Before I continue with our misadventures of buying a condo in Mexico circa 2011, I would like to pause to give you some of my thoughts on the little tourist town of Puerto Vallarta that my wife and I have come to love.
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You have to admire a place with a handy downtown tourist bureau in which no one speaks English!
Recently, we flung open the door to be met by what can only be described as a group of beautiful young people, all smiling optimistically up at us with flashing eyes.
“I wonder,” I said, “if you could tell us how tall the mountain is behind Puerto Vallarta, and does it have easy access?”
A collective melancholy filled the large room as if an ancient priest had just heard a question from his flock of parishioners about God allowing a drought in the village. It was unanswerable. Many of the beautiful young people surrounding us went back to their desks, while others wandered sadly from the room. One gave us a Zip-line pamphlet before going to the nearby banos (bathrooms).
We came to learn over the next few weeks that unless there is a “gringo” volunteer sitting by the first desk as you come in, you stand no chance of getting help, unless of course you want to throw yourself about a forest on a Zip-line.
It is the same with the so-called “tourist police,” those happy people dressed all in white who fly about the Malecon on new Segways, those freestanding personal vehicles you see in malls back home. Approach one of them and it is a signal that will bring dozens of their kind. You are now in for a delightful 20 minutes, surrounded by these concerned but unilingual men and women. After shaking hands and expressing many thanks and smiles, you leave the dispersing crowd of white-clad police no further ahead, but somehow pleased by it all.
Garbage remains one of the great mysteries of PV. I don’t know how it works but I am told there is a system. In the Centro district where our condo is, trash pickup days are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. But if there is a holiday, not to mention Christmas and New Year, all bets are off as to when the trucks will be seen again.
It takes awhile before you realize you just need to dump your refuse at a nearby street corner where everyone else does, and somehow the truck will stop and clean it up. Also when the trucks arrive, the noise of them will often serve to remind households to bring out their refuse, but slowly and only after the trucks have gone, thus keeping the streets strewn with green bags until the next official garbage day.
You never know what time of day they will appear. Two weeks ago there were no trucks and when I asked why not, I was told that they had not been paid, so were not coming. That seems fair.
Dogs. When friends of mine or business partners phone me here in Mexico, they often think I am in a dog pound of some sort. “Chris, can you walk down the street and get away from those barking animals?” they say. I am, of course, many floors above the streets in our condo, but it sounds on the phone as if the canines are in the living room.
I have long ago accepted the white noise of living here, dogs barking. Strangely the continuous noise is not from what seems like the thousands of street dogs you see every day, but the household pets yapping from balconies. For instance a woman down the road has five small dogs, which is by no means unusual. They bark all day and night and no one appears to notice or mind, except the outsiders such as ourselves. And now after almost four years we do less and less, but should you telephone me prepare to shout over all the canine yelling.
Back to the story.
I was phoned in late August 2011 by Juan our contractor, who nervously explained that the first group of workers on our palapa had quit because it was too hard to carry everything up with no elevator. However a new bunch from further inland had been found who would virtually live on the terrace while completing the promised job. What could I say but that we were pleased it was still going to happen and for no extra money. Juan was strangely quiet.
In early September my wife Michelle and I flew back down from Victoria, full of optimism, to see how things were going. We met Juan and Eddy the Realtor on the terrace of our new condo, and there was the magnificent palapa as promised. Juan proudly pointed out that it had been put up in the old way, with no rebar or plastic undercover and at the original price.
My wife and I could both see the rebar and plastic undercover but said nothing as we were at a loss for words. It still looked great and the price had not risen, so it seemed almost petty to spoil Juan’s moment. I smiled stupidly.
Eddy the Realtor took me aside to ask me if we were happy. I nodded but felt something was coming.
Eddy said, “I have finally figured out what your closing costs will be for this place.”
You could have tortured me and I would not have known what he was talking about, but alarm bells were going off behind my fast blinking eyes.
“Er…what closing costs?” I ventured hopefully.
“You know, that is how the government here gets paid when you buy an apartment.”
That was the first I had heard of it. I could see by Eddy’s face he knew that, but was trying to bluff that he had told me before. Well, if he had, I had not realized what he meant. I decided to be brave and get it over with: “OK, how much?”
Eddy cleared his throat as my worried wife took my hand: “$18,000,” he said. “U.S.” he clarified.
“How much?” I shouted, clutching my chest. It was if someone had opened a blast furnace very close to me. Michelle took my wrist and started counting.
I yearned to fall down and die. The tombstone would read: “Here lies Christopher Dalton. Mexico killed him.”
Next column Jan. 28: More of the same.
Copyright Christopher Dalton 2015