If we’ve learned anything in the 40-something years we’ve lived on this Earth, it is that you can never really say never. More often than not, the things we have sworn we would never do, warned others not to do, and sometimes made fun of, are the things we end up doing ourselves. Like moving to the suburbs, becoming parents, buying a pop-up camper, wearing zip-off leg travel pants, and now – like building a home in Mexico.
It never occurred to us when we landed in Chacala in November 2015 that we’d still be living here today, let alone be building a house here. I mean, we’ve never ever considered building a home together, let alone do it in another country and language. The plethora of unknowns that come with the building process – the risk, expense, stress, and overwhelming number of decisions – was not an adventure either of us were interested in having, despite how adventurous some may think we are. We told ourselves that couples that build homes together were endangering their relationships and finances, and that’s not a road we were willing to travel down.
Fast forward to January 2018, and we are already far down that once-forbidden road. Last year, we bought a plot of land just outside of town and on that land today stands a house in progress.
There is a foundation, walls, a roof and holes where the windows will go. Soon will come the wiring, plumbing, floors and doors. Amazingly, it’s all going pretty fast and efficiently so far. Workers broke ground on August 15 (fittingly on Brian’s birthday), and we estimate we will move in sometime in late winter/early spring.
Thankfully, our relationship is still intact and stronger than ever. This is probably due to the fact that Brian is managing the whole process, while I keep my nose down in work. After 26 years together, we know our strengths and weaknesses and usually know how and when to deploy them in our relationship. Brian is a good people-person, project manager, researcher, deal-finder, visual thinker, and problem-solver – perfectly fit for managing a house build. While I, on the other hand, am really good at breaking stuff and losing stuff. We sometimes joke that our marriage consists of Brian fixing and finding stuff that I break and/or lose. Luckily, I’m also good at public relations, which is paying our bills right now and making this build financially possible.
Joking aside, we are actually working as a team to make this possible. Brian does the heavy lifting when it comes to researching options, purchasing materials, and interfacing with vendors, craftsmen, our builder and workers. Then we come together to make final decisions on design, materials, fixtures, etc.
I’ve been utterly amazed at what Brian has been able to accomplish. Not only is he managing every detail, he is doing it all in Spanish. None of our workers or our builder speak English, neither do most of the vendors and craftsmen we are working with, so Brian has had to stretch his Spanish skills to the max. I often overhear him on the phone with various shop owners, or chatting with our builder and work crew. He’s developed a whole new vocabulary of Spanish words like albañiles (masons), alambre (wire), and ladrillo (brick) that he throws around with ease. He’s also developed a highly colorful vocabulary of Spanish slang from hanging out with the workers, which isn’t exactly fit to print.
We’ve both been amazed at how hard our team works and how talented they are. Every day, five and a half days a week, our crew of seven workers (Arturo, Fernando, Isidro, Raphael, Cuervo, Raphael and Pollo) show up and pour their sweat and muscle into building the house. Nearly everything is done by hand – from bending metal to create the rebar castillos and dalas (vertical and horizontal supports that make up the framing of the house) to placing every brick (see video below).
The only time heavy machinery has been used so far was for digging channels for the foundation and pouring the cement roof. It is hard, hot work and still these guys have great attitudes. We often hear them singing or joking with each other while working or on breaks. As they get to know Brian, he’s become “one of the guys” and gives and gets his fair share of ribbing. Every Saturday afternoon, Brian brings them cokes, pastries and beer and they toast to a week well done and to the week ahead.
None of this would be possible without our amazing builder Thomás Gutierrez. A local Chacaleño (person who lives in Chacala), he came highly recommended by several of our friends who had hired him to build or remodel their homes. He’s such a joy to work with – he’s smart, dedicated, easy-going and most importantly, patient. He deftly and calmly answers the million-and-one questions we pepper him with every week in our broken Spanish. It is because of his guidance and patience that this project has gone so smoothly and has been so enjoyable thus far.
So when we catch ourselves saying that we’d never do this or that, we remember that many of the things we used to say we’d never do but end up doing anyway, are the things that have brought us the most joy in life. Like living in the wonderful suburban community of Louisville, Colorado; becoming parents of our amazing daughter Maya; transitioning from backpacking to “glamping” in our cozy pop-up camper; and now, like building a home together in Mexico.
Wearing zip-off leg travel pants, however, I still regret doing and will never ever do again.