Category Archives: Casita Cielo Azul – The House

How to sneak a concrete staircase into a garden.

So, we’re building this 2 story structure for CAFE MANANA our coffee Shop and Gallery here in San Pancho. Having 2 floors meant we needed a way to get up and down. Now the idea of customers sliding down a pole was amusing but thought it might be hard for them to shimmy up the pole with coffee and baked goods in their hands. Though again amusing to visualize we decided to go a more traditional way. At first we were just going to go with a spiral iron staircase which here is simply referred to as a Caracol (snail) as we didn’t really want to eat into our garden. But with the a little putting of heads together with our abanil (mason) Beto we figured out to wrap a concrete staircase around the avocado tree.

The engineering of these concrete staircases is really an art form.  Check out the way this puppy is supported.

















Now the rebar you see sticking up has been embedded in the concrete between the blocks and now will be bent to go up the slope where more rebar will be added and wired together to then be enveloped in a bed of concrete.

Below you can see the underside of the wooden planks upon which the concrete (with rebar) will be poured. The use scraps from the bags of cement to fill gaps between the wooden planks to stop the wet concrete from oozing out.


These boards are used and reused from one job to the next and so sometimes need a bit of surgery in order to get the right length and support needed.


Boards are placed also on the sides of the ramp and landings so a proper layer of cement can be poured..



Here below you can see evidence of the stop-gap paper I spoke of.


Our iron doors and windows were ready a bit ahead of time so they installed those for downstairs as all of the cement work on the first level was complete. We stashed the ones for the second floor and the Herrero and his crew will return to install them. Then we need to get someone else to come and put glass in.


The railings below that are leaning up against the  new windows were from our rooftop deck where we had them removed and kitchen garden planters built knowing we would reuse the rails on the terrace of the shop.


The door is a bit dusty but we LOVE it!



Now can we talk about scaffolding! I don’t really think it was designed to use it this way but it works. Now pay attention ’cause I’m going to walk you through the anatomy of the scaffolding system presently being used at Casita Cielo Azul in the construction the Cafe Manana. So let’s go upstairs and inside where we’ll start…..


Now this hole really is for an outlet but as we don’t need it yet why not open it all the way to the exterior, stick a 2 x 4 through, wedge some scrap pieces in the make it a tight fit in order to help hold up the scaffolding the guys are using to finish the outside concrete work.


Noe here is the same board sticking OUT of the building. With the walking plank on top of it.


Now you might have to squint but in the pic below you can see the 2 x 4 sticking into the room on the bottom right and the walking plank it is supporting on the outside of the house on the left. You might now want to scroll back up a few shots to see the Physics of Scaffolding at it’s best.


Linc I do believe we’re about ready for the concrete to be poured encasing the blocks! Now speaking of concrete. Rather than using a mixer the concrete is mixed on the floor or the street and then toted, bucket by bucket to where it’s needed.


Painter David Villasenor…….. Cafe Manana Art Gallery, San Pancho, Mex.


So we are beginning to pick up some special pieces of art for the gallery aspect of the our to open in the fall coffee shop ……. Cafe Manana. Years ago we fell in love with paintings by the Mexican Artist David Villasenor. We would see his paintings in our travels throughout Mexico and were captured by the ones of indigenous people, the traditional clothing, the colors, the faces………. I have always been captivated by the colorful clothing and the satiny ribbons that woman braid into the waist long hair braids.

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Cafe Manana will consist of 2 stories. On the first floor will be the main coffee shop that will spill out into the garden where we’ll put a couple of tables for the nature lovers. I know when we used to only be down here for a week I almost hated eating inside, I always wanted to be outside. Clearly that’s apparent to anyone who has been to our house Casita Cielo Azul here in San Pancho as only our bathrooms and bedrooms are fully enclosed. All the rest of the living spaces are open-air. The second floor is being built so it can also be another living space should we need it. There will be a main room, a second room that can be used as a bedroom and a full bath. A balcony will cantilever out over the sidewalk in front of our property. The main house, sitting at the rear of our house will remain private due to the way we’ve designed the new building. We’re furnishing the second floor with art that we love enough to keep should it never sell.


David Villasenor died in 2007 but his daughter has kept his art alive through the talent of artists that were handpicked and hand trained by David himself in his studio. She came to visit us the other day in San Pancho to talk about the art we’re interested in carrying in the gallery. She brought along some paintings as well. Now the image you see of the girl at the top of this blog posting is that of a painting that we already own. It’s hanging in our dining room back in Evanston. It is STUNNING! A real show stopper! It’s a rare person that doesn’t walk through our dining room and stop….mesmerized……..and go “WOW!”!













Well this one, the one just above is our newest addition but this one is for the gallery. We new as soon as they unwrapped it, that this was the one. It measures approximately 48″ x 71″. These are no little paintings. For scale purposes you can also see it just below. Now I think we only have one full wall in the gallery space big enough for this piece so that’ll make hanging it simple and it’ll be sooooo easy on the eyes!


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Okay so I couldn’t help myself I had to give you a bigger view, isn’t she something!

Latcho & Andrea, The Blonde Gypsies at La Playa in San Pancho





















I’ve heard of couples meeting while driving down the street and exchanging telephone numbers through the glass windows. Another story was that of two people being prepped for operations. Friends of ours met after a crime had occurred at her residence and he was one of the officers assigned to the case. Of course there are the, “How Stella got her groove back” story of people meeting on vacation.

So how many couples do you know when asked, “So, where did the 2 of you meet?”. Answer with the fact that in 1982 when they met as performers in a traveling Wild West show. Well our friends Latcho and Andrea can. Let’s take it one step further and point out that Latcho’s act was that of a fire eating medicine man, and Andrea was an Indian dancer. The Wild West show’s run didn’t last but they went on to joined Circus Atlas, where Latcho became Sabu the Living Volcano, and Andrea, Indra the snake dancer. Now come on beat that story, I dare you.

After life with the Gipsy Clan of Circus Atlas, Latcho continued as a composer and guitarist, and Andrea and Andrea as a Flamenco dancer but she also began playing rhythm guitar. They toured throughout Europe and Egypt where they won awards for best folkloric music group.

In 1996, they moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. They still perform throughout Europe and the United States as well as Mexico which is where we met them a number of years ago. There used to be this funky pizza place here in San Pancho called Gallo’s.

Latcho and Andrea used to play at Gallo’s every Sunday evening. Now, San Pancho isn’t exactly a hub of nightlife and entertainment and back then the options could be easily counted on one hand.

Luckily for us we REALLY enjoy listening to the 2 of them so it gave us a weekly night of local entertainment.

This year for the first time Latcho and Andrea played at the San Pancho Music Fest, a 3 day event the last weekend in February. Local, national as well as international musicians come to play. These 2 put on a great show.

Sundays are “beach day” for Linc and I. We grab the camera and our Rummikube game and head on down just to relax. At  5:00 there’s a Cuban Salsa band that comes to play, excellent!!! An now, every Tuesday, Latcho and Andrea play at the same venue, La Playa. Brother, did I just call it a  “venue”. It’s actually the newest of our 3 beach restaurants here but it boasts great food, drinks and the cleanest bathrooms on the beach (you have no idea how high this point rates).

Red Pepper Hummus, Olive Tapenade and Parmesan Breadsticks.


  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 3/4 cups cooked (or canned) garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  •  3/4 cup roasted red peppers (deseeded1/2 cup fresh chopped basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil

In a food processor, combine garlic, garbanzo beans, tahini, and lemon juice. Process until smooth. Add in the  roasted peppers and basil and process until the peppers and basil are finely chopped. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chilling the hummus for a while will intensify the flavor.

Rosemary and Parmesan Cheese Breadsticks
 1 cup warm water
4 tablespoons butter (divided 3 & 1)
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups unbleached bread flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3 minced garlic cloves
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon italian seasoning
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
4 tablespoons parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a cookie sheet.
 In a mixer with a paddle combine water, 3 Tbs of the softened butter and yeast. Proof for a couple of minutes. Miix flour, salt, sugar,rosemary,  italian seasoning and garlic in a separate bowl . With the mixer set on low gradually add the flour mixture and mix until combined. Turn out on to lightly floured board and knead for 7 minutes.
 Cover and let rise for 60 minutes in a clean and oiled bowl turning the dough once to oil entire ball. Using a floured breadboard divide dough in half and then each half into 12 pieces and roll each piece into 10″ rope. Place 2″ apart on greased baking sheet. Cover and let the ropes rise a second time for approximately 30 minutes.
 Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and brush with the remaining tablespoon of butter  and top with parmesan.
    Olive Tapenade
   1 cup pitted olives
   4 anchovy fillets
   1 TBS drained capers
   1 garlic clove
   1/4 cup olive oil
   Put the first four ingredients into a food processor and process.
   Slowly dribble the olive oil in and pulse while doing so.
   Garnish and serve.

A trip to the nursery, market, a phone and a stop for lunch.

So, as work on the bathroom project creeps along we’re also doing a bit more gardening. As the trees grow we move some plants according to the sun/shade needs and then ooopps find there’s a gap that needs filling. So as long as it was Thursday and we were going up to La Penita to the tianguis  (weekly market) we went a bit further to the garden nursery “Vivero”. The cost of plants are is so cheap Linc barely winces when I suggest an area of the garden….”needs a little something”. Small gardenia bushes cost about $1.50. So off we go…..




That errand finished we head to the tianguis where first Linc has to buy some donuts. What do they say about cops and donuts, even retired cops! Nuts anyone or maybe you just need your sewing machine fixed, no problem.



Now that Linc’s craving has been satiated and we’ve stocked up on muts and fixed our sewing machine we decide it’s finally time to arrange to have a telephone line hooked up to connect us to the outter world. Then let’s go have lunch!


Baño project continues plus around town…

While on my walk yesterday……………

…………………………………………..and then there was…………………………..

And then at home there are just some gardening jobs I delegate to others……………

Hugo is learning the art of tying a new concrete structure into an existing one. Canas seems to be a great teacher showing his young helper the how to’s and also explaining WHY they do certain things a certain way.

Looking up at the preperations for pouring the cement ceiling. Boards are placed next to eachother with shredded, wet parts of ripped up cement bags filling the gaps. Then a bed of cement is poured from above, amazing!

Then there is the construction of a cement archway, so cool!

A wooden board holds up full and partial bricks forming what will be the unfilled archway. Above that an arch of permanent bricks is set in cement and another row on top of that. Once this has dried the board, the “mold” bricks and extra unwanted cement is chipped away leaving the archway that in the end will hold the door we salvaged at the begining of the project.

………………………… We just can’t seem to not have pets of one sort or the other…..

The beach makes for a great setting for a party, don’t you think?

Baño project Days 6 and 7

Today being Saturday is a short day, just a 3 hour stint and then…………….. relax. I’m extra glad for this as today is my B-Day (Jill’s) and though we’re not much into birthday fanfare, a little extra quiet is greatly appreciated.   And things have been pretty quiet around here. It used to be that the nights were filled with “town” noises. In the past, San Pancho roosters seem to have all failed the “Crowing at Dawn” class at Rooster University. They would cock-a-doodle-do ALL night long. One rooster crowing in response to another and so forth, sending the message across  the pueblo in an undulating current of continuous sound. This would only be interrupted by a dog barking in response to another dog roaming into a neighborhood other than their own. Or maybe a little cumbia from the radio of a late night party somewhere nearby. Oh and let us not forget our Saturday night disco in the town plaza, which we’re happy to say has not been held the last couple of weeks.  No, as of late, the nights have been ohhhh so peaceful.

Canas gives a great demonstration on the art of twisting many strands of wire together for stronger hold. These wires help hold the sides of the forms together that shape the concrete columns. In the core of the unfilled column is a tower of rebar. The wooden form encloses that tower and then from the top Canas pours concrete in to be left to cure. It’s amazing watching watching what they can do with rebar, concrete and wooden temporary forms.   Not to mention the way they use pieces of PVC cut down the center the long way to form beautiful rounded conctrete edges.

Check out the engineering in this staircase. Notice there are no supports between where it turns at the bottom landing to go up and the second floor of the house.
……………………..and then there was the end of the day, “Goodnight Irene”.

  Now Day 7 brings a bit more upward movement but a good deal of behind the scenes plumbing, kinda important stuff! Now Canas must have lost his other hat, or maybe it finally fell apart because today found him wearing this fine chapeau he fashioned out of an empty cement bag and wire, stunning, simply stunning.

…………………………….and a daily walk on the beach, aaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Baño project, Days 4 and 5

So the dust has been flying here withvarious genres of Mexican music bellowing from a busted up boom-box with an occasional accompaniment from either Beto or Canas. Lots of laughter! Passersby who know the guys are working here will hoot their names from the streets and are answered by their own names being tossed back at them. Listening to Beto talk can not do anything but make you smile. The singsong characteristics of his speech is a trait that we have always loved. Yesterday while lunching on the rotisserie chicken from Berta down the street (more in another entry) we were talking about this and realized it was a natural inflection that some spanish speaking people have embraced personally equal to an art form. In Spanish a question is recognized as a question not by the addition of words such as the English Do? Can? Will? …………..but instead by inflection: think of saying “Do you have pets?”. In Spanish you would say “Tiene mascotas” Now the literal translation is, “You have pets “. Butttttt if you say the “mas-CO-tas”  with your voice lifting  in the middle of the word in a questioning tone it becomes a question.

I believe we already mentioned that this bathroom is being constructed within a hardscaped path that already existed. Presently we have 3 bathrooms in all within the house but when we have a social gathering here guests have to go through a bedroom to get to a bathroom. It will also offer a place for sandy feet fresh from a beach stroll to be washed off. 

Thought this ground floor bathroom is being fit into the pre-existing area it is being built strong enough to support a larger one that will eventually be built on top of it cantilevering out over part of the garden. Both of these bathrooms are part  of a larger plan which will be Linc’s Coffee Shop/Used Book Store here in San Pancho. Yep, you heard right, he’s even going to roast his own beans.

Baño construction at Casita Cielo Azul in San Pancho.

So, we’re in the process of having a bathroom built for poolside/party use. It was born from the need to fix an “issue” that caused us damage here in last years flooding. The only flaw in our initial construction was that the path that went from the pool area to our bodega (store room, laundry room) angled down causing what we named, “El Rio de Julio” or “Julio’s River” after the man who designed and built it. We lost a few motors on various appliances but our friend/plumber/electrician/pool man (Jose) Morales jumped into action keeping all losses to a minimum and fixing what he could.

Day 1 of construction was mostly destruction. we’re trying to avoid encroaching on the garden and so we’re building along the lines of the original path structure. Pounding with sledge hammers for hours, chiseling to even out the surface and the installation of a few rebar towers.

We have a crew of 3 men working on the actual construction. Beto, the mason who headed up all concrete aspects of our original construction is here once again for this mini project. He’s back along with a guy nicknamed “Canas” (grey hair) and the new addition of Hugo, Beto’s son in law, Hugo.

Now on to Day 2.

Okay, you may not see too much change from Day 1 to Day 2 but things are starting to , take form, haaa get it, TAKE FORM.


Now, we thought we would stick a couple of ambient pictures in here. A garden shot and a sunset from our rooftop.