Isla Mujeres Mystery ~ Lynda L. Lock

Building in Paradise – from the ground up! It’s Lawrie’s turn to write

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All done September 10th 2007

Okay, so you’ve decided that you want to live in paradise, and you’ve found the perfect spot.  Should you rent, buy or build?

If you are new to the island, I recommend that you rent to begin with to be sure you have found the perfect place for your dream home. 

Of course if you have been a frequent visitor to the island you probably have all that information and you can go directly to purchasing or building.  In our case we decided to build, as we couldn’t find the perfect place already built. 

Day one January 15th 2007

If you are buying a lot, do your homework.  It’s a really good idea to have a recent land survey to ensure you are purchasing the correct lot, and that you will be building within the actual boundaries of the lot.  

Mistakes do happen!   We know of a few instances where owners started a house but on the wrong lot, or were in the process of purchasing a lot or a house and discovered the “sellers” did not actually have the legal right to sell the property. 

After purchasing a lot the next step is to find a reliable and honest builder. There are a lot of horror stories about building in Mexico but if you check references you will find someone that fits your requirements and your budget.

Digging down to bedrock – they dug down 13 feet

It’s always a good idea to see some of the builder’s completed projects, and talk to the owners to find out if they are pleased with the finished product. 

Before you actually get to start on your project, obtaining a building permit and having your plans approved can take awhile but eventually you’ll be ready to start.   

Blocks are quickly rising up!  

Now permits in hand you are ready to clear the property and construct a solid foundation.  No, you don’t have to actually do the work, the crew will do it for you.  

You can satisfy yourself with watching.  (But be sure to wear your supervisory hard hat and carry a clipboard.  You want to project the right impression that you know exactly what you are doing.)  

Pouring the roof

On Isla there are very few foundations dug with backhoes, instead a couple of strong guys will dig a trench deep enough to hit bedrock.  

We shuddered when we first saw these young guys down 13 feet, in a narrow trench, with no reinforcements, filling buckets with sand and rocks, then passing them up overhead to other workers.   It’s a hot, dirty, and potentially dangerous job.  

As with most manual labour jobs in Mexico there is no safety equipment: no steel-toed boots, or work gloves, or hard hats, or safety harnesses.  Most of the guys work in bare feet or sandals.  That’s it.

Pouring the roof of our casa

Mixing the concrete occasionally involves a portable cement mixer, but just as likely will be done by hand with a shovel, and a bucket brigade to transport the wet cement mix to the required location.  

During a roof-pouring we have seen as many as twenty-five guys working the site, passing heavy buckets of concrete from the ground up to the second floor, and up again to the roof. The empty buckets are tossed back down to start the journey over again. Most houses are created out of eight inch concrete building blocks and rebar. A few large architecturally designed homes on the island have used concrete pumper trucks.  

Downstairs tile floors

When the crew finally starts constructing walls it is amazing how quickly things progress.  We had dewy-eyed visions of a three-month completion as our house was progressing so rapidly.  Wrong!   

Once the blocks are up, things slow down dramatically as the first coat of plaster is literally thrown at the walls, then troweled, and smoothed.  Repeat for a second coat, and the third and final coat.  It is a mind-numbing, but very necessary process that takes the edge off of the initial excitement. 
Oh good!  More photos of plaster going on the walls.  That’s so very exciting. 

Several coats of plaster – boring, boring boring!

But wait, we need plumbing, you know stuff like toilets and sinks. And electricity!  Silly me, those services are installed after the plaster has dried.  Chip-chip-chip. Slowly paths are chipped into the plaster for wiring, and pipes.  Next are the windows, tile floors, and the final touches to the roof. 

At this point, the only wood that has been used during construction is to build a homemade ladder for the work-site.  How different than North American construction methods.  But this is the tropics; hurricanes, humid weather, rainstorms, and voracious tropical insects have altered how buildings are constructed.  Your typical Minnesota or Alberta home would not last a year in this climate.  

Finishing off the tower

While all this activity was going on, we shopped.  Choosing lighting fixtures that hopefully would not rust or corrode, or cost a bazillion dollars in electricity to operate.  Picking out plumbing fixtures, and tile, and kitchen cabinets.   The easy jobs, the fun jobs you say.   

Well, not exactly.  Cancun building supply stores do not carry a lot of inventory.  Very little on the display floor is actually for sale, instead items must be ordered with a wait of ten days to eight weeks.  We needed three matching bathroom mirrors, and only found two.  We wanted three matching bathrooms sinks, and again, only found two.   We learned to be very flexible in what we had envisioned, settling for the easy solution instead of a long wait in most cases. 

December 2007

And finally our dream home was finished; just seven months from start to finish.  

We are very happy with the results as the house was completed quicker than promised, and cost less than what we had budgeted. 

Damn, one small detail we forgot about.  

We need furniture. 

Stuffing a king-sized mattress through the doorway

And that is a whole other story!

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Lawrie – waiting for the king-sized mattress


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