Saturday, January 24, 2009

Fast forward to 2009


When the deal to buy the land in Taboada fell through in late 2006, our home building project went into hibernation for nearly 18 months. We were as exhausted as we were frustrated.

Then in the summer of 2007 a friend who already lived in the country mentioned there was land for sale nearby. We contacted the owner and this time we did buy the land, three hectares or 7.5 acres of it, which is already neatly fenced in. We are ready to start construction in about 10 days.

The deal didn't happen overnight. It took about nine months of haggling and delays, including waiting to close on the property, interviewing architects, presenting our plans and evaluating their proposals. That pause in the project, interminable as it seemed sometimes, helped us hone down our ideas.

Welcome to "Rancho Santa Clara." If all goes well, our new house should be finished within 10 months, roughly in time for Christmas.

In case you're wondering, Santa Clara is the name of my hometown in Cuba. Stew's hometown is Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "Rancho Cedar Rapids" just didn't have the right ring.

Stew and I are hardly objective on the matter, but we believe the views from the terrace of our new house will beat any view of the Parroquia. Just check out the photograph above, taken early in the morning on New Year's Day 2009.

The views in that photo take you across farmland and grazing fields clear out to mountains in the background. There are a couple of tumbledown farm houses, surrounded by stone terraces, next to a small lake or reservoir.

Gorgeous as it is, it doesn't strike me as necessarily a Mexican landscape. It could be an impressionist take of the countryside in Spain or France. Particularly in the fall, when the farmers neatly gather and bundle the dry stalks of corn, and the afternoon sun creates stark shadows, the view is somewhat reminiscent of a Monet haystack painting at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Right now, in the dead of winter, the colors are muted golds and greens. In the summer, though, they will become bright shades of greens, as the now fallow fields are covered with corn and alfalfa, stone fence to stone fence. Rains will cause the lake to overflow creating a creek rushing during the summer but vanishing gradually and quietly as the dry season sets in around November.

The view on the other three sides is not as entrancing but beautiful nevertheless: mountains, a few miles on the horizon, with a couple of small towns clinging to their sides.

A weekend game at a community soccer field nearby breaks the silence occasionally, as might the tunes from a fiesta a couple of miles away, or the braying, mooing or bleating of livestock meandering by. Sound travels over open spaces.

But most of the time, an almost unsettling quiet.

Rancho Santa Clara is located on the opposite side of San Miguel from Taboada. It's on the road to Jalpa, which branches off the highway to Querétaro. From downtown San Miguel, the ride takes about 15 or 20 minutes.

Jalpa, located a few more miles down the road beyond our ranch, is a lethargic little town with meandering dirt streets. The local landmarks are a large reservoir, which I've been assured contains a type of edible fish (no thanks), and a domed church so enormous and out of proportion it must have been designed for a parish ten times the size of Jalpa's. Maybe it was an important depot sometime in the past.

If you kept going straight on the main road out of San Miguel, in about 45 minutes you would enter Querétaro, a kinetic and self-assured city of about 700,000 people. It has brand-new expressways to accommodate all types of SUVs and BMWs, in addition to shopping centers with glistening marble floors, multiplex cinemas and indirect music playing. Querétaro could be a preview of what Mexico would look like as a First World country.

Though only an hour away from one another, Jalpa and Querétaro could be on opposite sides of the earth.

The immediate area around our land is mostly open, but that is already changing. Nearby there are already two ranches owned by Americans, each with five hectares; another home almost finished; a third under construction and ours about to be built. And just last week, a young New York couple closed on a four-hectare parcel on which they plan to build.

Back in Taboada there's been such a construction rush since we looked that some long-time residents now complain about their truncated views or houses going up too close to their fences.

At our new location such problems seem far away. The parcels, including ours, are large enough--we think and hope--to avoid the appearance or reality of crowding. Just in case, we are being careful about centering our house within our 7.5 acres, away from anyone else, and planting trees and bushes around the perimeter for good measure

On the highway to Querétaro, between San Miguel and the turnoff to Jalpa, there are stirrings but no development stampede yet. A lone subdivision supposedly has sold all its parcels but two years into the project there are only three houses built. Isolated homes have appeared here and there, farther down the road.

And there's a rumor--probably started by some wishful developer--that yes, a golf course is about to be built alongside the highway to Querétaro, across the road from San Miguel's municipal office building! There are no signs of any such thing.

Rather, the roads leading to Rancho Santa Clara thus far look more like a sleepy Corn & Alfalfa Alley than a new Golden Corridor.

We hope it stays that way, even though we know it won't.

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