House hunting, frustration in any language!

Over the last couple of weeks we have been diligently working on improving Casa Madera.   When we bought the house, it needed work.  A lot of work.  But there were reasons we chose this house over the others we looked at and it was while I was painting our bedroom I started to think about some of the houses we looked a couple of years ago.

January 2009 – The condo was up for sale and attracting some interest.  This meant we should get our butts in gear and find a house that would be suitable for a bed and breakfast.  We called our friend and exclusive realtor, William Michael from Vallarta Escapes.  He knew what we wanted and set about to see what he could find in a reasonable price range that would meet our needs.

It was about a week later that he some houses to show us.  So off we went with the typical excitement you have when you are looking for a new house.  We were stoked!

Well we came down from that pretty fast.  Our problem was we were not really sure where we wanted to live.  We thought we wanted to live in Puerto Vallarta so that is where the houses that he had for us to see were located.  The first house was located back behind Fluvial which is a new district.  It was nice house but it was a little far away from all the tourist amenities which was going to be a problem.  That and there was just not enough room for a pool which had become a must have for me.

Sometimes pool's come in a variety of colours!

After the first day of looking Heather and I decided that we needed to make up our mind where we want to live.   Puerto Vallarta, Bucerias, Nuevo Vallarta, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Sayulita?  There were many choices so we started driving out to various areas just to try to get a feel for everything that they each had to offer.

Bucerias is a nice town.  It has all the services you would want and a great beach.  Ok, lets look there.

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle was small fishing village that had started to grow up with large condo projects and had an interesting feel to it.  We thought we could look there too.

Nuevo Vallarta was a planned residential tourist community that gave us a Beverly Hills feel when we drove into.  We decided that we can look there but we were not sure about it.

Sayulita is a great town.  To me it had a sixties California feel to it.  A surfing beach, great waves that still allow you to swim.  It’s drawback was it was on the other side of the mountain.  We will think about it but it was just too far out for me.

That left us Puerto Vallarta.  The reason we moved here.  We loved the town.  Friendly people, all the services.  It is great.

After all the discussion between to the two us we told William Michael our preferences.  He did his best to come up with something that would meet our needs and make us happy.

The next house was a 3 storey affair next to the Rio Cuale in Old Town.  It was a nice place.  Currently being operated as a small hotel and doing reasonably well.  The rooms all had some kitchen facilities, they were comfortable and the house had a great view but there was just no room for a pool.  We decided to keep it in mind but I really wanted a pool.

Shade and sun at the same time!

There were many that day, some worth looking at, some not so much.  Some out of our price league but fun to look at anyhow.

The next day we went out we went to see a house in Bucerias which we quite liked but again there was just no room for a pool.  The other thing we found odd about Bucerias is that most of the houses were two bedrooms.   At least those were the ones which were for sale.

From there we went to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle where there were two houses to see.  One was definitely a fixer upper according to William Micheal.  We walked into the house which was a one storey and it had the oddest feature.   A knee-high rock built into the floor.  WTF?  No one could tell us why it was there.  The house was being lived in at the time.  It was not finished.  No bedroom doors or jambs, just curtains.  They had not sprayed the house for bugs in a while as we were stepping over cockroaches to get into the house.  It was when we walked into the kitchen that William Michael calmly told us to step to the right as there was one coming right for us.  We both take direction well so we did and watch it stroll on by.

From there we went to a house which was actually set up for and being run as a bed and breakfast.  It was a nice place but was located across the street from the Sonic Gas propane station which played a whistle and shouted gas every few minutes.  We liked the house but not the location.

After 3 months of frustration of trying to find a house & setting up a pre-approved mortgage we were getting a little jaded.  It was a that point that William Michael reminded us that we had yet to look in Nuevo Vallarta.  Ok, let’s go see what Beverly Hills south has to offer.

Nice houses, that is what it has to offer.  Every house we looked at was gorgeous.  Immaculately kept, nice grounds.  They were beautiful.  Unfortunately they also had a nice price tag to go along with all that great stuff.  We were not going to denied though.  After 5 months in Puerto Vallarta we thought that living out in Nuevo might not be that bad.  It will be quiet and it really is not that far out from town.

It was then that he took us to what would become Casa Madera.  Wow.  It was perfect!  3 bedrooms downstairs with their own doors and livable space on the second floor for us.  A pool!  A nice size pool and a hot tub!  Man how could we be so lucky! And at a great price too.

However, we were still not sold on Nuevo Vallarta so we did not do anything that day.  We did talk about the house a lot though.  So we talked to our mortgage broker to make sure it would fit into our budget and he discussed it with the bank.  After a few days he came back and said that yes it would work.

We let it sit for a while because we were not going to rush into this one.  We did once already and were let down.  A couple of weeks went by and we decided we needed to look at it again.

The second viewing was not as good.  We then saw all the warts that the house had.  It needed a lot of work.  The bedrooms were going to have to be gutted.  The palapa over the garage was shot as was the one just outside of the kitchen.  And the kitchen, crap it was awful.  Well, now we are going to have to rethink this.

I have a screwdriver, we can fix it!

Again we discussed and discussed.  Can we do the repairs that it needs within a reasonable budget amount.  Especially since we are such handy kind of people.  Eventually it came down to one thing.  It was a perfect house for what we wanted to do.

So we jumped with both feet.  And then the fun began…..

Just think Steve Austin, you can rebuild it! Hopefully it won't cost you 6 million

Ok, We are in Mexico, Let’s Cook Mexican!

 

February 24, 2011 – I am sitting on our new Kitchen patio enjoying the afternoon sun here at Casa Madera Bed and Breakfast.  What a treat to be able to sit here with the breeze coming off the ocean and not have 14 year palapa grass fall on my head among other things. 

The original kitchen patio and very old palapa

It has been a long haul but the kitchen renovation is finally finished.  Man does it look good.  We put a lot of faith in Sergio, our architect and Chicho the cabinet-maker to do it right and they delivered.  They took the most ridiculously designed 2 rooms I have ever seen and made them sparkle.  They gave us actual usable space.  It is a treat.

The Original Kitchen

There are only so many people who saw the kitchens we had been living with for the last 28 months.   The two kitchens were so small that most of the kitchen items we brought down from Canada with us in November 2008 did not get unpacked until a week ago.  

The New Kitchen and the view to the patio
 

The best part about the new kitchen is Heather is totally stoked to cook again with a real stove with burners that work and hey is that an oven!  I am enjoying the rewards of having that stove and although my waistline may not approve I really don’t care!

Side view

Heather was making some appetizers she had never made before last Friday for a wine reception that our friends at Vallarta Escapes host during high season.  Watching her chop and seed some dried chili’s reminded me of the night we decided to try to cook a new mexican recipe in the condo….

December 2008 – We have been in town for 3 weeks.  We are getting tired of restaurant food and making easy to cook items on our one burner hot plate.  The kitchen in the condo is what one would call non-existent.  There is 3 feet of usable counter space.  There is a small fridge, microwave and our pride and joy, the one burner hot plate.

The one burner hot plate we brought with us from Canada.  It was purchased as a stand by for when we needed more burner space.  It was never used until we moved into the condo in Puerto Vallarta

It was in Vallarta that we discovered that the one burner hot plate was built with Canadian safety standards in mind.  What a pain those were.  You would just get a pot of water for pasta to start boiling and it would shut down!  Can’t let the little sucker overheat I guess.  Something bad might happen, like your food would cook in under 3 hours!  Oh well, it threw up a challenge but we eventually got used to it.

The condo kitchen and the one burner hot plate

Heather had brought a few cookbooks with her and one was Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless.  We found a marinade in the book that looked interesting and would translate well to meat that would have to be fried.  

The recipe included dried Ancho Chiles and dried Guanjillos Chiles.  It called for them to be stemmed, seeded and deveined.  So we started on that project.  Now this was Sunday and it was hot so we were enjoying a cerveza while we worked on the chiles.  Now there is one thing about cerveza that is well-known, you only rent it.  So once we had the chiles done I headed down the hall to use the facilities. 

I did my business, washed my hands and returned to the kitchen to start pulverizing the remaining spices into a paste.  It was about 3 minutes later that I started to get very uncomfortable.   Uncomfortable changed in about 30 seconds to HOLY CRAP CERTAIN PARTS OF ME APPEAR TO BE ON FIRE!

It was at this point I blasted down the hall, ripped off my clothes and jumped into a very cold shower.  It was not helping.  I tried soap, nope.  No staving off this burning sensation.  It was at that point that Heather showed up outside the shower, laughing so hard with tears streaming down her face carrying a bowl of Lala Strawberry Yoghurt. 

All I can say is thank god for Lala.  Things cooled off in a hurry, so to speak.  There was no permanent damage except to my ego.  I knew better.  How many times in your life to do you read, wear gloves when handling peppers.  Well it applies to dry ones too folks.  I learned the hard way.

The emergency over we went back to the marinade though Heather had a really hard time concentrating on what she was doing for some reason, why I have no idea.

Oh and through the pain of it all, the recipe was worth it!

The Journey to Casa Madera – The Big Scary Border

November 28, 2010 – We are downstairs sitting by the pool. It is a sunny, beautiful day.  Temperature is heading for its usual 28 degrees.  Just another spectacular Vallarta day.

Today is a special day.  Nobody is working on the house.  We have it to ourselves.  The only sound we hear is the pool fountain and Aretha Franklin.  It is divine.  We love the men working on the house, they are great guys but we have two weeks left before they will be done.

Alfonso Jr., Marco, Alfonso, Roberto, Me

It is nice to be alone.  However, it is also Grey Cup Sunday.

 

Saskatchewan Roughriders Logo
Image via Wikipedia

The one day of the year that most Canadians gather around tv’s with their friends to watch the biggest Canadian Football game of the year.  When I was growing up it was known as the Grand National Drunk.  It may not get called that anymore, but it certainly still is.  It will especially be that in our hometown, Edmonton as it is being held there in -7 degree temperatures.  They have been partying for 3 days.  It looks like it should be a great game.  A pity that my Eskimos will not be there but being westerners we still cheer for the western team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Walk into virtually any bar in Canada and you will find someone wearing their green and white jersey.  Once a Rider fan, always a Rider fan.  The people from Saskatchewan may relocate across the great land but the green jerseys follow them everywhere.  Even to Puerto Vallarta.

Today we will become part of the Rider Nation (man that hurts).  We are venturing into town to Casa Blakes Sports Bar.  It will be full of Rider fans and we will be sitting with 2 of them.  Dale & Annette.  They live in Victoria, BC but Dale was a transplanted Newfie in Regina.  Who else would he cheer for?

We met them last year at the same bar for the same game between the same teams.  The bar is busy and you need reservations for Grey Cup.  Sue Blake  puts people together to fill all the tables.  She put us with Dale & Annette.  It was a riot.

Today we will be immigrants in the Rider Nation.  It is a daunting experience.  We felt their pain last year when they could not count to 13.  We will feel their pain this  year should they not come out victorious  but at the end, we will still be immigrants in a scary land.  Riderville.  Much like we were two years ago crossing the border into this great misunderstood land of Mexico….

November 14, 2008 – 6:48 am.  We were up and ready to go because the walls in the hotel were thin.  People had been moving about since 4:00 am.  So in our bleary eyed state we started the car and pointed it in the direction of the border.  D-Day was here.  Were we going to actually do it?  We were excited but we were also scared spit less.

The Big Scary Border

 

We had never crossed the border in a vehicle before, we had always arrived by plane.  Would we get through without an inspection from a corrupt border guard who was looking for money.  We did not know whether the stories were true about the customs agents in Mexico but we had everything we owned in that car and did not want to lose it.

We drove past the American checkpoint and crossed into Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.  There were no barricades.  You just drove through.  Hmm, that was odd.  We saw the immigration building and pulled in beside it.  We had arranged our immigration papers with the Mexican Consulate in Calgary and they had advised us that this white and red piece of paper had to be turned in at the border.

It was 7:00 am.  We walked in and located the one person who was working and handed her our documentation.  She looked at it and took it back to her desk.  She drank some coffee and slowly moved to the copier.  Photocopied the FM-3’s (our immigration documents) and our passports (the first time out of about 400 that they were going to be photocopied in the next two years).  She took the pieces of paper, stamped the documents and sent us on our way.  Was it that easy?  Wow.  Didn’t expect that.    However we still had to go through the customs checkpoint 12 miles down the road.  We still had that to look forward to.

We drove on right into the center of town.

Nogales. Sonora

It really is like driving into a foreign land.  It was so different.  Vendors in the middle of the road selling newspapers, food stands everywhere and lots of different things to catch your attention.

 

We found our way out-of-town still feeling like frightened rabbits.  There was nobody else on the road and we started to relax a bit.  The signs were all in Spanish but the gps had our backs.  It knew where we needed to go and lead us on towards the car importation station.

To bring a vehicle into Mexico it has to be imported.  You need a sticker.  To get that sticker you have to provide copies of your registration, your insurance, your passports (one more time) and a credit card guarantee that you will not leave the car in the country.  They charge you $30.00 US for this sticker.

We arrived at this station just before it opened are were not the first people there.  We were however the only people in shorts.  Did I say how freaking cold it was!  It was 7 degrees, not what we expected.  We waited in line and after an hour we finally got everything taken care of.  They gave us our sticker and some paper documents that we were to not to lose and return when the car left the country.  There was also some paper work that would be taken at a checkpoint farther down the road.

We left the station and there it was.  Customs.  Here we go.  For those of you who have never travelled to Mexico, they have a random inspection system that does not involve questions.  After you say whether or not you have something to declare you push a button.  Red they search your car and your bags possibly keeping whatever they find, green you drive happily down the road.

It was time, I pushed the button and GREEN LIGHT!!!!  The gate goes up and needless to say we were out of there as fast as we could go without attracting suspicion.  Not that we had anything illicit or illegal but we wanted the hell out of there while we still had all of our stuff.

The GPS said we had 24 hours to Puerto Vallarta so we knew we had 3 days of driving ahead of us.  It was 8:30.  Our destination for the day was Ciudad Obregon.  Did not know anything about it but knew it was approximately as far as we wanted to travel that day.

Wide open Mexican Landscape

 

We spent some time getting used to Mexican traffic and drivers not that there were a ton on the road, most were Americans and Canadians heading down for the winter.  We  tried to decipher road signs.  That was entertaining as what little spanish we knew did not include translating the verb usage on road signs.  Needless to say we just played it by ear but most of the time we had no idea what they meant.

Signs warning of a toll booth

 

9:30 – We needed a driver change and needed a bathroom.  Stopped at Pemex station which had a corner store attached to it and bought some water and some galletas (cookies) that we had no idea what they were about but the girl behind the counter told us they were good.  She was not wrong, they were delightful.  Nice soft cookies filled with cajeta (goats milk caramel) that were really tasty and to this day if we see them on the street we buy them.

A half an hour later we approached a military checkpoint.  Lots of men and lots of guns.  A little unnerving.  They wanted to see the vehicle paperwork.  We handed the soldier the form we got from the import people and he took a portion and waved us on our way.  Pheeww.  You just didn’t know what to expect.

We drove on to Hermosillo.  A big city.  We were in one lane and the GPS was telling us to turn left.     However, I had forgotten one thing about the roads in Mexico.  In a lot of Mexican cities they have a lateral road that is to access the businesses on the side.  It is generally also used for left turns.  We were a little stressed over this and could not turn left there so we went straight.

I should have turned left here

 

That actually worked out for the best because we were hungry and there, lo and behold, was a Subway!  A quick lunch and back on the road.

It was a nice drive to Ciudad Obregon.  The scenery was nice, we were more relaxed and beginning to enjoy our adventure.

Trucks waiting in line at a cargo inspection station

 

We got into town about 3:00 and looked a hotel.  We found Hotel Valle Grand.  It was $87.00 for the night.  The parking lot was secure with a guard.  We felt safe.  We unpacked the car and went out for a walk to look around.  It was hot and sunny.  We found a little sidewalk cafe ordered a couple of Corona’s and some chips and salsa and enjoyed the afternoon.

We sauntered back to the hotel and relaxed for the evening to ready ourselves for the big drive to Mazatlan in the morning.  We slept well that night.  We were comfortable, we were in a safe place, we were happy and we knew that things were going to turn out just fine.