Elephant in the Riviera Maya – Part 7

Part 7:  Things That Make You Go ? Hmmmm!

A Series On What It’s Like To Give Birth To A Mexican Elephant

For those of you who have been following this series of articles on the birth of my house in the lovely Riviera Maya, you already know that I liken it to giving birth to an elephant – a long gestation period to get to the construction phase, horrible morning sickness throughout with endless problems, brutal contraction pain caused by said problems, and endless expected (and unexpected) expenditures.

I told you about one of those unexpected expenditures in last month’s episode of As My World Turns (Part 6). In short, I was having to deal with the dreaded “B-Word”, or la mordida as it is called in Mexico. If you remember, I was in the stirrups of the delivery room about to give birth; the baby was crowning when the hospital administrator burst into the delivery room and demanded more money or delivery would be halted.

The conclusion was that I ended up NOT having to pay the $10,000 usd being demanded by my resort development for a “guarantee of damages” due to a change in rules for construction that arose after my build was approved. They listened to all of the arguments and agreed when my architect promised a letter of guarantee committing to repair any and all damage his workers might cause in the course of building my house. The other people building here ended up having to pay 50% of what was being demanded.

And now for the continuation of As My World Turns – Part 7

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO ? Hmmmmm   #1 – Here We Go Again

One thing I have noticed in the past 18 months living in Mexico is foreigners, like me, assume that the request (or demand) for la mordida (insert the “B-Word) will be obvious when it happens. What we fail to realize is it typically comes in the form of a fee or payment, a purchased guarantee or insurance, a tax, a monetary deposit, or simply, a “cost”. When presented to you, the request for la mordida typically feels and sounds legitimate because it is presented in a very polite manner. You almost feel bad saying no!

What reeks of impropriety though is when the amount being asked for is flexible – who pays, the amount to be paid, how that amount is determined, and how much movement there is in the amount – can all be negotiated. This is what makes its legitimacy come into question.

I recently met a couple from Texas who have completed the build of their home in Tulum. At the end of the build they were met with an unexpected expense they’d never heard of nor been informed of by their builder. It seems the municipality of Tulum charges a “construction closing cost” – similar, they were told, to the closing costs we are familiar with when we buy land in Mexico or property in the US. This “cost”, however, was not outlined anywhere in their contract, nor was there a fee schedule with the municipality explaining how the amount is determined – in this couple’s case it was $10,000 usd. Was this a random figure? Their developer told them it was based on the square footage of the house, but this seemed questionable when the fee was negotiated down to $5,000 usd – lucky them!

In Canada, and I’m pretty sure in the United States, when a municipal office levies a fee it is outlined in detail and publicly available for anyone to read. The amount is fixed on a schedule and anyone with the same criteria will pay the same amount. Not so in Mexico, apparently.

My build is very close to Akumal, but in the municipality of Solidaridad, and I’ve yet to find out what will happen when construction comes to an end. Maybe someone out there with more construction experience than I can explain this “construction closing cost” in Mexico, whether it’s legitimate, how the amount is determined, and why it’s not indicated in the contract or ever mentioned to clients. Basically, why does it feel like some guy in a municipal office is asking for the “B-word”?

In any event, I recommend you talk to your developer about a “construction closing cost” BEFORE you sign the contract.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO ? #2 -Electrical ACCESS Panels

Electrical ACCESS panel inaccessible behind where the fridge will be located.

I hate the fridge in the condo I am currently renting. Every time I go into it, the door swings back and cracks me in the head, elbow, or knee causing me to utter obscenities. I know it is a matter of leveling out the feet so the door doesn’t swing so drastically, but I can’t seem to manage lifting the fridge while at the same time turning these tiny feet to level the thing out. So, here I go again – whack – cursing at the universe.

Why do I bring this up? The last thing I want to do with a fridge is move it; I want it to sit there and do what I want: keep my food cold.

How does this relate to my build? Well, one particular Saturday, during one of my nightly walks with my dogs to the house (I now call it a house instead of a lot) I noticed that in the kitchen area, the electrical access panel had been located on the wall exactly where the fridge will be located. ? Yes, hmmmm, the electrical ACCESS panel will be INACCESSIBLE behind the fridge!

Electrical ACCESS panel newly accessible in the storage room.

I stood there staring blankly at the situation, completely bewildered. I was trying to picture the power going off an appliance, and having to access the electrical ACCESS panel in order to flip a breaker to get said appliance operational again. However, in this situation, I was picturing myself attempting to maneuver a 25 cubic foot fridge out of its resting spot without damaging the marble floors, then hauling this 54 year-old body over the cupboard to squeeze behind the fridge to access the electrical ACCESS panel. I would then have to reverse these maneuvers once I fixed the issue. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t understand how any electrician that would install an electrical ACCESS panel in a location without realizing the ACCESS panel was simply not ACCESSIBLE.

I wrote my developer stressing this issue. I asked if he were going to come to my house and move my fridge every time I needed to ACCESS the ACCESS panel. Two days later I noticed the electrical ACCESS panel had been relocated to the storage room, or bodega as it is called here, a mere three meters away. “Hallelujah”, the ACCESS panel is now ACCESSIBLE! ?

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO ? #3 – A Tree In My Pool

I am a gardener. Well, I used to be an avid gardener until my knees petered out on me. Now, I am an avid garden admirer. Either way, I love anything green that takes in my carbon dioxide and expels it out as the oxygen I breathe in.

You might remember in Part 4 of this series, I saved 13 plants from certain death before construction began on the lot, potted them up and temporarily relocated them to my condo until they can be replanted on the property. You might also remember reading about the tree that stood tall and proud in my kitchen during six months of construction, until one terrible day, it was gone. Some of you told me you were “rooting” ? for the tree – you wanted it saved and relocated, and some of you wanted it to remain and have the kitchen built around it ?. Unfortunately, the tree met its demise. And now, here is the story of another tree.

A tree in my pool.

While in Canada dreaming about living in Mexico in a house with a pool, I thought what a lovely idea it would be to have a tree in my pool. As this house was being constructed and the pool area formed, lo and behold, there it was: a gorgeous tree standing right in the middle of where the pool was going to be. I thought, “It could be walled off and the pool built around it”. I thought it would be a cool and unique feature, and so did my architect.

But talking to a long-time expat with a pool at her house, I was informed that the last thing I wanted to do was to have a tree in or near my pool! She had just gone through the expense of removing a large tree that overhung her pool. It was dropping leaves into the water and turning it brown, causing it to be unsightly and unclean, and no one wanted to swim in it. To make it swimmable required the heavy use of chemicals and bi-monthly draining of the entire pool. The decision was made. I informed my architect: nix the tree in the pool. He was not happy with my decision.

You can imagine my surprise when recently I discovered a rock wall being built around a large tree in the pool. At first I thought, “Oh my goodness, that is going to look stunning!” Then I remembered my friend telling me about brown water and endless hours of maintenance, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, I have to get this wall torn down and the tree removed!” A quick text to my architect, some back and forth guilt-play by him: “Are you sure you don’t want to think about it, Brenda? Jajajajaja, I’m sure it will be a unique detail in your home.” But my foot was set firmly down – the tree had to go! Thankfully, the architect is going to attempt to save the tree and relocate it. Now Mother Nature is not going to curse me for tearing down this gorgeous oxygen generator, and I was not going to have endless hours of pool maintenance – problem solved!

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO ? #4 –  Order of Construction

For those of us who know a bit about the construction process in Canada and the US, we are familiar with the order things are done: foundation first, build the first floor, frame the first floor, repeat with the second floor, add roof, electrical, plumbing, and so on. In Mexico, the order of how a home is constructed is completely different.

Kitchen and living room tile being installed.

I haven’t discovered a straight answer on whether the order of construction in Mexico is different to meet contractual obligations which allows developers to receive payments more quickly, or whether it is “this is how things are done here”. What I do know, is my level of confusion surrounding when things are done, is high. 

You see, I was confused as to why the first level floor (follow me, now) was not installed before the second level floor and roof were installed. Then it dawned on me:  the contract has a massive payment due once the roof is completed. The goal is to the get the roof on as quickly as possible in order to contractually demand that big third installment payment; hence, the roof goes up even before, logically, putting the first level floor in.

Currently, the first level floor and second level floor have been poured with concrete, and tile is being laid. I find it curious that gorgeous Mexican marble tiles are being installed while exposed to elements like rain, wind, and salt air, instead of being installed post window installation where it could be protected from the elements. I did find out that my numerous sliding windows won’t be installed until the end of the construction process. After tiling is complete, the second floor finishes will be installed, followed by the first floor finishes; this explains why the bathtub and several toilets arrived on site recently (a little more about the tub later). 

Second floor finally accessible by stairs instead of a ladder, and the dreaded structural wall on the left side of the staircase that, in my opinion, should be a glass railing, but what do I know about structural loads? (See Thing That Make You Go Hmmmm #5 below)

While I scratch my head at the order of things being done, I will continue to inform you of the sequence of events, so you too can scratch your head. And while we have a communal head scratch, know that I am learning something new every single day while I watch this build take place. My recommendation if you go with a structured payment-style contract, is to outline every major item to be completed on the build for EACH structured payment. Do not assume things like concrete being poured to build the first level floor will be completed before the roof goes on, as it would be in the US or Canada – it simple doesn’t happen that way here.


Structural engineers point out the beam that holds up the “catwalk” and why a wall must be installed where I wanted a glass stair rail.

Among the things I envisioned for this house was an entirely open kitchen floor plan – no walls. In the original design stairs leading to the second floor were positioned outside the house along the outer wall. A doorway at the top of the stairs led back into the house on the second floor “catwalk” that runs over the kitchen (the picture above will give you a better visual of this as it shows the stairwell and catwalk hallway above the kitchen). This concept is great as an upstairs lock-off for rental income properties, but in this case the house is intended to be lived in full-time. I prefer to walk up stairs to the second floor while indoors and under a roof when it’s raining. This required paying extra to move the kitchen exterior wall out by one meter to enclose the staircase.

My request was to have the adjacent wall that enclosed the staircase removed (see photo below right, of wall with a doorway leading to the staircase). Instead I wanted a glass railing going up to the second floor creating that open feel I so longed for. It was met with less than enthusiasm from my architect, and was one of the only design feature we disagreed upon.

The wall I never wanted.

But, “I am the client” I thought, “and a glass railing going up the stairs is what I want”. For 28 months I envisioned the kitchen this way – open, airy, breezy. 

A few weeks ago I discovered a large concrete wall where my glass rail should be. Surely this had to be a mistake! I quickly texted my architect and soon learned that no, it wasn’t a mistake; instead, it involved miscommunication (or lack of communication) and a structural engineer. What I had requested two years ago got lost over time, and I was never told that what I’d envisioned was deemed impossible by an engineer for structural reasons – for some reason making sure the house stood up outweighed aesthetics – the wall would remain. I think if I had been told this fact long before walking onto the site and discovering it staring in my face, I might have been able to handle the news better. Have I said before how important communication is between architect and client? Hmmmmm.


They say the way to a woman’s heart is flowers and chocolate. The way to my heart is with a hot bath, lavender, candles, a cup of tea, and complete silence. Oh, and some chocolate!

It seems bath tubs are not a thing in Mexico. Few homes have them. Everyone showers and it makes sense – showers are fast and effective, while tubs are long and lingering. In a hot climate, the last thing one wants to do is climb into a hot bath, but for those of us over 50, who may have a few aching bones and muscles, a long soak in warm water hits the spot. And for most Canadians, who spend seven months of the year in freezing cold weather, the only way to warm frozen bones is to soak for an hour in a hot bath. It’s even better with a cup of Red Rose tea (or wine for you wine lovers), dim lights, candles, and a favorite scented bath bomb or Epsom salts. Nothing warms the cockles of one’s heart better than a hot bath!

This long explanation will help you understand why I literally danced with joy when I discovered a huge, gorgeous, white, six foot bath tub sitting in the kitchen of my half-completed house, still in its box. I swear I could see rays of light shining down directly on to it like it had arrived from the heavens. You see, I haven’t had a bath for two years. Two years without warming my cockles!

The most beautiful tub ever!

I have showered in those two years, thank goodness, but showering is functional – it serves a purpose and that’s all. Bathing is sublime – yes, a complete waste of time, but in the most fabulous of ways.

I have girlfriends, who don’t have bathtubs themselves, lining up to come soak in my tub as soon as this house is complete. They have picked out the wines they’re going to drink, the books they want to read, and music they’re going to listen to. Some want to soak by candlelight; others want to revel in the sunlight streaming in the massive windows. All want to be left alone bathing in peace.

All I know is the way to a woman’s heart isn’t flowers, it’s a bathtub – at least it is here in Mexico.

I can picture the finished ensuite bathroom and my first Zen bathing experience in two years – aahhhh!


I would like to say there will be no more “things that makes me go ?”, but I know better. There will be more issues that need to be dealt with; there always are with home building, whether it’s here in Mexico, or in the United States or Canada, or any country in the world for that matter. Home construction is not easy – it involves a lot of stress, endless sleepless nights, financial worries, and millions of questions, some of which will never be answered, at least in my case. 

Home building also involves dreaming. I had a vision of what I wanted this future in Mexico to look like. Even though my future home may have some things that did not turn out exactly as I’d planned, some are for the better (no tree in the pool), some are not (the wall in the kitchen). I think a year from now, it simply won’t matter – at least I hope that will be the case.

The dream of moving to Mexico involves the one thing we all rely on the most – having a pillow to put our head down on at night in a place we call home. Despite the difficulties, I am hoping that by the time I move in, and after more than thirty months of struggle to get this house built, I will finally have a home that I can call my own. 

Written by Brenda Calnan and Edited by Lucy James
The pool surrounds two sides of the house.
Master Bedroom
Tile is installed before sliding doors and windows go in (hmmmm)
Outside terrace is formed with the pool surrounding it. A bridge will connect to the house to gain entry.
White stone work on house facade.
Art Studio

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