Saturday, December 27, 2008

Holidays in the tropics.

Holidays in the tropics. We like it! The weather has been much dryer; humidity has dropped from always being 100% to 50-75%. Christmas day was perfect, sunny with a slight breeze. We enjoyed an excellent sit down dinner with a large group of expats and a few locals at a home in San Ramon. The dinner was preceded by the typically crazy white elephant gift exchange. I am still wondering who put the Forensics for Dummies book in the exchange. Glad we didn’t end up with it!
At the beginning of the month my brother Mike was here from New Hampshire. The house project kept us close to home, but we did go to Carara National Park at the coast for a day.
There are approximately 2000 American crocodiles living in the Tarcoles---estimated to be 25 per square kilometer.
We could see 17 from the Tarcoles River Bridge.
After studying the crocodiles, wood storks, and the black vultures from the bridge we hiked in the park.
The park has monkeys, anteaters, sloths, and lots of birds. It was 95 degrees and mid-day so our hike was not fruitful in terms of wildlife sightings, only one macaw. There are not very many macaws in the wild, having become endangered because of the illegal pet trade. About 450 scarlet macaws make their home at Carara. These are the largest parrots in the world, weighing between 2 and 2.5 pounds. They can measure 33 inches from beak to tail. They nest in empty tree cavities and we did see one in a nest. We could only see half of it, head, shoulders, and chest. Big bird! If we had been there early or late in the day we might have seen them flying between the forest nesting sites and the coast mangroves. We’ll go again and spend the night.

We went to hear the Joe Anello Trio play the jazz brunch at the new location, the beautiful Vista del Valle Plantation Inn VISTADELVALLE.COM owned by Mike and Johanna, expats who have been in CR for many years. Mike came with Peace Corp, fell in love with Costa Rica and has been developing the property for over 20 years. The open air restaurant perched high on a cliff, overlooking a private nature reserve, is a perfect setting for Sunday afternoon jazz. After the music, we explored the stunning grounds, including this beautiful stand of bamboo.

CR is a Catholic country and holy days are always celebrated in some way. In the San Ramon area there is a special celebration on the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. People gather in the central park and then run through the streets of San Ramon in packs of 50-100 children and supervising adults. They visit homes with women named Mary who throw handfuls of candy into the crowd. After receiving enough they tear off running down the street to the next Mary household. Our friends Mary and Pablo invited us to watch and participate from their home. Mary told me that I would be a Mary for the night. As the large groups arrived yelling “Aqui Mary! Aqui Mary!” (here Mary, here Mary), I threw handfuls of candy to the crowd. Norm tried to capture the madness on film from outside, but of course the photos do not really capture the experience. Mary and Pablo had a huge plastic basin filled with small individually wrapped candies, about $40 worth. We added more to the bin and it was all gone in about a half-hour.

We have discovered that the emerald toucanets
are frequent visitors to the trees near the rental house. They come in groups of four, perhaps more, because they blend in with the foliage. See photo. We are recognizing the Keel Billed Toucan’s call and hope to get a good photo one of these days. Stay tuned!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Construction Snapshots Dec 27

All of the walls now have texture, primer paint and one coat of paint. The final coat of paint will be applied at the very end of the project. The wood ceilings are just about finished, all concrete floors (inside and out) will have ceramic tile installed. It should start going down within the next few days. The entry and interior solid wood doors are being built in a small shop just down the road. Brown aluminum windows and patio doors are under construction in San Ramon and will be installed after the ceramic tile is laid. The cabinets are built and will be delivered and installed after the doors and windows are in. The gutters and downspouts will be installed shortly after the New Year. All of the rough plumbing is completed, and sinks, toilets, etc are on-site, to be installed after the floor tile is done. Since several houses rely on water from a spring, and the pump feeding the system has failed twice (and repaired within a day) since we’ve been here, we decided to install a 2500 liter water storage tank under the garage floor. We’ll pump all of our water from this tank, so future pump failures with the community water supply won’t leave us dry. The rough electrical is finished and all of our custom handcrafted light fixtures are ready. We still need to buy a few ceiling lights for laundry, pantry, and closets.
Still looks good for finishing by the end of January!

Retaining Wall & Main Entry

The stairs to the front door

South side yard

Veranda (looking South)

Veranda (looking North)

Back yard / main entry stairs and retaining wall (looking North)

Pit for water tank under garage floor (tank in background)

Looking towards the dining room and kitchen beyond

The living room

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Flowers & PJs

Flannel pajamas? Yikes, what happened here?
We have had four windy days and are in for a few more. There is a big storm in the Caribbean that has been sending us cool temperatures and lots of wind. Last night the outside temperature fell to 51 degrees; the lowest we had seen previously was 58.
The wind gusts on our side of the mountain have been up to 33 mph.
A couple of nights ago we could here sheet metal or roofing blowing around. In the morning we found that the roof on one of the temporary work sheds had blown away completely. It is now somewhere down the mountain. The house itself is just fine.
In the previous post I mentioned flowers that are in bloom. Here are some photos.
The first is Kohleria spicata. It is a wild roadside plant related to African violets and Gloxinias. The photo doesn’t really do it justice. The flowers are tubular and the plant can reach 3 feet.

A tree that reminds me of magnolias is in bloom again. Spheres open to a star like flower. Here are two photos of it. I haven’t identified the tree.

These beautiful white epiphytes are only about 3 inches tall and are growing on a branch deep in the tree, shaded by the leaves. At first I thought that they might be orchids, but the white flowers are very small tubes with slender pointed ends. I lack the terminology to give an adequate description.

Epidendrum radicans the terrestrial wild orchid is in bloom again! The flowers are less than an inch long and the cluster is about 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter. They grow on a branching stem with succulent like leaves.

Monday, November 17, 2008

November Construction Update

The house is really coming along. The wood ceilings are done in the entry, living, dining, kitchen, and master bath. These areas are cathedral with exposed beams. They are made of a very dense native tropical hardwood wood called “laurel”, but nothing like the laurel that we’re familiar with. The work crew is currently sanding and finishing the boards for remainder of the house where the ceilings will be about three meters high.

The roof is done on the casita and the main house roof is nearly completed. Because there are anywhere from 14 to 18 people working on the house at one time, there are multiple projects happening simultaneously.

Some of the crew have been working on a stairway and retaining wall which will come from a parking area above the house. Others are putting the finishing cement on the walls. The rough plumbing and electrical are nearly done. And they are compacting the gravel floor throughout in preparation for pouring the concrete floors, which will then be covered with porcelain tile . The house should be done sometime in January. We will hold off on completing the casita (guest cottage) until the stock market has recovered some.

The dry season is approaching and we have had less rain in the afternoons. Some days no rain at all. There are many new small flowering plants appearing. The wild orchids that we saw last Spring are back.

There are many little and big challenges to living in a country with major infrastructure issues. We are still waiting for a land line phone for the house, it looks promising, but we are not holding our breath. Everything is quite the bureaucratic nightmare with forms in triplicate with stamps and seals. People here are used to waiting in line for everything. It is a good thing we are retired!

I think we have mentioned the wild thunder and lightning storms that we experience up here on our mountain. Yesterday was one of the extra wild ones. We lost a router after a very close lightning strike. We have finally figured out that the power surges are frying our routers. Even though we have the router and computers plugged into heavy duty UPS’s the surge is coming through via the network cable from the microwave antennae and frying the network card in our router. Nothing else is damaged, but network cards are VERY sensitive to any surges. So after losing another router (the third) Norm has found a solution and has ordered a network cable surge protector for that line. Hopefully, that’ll take care of that!

We’ll be joining a big group of expats for Thanksgiving dinner. It will be fun to meet some other Americans and exchange stories about living in Costa Rica.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The wet season and Florida Shopping Trip

The wet season is now in full force here. It is absolutely clear and beautiful this morning (about 7 am now) and we can see the coast which is about 30 miles away as the crow flies. Most days remain clear until noon or as late as 3 pm, then the heavy rain lasts until 7 or 9 pm, when it clears off again and we can see the lights of the villages and towns along the coast. I’ve tried taking pictures, but don’t have the right filters to show what we can actually see.
When we moved, I brought a good weather station with me, and its fun to see the statistics. We had a little over 21 inches of rain in September, and almost 82 inches since I set it up in April. It doesn’t seem like that much to us because it doesn’t rain all day. In Washington, the sun rarely comes out all winter but the annual rainfall is only around 36”. When it isn’t raining there it’s usually dark with thick clouds. It feels like we get less rain here because the sun is usually out when it isn’t raining, AND, it is much warmer here!

The temperature remains ideal (for us) year- round. Mornings are usually in the mid 60s, and will warm to the mid 70s. Of course, we’re at 4700 feet above sea level where it stays cooler. San Ramon, which is 6 KM from here is at 3500 ft, and is consistently 3-4 degrees warmer. The coast is way too hot for us.

Daylight is different here also. In Washington, sunrise and sunset times vary greatly with the seasons: longer days in the summer, shorter in the winter. Here, since we’re close to the equator, the days are almost the same year-round: sunrise around 5:30 am, sunset around 5:30 pm. People start their days earlier here. Most of our workers (there are about 15 of them) arrive before 6.

Last weekend we flew to Fort Lauderdale to shop for door knobs/locks, faucets, electrical outlets and switches for the house. We only stayed for two nights. We flew for about $140 each including extra luggage; returning, we checked 4 large bags and took two carry-on bags. The airlines are now charging for checked bags, and have a 50 pound limit. Fortunately, the Hampton Inn where we stayed in Fort Lauderdale has an exercise room with a balance scale, so we were able to weigh the bags and rearrange the stuff about four times. We had one bag at 47 pounds and three at 48 ½ each. Hardware is heavy! We also bought sheets, towels, and a few clothes. All are available here, but MUCH more expensive. Imported goods are very heavily taxed. We saved thousands by bringing it in ourselves. It was good to get all our purchasing done in the states, but really good to be back home!

The house is coming along nicely. The back part of the house (non view) will have flat wood ceilings; the metal trusses for that side of the roof were built onsite in place and are now done. The view side, with the kitchen, living, dining and master bedroom will have vaulted wood ceiling with exposed beams. All of the beams now have two coats of clear finish, and they’ve just started putting them in place yesterday. When they’re all up, the tongue and grove boards that will be the finished ceiling will go on, then the metal roof will go on the entire building. We should be water tight in another three weeks. At that time, all of the wood ceilings and beams will get a final coat of clear sealer.

The casita (small guest house) is quickly taking shape. The walls are up and they will start the metal trusses next week.

So far, the entire project is on schedule, and we hope to move in around the first part of January.

Monday, September 8, 2008

It was a dark and stormy night

And that was the night after we stood on the beach of Ostional watching an Olive Ridley Turtle preparing her nest and laying her eggs. More on the dark night later.

The Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) is the smallest of the sea turtles usually less than 100 pounds and named for the olive color of its heart-shaped shell. Ostional Beach is located on the Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula and is the most important nesting beach for Olive Ridley turtles. About 750,000 turtles nest here between July and December each year. Some populations of Olive Ridley synchronize their nesting in mass emergences or arribadas. Thousands and even tens of thousands of Olive Ridley nest during arribadas that continue for several nights. The arribadas usually occur on the darkest nights before the new moon.

That night we went to the beach to see the turtles. It was raining hard the whole time we were there, but it was very warm. We were not fortunate enough to see turtles in the day time, but we did see the one female laying at night. No flash cameras allowed, so we only have this picture taken by the light of flash lights by our friend Juan Carlos with his cell phone. The eggs are shiny ping pong ball size.

It was the fourth night of the arribadas, so there were not a lot of turtles. We watched one female from start to finish in her 45 minute egg laying. She dug a hole with her back flippers that was about 18 inches deep. The precision of her dig is all instinct, not once did she turn to look and gauge her progress. Once the hole was dug, the egg laying began. At first the eggs came singly, but soon as many as 6 or 8 appeared to be expelled with each contraction. It took about 10-15 minutes for all of the eggs to be laid, probably around 100 eggs. She then spent another 10-15 minutes covering the nest and compacting the sand. I wish we had a picture of her head and front flippers. Massive! Truly incredible looking and muscular.

The rainy season is here and before leaving for the beach we knew that having a four wheel drive vehicle with high enough clearance to cross the streams is critical. The inn keeper had questioned me about our car when we made reservations. On Wednesday, September 27, we drove to Ostional. It is about a 6 hour trip, with 4 hours of that on gravel roads. We had to cross two streams to get to our hotel. The second stream, Rio Rosario, was wider and deeper. The water tore the front license plate off of our car and our traveling companions’ car as well. Fortunately for us the police men noticed ours and pulled it out of the water and yelled for us to stop. Juan Carlos didn’t know that his was gone until we noticed the next day.

Hotel Luna Azul sits up above the beach with jungle stretching out before it for a kilometer or more to the shore. There was enough of a breeze that we didn’t need to use air conditioning. With screened windows open, the sounds of the cicadas, geckos, and birds were our night time chorus. We were lucky to have cooler than normal days at the coast. It is usually very hot. This was our first trip there.

On Thursday morning, I was the first of our party of four to arrive for morning coffee in the hotel dining area. One of the hosts let me know that the rivers had risen considerably during the night and our plans to travel south would be impossible. The Montana River would not be low enough to cross for days and that would be only if the rains stopped. We could go north, but because the Rio Rosario was also much higher, a tractor would have to pull us so that we wouldn’t be washed downstream. The tractor would be there soon for some of the other guests who were leaving that morning. After lots of coffee and a delicious breakfast we went to the river to see how high the water was and if anyone else was crossing. Another couple staying at the hotel opted for the tractor tow across the river. The couple from Austria had already been rescued once after being stuck crossing a river. Their rental car, although a four wheel drive, just wasn’t high enough or powerful enough. The footage will remind you why you would never, ever want to buy a used rental car! Although being towed is a way to cross the river, it is not great for a car. We decided that staying at the hotel for another night was a perfectly good plan. Excellent facilities, food, and charming hosts. We were also enjoying the flora and fauna. At the river there were about 10 cars and trucks on our side watching and waiting to cross. It reminded us of people at Blossom Bar on the Rogue River watching other rafters go through the rapids. Pacha Mama, a nearby alternative community, received their produce by sending workers across the river to ferry the produce back.

Here's the movie:

While at Luna Azul we saw several new birds: White-throated Magpie-Jay, Long-tailed Manakin, Fiery-billed Aracari, Rufous-naped Wren, Cinnamon Hummingbirds, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Plain Chachalaca, Red-lored Parrots, Smooth-billed and Groove-billed Ani, Barred Antshrike and Hoffman’s Wood peckers. We also saw a few Black Spiny-tailed Iguanas.

The trees outside one of our cabins were Pochote (pachira quinata). The trunk and the branches have large thorns and it is sometimes called spiny cedar. It is a native tree and is impressive with a large trunk and can grow to 100 ft. The criss-crossing of the heavily thorned branches from several trees made for an unusual porch surround.

Troops of howler monkeys (called mono Congo here) follow the tree line around the cabins to the Jabo fruit trees near the main building. Their booming voices are incredibly loud for their size. They are also incredibly loud at five in the morning, as they pass within yards of your windows! We hear them frequently at our house, but they are below us in the trees and do not come up the hill. They use a tree line to travel and do not like to be on the ground if they can help it.

We lost power at 4:30 on Thursday afternoon! And it truly was a dark and stormy night, the wind and rain continued, but the fortunately the temperature was still bearable, since the ceiling fans would not be running that night. The hosts, Rolf and Andreas were prepared; with lanterns, head lights, and their gas stove took good care of their nine guests. Besides the four of us, a German couple with three well-behaved children was still at the hotel. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the dinner menu again had five entries to choose from. The food was delicious! Luckily, the water pressure is not impacted by the lack of electricity and hot water is produced by a combination of solar and gas. So even with a power outage, we were not without our creature comforts!

The electricity was restored on Friday afternoon. We finally decided that another night at the hotel was the better option. Earlier in the day Andreas braved the river in their car to get vegetables and eggs for the hotel. Their vegetable truck could not cross the river. No fresh fish though. I was glad that I had opted for the fabulous herbed snapper the first night!

On Saturday morning we learned that the river was down. The water level was lower than the previous days, but still higher than our first crossing on Wednesday on our way in. The current was still strong. But it looked like a go, especially if the water level continued to drop. We packed our bags for the third time and checked out of Luna Azul once again (You can check-out any time you like, But you can never leave!'). We waited at the river for awhile, hoping to see someone else cross, but no one came along. Juan Carlos and Lilliam decided to stay at least one more night, since they were enjoying the unplanned vacation. Their car, being smaller, lower, gas, and carpeted is much more likely to have water damage than our diesel. So at 11:30 we crossed the river (2+ feet deep) and headed home. We found the road conditions to be worse than on our trip down. Fields were flooded and water crossed the road in many places. We didn’t have any problems, but kept the car in four wheel drive until we reached pavement, about 3.5 hours later! We arrived home at 6, just before dark.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Construction Update Aug 15

The columns and beams of the veranada, on the view side.

Our workers have been making excellent progress on the house. As I’ve mentioned before, construction methods here differ from what we’re accustomed to in the US. The block walls are up, and a steel reinforced concrete beam tops all of the walls. The top of the beam is approximately 3 meters from the floor.
On the back side of the house, the wood ceilings will be at this level, with attic above. In the great room and master bedroom, we’ll have a cathedral ceiling. The men are now working on a block wall above the beam which will separate the attic space from the lofted ceiling of the great room. Once this wall is up, another reinforced concrete beam will top it, supporting the metal trusses and exposed wood beams.

Pouring concrete into the forms for the beam. No concrete pumpers here!

The steel for the trusses is here. When the beams are ready, the welders will fabricate the trusses on site. The metal roof and wood ceiling will go up as soon as wood beams and trusses are in place. Our metal roofing material has been delivered to the local warehouse in San Ramon.

Our ceramic tile was delivered this week. Enough tile to do the floors of the house and casita is now stored in the bodega onsite.
While part of the crew is working on the wall above the beam, several men have been building the retaining wall behind the house. It’ll be two meters high and approximately 30 meters long. It’ll stabilize the slope and define a nice level area behind the house. We’ll fence part of this area for the cats. They’ll love being able to go outside again!

Once the wall is up, part of the crew will start on the casita, our small guest house.

As most of you probably know, Costa Rica has two seasons. Dry and “Green” (read WET). The temperature doesn’t really change, just the amount of rain. But unlike Seattle, where it drizzles all day in the winter, most days have been clear and dry all morning, with rain (read torrential tropical downpour) in the afternoon. So far, the rain hasn’t really slowed construction. The local people tell us that the worst rain is yet to come in September and October. Juan Carlos, our builder/architect plans to tarp the entire structure if need be to stay on schedule.

We’re still planning (hope, hope) to be in the house around Christmas.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Patience, Patience, Patience

Life here continues to be excellent. We are experiencing some of the ridiculous bureaucracy, but it is better that working in the states and dealing with the politics and drama of the work place!

Our land line was disconnected accidentally when the tech mistook this house for one down the street. To have it re-connected our land lady had to go stand in line at ICE, the telephone monopoly, only to be told that her husband had to do it, even though she had a note from him. So he had to go stand in line. They told him that the tech would be by in 8 days to check on the line.
When we checked back with ICE to find out the status of his phone and our application for our own land line, they told is that the tech had been on vacation, so come back in eight days. Eight or ten days later, we learned that they couldn’t find the house. Have we mentioned that their aren’t any street addresses here? Everything is so many meters from a landmark (whether the landmark still exists or not). Our address is Frente de los Torres de Berlin (in front of the towers of Berlin) Most people have not had any trouble finding us. ICE managed to find us to disconnect the phones, but finding us again-----.
Well they did eventually find us and last Friday the phone rang and it was ICE checking to be sure it worked. In the meantime, Norm was back at ICE with our architect/engineer to find out the status of both phones. They informed Norm that the box has room for another phone, but they had to make a bunch of calls to find out if there is an actual phone line available. There is, but now Norm needs to have the original documents proving we own the land, our corporation documents, and his passport before they could proceed to the next step. Sheesh! Back to the lawyer to get all of the official papers with stamps and seals. Finally on Monday of this week they said we would have our own phone line in 8-15 days. This Friday is Mother’s Day and government offices are closed, so that could further delay things. Before coming we were told the three most important things to bring are patience, patience, and patience. Good thing we are retired!

Shopping at the Ferria (farmer’s market)
We get most of our fruits and vegetables at the market.
Here is what we purchased a couple of weeks ago for 9500 colones or about $17.
Our most expensive purchases are always strawberries and flowers. This time we spent a bit more to buy the small grape tomatoes, which are more expensive.

Piano Concert
The National Theater (Teatro Nacional) provides free concerts throughout the country. This past Sunday evening we attended a concert here is San Ramon featuring an Italian pianist. Francesco Libetta played Chopin and Beethoven in the cathedral. The series of concerts is the 18th Festival of Music, lasting for two weeks in August. Musicians from Holland, Germany, Columbia, Austria, USA, and Costa Rica perform at venues all over the country.

Stick bug
This bug was plastered against the window one morning. Norm took a look at and was convinced it was just a stick blown against the window during the night. After a few hours, I decided to check it out. It was alive! After I touched it, it opened its antennae walked several inches. Before I touched it, its antennae had been pressed tightly together and looked just like a single stick. The camouflage is incredible. I read up on them a bit and in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, they can reach 2 feet in length!
We have had one here before, but this one was larger. We had a “katydid” or leaf mimic a couple of moths ago. It looked exactly like a dead leaf. We lost the photo of it, but I am sure we’ll see another one of these days.

We found our tile for the floors and patios last week. Finding a good quality tile at a decent price is a real challenge. The prices range from about $7.50 per square meter to more than $50. Ouch! Since we need about 400 Square meters, for both houses, finding enough was also a challenge. We found a very nice porcelain tile from Spain at a reasonable price, but not enough for the whole house. We were able to find another Spanish porcelain for even less at a nearby store. So we bought it! We learned our lesson a couple of weeks ago when the tile we chose sold before we made the decision.

My gardening gene has been crying due to lack of activity. While walking along the road each morning I discovered a few plants that are promising. They have been “relocated” to our yard to see how they perform. One is a polka dot plant and might make a good ground cover or base for taller plants. Another looks exactly like Indian paint brush. The third found plant has a nicely variegated leaf and looks like it spreads by runners. I’ll be keeping an eye on them. The relocation of these plants has appeased my gardening cravings briefly, very briefly. The retaining wall in back of the house is being built this week. Perhaps one of the levels is safe enough from the construction to be planted. We'll see, but likely not.

We just purchased a refrigerator, freezer, and microwave. We are using them in the house that we’re renting, so have more capacity now. The house looks weird with the fridge and freezer on the same wall as the big screen, but who cares! Neighbors/friends here brought us (from the US) stands for BBQing whole chicken with beer cans. We had never had “Beer can chicken” before and we are now convinced that it is the only way to BBQ whole chickens. We will be buying a bunch of whole chickens at our next Pricesmart run (Costco cousin). They also brought us a chunk of imported aged pecorino romano, so we have a bit of pesto in the freezer. It used to be that we called the basil green gold, now it is the Romano. Basil is plentiful and inexpensive here but the cheeses here are very mild. You can get imported parmesan, but at a small fortune for a teensy wedge. So if you will be visiting, us you already know one item that you’ll have to have in your bags!


Friday, July 11, 2008

No OSHA Here


Construction continues to be a week or two ahead of schedule. By the end of this week, the block walls will be at the height needed for the concrete beams which will tie them together. Plumbing pipes and electrical conduit were installed in the walls as they went up.

All water pipes here are schedule 40 PVC as in the US, when plastic is used. Electrical conduit and three wire, grounded circuits are considered to be extravagant, and installed in very few homes.

I’ve made certain that our wiring will meet US Code, so all of our wiring will have a separate ground and run in conduit. The plastic electrical conduit available is much thinner here than what we use in the States. But since all the conduit is embedded in concrete, it should be fine.

I hope you enjoy seeing these photos of a jobsite where OSHA doesn’t exist. The two men are carrying scaffolding. The man standing on the wall (with re-bar sticking out) was using a sledge hammer to remove the wood forms. Notice the ladder.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The house is taking shape.

The house is really taking shape. Juan Carlos, our Engineer/Architect/Builder told me yesterday that we’re currently ahead of schedule. We’re 20 minutes up the mountain from San Ramon. When he planned the schedule, he thought getting workers up here would be difficult, so he planned on having a small crew. We’re all pleasantly surprised that most of our workers are coming from the local small community of Berlin less than 5 minutes from here. Last week we had 15 men mixing concrete, tying re-bar, building forms, pouring concrete footings, and laying blocks. Everything is going smoothly, Carlos, the foreman is coordinating the work efficiently so that nobody is in anyone else’s way, with everyone working on different areas of the house.

One day last week, we had a dump truck of sand and one of gravel (for the cement), Shortly afterwards, a big truckload of concrete came and was unloaded by hand, each 50 kilo bag was carried to and stacked the construction shack to keep it dry. These men are in terrific shape, they’re all fairly small without an ounce of fat. They can pick up a 50 kilo bag and throw it up on a shoulder and carry it to, or from the shed as needed. No sooner had the concrete truck left, than another large tuck full of concrete block pulled in. The blocks were quickly unloaded by hand and stacked by the edge of the driveway. A single man with a wheelbarrow spent the rest of the day moving the blocks. He made stacks in the center of every room of the house.
One man spends all day at the cement mixer, mixing batch after batch of cement, two or three other men with wheelbarrows deliver the fresh cement to the men building the walls.
This way, the men who are actually building the walls never have to take more than one or two steps to get blocks or cement.

All the while that the block walls are going up, water and sewer pipes are placed where needed in the walls, and the electrician puts in electrical boxes and conduit for the wiring.

The original schedule has the house completed by the end of the year. If they can keep up the pace, they hope to finish ahead of schedule. But having built our Bainbridge house, I’m not getting too excited. So far, so good, but we’ll see how it goes.

Limóns, Bromeliads, and Toads

Lemons, Limón, limes?

Apparently there are dozens of varieties of citrus called Limón. According to general gringo say-so, lemons as we know them are not available.

Yesterday I juiced a dozen or more “Limón” to make a frozen dessert and was surprised to find the variation in the fruit colors. Limóns are limes and they come in at least two flavors “dulce” sweet or Limón ácido. I think that I can safely say that the bag I bought at the market was predominantly Limón ácido. The lemon ice that I made, which contained the same amount of sugar as juice was beyond tart! Web research says the large warty ones “Limón dulce” are best for lemonade. Hmmm, the ones I juiced were definitely warty, perhaps not really large?


There are bromeliads on nearly every tree. The most common one around our property is the scarlet torch (Guzmania monostachia), pictured here. The bases of these plants form a tank. The water within the tank supports bird, insect, and amphibian life. The two pictured here are part of a living fence post. Fences here are living and can be a cross hatching of hibiscus branches that grow into a hedge or seemingly dead posts stuck into the ground, that are soon sprouting greenery.

We haven’t planted anything yet, since the likelihood of damage during construction is too high. That being said, we did receive several large clumps of white lilies (not sure exactly what they are) from our architect. These are now planted along an edge of the property far enough away (we hope) from the construction to be safe. I won’t know for sure what they are until next April or May. I know they are white, are not Calla lilies, and are common along the road and in yards. I am hoping they are what I think they are! Huh?

Those toads on the terrace

Bufo Marinus is a large tropical toad known in Spanish as “Sapo Grande”. They are native to Central America and the Amazon basin. The ones we have on our terrace are small, about 2 to 4 inches. They can reach 6 inches, and some web sites say nine inches. The largest recorded specimen weighed 2.65 kg (5.8 lb) with a length of 38 cm (15 in) from snout to vent. It has parotid glands containing a poison strong enough to kill a dog in 15 minutes. Its warty skin can also exude a milky poison. We had been warned about the cats going after the toads. Because Bufo are regular night time visitors on the terrace here we know that we’ll need a plan to keep them out of the cat area once we move to our house. In the meantime keeping them indoors is the solution.

On Tuesday morning, at about 1:30, I was awakened by the sound of something slamming against the door. When I looked outside I could see that it was windy and the door was not latched. Thinking it was just the wind; I secured the door and went back to bed. A bit later the alarm sounded, indicating that something was near the house. The terrace light had also been triggered. Getting out of bed again, I was shocked to see Jelly and Fred outside. Of course they didn’t come when I opened the door, but took off.

Norm and I were both outside trying to get them to come for an hour before I was able to get my hands on Fred and get him into the house. Meanwhile, a toad was on the terrace and others were in the driveway where Jelly was hiding under the car. We spent another nervous hour trying to coax Jelly into coming. At one point he was up near the road. We were concerned about the toads and also the unknown. We know there are coyotes and also some raccoon family relatives. Finally, we left the door of the house open with the cat door in place. Norm held onto Fred and I called Jelly by shaking his food bowl. When he came, I opened the cat door, and he came in and quickly closed it behind him. He gets pretty freaked out when in a strange place, both inside and outside. He is fearful of us at that point and doesn’t come, although he is conflicted. I’m sure it goes back to his traumatic kitten-hood.

Now in the evening, we’re double checking the door to be sure that the dead-bolt is firmly engaged.