This is the story of my experiences living as an ex-pat in Mexico since 2003. It's to culminate in a published book. With your help, I'll be editing, selecting a title, and cover art: a participatory project. Your comments encouraged!
Letters from Mexico
October 30, 2021
Construction in Tepoztlán:
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Even boys join the family crew when pouring a roof. Photo by author
Across the street from me a crew started pouring the cement roof on a house. I grabbed my camera to film the work.
There's a lot of construction in my neighborhood, all within a ten minute walk.
I'll show you some of the materials used, and compare private dwellings with a public works project. Many private homes are only partially finished, but are occupied, and the owners wait for more money to complete them.
During the rainy season, which lasts four months, it is so wet that mold grows. Most homes have mold. For this reason, very little wood is used in construction here. Wood is used for gates. What's most common is poured concrete, cinder blocks, brick, stone, and adobe bricks. Next month, in part two, I'll show you a local adobe factory.
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Bags of cemment piled behind a wall of cinder blocks, ready to mix with sand and water for pouring the roof. Photo by author
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. The pile of sand is mixed with cemment and water to pour the roof. Photo by author
In the next section, you'll see more building materials in the video slide show of buildings in progress. At one site, where work is just beginning, are rebar, piles of rocks to build a wall, and other things.
Here are a couple of finished buildings in my neighborhood. This is rare. Mostly, when someone constructs a house, the money runs out before they finish, but there's enough for families to move in. Even with finished homes, some rebar extends in case they want an additional floor.
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Left: Door and gate are made of wood. Right: A building of concrete with stone at the bottom. Photo by author
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Top left: Extension of rebar to add a floor. Bottom left: My apartment entrance. Middle: Notice the unfinished part on the second floor to the left of my place. Bottom right: Unfinished building next door. Photo by author
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Across the street, the second floor is worked on from time to time while first floor is occupied. Photo by author
In Mexico, architects, engineers, and masons all can assume the role of contractor. Most do not do a good job. One has to observe constantly to make sure they are not cutting corners on time or materials. For example, one friend had much cheaper internal infrastructure installed than what she paid and asked for. This person also claimed he wasn't fully paid. A traumatic court battle ensued. Another friend finally fired her architect and made her own drawings. She fortunately hired a good engineer, which is very rare to come by.
Here is a slide show of some in-progress projects around my neighborhood.
Getting back to the roof pouring across the street that was the impetus for this article. The first few photos above illustrate this.The way this is done here is to first put in wood planks to hold the cement that's poured. They are removed after it dries. It is a big team effort to mix the cement and get pails of it up onto the roof to pour. In this case, it's a family operation. Here is a composite of images and a video to illustrate the process.
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Top: In the foreground is a pile of sand. Behind it are the bags of cement, mixing machine, and a man shoveling. Bottom right: The mixing machine. Next to the left: Men with trowels doing final adjustments. Next over: Applying water to help the setting reaction. Bottom left: The finished project. Photo by author
A public works project
The infrastructure in Tepoztlán lags far behind the growth of tourism and of general population growth. There was an initiative to bury the electric cables underground. I saw this done on one long block only. That street has a large public school and the second largest church in town, besides the many restaurants, other small business, and homes on the block. Each building had to have its own underground connection to the main wires. This was an immense job. I've not seen a continuation of it.
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. This image gives you an idea of the infrastructure problems presented by not keeping up with rapid growth. Photo by author
Depending on who the current mayor is, and his connections with construction companies, sometimes streets are dug up and repaved that do not need it. Below is a case of putting in newer water lines that were needed. At one end a hole protruded into a cross street. There was no blockade or even a sign for drivers to be aware of it. A small truck delivering large bottles of drinking water slipped a back wheel into the hole. I feel that this was a dangerous omission on the part of the crew. I have seen this type of danger even on the busiest streets in town.
I hope you enjoyed this excursion into construction in Tepoztlán. As you've seen, it is quite different from the US and other countries.
Check in next month for part two. I'll show images of an adobe brick manufacturing facility and include some adobe cosntgruction in the area plus some other surprises.
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Top left, three photos: The trench dug to insert water pipes. Bottom: Water valve. Top right: Back wheel of delivery truck stuck in umarked hole. Photo by author