Every expat you meet in CR always has a story to tell, of how they were ripped off when they first arrived here: the realtors selling properties that are lacking in utilities and carry with them huge debts; the lawyers and accountants stealing from clients; the builders pilfering materials; even the cleaners taking tea-towels and soft furnishings from long-term employees. To the Tico way of thinking, all Gringos are wealthy (which indeed many of them are, especially in comparison to the locals), and are therefore rich for the picking!
We planned to be exception to the rule; you know, don't let your guard down, trust no-one attitude that we Brits are so good at. Plus, our first water bill back in October certainly made us more aware of the scamming that goes on here. So, unlike many other expats, we haven't handed over money to a middle man to perform a job that we can actually do ourselves (OK crossing the border to Nicaragua, but that doesn't count!!). Instead of allowing Jose to source the materials for La Casita, and earning himself extra cash on top by charging us more, DH and I have spent nearly everyday pricing paint and materials from various suppliers and then collecting it to avoid the astronomical charges they add for delivery. We hoped that by being pro-active and involved in every procedure, we would be observant enough to see when we were being targeted.
Jose, the builder has been great. His work has been consistent and methodical, and pretty damn fast too - my dad back home is convinced that we have hired German builders as they are working so quickly. Any problems that we have with what Jose and his team produces, he rectifies quickly and without excuses or complaint. He even bought us home-made tamales on the day after Boxing Day, some that his wife made and some that his 80 year old mother had made for us. He generally is a pretty nice guy, we are very pleased to have found him and should we ever need his building services again, we would more than likely use him again.
We should have known the moment that he came on-site that he was not to be trusted, as Jose's right-hand man, Luis, stopped coming to work. We thought it was maybe jealousy on Luis behalf as Napoleon was bought in as a sub-contractor to work on the electrics; or perhaps it was an on-going power struggle of two alpha-males. Stupidly we took no notice and thought Luis was just throwing his toys out of the pram. Perhaps Napoleon's confession of having seven children with five different wives should have alerted us. But then that seems to be the norm here too (odd for a Catholic country, but then I never did fully understand religion!!). Other little stories kept cropping up too, like being a 1st Dan in karate, or the one where he was off to Aruba for five years to work on some grand hotel or something. Perhaps the funniest of all though, and one we really did laugh at, was the tale where his 15 year old son boasted to DH that his dad was actually a professor and that he was going to be home-schooled by him. Bless, the kid looked so proud of his dad.
Still, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and his work must be of good quality as Jose continued to sub-contract out more work to Napoleon. Firstly, the internal doors, that were to take three days tops - that included rubbing down, treating them with wood stain and then hanging them. Next, Jose decided to let him hang the shower door too.
In the eight weeks or so that Napoleon has been assigned to La Casita, he has disappeared for more than a week, taking his little team with him, as he was working on a neighbours house - a job he got because he slyly stole it from Jose. What was supposed to be a quick job, took longer than expected and when the owner refused to pay as it wasn't finished, Napoleon doubled his workforce, therefore increasing his payroll and diminishing his profit.
We swallowed his disappearance because, well, that is what builders do all over the world. But trying to get him to fix the electrics that he had ballsed up ... that took over two weeks to rectify: light switches wired up incorrectly and in no sensible manner; blanking plates put on the wrong places; just a confused mess really. We have had Tigo, the internet/TV company that we use, come and connect La Casita and guess what? The TV points that Napoleon has fitted are just for show; in the loft space it is just a mess, cables not attached to anything. The shower door has not been fitted correctly and ultimately the water will leak through to the bathroom, a task that he has left for Jose to sort out.
Next problem, the internal doors, all five of them. Napoleon's team started well, rubbing down the doors outside, but that is about all they did right. The door frames were made incorrectly; anyone could have done them as they didn't mitre the corners and just placed one bit of wood on top of the other, so it looked like a minimal game of Jenga. That was fixed quite quickly although DH had to explain how the corners should actually be (a carpenter he is not, but knows what a door frame should look like!). Then they hung the doors before the first layer of stain was applied: again not too much of a problem, if Napoleon and his team knew what they were doing but ... well to cut a long story short, DH has spent the last two weekends rubbing down and staining, rubbing down and staining all the doors and still they are not quite right.
Meanwhile, we have other, much graver concerns about Napoleon. Being a shell, La Castita was going to need a kitchen, always my favourite part. Therefore at the beginning of the building process, we started the search for a carpenter: unlike the UK, there is no Ikea, Wickes or similar, where you can buy your kitchen off the shelf, you actually have to have it hand-made! A dream come true and supposedly easier as you can have the cupboards built any size you want. Still blissfully unaware of what a **** Napoleon was, when presented with quotes for the kitchen, we chose him over someone else that had come recommended, for no other reason than he was already on-site, and we hoped it would be completed in a shorter space of time.
Like most items you are having made here, it is usual to pay 50% up-front. We had to do this with the business cards and the curtains at the rental place and also for some of the jacuzzi materials. We knew the kitchen would be no different. However, being cautious, rather than give the money for the materials needed to Napoleon himself, we took a drive to Belen, about 40 minutes away, and left a stipulated tab with the ferateria, the hard-ware store. This way, Napoleon, and only him (or us) would be able to order and subsequently collect the necessary items on his way into work. Typing the words, I can so easily see the fatal flaw in this plan, and to be honest, I was not particularly pleased with the whole idea right from the start. However, when Napoleon appears with some of the wooden work-surface, and a few other bits and bobs, my fears dissipate somewhat.
But that was before Christmas and nothing has appeared since. Napoleon has only showed up once for work since then, and that was on New Year’s Eve hoping for some money. Great excuse as to why he had not been working though – his fifth wife had left him and returned to Nicaragua with their baby; her and her mother had been planning it for months apparently and had sold all his possessions and taken all his money.
Last week, DH managed to get hold of all the receipts from the ferateria; not only to know what is actually remaining on the tab, but also to see what materials have been purchased. Ever the optimist, DH really was hoping that Napoleon would come good and was honest and had used the money for what it was intended. Indeed, some materials had been bought, some wood too, all of which is at the house but … We have now acquired a new but small compressor and nice new wood cutting machine. Tools that Napoleon had bought with our money, but foolishly left behind at our house.
Oh yes, he bought a bicycle as well!
And cashed out $1000.00
Pissed off? You guessed it. DH stormed to the police station (yes, they still have one in Coco, unlike Farnham, overlooks the promenade by the beach). He was informed that he has got to gather the evidence, slow process, report to solicitor, blah, blah, blah. Is it worth it, in the hope of maybe receiving a dollar a week from the lying, cheating scumbag? I don’t know, we’ll see.
Meanwhile, piece of **** that he is, Napoleon still sends his son in to work with Jose every day, although we put a stop to that last week; very difficult to hear people dissing your beloved father all day at work, and not fair on the kid. Napoleon refuses all phone calls from both DH and Jose. In return he has text-ed a few real stinkers to Jose, using religion and the church to feast on Jose’s conscious.
On Sunday DH received a final text from Napoleon asking never to be contacted again.
And that he will send his invoice for the work undertaken!!!!!