If it hadn’t been so cold in the winter of 1995, we wouldn’t have bought our house in San Pancho. That year my husband Jonathan and I flew down from frigid
My sister and her husband were trying to convince us to join them in buying a vacation house in
Couples sometimes occupy the poles of fiscal responsibility. Jonathan and I, however, are equally impulsive, equally cautious, equally foolish, equally sensible when it comes to spending money. On this occasion we found ourselves, out of the blue, equally ready to have a
When we got off the plane in
My sister and brother-in-law already had a house for us in mind. They had seen it the year before in a village just across the hills north of
Impulsivity stymied and colonial be damned—one more night of a cold that reminded us too much of
“Well, Connie landed on her feet,” I said, already infatuated.
Thea’s friend proved easy to find and we left the two of them to hang out at the beach together. While my brother-in-law was maneuvering the Grand Marquis around in the little street, we blocked an ice cream truck blasting its tinkling music and Jonathan got out to buy me a cone. We could see him in animated, laughing discussion with the beautiful woman selling the ice cream. Their conviviality went on a lot longer than appeared necessary and I was prepared to tease him with some feigned jealousy, but when he returned I was appeased with the information that she had some property for sale. We thought it would be in San Pancho but found ourselves following a speeding ice cream truck for twenty minutes up the coast.
She showed us two places, one of them her own home. An old uncle was making ice cream in the garage and children with exotic names such as Ingrid, Vladimir and Jefferson tumbled about, hung on her and climbed into her lap. She told us that she and her husband had produced two and adopted four. She was a nurse and he an engineer but salaries in Mexico made selling ice cream a better option for supporting a large family and was enabling them, little by little, to build a hotel. Neither house tempted us, unfortunately, but we couldn’t imagine a nicer person to give our money to.
Back in sweet little San Pancho we ate lunch at the restaurant owned by a gringo with a Mexican wife. There was a notice of a house for sale at $7,850. On the lot, we found a two-room brick hovel. It had rained the day before and the roof was still dripping into buckets—the only running water in the house. There was a rudimentary bathroom outside and a tank of water with attached washstand for dishes and clothes. The neighbor’s pig had a nice wallow in the back. The yard was large, however, and had beautiful coconut palms and other mature trees of unknown variety. The coconut palms did it. That day Jonathan and I, in our equally impulsive mode, decided we wanted to buy it.
But how? There is a prohibition in
“These people are honest,” he said. “It’s paradise. Enjoy it.”
We liked this guy. We liked the warmth, the bougainvillea, the huge waves crashing on the beach, the tidy streets. We never stopped to think if there was anyone who spoke English besides him. Anyway, I liked to mouth the notion that trying to learn a foreign language in one’s “certain age” would keep the mind agile. But who could we trust to own our property? We thought immediately of the ice cream lady with her house full of love and adopted children.
She had left us with her phone number; Jonathan called and asked if we could visit. That night we met her handsome and charming husband and more children.
Stating the point of the discussion is literally the last thing you want to do in a Mexican conversation, so only after the exchange of family histories, beliefs about the meaning of life, and the drinking of multiple vinitos (tequila and Squirt), did Jonathan introduce the presta nombre plan. Likely they had expected that we wanted to buy one of their properties and were clearly surprised when Jonathan made our proposal. The husband found his voice. They were humbled. They were honored beyond words. That we would trust them! How they would value the nobility of our gesture! No less than a pact of North American and Mexican friendship. It went on in that vein for a good while. We had found a presta nombre.
My sister and brother-in law didn’t want the house or the ownership arrangements and, more and more impulsive, we decided to go it alone. No more than our stated intent to buy had been accomplished by the end of the trip, and we returned home with the number of San Pancho’s single phone and a promise of help from the restaurant owner. Each time we called, someone had to run down the street to the restaurant to look for him. Occasionally, he made it to the phone and we learned of the progress of the sale. The price rose to $10,000. A counter offers apparently weren’t done. Oh, all right, $10,000. Clearly, we were hooked.
In a couple of months the sale was ready. We wired the money. Jonathan flew down. Not one second thought had surfaced. We had spent the time deep in a fantasy of building, remodeling, planting. I was studying Architectural Digest’s tropical vacation homes and filling a notebook with diagrams.
“What are you doing here?” the restaurant owner said when he saw Jonathan. “This has nothing to do with you.” So Jonathan hid around the corner while our presta nombre went into the office of a lawyer and bought herself a nice little lot with all our money.
In a few years the designation of property in San Pancho had changed so that we could use the proper method for coastal-dwelling foreigners to hold their land—the bank trust. Instead of a Mexican citizen owning the property, a bank would, and, for a yearly fee, guarantee possession, right of sale, and inheritance. Actually, “trust” doesn’t enter into it. Now we own our house in this manner too, but our Mexican adventure began on a different note. We leapt before we looked, we risked on intuition, we trusted, and all came out well.
Little by little we did build and remodel. We planted and painted bright colors. We tiled and decorated. We came for two weeks a year, then for two months, than for six. For several years Jonathan worked half a year in