Yes, we are still in Banderas Bay staying at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and we are ten working days into the job on our decks. We need to be in La Paz by March 21st to meet family but La Paz is only a four day sail from here so we should have plenty of time to finish the project and take our time working north since there is lots we passed on our way down. I am feeling pretty confident of our time table and feel certain that we will be done way before our cut off date but then again...this is Mexico.
The deck job is BIG. It took three tries at finding workers and getting an OK from the marina to do the work here. The first deal we agreed to with “Chewy” fell through when the marina nixed the job saying no one was allowed to use power tools within the marina. This was a big surprise because the're being used all around the marina. Our new friends Tom and Bobbie on Persistence just finished removing their old teak decks and then doing the exact same job we were trying to contract out. But go figure. Then some time passed and Chewy came back and said "oh the marina said its OK now. I’ll be glad to do the job but right now I am in the middle of another project.” OK, so we have another local come and take a look and he promises to come back manana with a quote. But he’s a no show. Then our friends finished with their boat, beautiful job by the way, and their guy can start tomorrow and he thinks it will only take a week and a half and he assures us he will have no problemo with the marina rules.
The day we start the job guy number two comes back with the quote (six days late.) Adrianne the Jefe (boss) and Bill go over costs and figures and make a deal. He and his crew start with an agreement to pay $100 a day for two guys and we buy all the supplies. Adrianne offers to add guys for free if things get too bogged down. Great. At the end of day three we need to make a payment so he can pay some of his workers. No problem. Bill and El Jefe talk and it turns out the guy wanted $100 per guy per day. Lots of conversation, a new deal is struck, papers signed and initialed this time the price is for the whole job not by the hour.
By now its time to move the boat. There is an area in the marina that is virtually empty and the plan is to go there so our mess won’t bother everyone around us. Jefe says "no problem I talked with the marina they just need you to call them." So Bill calls the Harbor Master on the radio and is asked “now you do know, no power tools right?” El Jefe is standing right there mouthing….you guessed it “no problemo.” For the next three days they use power tools and there is no way the Harbor Master could possibly not know. We suspect we are going to learn something really important here. Either we will learn that we get a big fat fine or we will learn that the rules only apply sometimes to some things. So far so good.
In spite of the fact that this is such a large and disrupting job we are enjoying the connection that we experience as a byproduct. We get a chance to practice our Spanish and get a closer view into some of the culture. For instance they seem to always want to tell you what you want to hear no matter the reality of the situation. The communication begins to get murky when the days begin to pass or the promised item isn’t delivered. They have a give away tell though because when they can’t tell you what they think you want to hear they get agitated and are unable to look you in the eye if they know you are unhappy. In most situation they can simply give you what you want – a fixed meal or a changed table for instance. But when they simply can’t give you the completed job with the stroke of a magic wand they get very quiet and frustrated.
In this heat you would think the day would start early but they don't start the day until at least 10:00am. We actually never really know when they will appear and each day they seem to come later and later. We never know whether there will be one guy working on the boat or seven. If we leave the boat while they are working the work seems to come to a grinding halt. A good part of every day is spent spear fishing for ceviche lunch or the nights dinner.
We were given a hint from some friends. "If the crew leaves for lunch it will be a minimum of two hours before you see them again." So we decided to give them lunch on the boat. Good idea but hard to put into practice. The first couple of days I made sandwiches and had cold soda but I could never really tell if they were enjoying the food or just choking it down. One afternoon I picked up rotisserie chicken with rice, tortillas, peppers and salsa at Feliz Pollo. (Happy Chicken.) There had been two guys working all morning on the boat so I bought enough for them, us and the Jefe in case he came back. By the time I was getting out plates there were seven guys on the boat and suddenly I needed to feed 9!
Slowely the working is progressing. Bill cut six holes in the boat hull at deck level opening up scuppers to replace the deck drains that were never up to the job. The crew has stripped off the old non-skid and wet sanded the whole deck and cabin house and applied two coats of gel coat. After the gel coat will be a coat of West System epoxy, fresh taping followed by a coat of primer, two coats of two part paint, dry, and tape again and apply the new non skid. The two coats of two part top coat will be applied by the official painter with a spray gun. Actually applying the paint will be interesting. Because of overspray we can’t do that in the marina so we will take the boat out into the bay, start up a small generator and head into the wind. We saw the painter right after they brough Persistence back to the dock uncomfortable shade of green. He was sea sick! While doing the spraying he has to keep his head down and his eyes on the deck. Between the bumpy bay, no horizon to equalize to and the paint fumes he was toast.
It is odd to my mind that the Mexicans seem to work so slowely. Americans are so time conscious. The deal we made is by the job not by the hour so you would think they would want to get it done as fast as possible so they can move on to another job. They just simply don’t have the same relationship with time. Start at 10am or 12pm? No explanation or attempt to make excuses. No show on Tuesday? Walk in ready to work on Wednesday. Not done when it’s promised? Just give a new date. We have been told a week and a half, two weeks and three. After the first negotiations we were told three weeks then they worked for a week, renegotiated and still said “three weeks.” Finding out just how long it really takes I guess will just be part of the manana experience. The one thing that does seem to help is to be right outside alongside them working while the local radio station blasts out the "ranchero musica." Then they are happy, friendly and productive. For me just knowing how much my knees would be hurting if we were doing the whole thing ourselves makes everything worth while.
The local culture shows through somewhat differently when you are dealing with the government or buraucratic businesses like TelCell. The boat workers see the local migration of cruisers as a huge part of their annual income whereas the Government workers I think get fed up with us all. Well maybe that isn’t completely accurate. They are friendly and helpful in direct correlation to our friendliness and willingness to stand quietly in long lines with little or no information flowing our way. The gringos definitely seem to be low man on the totem pole. AN interesting phenomenom occurs at banks, government offices and places like TelCell. Every one is standing in long very slow lines with the gringoes easy to spot. It is common to watch as a few gutsy locals cut in front of a gringo at the head of the line. I think they know (correctly) that we are unlikely to challenge their movements.
I have spent the last three days traveling back and forth by bus to Bucerias trying to obtain our FM3 which would give us permanent immigration status. Since our plan is to stay in Mexico for a total of 18months before crossing the Pacific Ocean in 2012. The 180day visa given in Ensenada when we cleared only takes us to May. There are only two ways to extend;by obtaining an FM3 or by both of us flying out of the country and getting a new 180 day visa, twice. With the FM3 we have a full year from issue and we can reapply for up to ten years. It is essentially easy to obtain. All you need is your original VISA, some letter or bill that indicates you live here (for us a letter from the local marina,) your passport, and three months worth of bank or investment statements that indicate you will not be a financial liability to the people of Mexico.
A simple procedure but made difficult by a lack of language and by the bureaucracy of Mexico. I started online by finding a government site with a form to print out and a list of the things that I needed to bring with me. We were instructed to bring for each of us: our current visa, our passport, a photo copy of each page even the blank pages, an original letter from the marina with two copies, our original marriage license plus copies, $491 pesos each, and three months worth of financial statements. Once at the offices all I need do was to take a number, wait, have my papers checked and then go to the bank pay the charges and return to the office. Yea right.
After taking the bus into Bucerious and getting $50 pesos worth of photo copies I made my way to Immigration. Take a number. When I finally got to the front of the line it turns out that the form I printed, translated and filled out was worthless so I was given the website for the correct form. She didn’t need the letter from the marina, the marriage license, the photo copies of the blank pages and the bank statements I brought were not adequate. Back to the boat to regroup and Google the translater again.
Day two went more smoothly, much shorter lines (though this time I brought a book.) By the time I made it to the desk and had my paperwork OK’d they were closing in 10minutes. No, I couldn’t go pay the bank fee today. Seems you must pay the fee on the same day they accept the paperwork. Regroup, back to the boat.
The next morning off to the bank and got bumped by a nervy local at the front of the line. Then to the immigration office (darn, forgot my book.) When I got there they were on ticket #54 and I was #84. The office was scheduled to close in 90 minutes. In those 90 minutes they moved all the way to #58! There were lots of people coming in after me and the locals didn’t seem too worried. No one was telling us anything but we assumed correctly that they would stay until they had completed the numbers given out before closing time.
This is when we once again saw the locals step into line ahead of the gringos. We’re sort of used to it now but it was blatant here. By the time they worked their way through the remaining crowd the last two people helped were gringos. Imagine that. They didn’t even try to hide the cutting in line. Plus at the last minute three or four locals came in who were obviously paid agents acting as reps for people who were not there. They stepped into line without a number at all and most were doing multiple applications. Oh well, eventually we got to #84 (second to last) and we got to do lots of people watching while we waited. We were much luckier that the last guy in line. He had come before Christmas, finished his paperwork and paid his fee. He then flew home for the holidays and came back only to find out that not only did he have to repay his fee because it wasn’t made on the same day his paper work went in but he had to pay a fine for apparently messing up their system by being late.
We go back in about ten days for our final OK. If everything on the forms was accepted off we'll go to stand in line at the bank again to pay yet another fee. Then a final few days wait, a thumb print and two shiny new laminated FM3 cards will be ours and we will be perminent alien residents of Mexico!