Thursday, June 19, 2008

Moving to Mérida

According to the Diario del Yucatán newspaper, the foreign population in Mérida is growing by leaps and bounds. Every day a new reconstruction site or two is noticeable on a walk around the neighborhood. There are always a few new faces that eventually become familiar. And the longer I am here the more tales I hear about various renovation projects people have experienced after purchasing a home in México. What follows is a brief (for me!) version of my story.

I was lucky. For starters, I did not buy a home that needed a total makeover. The house that found me was painted white inside and out, the patio area was full of branches and garbage. The house sat abandoned for a few years before I took occupancy but was renovated shortly before the previous owners moved away. This boiled down to a project requiring patchwork on the cement walls and ceilings, a few coats of paint, rewiring of the antiquated electrical system, one out of five bathrooms needed retiling, the patio walls reinforced with more height, a well dug and a filter system installed for the swimming pool. In Mérida renovation-speak, it was a small job. The project lasted five months.

My friend Pea accompanied me on the move from Hawaii, allowing me to bring four suitcases instead of two plus carryon baggage which included my cat Buster. Pea and I stayed in a hotel for several days before I could take possession of the house, during which time Buster was run off the property by the resident cats. He went missing and miraculously returned in two months time. When we moved into the house we had absolutely nothing except two hammocks, a few towels, two sheets and four suitcases of clothes, games and memorabilia. It was adventurous at first, camping out in the empty house. In a mind-boggling first excursion to the local super store, Chedraui, we picked up a table and chairs for two, a one burner hot plate, stereo, dishes and glasses, etc. and brought our purchases home on the back of a tricycle. We started with just enough supplies to be able to feed ourselves, provide a variety of beverages, and sleep comfortably. Little by little we improved the campsite during the few weeks Pea was here. We picked up a used refrigerator, cranked up the music and cleaned the filth during the middle of the night, when the temperature dropped below 100°F. We made time to learn our way around the city and played hard by day, and then worked really hard all night long for three weeks.

Once Pea returned to Hawaii, the renovation work began in earnest. Six days a week the albañiles, or cement workers, would be here working from 7am until 6pm. They’d lay out a canvas and make cement in each room they were working on. To patch ceilings, they’d put a load of wet cement on a spatula and SPLAT! – up onto the ceiling, smooth it over, “¡Y ya!” (Done!) They built a scaffold to reach the 25 foot ceiling beams in the two main living rooms and again in the outside covered parking area. It was amazing to see the changes take place daily. The electrician came to work evenings and Sundays because he had a day job. That left him a little behind the six guys that worked all day, causing a need for plenty of repainting and touching up. After the second month, when football season and Latin American Idol were both in full swing, I asked if we could drop either the evenings or the Sundays because I had absolutely no privacy and ended up with a new electrician. I could not breathe without a little privacy. As it was, I was continually moving my suitcases from one room to another to accommodate the workers. I repositioned the hammocks to sequester myself in whichever room was not dusty and/or reeking of paint fumes.

I got carried away choosing colors, there were so many to choose from. You can see that in the photos. I have enjoyed lying and sleeping in hammocks for decades, so when it came time to furnish the house I decided to hang color coordinated hammocks on the numerous hooks that were already in place, tables and chairs randomly located for projects and socializing, and when the first houseguest arrived, I bought a bed.

Of course I wanted the guys to start with the swimming pool. I imagined I could sun myself, read and write while they worked; but the albañiles did not work that way. I had to drool looking at the empty pool through months of 100°+ days, and by the time it was ready “winter” had set in. Swimming enticed folks from 40° latitude or north...not us tropical types. The patio and the pool are still taking shape, and there are a few unfinished projects that will have to wait until the rainy season ends.

And here I am, sitting in the green room with three fans blasting at me, looking beyond the coral hued dining room out into the mocha colored patio. More pictures are pasted onto a separate post. I hope you enjoy the photo tour of my colonial home in Mérida. It is my largest work of art to date.

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