A Glimpse into My Life in My Mountaintop Mexican Casa

in mexico •  3 years ago  (edited)

Another sunset, different every day it seems though.

Paths are the start of roads up here, this is just one of the many paths on my hill with the potential of becoming roads down the line.  

A reader asked me what my home here in Mexico is like, and it spurred me to write this post.  Living in my casa on my hill has been unlike any living experience I've had.  While my casa shares many commonalities with other Mexican casas, it is unique from anywhere else in Acapulco, partially due to the growing neighborhood and the location.  I'd like to state here that many of the things I'm going to talk about here in this article are specific to my barrio and property.  Both the barrio and the property hold special qualities not (yet) found elsewhere in Acapulco. But I have lived down near the Coastera and I run errands regularly, so I also understand the general climate of Acapulco as a whole. 

My casa was the dream home of a Mexican nurse who reportedly saved her pennies to buy and develop this property.  When we inquired about the possibility of buying the house recently, she basically told us that she intended to die in this house, and that our buying it did not fit into her plans. She also told us that if she ever found herself needing to sell it,we'd be her first consideration.  It's currently the nicest house on the hill and it took a lot of pesos to get it there.  From conversations with the builder, now maintenance guy, she reportedly spent about 1.8 million pesos between the land and costs of building the house.  That comes out to about 90 thousand, USD.   The house is for the most part up to western standards of living, which makes it comfortable with the added jungle close to nature feeling of the surrounding environment.  

This house was built by hand, by 20 Mexicans and their leader, who later shared this information to us.  If I had to guess, the tile work inside, and really any detail work that isn't metal work was probably done by the same guy, a little power house of a Mexican man. The metal work was custom work, done by a local welder no doubt. Most of the concrete work here is done by hand, meaning that people mix the concrete in piles and haul it in buckets or wheelbarrows to where it's to be applied.  I've seen very few cement mixers here in Mexico.  A job site with a cement mixer is a happy job site, with smiling Mexicans abound. 

One of the many boulder walls here in Aca, this one bordering an abandoned property in my barrio. 

These are small versions of what those boulder walls start as. Acapulco's mountains are nothing but big piles of these. 

My house, like most permanent structures in Mexico, is built out of primarily concrete and metal.  Wood is rarely utilized here, as it's quickly eaten by insects.  This is also not a book friendly environment for the same reason, there are lots of bugs here that love to eat books. You generally only see a lot of wood work in the higher value properties, as you either have to invest in expensive bug resistant wood or replace things every few years. Like many properties here in Acapulco, they utilized the boulders both in whole and broken form to enhance the property.  There's a granite boulder wall around a good part of the property, and a good amount of the permanent garden beds constructed here on the property are made from these same boulders. Any other construction involves concrete and concrete blocks, building all different kinds of properties.  Acapulco is not a place limited by buiding code, which makes for some interesting properties visually speaking. 

Utilities, at least on my hill, are handled completely differently than what I'm used to.  Most properties have some sort of water storage, be it a sistern or tanks.  Much of Acapulco is connected to city water, although most properties utilize some sort of system involving pumps and a water tank on the roof.  Water on my property is done by gravity, with the tanks being at the highest point on my roof.  This is a common way of handling things, although the systems down in the city are WAY more automated than mine. 

On a much lower part of the property is the sistern, probably one of the biggest if not the biggest one in the neighborhood.  When we moved in they told us it held 18,000 liters of water, but at this point we think that more realistically includes the tanks on the house as well. Our property is set up to eventually have city water connection, although my neighborhood currently doesn't have it.  My barrio is just now getting sewer access put in. We have a big sistern and two big tanks, which makes life up here pretty simple and nice.  I appreciate the fact that I pay a guy to bring me water, instead of just paying some company a fee for a connection. 

When we need more water, we call our agua guy Daniel (a US citizen that was deported....despite being a citizen) and tell him we need water.  He sends up a huge truck of water, which reportedly contains 10,000 liters.  It has a long sturdy hose attached to a gas powered pump to put the water wherever you need it, tank or sistern. It costs us 500 pesos per truck, which is actually cheaper than the truck my landlord uses. It takes about 20 minutes to empty the thing, you hand off the pesos and water is handled for the next month, if you're in the dry season and happen to be farmers like us. The last time I called him, he had a truck up here within 2 hours, which is about how long he told me it would be on the phone. 

Just an example of the developing power situation on my hill

Electricity is a comical nightmare here, to say the least.  Talk to anyone in the expat community that lives here that knows anything about electricity and they'll cringe and shrug.  My house has 3 circuit breakers for the whole house, and one of those is for the water pump. Many properties on my hill are just getting power, most didn't even have meters until a few months ago.  Electricity is done on an as needed basis, going for the simplest solution first.  This is where you end up with things like 20 meters in a row mounted on cut down trees, with single power lines stringing off in random directions into the jungle. 

We occasionally have outages here, more frequently probably on my barrio than just about anywhere else in Acapulco.  Due to the developing nature of the electricity grid on my hill, outages to happen. Generally they're fixed pretty immediately, although an outage on a Saturday night means you're out until Monday morning, on my hill anyway.  From my understanding, this is not the case in most of Acapulco, I live in a developing neighborhood here. 

Cooking gas is handled in canisters of butane, which you either fill yourself down in the city or pay men in trucks for refills.  We pay about 400 pesos for a full tank, which lasts me about a month or so.  I use a six burner stove with a full sized oven and I cook almost every meal, to give you an idea of usage. Larger properties have larger tanks, filled by big trucks. Half the people in my neighborhood use wood, which is interesting.  Some of the trees here are so fast growing that they just chop them at regular intervals and leave them in piles to dry, eventually to be used to cook some food.  My carpintero neighbor uses his scrap pieces of wood to for cooking fuel when times are tough, a smart way to handle things.  When I run out of butane, John concocts some sort of wood burning stove for me to use, which I make something to hold us over until we can acquire butane.

Trash has been difficult on my hill, to be honest.  This is partially due to the fact that our hill has had construction going on, on and off.  When there's construction, the trash trucks don't make it past that and they won't come up for awhile.  When there isn't construction, they come up occasionally, probably depending on whether they have the time or space to come up.  For the most part on my hill people burn their trash.  Down in the city, trash is extremely reliable. There are both public and private trucks, some of them being guys in pickups that collect a few pesos from each customer.  The apartment building I lived at down in the city had at least 5 different garbage trucks that vistited it on a nearly daily basis.  This meant that trash was hardly ever built up despite the high population of the building and only one steel drum for trash for the whole place. It's yet another small side effect of living in a small developing barrio, but there could be worse problems to have honestly. There is always the option to burn, something that won't end in the police being called. 

Up here, on my mountain I get to get up close and personal with the jungle.  This is something many say they desire here, but I know many expats don't really understand what that means.  The jungle is a harsh place, a place in which everything is trying to eat everything else.  It wasn't until I moved to my barrio, which happens to be former National Forest land, that I understood how entire cities could get lost in the jungle.  In just a few months of neglect on our hillside, vines had completely swallowed boulders the size of cars to the point where you couldn't tell they were there until you exposed them.  First comes the vines, then the trees, which the vines swallow.  This makes for an incredibly dense forested area, which makes things interesting to say the least.  I totally underestimated the jungle, and my garden suffered for it. Something to note is half those vines eating the trees and boulders happen to cause instant itchy painful rashes.  These can be avoided if one is aware and respectful, the jungle is not something to fuck with. 

Bugs here are nothing to be underestimated, either.  Mosquitos are a fact of life with diseases like Zika and Dengu being common here.  As a foreigner, you're apt to deal with at least one of these if you end up in Acapulco.  The most common is chikungunya, which is one I've had myself.  Spiders are numerous and come in many sizes, they deserve an article all their own honestly.  Just know, if you seek out more rural type neighborhoods here in Acapulco, you might end up being overwhelmed at the amount of  wildlife. Ants are also a problem worthy of their own article, that I'll share eventually.  Realistically speaking, each bug deserves an article, as it's presence is magnified in the jungle. 

The good thing about being in the jungle like this is the amount of diversity in birds and butterflies and other pretty things realistically.  A jungle is an unforgiving beautiful place to live that deserves just as much respect as any where else.  It's a constantly changing place that showcases many different varieties of birds and insects I've never even seen before.  Many wasp varieties are both gorgeous and dangerous here. My hair color and the fact that much of my clothing has a floral or bright print, gets me much attention from the wasps which means I get to observe many.  No two have been the same, and they are almost always intimidating. 

Lizards are a fact of life here in Acapulco, and honestly they are important to maintaining the Acapulco home ecosystem.  They come out as the sun goes down, which is when mosquitos start to come out in force.  They eat mosquitos, moths and all sorts of other insects we consider nuisances.  They also happen to be extremely cute, which makes them just about the cutest home invader ever.  They vary in variety all over Acapulco, from big slow types, to smaller fast types.  On any one night I'll have between 5-7 of these little guys in one corner of a room of my house, waiting for snacks.  Their mating call is distinct, a random chatter that echoes throughout my house at odd hours of the night.

I'm luck in where I'm at because of the climate.  The general climate in Acapulco is hot humid and tropical.  I'm lucky because when it's hot in the city down there, it's extremely windy in my house.  For example, as I write this I am having difficulty seeing because the wind is blowing my dreads in my face.  I imagine conditions down in the city are rough, and very hot. It does get hot here during the day, don't get me wrong; but the way my house is designed, as well as it's location, make it immune from some of the super hot and humid temperatures that the people down in the bay experience.  The hotter it gets down there, the windier it gets up here.  Winds aren't all good though, I've almost been blown off this mountain by a good strong wind.  Many friends have lost a joint to the wind, not expecting a gust right as they get things set up perfectly. 

Lastly, life in the barrio is good in terms of community.  My neighbors are friendly and helpful when I need it.  Having been here six months, I've earned their respect.  I've given tomatoes to just about everyone that I like here in this barrio, earning smiles from all.  I'm in a barrio that smiles and waves when they see you, something common to Mexico but not absolutely prevalent everywhere. Just around the bend in the black neighborhood  I get the unique small town feel just on the edge of a major city, which makes for an interesting combination. The kids are friendly for the most part, especially the ones that live closest to me. The business owners are friendly, partially because our arrival brought them new business, which makes everyone's life easier. My neighbors are friendly, and would probably have my back if push came to shove. 

All in all, life up here in my barrio is different but good.  While I experience some of the things that most Mexican's experience in terms of living, there are some distinct differences with life in my barrio and life elsewhere in Acapulco.  I've got that small town feel while still having the city close by, whereas most of the city has been westernized in many ways.  Most of the city has city water for example, despite most properties having water tanks on their roofs.  Some things change, like city water, and other things (like having water tanks) stay the same.  In my opinion, it makes Acapulco a bit more off the grid ready if need be, which is interesting.  Most houses in the US do not have on sight water storage, wheras most houses here do.  Life quality varies across Mexico but one thing remains the same, the people are free  to handle things however they must, and they do. 

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Good luck in mexico !

Cheers from Sweden !

It's fascinating how basic necessities of life are handled. Thanks for your insights.

Gracias, its something i was interested in knowing about myself before i came here, so i figured it would be best to share my experiences with those who care

Your posts make me want to move there more and more :)