Building a House in Mexico

We built a house!! Okay, we didn’t build it all by ourselves, but Ryan and I, along with about 40 other people, built a house in Tijuana over the weekend.  It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and an opportunity presented itself on a free weekend.  A coworker has done over 100 of these builds with an organization called Corazón.  (We learned more about the organization while on our trip and, in addition to building houses, Corazón helps with the cost of school – even college – for kids that participate.)

We left from San Diego and drove across the border on a bus.  The border crossing took a while (we all had to have our passports examined and our bags x-rayed; the way back was way quicker, believe it or not!), but the actual time spent driving was very minimal.  I had never been to Tijuana before or close to the border, so it was a bit shocking to see just how different things were just on the other side.  Such a change from the nice San Corazon - the view (SD)Diego homes and shops – small houses that were mostly falling apart, makeshift stairs and roofs, dirt sidewalks.  And a lot of the houses had a view of San Diego – imagine looking over and seeing that million-dollar view, but being just out of reach (pictured on the left is the view from our build site).  It was really eye-opening, and I’m glad we had the opportunity to help out a little.  I know building one house isn’t changing the world, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Almost everyone on our build was a first-timer, so we were warned that there was a chance we wouldn’t finish.  The first-time builders thing wouldn’t have been a huge deal, but we also had to deal with a “difficult” build site.  Luckily the day wasn’t too warm (a high of about 90 degrees, but most of us were from Bakersfield so we were expecting a lot worse) and we were all prepared with light clothes, hats, sunscreen, and lots of water.

Corazon - stairsWe had to walk up stairs made from tires and dirt (pictured on the right side of the picture above).  We spent quite a bit of time in a daisy chain, bringing materials up and down the stairs.  Much of the initial painting was done in the lower area, with the final exterior and the touch-ups completed once the house was up.  Ryan and I both spent the first few hours down below, painting the large plywood pieces and trim (used for trim all over the house, and some interior rails and steps).  We were called up late in the morning to see the walls go up, which was when it really hit us – this was actually going to be a house! That’s why we and other home builders out there should know the role of a snagging company when it comes to creating a house like this.

Corazon - walls going up

We were on track to finish before the end of the day, but there was still a lot of work ahead of us – putting up the roof (which was first priority after lunch), finishing the interior, putting up walls for the bathroom, and painting the exterior of the house.  We took our lunch break around noon, and I was so excited and ready for our rice and beans – Corazón provides the family money to buy ricCorazon - lunche and beans and, as a thank you, they cook lunch for us.  Imagine my surprise when we were presented with fish tacos topped with pico de gallo, lettuce, chipotle sauce, and salsa verde!  The family also had two types of fruit juice and cups with fresh fruit for dessert. Lunch was absolutely delicious, and if I didn’t have a lot of hard work ahead of me, I would have eaten at least two more tacos.

The second half of the day was absolutely harder for me.  I decided that I actually wanted to use the hammer I brought (and bought specifically for this trip), so I volunteered to get up onto the roof after vetting out roofing companies effectively.  The roof frame had been built before lunch, but it had to be carried and pulled up onto the top of the house (there were two pieces, to make the A-frame).  This is where you really need a lot of people helping.  Even once it was up on the roof, there were several people who had to hold up one side, while some of us started nailing it to the top of the house.  With at least 15 people on top of the house, both sides of the frame seemed to be stable in no time at all, but there was a lot of extra nailing that had to be done to make sure the roof would stay secure during wind storms.

Corazon - exteriorScaffolding was up all around the house, which allowed us to get around relatively safely.

When the team started to nail down the plywood and put down the paper layer (before the shingles), I decided to stay on the scaffolding and work on some exterior painting (very hard work – trying to duck underneath the roof and paint without getting anything in my eyes).  However, I joined them up on top when they started laying down the shingles.  The smaller tack-like nails we used for the shingles were much quicker and easier to hammer in than the longer ones used to keep the roof in place.  I think the shingles were made out of rubber – the material had a good grip, so I wasn’t worried about slipping off the roof, and that’s why using scaffolding hire is a great choice for this. If you want to see the result, you can view this. The only downside is that the sun made them VERY hot to the touch, so I had to be careful not to put my hands or knees down while I nailed.

Corazon - shingles

By the time I got down from the roof (at least two hours after I started) the house was really coming together!  I was so surprised by the amount of work that had been done to the interior and exterior of the house.  From there, it was really just the finishing touches – finishing up the walls of the bathroom, adding the loft to the house, putting the trim on the outside of the house, touching up the exterior paint, etc.

Corazon - interiorThe inside of the house had a loft area, and two small “rooms” separated by the wall pictured above.  Not shown is the small kitchen countertop, a storage area on the other side of the house, and the small bathroom.  The bathroom would eventually have a toilet, but we were told that the family would not have electricity or running water – the former could be added on, but running water was not part of the future plan.  Some houses did have running water.  While we were building, we had access to another family’s home for the bathroom – it was very nice with running water and a tub.

Corazon - us at the endThe family members, some of whom helped us build, were so grateful for their new house.  I wish we could have done more to help!  It didn’t seem fair that we were about to get back onto the bus, just 8 hours after we arrived, and go back to take a nice warm shower in our fancy downtown San Diego hotel.  So, while I felt good about the work we had done, it just doesn’t seem like it was enough.  We plan to donate to Corazón because I think they do a lot of good work with the donations (I was sold once I heard about the academics program).  We were still smiling at the end of the day, so I think it’s safe to say we would definitely do something like this again!  I can’t believe it took me this long to participate in a house build, but it was a great first build experience.


Asia Impromptu: Japan in a Month

While a trip to Japan has been on our travel shortlist for some time, it has not been planned or talked about much (aside from watching an Anthony Bourdain episode or two). Keep in mind that our “shortlist” always has at least 15-20 big trips on it, so there’s no way to really plan out each one until we get a little more serious about actually taking the trip. Well, our fast-approaching Japan trip got real last Sunday, when Ryan and I were relaxing, researching plans for our Argentina trip, and reading the newspaper/doing the crossword puzzle. Ryan was looking through the travel section when he noticed cheaper than normal airfares from LA during the Labor Day holiday. Having no plans yet, he started to actually look at prices, and then verified those prices online.

The most intriguing destination was Tokyo, with fares on United (our current airline of choice, but I keep saying I want to switch my loyalty) around $700 round trip. We played around with different days for departure and return, and realized with our current remaining days off, we could only really get away for a long weekend. We spent the rest of the day researching Argentina and jokingly talking about Japan, as if it were going to happen.

Monday morning at work I started to dig through my email to learn more about unpaid time. We would only have to take 6 hours in order to add a few more days to our hypothetical Japan trip, so I wasted no time in asking my supervisor. Ryan waiting a little longer, but as soon as he got the OK on Wednesday, we booked! This was with very minimal research – although I did talk to a good friend who spent 4 days in Tokyo last year and loved it. The tickets were $799 round trip (we could have added another day for about $400 total, but since we again have two large vacations this year, I thought 7 nights in Japan would be plenty), which is much cheaper than our normal international airfare purchases.

Sashimi - from Japan Travel Guide

And now the fun begins! With less than a month to go, we haven’t booked a thing, but we do know that most or all of our time will be spent between Tokyo and Kyoto. We also know we will be staying at least one night at a ryokan, or a traditional Japanese inn. And of course we will be eating as much Japanese food as we can handle – sushi, sashimi, soba, udon, tempura – I won’t say “no” to anything!  (I’ve already spent a lot of time reading about the food on this Japan Travel Guide site – the picture above comes from the “sashimi” section.)

So now it’s time to scour the books and internet and figure out what our must-see sites are.  We toyed with a hike up Mt. Fuji, but since we only have 7 nights, neither of us are in great shape (I’m sure we’d be fine), and it requires packing special clothes and shoes, so I think we’ll have to save that for another trip.  So, our activities will likely focus on staying in town (instead of day trips away) to see as much of the two cities as we can with our short stay.  I’m looking forward to the research!