The Journey to Casa Madera – Replacing The Palapa

September 24, 2011 – It’s hot, very hot today at Casa Madera Bed & Breakfast in Nuevo Vallarta.  32 degrees with humidity so it feels like 39.  You move, you sweat.  It’s that simple. You cannot escape it unless you lock yourself in the house with your air conditioner on.  We don’t use the air conditioning so we pay the price.

Yes, the price.  The average September day is a 3 shirt day.  You wear one until it gets too heavy and you put on another.  I had never had to stop typing to dry my keyboard in Alberta.  Who knew that fingertips sweated!

That’s just the way it is in late summer in Vallarta.  While our friends in Northern Alberta are trying to protect their tomato’s from frost, we are just trying to stay dry.

Heather and I spend a lot of time on our kitchen patio because of the breeze coming off the ocean or mountains but later in the day as the sun comes around it just is not the place to be.   It is then we head downstairs to relax under the palapa.

The Palapa.  Who knew that a whole bunch of grass that was not cut into fairways or greens would be so inviting.  But it is.  It is shady and cool when the sun is beating down.  It keeps the rain out when it is in torrential downpour mode.  It is a natural roofing material whose price does not go up because maybe half the town needs a new one due to a hail storm like an asphalt shingle.

We have since found out that a Palapa is made from the dried palms that are used in churchs throughout the world on Palm Sunday.

It’s beautiful and we think it is one of the most becoming features of our Bed and Breakfast.  It is our favourite place to serve our guests breakfast.  It was not always like that….

December 20, 2009 – Heather and I are sitting under the palapa enjoying a Corona while surveying the lower floor and deciding what we should do with what.  It has been a long day what with doing insurance work in the morning and doing demolition in the back room in the afternoon.  There was a small breeze coming off the ocean which was rattling the grass in the palapa and causing a great deal of it to fall on our heads!

I don't think this will keep the rain out anymore!

There was no denying the fact that the palapa had to be replaced.  Now!  It was falling down around us so we vowed the next day we would look into getting it replaced.

Three company’s came out to quote on the job with 2 of them being the same price and one being way too high.  The last man who came out to quote, Angel, walked into the area where the palapa was and you could tell that as far as he was concerned, he was going to rebuild this palapa.  He looked at it and asked if we wanted dimension lumberor rustic.  Same price either way.  We said rustic.  He said, give me $20,000.00 pesos and we will start tomorrow. We replied we will pay you the deposit when you arrive.

Glad it's him and not me!

Angel (pronounced Anhel) was the a typical Mexican cowboy.  Long and lanky he weighed maybe 120 pounds if he was lucky.  Looked to be about 60 but who knows.

At 9:00 am the next day the truck pulled up and out jumped about 5 young guys who immediately started tearing down the old palapa.  The grass was crumbling in their hands as they moved up the 2 x 4’s that were the trusses for the main support system.  These guys had no fear, it was something to see.  A good many of the 2 x 4’s were rotten after being exposed to the elements for a good many years.

Bare feet!

That day they removed everything and cleaned up the site.  Angel came by to pick up the deposit and said he would be back in a day or two with the grass.

Looks just a little different

2 days later, a Sunday morning, Heather and I were up on the roof enjoying our coffee when a truck full of palapa grass pulled up in the driveway.  For the next 45 minutes they dumped the grass on the patio along with some tree trunks which were obviously the rustic supports.

The first truck load of grass with the support poles.

We chatted a few minutes when they were done in Spanish and our take was they would be back in the morning to start.

Angel is sitting on the lower beam

And back they were.   They were preparing the trees for use.  The tree bark had been removed but they needed to be ground and cleaned for use.  So for two days we listened to the sound of the hand grinder going up and down these logs.

The next day the whole crew arrived and started to build the support system.  It was fascinating to watch these skinny guys and the old man toss these logs around.  Heather and I would be lucky if we could lift an end of one. They were tossing them around like they were toothpicks.

Once the south side supports were up they started weaving the grass.  It was amazing watching them do this.  Taking a piece of grass and weaving it over the cross member.  The worker would do a whole row and then go along with pruning shears clipping the edges to make sure they were even.

One side done!

It is like watching performance art, except it makes sense and you get a reliable product at the end.  However, the work takes time.  Something neither Heather or I ever realized.  It took a lot longer to do than we ever imagined it would.

Almost finished!

It was about 10 days into construction when Angel told us he had got a job to do a very large palapa for a hotel in Yelapa.  A small village only accessible by boat from Puerto Vallarta.  The size of the palapa escapes me now but we worked it out based on the amount of grass that he needed that it was worth $30,000.00 us dollars.

And everything had to be transported by boat.  We referred to it as the Yelapa Palapa…

Now that's a nice palapa!

It took just over 3 weeks start to finish for our palapa to be completed.  It is beautiful.  It provides shade when you want it.  It keeps out the rain so you can sit in comfort while it is pouring outside.  And most importantly, it has fans installed that help keep you cool when its 35 degrees outside in the shade….

We have the fans now we just need the Corona!

The Journey to Casa Madera – The tale of Oswaldo

September 2011 – It’s a hot one today at Casa Madera Bed and Breakfast in Nuevo Vallarta.  35 degrees with a humidex of about 42.  We have not had a good cooling rain for two weeks.  Very unusual for that to happen in rainy season.  Due to the heat there was not much going on today but trying not to sweat!

Labour day weekend was a treat.  Casa Madera was visited by friends from Lacombe, Alberta to celebrate their 24th anniversary.  It was a great weekend and too short a visit.  We are happy they enjoyed their tour of “our Mexico“.

It’s during these visits that our memories go back to what this house looked like when we bought it and how far we have come in less than 2 years.  The house was a mess.  Plants were overgrown everywhere.  The woodwork was termite infested, the fixtures were old and everything was in general disrepair.  All this with two people who were office workers and one who spent virtually every waking summer moment on the golf course…..

December 2009 – We have been in the house for about 10 days.  Still feeling our way around and trying to figure out what to do and how to do it.  We were working on tearing out the kitchen and rotten woodwork in the back room.  It was a long process as screws had to come out to get things apart.  Most had been in place for 20 years in a humid environment which made them just a tad rusty.

It was frustrating.  We thought that we finally had the last screw or nail and then when the unit still would not move we would find 6 more.  It seemed to take us forever just get the counter and the kitchen cabinets out let alone the rotten pine wall unit. If we were having  this much difficulty in the first room how hard were the next two going to be?

Kitchen and Wall unit in Room number 1

We were up to our necks in rotten wood when our friend Bill came by to see how we were doing.  He had a man working at his house building a pizza oven and patio area and he was just about done so he thought maybe we would be interested in having him come to work for us.  He could do tile, concrete and other general construction work.  He would come for 2500 pesos a week and lunch everyday.

Heather and I thought this over for at least a nanosecond and said sure.  Oswaldo would start on Thursday as he had one more day at Bill’s.

Thursday came and Oswaldo showed up at the appointed hour.  We went through the house and showed him what was going on and what we wanted to do.  The first order of business for him was to repair our outside wall where there was giant hole as neither Heather or I had ever mixed concrete in our lives.

Hole in the wall

Oswaldo looked at the hole, did some calculations and said we needed to get materials so off to the store we went.  He ordered what he needed and said they would deliver it in a couple of hours.

Back at the house Oswaldo asked whether we would like him to work on the tear out.  Sure I said.  He asked a very important question, “are you keeping anything”?  No.  In the space of the next 30 minutes he had the wall unit that Heather and I worked so patiently on for two days in a pile outside of the house.  Who cares about screws, just rip the thing out I can deal with the screws later.

Room number 2 after the removal of it's wall unit

From there he was into the bathroom ripping out the sink, the vanity, the toilet, and the shower doors.  He was done it all by the time the materials for the wall showed up.

After the demolition of the shower in room number 1

It was at that point when Heather and I realized how far in over our heads we were and boy did we feel like idiots.

With the materials there Oswaldo started on the wall.  He could only do a little at a time as the mortar had to set before more weight could be added on top of it so he started on the second bedroom.  He completed the tear out in that room while working on the wall and moved into the third bedroom.

By the time the wall was complete and stuccoed he had completed the tear out in all three rooms.   Two and a half days.  Heather and I spent 2 days in room number 1 and were not done when he joined us!

2 Days of Oswaldo, hole fixed and just needs paint

Monday morning came and Oswaldo was wondering what we wanted him to do today.  We decided to start on the kitchen in the first bedroom.  Heather and I had made up our minds that the kitchens would be Mexican without a stick of wood in sight so concrete had to be mixed, forms had to made and we needed to show him where everything would go.

It was a demanding task keeping up with him.  While a great worker, he was not a great planner so there were many times when he came upstairs and said I need this or that before I can go on.  This meant I spent a lot time going to the store to get more supplies.

It got to the point where I was always greeted by name at El Guero (our local hardware store).  If Heather was with me, I am not sure they really noticed.  They were only interested in the guy who kept buying tile, glue, grout, toilets, faucets, shower heads, and anything else they had on what seemed like a daily basis for a while.  Every person who worked there would break away from what they were doing to say hi, how are you Kevin?  I have to admit, I liked it!

The New Shower in room number 1

Oswaldo did great work.  He built all of our kitchens in our guest rooms, rebuilt all of the bathrooms and did a spectacular job.  I thought they looked great then and I still do.

The finished kitchen in room number 1 and the bathroom sink, all Oswaldo's handiwork

He was a god send to us.  He had his quirks and at times he drove us absolutely nuts but  his work ethic and the quality of his work was great.

We look back it now and realize that without him we would have been screwed.  We had no idea of what we were getting into or how to fix it and were ripe for the picking.  Thanks to him we were not picked.  He handled our problems, sometimes well, sometimes not so much but we learned from it.

After 5 months Heather and I realized that it was time for us to start doing things for ourselves and taking ownership of our house.  We owe Oswaldo a ton and I hate to think of where we would be if he had not come into our lives.  Thank you.

Oswaldo standing beside his first finished kitchen in room number 1