It’s notably warmer as I arrive back in Mexico with my jeans uncomfortably stuck to my legs with sweat. I haven’t worn long pants for years and this is why. The bloody traffic light system at airport customs for once decides that I shall not pass. My main bag is absolutely stuffed to the gills with liquorice all-sorts, chocolate bars, cheese, fruit pastilles and many cakes. There is at least 10 kg of sugar which will be a bugger to explain away. Somehow, I have managed to confuse the bored custom bloke with my pot of newly rediscovered USB sticks he has found in my hand luggage. I try and explain the concept of digital photo storage to him while looking as innocent as I can muster, while sitting protectively on my bag of sugar. He doesn’t quite know what to make of them. He calls in his supervisor, to show off his find, who pretty much slaps the bloke and tells him to let me go. I’m saved from the indignity of trying to explain away pots of Marmite, boxes of short bread biscuits and a bunch of Bakewell tarts and Jaffa cakes.
Jayne’s best mate from Quebec has been here for a while. It’s good to meet her and her friend who still have a few more days left before they return North. Jayne has successfully survived my absence by having a lot of fun with her mates. We have a good few days getting some surf hours in. It is my first time back in proper surf for almost a year. My knee injury is healing but at a frustratingly slow pace. It is good to catch a few waves but it is clearly going to take some time before I’m back to my bouncy surfy-self. It’s not a good time to surf here when the rains start and the sea water quality gets icky. Next season I need to make some time to get me more waves again.
My dear homestead is being transformed. When I left, the boys arrived, to start building our new house. There wasn’t much to see two weeks ago but now, from the humble ruin that was the scorpion temple, there is an actual house taking shape slowly. This crew work hard and quick. So far so good.
The pace of the build is driving things along steadily. The list of things that we need to decide upon is long and rapidly becoming urgent. Doors, windows, drains, tiles, wall finishes, lighting, fans, electrics, cabinets and bathroom fittings. We also need to attach the entire site to our modest electrical grid. There is a lot to do.
There are also a lot of decisions to make. Now Jayne and I have very different and passionately held ideas around interior design and colour schemes. Very different. Life has become a constant negotiation. I can have my palapa roof if she gets a strange colour on a bathroom wall. She can have her strange front door if I get my round windows. Somehow, we have agreed on colours, tiles and finishes that neither of us hate. We are keeping faith that it will all work out in the end.
It has always been core to our intentions for this build to become part of the jungle rather than separate from it. Our thinking is that we live on large clay deposits and the build site itself has a rich supply from the land into which we are building. We are keen to look at using this clay as the external wall coverings so the building matches it’s surroundings. We are also interested in creating rammed earth floors and polished plaster Moroccan style walls, and even a few wattle and daub areas made from a clay/sand/straw mix. We are lucky enough to be offered a training course by two very well-respected specialists in natural finishes. It is arranged that they travel to stay here for a week and put on a master class to train us and most importantly our build crew in the dark arts of natural finishes.
Jayne requires a wisdom tooth taking out. She has been putting it off but our dentist is leaving town for a while so she books herself in. Tooth was dispatched within half hour and everything went pretty well. Face mended quick and the whole operation cost us around $25. Our friend was recently quoted over $500 USD a tooth in California! We are very lucky. Dental tourism is a real thing here. Getting your face fixed is one of the best excuses to come see us.
The young chaps who arrive to teach us all things natural are interesting and clearly experienced. One is Mexican and the other French. It’s a full-on week of daily classes. We learn how to mix building materials by dancing on clay and water and sand and straw. We create rolls of the stuff at exactly the right level of sticky and build a wall. By removing straw and adding more sand we create the perfect mud pies that when bashed with a levelling mallet are compressed into what appears to be a solid floor. We used much care, a lump of soap and some polishing stones to create the highly impressive Moroccan style Tadelakt polished plaster. There are buckets of soaking cactus to add to the mixes. There are pigments and various clays added to lime plaster to find us a colour that is in keeping with the earth around us but also doesn’t look too shitty or pink. There is much to be learnt.
It is extraordinary how fast the build is going. Round windows and columns and stunning stone walls and steps. It’s starting to look like the real thing. The biggest issue we have is that the build is thirsty. The concrete has used many thousands of litres of water and the finishing plasters will need a heap more. The sun has decided to make a break for it and has hidden behind clouds for many days. It’s impossible for me to pump enough water every day to replace what they are using. We even have a water pipe syphoning off pool water to keep them going. Despite the well water levels holding up nicely we are almost out of water on the land. It is a blessing that the large cistern we have built underneath the front of the house is finished and should be able to hold water. We order a pipa truck that delivers 10 000 litres into their empty tinaco and the new cistern which does not leak. Problem is solved. Now to try and replace the water we have used, that will require some sunshine for our solar pump.
We have a full on weekend booked. Our friend has a birthday dinner booked, we have a DJ night at the Mezcaleria, Lucha Libre wrestlers are in town and it’s Pride weekend in Puerto Vallarta where the annual drag queen street obstacle course is happening. It is pretty excellent to have some time away from the build and catch up with folk.
Finally, after three Covid cancellations, my daughter Suzy is arriving with us. At last she has taken two weeks out of her hectic life. She has suffered through working on the front line as a Covid nurse and currently in Leeds, West Yorkshire, managing an overstuffed case load of sex workers who she helps to manage drug and alcohol dependency issues. Girl needs a rest. It was fantastic to see her when I was in the UK but now she has nothing to do and two sweet weeks to do it in. There is no sun still but this is taken as a blessing as it’s still oppressively hot. Opportunity to acclimatise from the delights of West Yorkshire.
It has become clear that the issues that persuaded me to go to the UK are different and it is perhaps not as useful to return as planned. I’ll reschedule when it suits everyone better. My son, Jake, however has found himself with an amount of time between projects so has decided to join his sister and a good friend (already scheduled to be here) for a short visit. Having both kids here is an unexpected blessing. Neither of them drink alcohol now so it’s an opportunity to be a touch healthier and less hangovery. It’s been a very long time since we all spent more than a few hours together.
We have also arranged to host a few highly skilled boys to drive in from Guanajuato who will transform a pile of bricks into a stunning boveda vaulted roof. There was going to be six of them for a week but we are now expecting four of them for four days. Who actually arrives are two blokes. One boveda master and his mate. They both want to get everything done in three days because they want to get back to San Miguel Allende where they have a footy game to watch. If they can do a good job we are absolutely up for that. The rains are threatening and getting our roof on in time is crucial. We give them a few hours to settle in then go for a site visit to see how they are doing. It’s remarkable what one skilled bloke can do with a pile of bricks. Our guy is slapping bricks masterfully into the rapidly appearing roof that seems to have its very own gravity. It’s going to look extraordinary.
June bugs are here. It’s a sign the rains are upon us. They really are the most stupid animals. Their entire existence seems to be to clumsily fly directly into your face and get caught up in your hair. They are solid little buggers so it’s like being constantly hit in the head with a handful of nuts. For this reason we call them nut bugs. Thankfully they only last a few weeks.
It’s great to have the kids here. It’s been a while for Suzy so she gets to see all the changes we now pretty much take for granted. She settles back into a new pace of life beautifully. There is surfing and relaxing. No sun but all the food. Jake and our friend arrive. The sun returns and it gets sticky hot. Our place is alive again with people for the first time in a very long time. We do all the things and eat all the food and rest well. It is sadly and inevitably no time at all before they are due to fly back to UK. Before they leave we get to see our newly finished boveda. It is stunning work. Only in Mexico could we afford to be making such sexy roof decisions.
The mighty kick ball league of San Pancho is taking its Summer recess. It’s hard to get the numbers these days as large amounts of folk are leaving as the air heats up and it becomes interesting to breathe. It’s only June but the hot stuff is upon us. We were introduced to kick ball only a few weeks ago. Two teams, of varying ambition and competitiveness, pitching and kicking and catching and running until it’s time for another cold beer. It has been the source of group competitiveness and minor sports injuries for a number of Saturday mornings at the local football field.
In anticipation of powering up the dehumidifier and air conditioning units we have acquired there needs to be a few upgrades to our power grid. There is a lot of buggering about and nerd wizardry employed to add the fourth and final new battery to our system and fiddle with the layout of the solar panel to maximise voltage from sunshine. There is much technical help from our team of super solar ninjas (Alan, Jayne’s Dad and Ray, our solar guru in Hawaii). When these guys start talking technical speak together I must admit to being a little (lot) lost. Glad Jayne has the skills to translate and patience to get stuff done.
The rains have come. We have just about made our new roof waterproof but the clay finishes we have chosen are far from dry or sealed. It looks like we will have to wait out the rainy season before we know exactly what colour our exterior walls will become. The palapa roof is happening fast so in about a week we should be fairly weather proof. The rains, however, are not waiting. Every night they come hard. There have been a few thunder storms already and the rivers are showing signs of coming back to life.
Electrics are in place. Tiles have arrived. We have a master carpenter who is making a plan for all the cabinets. We are designing windows and doors. The stairs are being built. It’s all happening at pace. If we are not washed out we are close to having the building work completed in a month or so. It’s shocking how far along we are already.
Well finally it’s my turn. After a modest night at the Mezcaleria I find myself waking up at 6 am with what I assume to be a surprise hangover. It is irritatingly rare for me to ever suffer from hangovers so I am confused. I pretty much behaved myself the night before but my body feels poisoned and my kidneys ache like I’ve had a proper kicking. I stagger to the bucket and have to hold myself up. I’m not feeling at all pleasant. Jayne shuts up my moaning by launching a Covid test into my face. It’s an instant positive. Bugger. I hole up in the treehouse for a miserable week. Thankfully my woes did not include coughing or breathing issues for which I am forever grateful. Have to respect how bloody awful this thing makes you feel. I’m taking my time and everything seems to be returning to its usual state of strange normality again.