months of the year? Possibly, but I really think it is because we just having too much fun!

I am not now, nor have ever been what one would call “a handy kind of guy”.  My friends never invited me over to help fix something, build a deck or help with any other home improvement project.  Realistically I was eternally grateful for the fact that I had no idea what most particular tools were called.

Unfortunately since moving to Puerto Vallarta this has changed.  Since we bought the house which would become Casa Madera, it has changed even more.  It became necessary to learn what this tool is called and what it did.  This may seem like a simple concept for many people out there.  But imagine having to learn the English name and then figuring out what the heck it is called in Spanish.  It is entertaining for all, us who are trying to figure it all out and the poor guy behind the counter who is trying to decipher what spanish word we are trying to say.

Over the last few days Heather has been painting furniture to add colour to the rooms.  We decided that we really liked the Mexican painted furniture that we had seen around but being as we are inherently cheap did not want to pay what they wanted for it.  So we decided to paint it ourselves.

Unfinished Headboard

We went to the Berel paint store in Mezcales and explained to them what we wanted to do (in Spanish) and they set about putting together the best paint for the job.  We go to this store a lot since moving into Casa Madera so they know us now and are very good about taking the time to deal with the two home improvement rookies.  They have helped us immensely over the last year.

It does get easier every time we go to the paint, hardware, or plumbing store.  We have learned what to ask for and when to ask for help on how to use a particular item.  Those who work behind those counters have been great.  However it does remind of the first time I needed to go to plumbing store in Puerto Vallarta.

Heather painting the headboard

February 2009 – As usual we got up in the morning, made some coffee and headed for the beach to sit and enjoy the view.  We are still pinching ourselves everyday.  It is not cold, there is no snow and no threat of a winter storm warning.  Every day it is the same.  Sunny and warm.  Some might call that boring but I just call them jealous.

We only stay out there for 30 – 45 minutes as we do have work to do and like to get it done early so we can enjoy the rest of the day.  We return to the condo and find out that a water main let go and we have no water.  It will be a couple of hours before it will be fixed.  Oh well late showers today, no big deal.

It was then that Heather said, “you should fix the shower taps while the water is off”.  We had one tap that dripped continually.  We had already paid once to have it repaired which apparently did not work.  It was time to take it into our own hands.

We had looked at trying to fix this ourselves before but could not find a water shut off for the condo.  We saw the water main breaking as a good omen so I quickly grabbed my 3 tools, screwdriver, crescent wrench, vise grips and proceeded to take apart the taps to get at the “seat” of the tap.

We had decided it was the seat that had worn out over time and was no longer sealing allowing water to leak through.

I grabbed the piece and ran across the street to Groupo Amutio to see if they had a part.  I asked them in my best Spanglish and showed them what I was looking for.  The one man in the store who spoke English told me I would have to go to a plumbing store.  He told me that the closest one was 3 blocks away and how to get to it.

I took off towards the plumbing store and got there in record time for an old fat guy.  I showed them what I had and tried to make myself understood.  He looked at the piece and went to see what he had.  After about 10 minutes of going through every bag he had he finally said something in Spanish that I did not understand.  Luckily there was a man there who spoke English who said that the part is too old you will have to replace the whole thing.

Okay, I will take not one but two.  I might as well replace both while I have the chance.  It was then that I realized that I did not have enough money.  I had just put some pesos in my pocket and ran out the door.  I had left my wallet at home.  So, I told to hold those items there and I will be right back.

Off I ran back to the condo.   Ran in, got some more money and ran back.  This took about 15 minutes.  Now I was getting worried.  The water was off but really how long is it going to take them to fix this pipe.  I had nothing in the taps to stop the flow of water should the water come back on.  This was causing me great concern!

I made it back to the store picked the parts and ran back to the condo to get the repairs done.  I got the parts ready and reinstalled them in the way I took the out or so I thought.  I put the handles back on and gave them a test.  The water was still off but I could see that the handles were not moving the same as before.  They had way too much play, that and they were turning the wrong way.

The finished headboard

I took them apart again and tried to figure out what I had done wrong.  Good luck with that.  Where was Shell Busey when you needed him? For 20 minutes I sweated over the taps and finally thought I had it figured out.  I put in the hot water stem, put on the handle and it moved the way it should have so I did the same with the cold.

Just as I was starting to put the nut on to hold the cold water stem in the pipe the maintenance people pressurized the water system.  Muddy water was spraying everywhere!  I kept working the nut and finally the spraying water subsided. Heather was killing herself at the bathroom door.  I was totally soaked and covered with muddy water.

Between guffaws I managed to get the handle on the cold water tap and everything worked properly.  Water came out where it was supposed to, turned off when it was supposed to.  I had managed to replace the tap stems.  I was rather impressed with myself.

I figured I was already wet I might as well have a shower.  As I was drying off I looked up at the shower head.  Drip, drip, drip……

The Offal Truth!

May 1, 2011 – April was quite a month at Casa Madera Bed & Breakfast!  We were inundated with family!  Heather’s brother Kevin & family were here for 10 days leaving last Saturday.  It was a hoot.  We got to show them the real Mexico outside of the all-inclusive resorts.  Dinners at taco stands, trips to fruit markets, hot springs, surfing…you name it, we did it!  It was lots of fun with great food, great company & great sun!

Kevin, Laura, Megan, Joshua and us at Las Caletas!

Prior to their arrival Heather’s cousin, twice removed, Danny, was here for 10 days.  To us she is Heather’s aunt.  It was great having her here as it made Heather finally drag the sewing machine out of its purgatory and start to make curtains for our upstairs windows.  This will be a challenge but the material is bought, the sewing machine works, all we need now is curtain rods to span the size of the windows!  That could be fun but hey it’s Mexico, if you cannot find it at Home Depot there is some enterprising soul out there who will make it for you in iron! 

Danny got the same treatment, hot springs, dinners at taco stands, fruit markets and with the sewing angle, lots of visits to the material stores!  Heather quite enjoyed that as the writer’s attention span starts to waver in material stores after about 2 minutes.  So much so, I stayed home the day the two of them went into the big stores in downtown Puerto Vallarta

And then there was the biggest visit of all, my son Brendan came down with his buddy Ray to celebrate his 21st birthday!  21?  Crap!  I am getting old.  It seems just like yesterday he was sitting in a small wooden block trailer….and now he is an underwriter at Peace Hills Insurance!  Where did the time go? 

A 21st birthday only comes once so it needed to be celebrated in style.  Brendan and Ray were the guinea pigs for the family soon to arrive.  We took them to the taco stand we found in Valle Dorado one night after a wine reception Casa Madera catered at Vallarta Escapes

That was the night we met a Westjet flight attendant who is a Mexican married to a Canadian in the Armed Forces but has lots of vacation time and spends a month down here at time.  She was fun to talk to and was very vocal in how good this stand was.  And how right she was!  It was great, but I digress….

There were many things we did with Brendan & Ray but the big event was his birthday.  We needed to do something special.  Not your normal birthday experience.  Everybody can go to Montana’s, the Outback Steakhouse, or Bubba Gumps and wear a funny hat, but only here can you go to Naty’s Cantina!  As luck would have it Brendan’s birthday as on a Thursday, which is pork day at Naty’s. 

Heading into Naty's!

On Thursday’s they roast a whole pig.  Slow roasted, it is delightful but you have to work to get to the real good meat.  We go to Naty’s once a year, generally with Marni and Tony and this year was no exception.  They cleared their schedule to attend the birthday extravaganza!

It was walking into Naty’s this year that reminded me of our first trip to Naty’s in 2009.

February 26, 2009 – We have been in town for three and a half months.  In this short time we have heard about Naty’s Cantina from many people.  They all talk about going on Thursday, pork day.  We had heard about how good the pork was and how much fun the place was.  We had discussed this with Marni and Tony and decided that today was the day.  They had been there before but it had been quite a few years and could not quite remember where it was so we took a taxi.

The taxi dropped us outside of the cantina on a hill in a true Mexican neighbourhood.  It was a little daunting as we looked at the swinging doors, I know Heather and I were a little apprehensive as we approached the doors and pushed them open.  The doors opened up to a large concrete room with the standard plastic Corona tables and chairs.  Juke box playing Mariachi in the corner, we were uncertain whether they still did the pork so we asked.  The waitress said yes and to sit anywhere we liked.

Heather and I at Naty's the first time, note the empties behind us!

After taking our seats she asked what we wanted to drink.  Heather, Tony and I asked for Corona and Marni order a Coke.  The drinks arrived and we set about to taking in the surroundings.  Lots of concrete,  a couple of tv screens, curtains over the bathrooms with the sink outside the curtains.  Interesting place. 

We soon found that we would never go thirsty as the waitress brought our beer to us in a mop bucket filled with ice and 15 Corona complete with its own opener.  As we finished a beer the waitress would take the empties and put them on the table behind us.  

At this point they came around with a raffle that they had.  20 pesos got you into their reverse draw for a good bottle of brandy.  After the 25 tickets were sold, they started pulling numbers, last one in wins.  We were close, but no winner both times we did it.

After we were on our second beer around the table a plate of “offal” showed up.  Pork heart, liver, skin and intestines.  Complete with salsa and tortilla chips.  A plate that Anthony Bourdain would be pleased to see!  Us, not so much.  Sorry Anthony, none of us are big organ meat eaters so we picked over that plate.  However we did eat it so as not to be rude.  I noticed that the Mexicans in the place were not exactly attacking it with gusto either. 

Which "offal" piece would you like?

We had that on the table until we got to beer number 4 which is when the plate of shredded pork, chicharron (deep-fried pork skin and fat), beans and hot tortillas showed up.  It was delightful.  Hot, full of flavor and the chicharron was so good we asked for more which they readily supplied. 

What we really came for! Spectacular!

We had just finished eating when the Mariachi band came in the front door.  After a few minutes of wandering around they parked themselves and played.  Now, I like Mariachi music.  It’s just great.  However, when played in an enclosed concrete space it leaves something to be desired.  It is like being trapped in a car with a car stereo that could fill most stadiums playing the latest hot hip hop cd.  I believe it was louder than when I saw The Who at Northlands in Edmonton in 1976 and trust me that is saying something as my ears hurt for days after that concert.

Anyhow, back to Naty’s.  The beer bucket was empty.  We were full of pork and we were happy.  The food had been excellent but it was time that we wandered off.  We asked for the bill.  18 beer, 3 bottles of coke, big plate of pork, 380 pesos including tip.   A great meal and a great deal. 

Guess we are going to need another empty case....

March 31, 2011 – Brendan’s birthday.  Not much had changed at Naty’s except that they now counted the beer by the person regardless whether they were drinking beer or not.  There were 6 of us so we had to drink 36 beer and also because there were 6 of us we were the lucky recipients of 2, count em, 2 plates of offal.   Needless our cat and dog got extra treats that week.

Brendan & Ray, we have Pacifico where is the pork!

Try as we might, we did not make it to 36 beer.  We were just too full.  We just told them to charge us for the food, however they were good to us probably because we did make it to 26 and only charged us for what we had.  All in all a great afternoon that was complete with the prerequisite Mariachi band who did a lovely interpretation of Happy Birthday for Brendan!