Then Came José…
By: Bobbie Coray
Before buying a condo in Mexico, my stateside friends warned me that as a 75-year-old widow I was taking my life in my hands, and I’d be cheated blindly by the local trades people. They were so wrong!
After buying a condo on the beach in San José, I wanted to update a few things. So, I asked my remarkable realtor to send me someone who could paint a room. She sent José Carrillo. He looked around carefully and quoted me a very, very reasonable price for painting the whole condo. Much less than I had paid for a room to be painted in the U.S. That was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. José had lived and done contract work in the U.S. for several years, so his English was great, not only that, but he was a perfectionist in everything he did. After painting my walls, all a different traditional Mexican color, I was so impressed with his straight and even edges that I began to plan additional projects.
It turns out that José was a literal Jack of all-trades with training and experience in air conditioning repair, plumbing, electrical and tile work. He and his crew were amazing. So off we went!
I decided to trade in my plain beige, 1970’s flowered tile, for the exquisite Talavera tiles that is so beautifully Mexican. There are several places in Los Cabos, both in Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo where you can find hundreds of tiles to choose from, and that, in itself, was quite a fun experience.
José got his crew together. My kitchen now looks like a piece of art. Then on to updating the bathroom! After deciding what the best pattern would be, José spent the day setting the tiles on a side wall, when he finished, I thought it was fine, but José didn’t think the lines were straight enough, so he spent another whole day resetting it and he was right! The difference was remarkable. The good news? It didn’t cost more. Remember, I am paying by the job not the hours! Working with an honest contractor who is proud of a job well done makes a world of difference. Imagine my surprise when I saw him putting a level on each and every tile, when he laid the floor tile.
Having local trustworthy workers around the house was a very rewarding experience. I loved watching everyone work and trying to speak my beginner’s Spanish. After a couple of days of seeing that the crew would go outside and sit on the steps to eat their lunches, I bought pizza and pop and treated them to lunch on my deck. We’d talk and look at the ocean. The next day they brought me street tacos for lunch. My neighbors teased me about having pizza parties on my deck, I guess they were right, it was a lot of fun to share a meal and learn about their families and local events.
Speaking of neighbors, Roger had hired José for a few projects before I did, and we’ve bonded over our admiration of José. Now most of my neighbors agree. Sitting around the pool at Happy Hour we tell José stories about things he’s fixed or designed, and we can’t help but consider each of the finished projects a small miracle.
After the first projects were finished, I invited José and his lovely wife to dinner. I wanted them to see my new kitchen and bath and we had a great time. He does a lot of work for big mansions and hotels and yet, he always finds the time to accommodate our projects, he has become an invaluable member of our Condo family and my friend.
And he is not the only one, there are other excellent contractors I have had the fortune to meet and work with, like the Ochoa brothers, David and Chay who added a bookcase to my kitchen cabinets. A small piece, but exquisitely done. After that first job I realized that they could do beautiful custom work and design it too. So, to save space I had them build two platform beds with hydraulic hinged lids. David is a licensed engineer, and his older brother Chay is a carpentry artist. My beds are now perfect storage compartments and look like custom furniture. I had them replace the bathroom cabinets and design an unusual mirror. Turns out that they do a lot of the custom furniture you see in the luxury hotels, but they still come to see what new idea I have for them. Of course, now, they are also part of the Happy Hour conversations by the pool.
In the time I’ve been in Cabo I can say that working with local Mexican contractors has been a delight. Oh, yes! I’m now working on a new project…a desk that turns into a dining table. So much for the conventional “wisdom” of Gringos about Mexico, I am loving being an Expat in Los Cabos.