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



Good things can come from dirty laundry! Part 1

We had just poured a glass of wine one night last week when a red Jeep drove by our house, Casa Madera.  It went a few feet past, turned around and parked at the end of our driveway.  There are an awful lot of Jeeps in Mexico but we did not know anybody with one so we thought they were going to the Senora’s house next door.

It was then that the gate rattled so I looked over the balcony and there were Mary and Lore.  They had dropped by to say Hi.  It was nice to see them.  We had a great visit as it had been a couple of months since we had talked.

It was a good conversation.  As a matter of fact I would have to rate it as one of the best conversations the 4 of us had ever had.  It took place in Spanish and we understood most of it.  It was later that I got to thinking about how far all of us have come from the first day we walked into Mary’s laundry 2 and a half years ago…

December 2008 – We have discovered that regardless of where you live, you will always have laundry!  Our condo does not have a washer and dryer nor does it have the space or hookups for them.  This means we have to find a place to do our laundry.  There are 2 to choose from in the complex.  This was new.

Heather says she went to Mary’s because she liked the painting of the Smiling washing machine on the front but really it was because the other laundry just never seemed very friendly.  Something that Mary had no issues with.

The first visit was difficult as Mary spoke virtually no english and we spoke very poor spanish but we managed to get through it.  The first load of clothes were returned in fine shape so we continued to take our dirty laundry to her.  Well except for the day that Heather thought that maybe we should visit a laundromat that we had noticed about 5 blocks up the street.

The laundromat was like any other, lines of washers and dryers, folding tables and a bench out front for sitting on and reading.  The problem was there was no real place to park so we either had to walk down with our clothes or take the bus.  Now there is lots of fun, riding a bus with a big bag of your sweaty, smelly clothes.  We did this twice at 30 pesos per wash and 30 pesos per dry.

It was then that we realized that Mary would do it for basically the same price as the laundromat and we only had to drop it off and pick it up.  So no more visits to the laundromat.

One day Heather came back to the condo announcing that she had made us pedicure appointments with a woman around the corner who was looking for clients.  Ok, why not.  So off we went.

There were two women there, one to work on Heather and one to work on me.  The name of the woman who had the lovely pleasure of working on my spectacularly abused feet was Lore.

Again conversation for me was virtually non-existent but Heather seemed to be holding her own.  This became a twice monthly event for us as it was actually quite nice.  It was the second time we were there that the woman who worked on Heather’s feet asked her about learning english.  It was decided that we would return tomorrow afternoon and attempt to give them some insight into the english language.

The appointed time came and we went to their store to find 3 of them eager to learn.  Lore, Mary and the other woman whose name is escaping me.  This became a regular event for us.  We would get together a couple a times a week to at least try to show them the words and the sentences they needed to attract tourists into their shop.

The problem was that the complex had at least 6 shops that did massages, manicures and pedicures.  In the economy we were in at the time, there was just not enough tourists to go around.  It was getting very difficult for them to eek out a living.

The lessons were a major hit.  Whether or not we made a difference to their english learning is anybody’s guess but we had fun.  The lessons also became the catalyst to friendship. 

We had been going for pedicures and trying to teach them english for about 3 months when Mary asked us if we wanted to come with them to fiesta for a friends son’s first communion.  She was very persuasive and said that her friends would love it if we would come.  Okay, we will attend.

Heather and I were now in a quandary.  This is an important event in a young persons life and we were invited.   While we knew Mary and Lore we did not know the hosts nor the child in question.  How do we dress? Do we buy him a gift? 

We eventually settled on giving him a card and some money.  But then, how much?  He was 8 so we decided to go with 70 pesos. 

The day arrived and Mary told us to meet them at the laundry at 2:30 and we would take the bus.  Heather and I decided that being a religious but festive event we would not wear shorts.  This was in June when the temperatures hover around 33 degrees celsius and the humidity makes it feel like 40.  Needless to say, it was hot and sticky. 

We hopped on the bus and headed into a part of town we had never been in before, Cuoapinole.  The road was not in what one would call primo condition but we made it.  We were hot and sweaty so we were using what ever we had to try to dry our faces and necks before we met these people.  Heather had kleenex in her purse so that was our only choice. 

We finally arrived at our destination and walked up to the house where the party was already going on.  Needless to say Heather and I kind of stood out in the crowd.  We were the only white people there.  Now that should not be unusual when you live in Mexico but when it happens the first time it kind of unsettles you. 

Mary introduced us to her friends, Bertha and Carlos and their son, Juan who looked sparkling in his pristine white communion clothes.    Mary immediately wanted us to eat.  The food today was Pozole.  A soup made from pork meat broth with hominy in it. 

Bertha was dishing it out and I had my choice of meat, pork shoulder, tongue or other parts.  I asked for the shoulder and just a little tongue.  I took it out to the table outside where there was cilantro, jalapeños, onions, radishes and of course, limes.  It was delightful.  Full of flavour, wonderfully cooked,  it was great.

Beer was offered, accepted and more pozole was requested.  We were introduced to the people around the table who were gracious and very nice.  We met Bertha’s brother who is a monk and spoke english.  The day was good but being able to converse with somebody easily was great.

We were still sweating and using the kleenex to dry our foreheads and necks when Heather looked at me and said that we must get cloths for this chore as for the last hour I had been wandering around with little bits of kleenex attached to my neck and beard.  Nothing like making a good impression on new friends!

All in all it was a great day.  We made some new friends and had a great time.  It was a life lesson for both of us coming from a culture where people are more closely guarded and not as free with their affections, and I was definitely one of those types of people.  Mary and Lore did our laundry and now we are proud to count them among our dearest friends. 

It just goes to show that if you go around within your own little world the rest of it just passes you by.

Without meeting Mary & Lore there are so many things we would have never experienced.  Wait until you hear about the trip to Guadalajara….

The Journey to Casa Madera – Hey, Who washed my car?

December 1, 2010 – We had guests last Friday night, Ray & Jan from Sherwood Park, Alberta.  They are friends of friends of ours.  They were staying the night on their way to Barra de Navidad for a week with their friends who were due to arrive on Saturday.

Lagoon Beach at Barra de Navidad


We have been using our Jeep for many things like picking up cement, sand and other building materials while we renovate our house.  Generally this occurs about 5 minutes after I have had the car washed, much like the one cloud in the sky that immediately rains on the car when you are not looking.

Shops in Barra de Navidad


The problem with transporting these items in the back of the Jeep is that sand bags leak so sand gets all over the back of the car.  We were picking Ray & Jan up at the airport, so a complete wash of the car inside and out was required. So off to the Eco Car Wash I go.  For $75 pesos they do the complete wash, vacuum and dry.  As they do a very thorough job it takes them about 45 minutes so I normally take my book and retire to the tables with the umbrellas and have a cerveza.

Sunset from the Condo in Barra where our friends spend their vacation at Playa Grande


This day I was having a difficult time getting into my book and was distracted.  I was remembering my first Mexican Car Wash in Ciudad Obregon a couple of years previous.

November 15, 2008 – 7:14 am  16 degrees Celsius warming up! – We had a relaxing evening in a nice hotel with comfy beds.  We slept well but we are both early risers and were awake at 6:00.  We strolled out of the room and started packing the car for the day’s drive to Mazatlan, Sinaloa.

As I was standing by the car making space for Heather’s Mac I noticed that my windshield wipers were folded out.  Hmm that’s odd I thought.  It was then I noticed that I was standing in water.  That was even odder as it did not rain during the night, there were no sprinklers on and there was no other evidence of water on the ground except by our car.  What the heck?

It was then I noticed a small Mexican man coming towards me with a bucket.  It appears he was in the middle of washing our car and went to get more water.  He was talking to me in Spanish so I was lost after he said Buenos Dias.  However I soon realized he was bound and determined to finish the job he started but could not get to the roof so he had gone to get another bucket to stand on.  He proceeded to finish the wash.

I was lost.  What the hell do I do?  Do you pay him? Is he paid by the Hotel?  Do you tip him?  What?  I noticed at that time that quite a few cars in the parking lot had their wipers up and realized that it was the sign to wash the car.  So either someone had done it for us or he saw the Alberta license plates and did it himself.

He did a great job.  The outside of the car was spotless.  He rinsed, washed with soap, rinsed and hand dried.  Neither Heather or I knew what to do so I handed him $20 pesos as I tip.  He smiled and said gracias so we figured it must have been ok.  I have been to a few car washes in Edmonton who could learn a lot from this old Mexican on how to actually wash a car.

We checked out of the hotel and decided to forego the hotel breakfast and hit either McDonald’s or Carls Jr. on our way out-of-town.  This was a tactical error.  It was Saturday and we were used to places like this being open at 6:00 or at least 7:00 am.  Not so in Ciudad Obregon.  The signs said they would open at 9:00.  Now what do we do?  Luckily we had a cookie left over from the day before so we decided to just grab a cup of coffee somewhere and hit the highway and catch some chow in Navojoa, Sonora.

Out of the city we came up to the toll booth.  We had decided to stick to the toll roads or Autopistas as they call them here.  They are straight, in great condition and generally divided with two lanes.  And did I mention straight.  There are a few sections that make the QE2 between Edmonton and Calgary look too twisty.

We got to Navojoa and found nothing that was close to what we wanted for breakfast but we did find a Soriana.  Soriana is your standard supermarket like Safeway.  We wandered in and looked around.  We picked up some Yogurt drinks, some mandarin oranges and starting looking for something that would fill the gaps.

They had a large hot food section at the back of the store but we had never bought anything like that before in Mexico so we really did not know what to do.  It was 9:00 am so the store was still deserted.  We were hoping we could just hang back and watch to see what the other shoppers did but there were none!  We finally just got over it and went up to the counter.  We still could not figure out what to do but a woman came over and realized that she was dealing with two twits from Canada and served us.

Apparently you ask for a container, grab the tongs, take out what you want and hand it to her for labelling.  Well now we know!  We purchased 4 pieces of Fried Chicken.  Yep, Fried Chicken.  We did not recognize anything else in the case so we went with what we knew!

Off to the checkout we went.  46 pesos later we grabbed our chicken, yogurt drinks and mandarins and headed out to the car where under the watchful and curious eye of the security guard we ate breakfast.  Now I realize we were hungry but that Fried Chicken was phenomenal.  The chicken had flavour, it was delightful. The security guard looked relieved when we started the car and drove out of the parking lot.

Back on the highway.  Another toll road.  Nice.  Speed limit 110.  Locked the cruise in at 110, lord knows we don’t want to be stopped.  We were the only car going 110.  The average speed was running between 130 and 140, even the buses!  Worse the buses would drive down the center of the road, only moving over to pass another vehicle.  It was a little nerve-racking but I had driven the old 79 Dodge Motorhome on the QE2 I was kind of used to being passed.

Note the total lack of anything that might resemble a shoulder!
Note the total lack of anything that might resemble a shoulder!


As we moved through Sonora into Sinaloa the terrain began to change.  Sonora was high desert for the most part but we never really noticed the downhill as we started to level out from ranch style land to farm land.

Corn processor


Sinaloa is a farming state.  There were greenhouses everywhere made of plastic.  Tomato’s are their major crop, so much so that they have a tomato in the middle of their license plate.  It appears that most are grown hydroponically hence the green houses but there are also many areas where the plants were in the ground.

One thing that startled us was the fact that people just came out of nowhere.  We were clipping along at 110 kph and all of a sudden a man would appear out of the grass in the ditch.  Never locked up the brakes but it certainly gives the heart a stop!

Aside from the odd person wandering out of the ditch it was an uneventful day and we rolled into Mazatlan at 4:00 pm.  Found a City Express hotel with a nice room with a pool and breakfast for $67.00 Can.  It was 4 months old and very close to the tourist zone in Mazatlan so we cleaned up and headed out to see the town.



We were not ready for dinner yet and just wandered.   After wandering for a couple of hours and looking at hundreds of menus we decided to go eat at the next restaurant we stopped at.  The menu looked good and it was coming off of a wood grill.

We sat down and I ordered a beer.  “We are not licensed so we do not serve it” I was told.  “You can go to the store and buy some if you like and bring it in”.  Say what?  I bring my own???  That was new one to me.  I could not shake that Canadian feeling that there was just something wrong with that so I ordered a Coke.  Ahh, Coke in an ice-cold glass bottle.  I had forgotten about that.  There is no better Coke than one that comes out of an ice-cold glass bottle so I did not miss the beer!

It was then we spied another group of tourists in the place who were uncorking the bottle of wine they brought.  They obviously knew the drill and had been here before so the food must be good.

And it was.  Oh it was tasty.  It was the best dinner we had on our travels over the previous 3 weeks.  Nothing even came close.  It was pretty amazing for a restaurant that only had walls around the kitchen and whose roof was vinyl Coca Cola awning.

We retired back to the hotel looking forward to the last day of our journey to Puerto Vallarta and the day our lives would totally change.