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The Earth is Overtaking Our Walls!

We’ve finally started the “Cob” project. i.e. Wea re covering the bamboo lath with our earth plaster. It’s like a concrete, but you put it on by hand, and it doesn’t require a heinous huge strip-mine, heavy machinery and lots of fossil fuels to create.

It’s made of:
local sand
local soil (dug from our lot)
local hay (from a farm down the road)
water

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This is the first layer, a.k.a. the rough layer. There will be a smooth finish layer applied after this dries, and then after that we can paint it. It’ll look like any regular plaster when it’s finished, but we’ll have the awesome pride of having built it ourselves without requiring heavy machinery, massive infrastructure, fossil fuels, slave labor, or strip mines. Sweet.

Full Moon, December 6, 2014

It’s like a floodlight up above us, casting shadows across the floor as it shines through the bamboo lath.  Everything vibrates and hums with the collective energy around us, the sound of water over rocks.

No windows. No screens.  Just open to the night.

78 degrees and silver puffs of clouds hang over the mountain ridge across the river.  The floor pink beneath us with a thai massage mat laying across it.

All the lath up, the doorways framed, and a scaffold all around, today electrical outlet boxes and cables, our neighbors birthday, and new neighbors across the street with four syllable childrens’ names and sweet gentle hearts.

What a blessing.

 

Moving In Soon….with or without walls

Despite all my best intentions to keep our blog regular and chronicle the slow progress of our house construction, months have passed and I have not made a post.  But today I feel inspired so here is an update.

Thanks to the help of many people, we raised the funds to raise our roof!  For that we are so grateful!!  Just in time too…..as we are now in full rainy season and it rains every single day.

And, we even managed to get our floor installed!  We had purchased sustainably harvested nispero for our floor back in the spring.  Nispero is a tropical hardwood that is nearly unparalleled in strength and durability, as well as beauty.  But when we uncovered it from where it sat under a tarp we discovered that it didn’t look very good.  The boards were crooked, the tongue and grooves were far from perfect, and the wood had yucky watermarks all over it.  The floor company we hired to install it raised their price significantly to agree to work with this wood because it was so difficult.  We went through another great round of despair over the cost and stress of another stage in our project. It was really important to us that floor be NICE, but this wood did not seem NICE at all…..Nispero floor It was so bad that at one point we debated whether to just buy different flooring.  But somehow we perservered, and after the floor was sanded several times……thankfully the beauty of the wood revealed herself and we now find ourselves with a GORGEOUS nispero wood floor.  The color is very sweet with honey and rose tones.  Just like the fruit of nispero, which I have recently tried and it super sweet and rich.

Next on the list of projects was to sand and varnish the yayo posts that are a central feature of our house.  Remember back in the spring when we waited (and stopped our entire construction project) for TWO WHOLE MONTHS for these posts to be delivered????  These are what we waited for.  The reason we fell in love with this wood is because it has lots of undulating curves and grooves in it.  We just discovered that they are fun to look at, but not so fun to sand!  The sanding required days of tedious work. Francisco the Great Luckily for us, we found two new wonderful workers, Xavier and his son Francisco, who did a fantastic job sanding them for us.  Once sanded and varnished, the yayos radiated with beauty, and now I feel glad that we waited for this wood.  Their uniqueness adds a Yayo poststouch of Elvish beauty to our house that is truly magical.

In the midst of these projects, we have succeeded in dealing with the mystifying bureaucracy that is the Costa Rican Electrical Company and we now have electricity in our house!  This is no small feat, and has required more hours that you would believe of going around and around with different versions of information and actual installation of electrical wires and gadgets, plus many more hours waiting in line at the office, plus many glasses of wine and beer drunk to relieve ourselves of the accumulated stress of navigating our way through this mess of a maze. electric box in the mudAt one point it even involved a whole day of digging up cables that we paid twice to be installed correctly, only to find that in the end we had a muddy mess like this to deal with.  (Actually this photo was taken after it was significantly improved and cleaned up)

 

If this wasn’t enough major news to share, the other big development is that we have moved to a small guest house next door to our construction site, so that we could be present to work and manage the construction better.  This has been a long overdue move and now we are able to fully engage ourselves in all aspects of the manifestation of our house.  From the time we wake up at dawn to when we fall asleep we are thinking, working, or planning some aspect of the completion of our house.  We are planning on moving into our casita November 1, with or without walls.  The walls (or lack thereof) are a whole other story, which I will explain in a future post.  Our move, like most moves tend to be, has been quite stressful and chaotic.  The combined conditions of living on the side of very steep hill, in a very small space with no storage, during the rainy season that involves a lot of mud and wet clothes, and an 18 month old toddler has made our daily reality very dirty, wet and exhuasting.  But hey, as they say here in Costa Rica….PURA VIDA!!  Our little baskethead

Help us Raise the Roof!

So as I indicated in our last post, we are pretty stressed out about the construction of our house right now. Since that post, things have unfortunately gotten worse instead of better. We have had a complete falling out with the person who was “managing” our building project, and have decided to not continue working with him and the crew of workers he had provided for us. The ending of that relationship has been stressful to say the least. We have lost quite a bit of sleep and money over it, and probably have a few new gray hairs because of it. Major bummer. I could go into all the gory details of why it didn’t work out, but I’ll spare you the pain. Suffice it to say that one of the things we have learned in this process is not to go into business with someone who you think is your friend but you really don’t know that well. Don’t trust unless you have previous experience to know a person is trustworthy.

Somehow through all the yucky drama of our dissolving business relationship, our house is finally ready for the roof to go on, but now we are totally out of money and don’t know how we are going to pay for the roof. An even bigger major bummer. DSC_1535 (1024x685)

Despite our best efforts at making this all work on our own, we have unfortunately arrived at this point where we need to ask for help. All the beautiful wood we have used in the framework of the house is getting damaged daily by the sun and rain, and we need to get the roof on as soon as possible. Perhaps you will consider helping us. In return, you will have a place to stay in beautiful Costa Rica when our house is finished! It is going to be an awesome house in the end, once we get through all this, I promise!

Here is the link to our fundraising campaign: http://www.gofundme.com/bwtfto

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts and we look forward to welcoming you to our home!

What we have learned

Here are a few of the things that we have learned so far in our process of trying to build an eco-friendly house in a Central American country.

1.  It REALLY helps to be fluent in the language if you want to manage a building project.  It’s not just recommended, I now consider it to be mandatory.  If you don’t you will just end up very confused and frustrated and you will not feel in control of your project.

2.  If you are buying wood be sure to visually inspect it BEFORE purchasing it.  Be sure you have the right to reject pieces of wood if they don’t meet your approval.  Treat it properly with measures to prevent termites and other insect infestations BEFORE installing it in your home.  (don’t ask why we are saying this….)

3.  To maintain good vibes with workers, lavish your appreciation on them liberally.  Act even more grateful than you really may be.  Not that they don’t deserve it…..our workers have been putting in 10 hours days in very hot temperatures and they definitely deserve praise and appreciation!

4.  Despite your appreciation, know that it is often necessary to double check every thing, even if it doesn’t seem like you need to.  While this can sometimes result in workers feeling like you don’t trust or appreciate them, you still need to be vigilant. We have found errors in things as simple as counting to 12.

5.  Choose very carefully who your builders will be.  Try to find someone who can communicate well (not always an easy task, we have found)  and that you can give direction to.  Try to see samples of their work beforehand.  Ask around about their reputation.  Understand that most carpenters and builders do not have much experience in alternative building techniques and you may have to look hard for people who are experienced in the type of building you want to do.

6.  Have a ton of patience.  Things take longer than you think they should and for some unknown reason, that is just how it is.

 

I’m sure we will have many things to add to this list by the time we are done, stay tuned for more helpful hints from our experience!

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

Remember those board games we used to play as children, like Chutes and Ladders and Monopoly? On your turn you would choose a card that would direct you forward or back, or give you a fate like landing in jail or winning the lottery? It seems that in our house construction project (and by extension PAYING for our house) we have been drawing more than our fair share of bad luck cards. One after another we have drawn cards like “your car engine just died. Pay $4000 and go back 5 spaces”, or “You just unexpectedly lost your main client, go back 10 spaces”. The latest one is “the wood you waited two months for is infested with termites. Go back 3 spaces”.

We are overdue for a good card!! One that sends us joyfully forward! Something along the lines of “your workers just developed superhuman powers and can now work twice as fast, move ahead 10 spaces” or “you just won a $2000 gift certificate at your local hardware store, move ahead 5 spaces”. Or how about this one: “In your sleep you learned Spanish fluently and can now communicate perfectly even in 100% slang”. That would be a great one!

Also, in addition to just drawing bad luck cards, we seem to be stuck in some sort of Communication Twilight Zone, where people say one thing one day, and then the next day say the opposite thing and act like the previous conversation never happened. Or you talk to three different people about for example, what size diameter a pipe needs to be for the electric cable to be installed to the house, and one person says 1″, the other person says 2″ and the 3rd person says 1 1/2″. (these are all people working for the same electric company) After several days of finding the people to ask, re-asking and re-confirming WHICH is the correct diameter, you go out and get that size pipe and have it installed, only to be told later that you actually didn’t even need the pipe at all……These are small details in the big picture, but all these small details seem to be muddled with such a great amount of confusion that it has led to an extreme amount of stress.

So there. That’s where we are at today with constructing our casita. Wishing we could Pass Go and Collect $200. Who knew building a house could be this stressful? I know I’m not the only one going through this, we have been hearing plenty of similar stories from our neighbors. Some of them are way worse than our relatively mild frustrations. Like this one: our neighbors were painting the exterior of their house with a natural plaster finish and they were very particular about the color they wanted. The guy doing the work said he had painted a small test section with the color to see how it looked, and once it dried they would decide if they were going to use it or change it. The owner had this specific conversation with the guy and then went to do some other things and came back later in the day to check on the test section, only to find out that they immediately went ahead and painted his whole house! And it WASN’T the right color! It seems this would be grounds to fire someone, but sometimes when you are in the middle of a project it is difficult to just start over with a new team of people.

And so it is. As my other neighbor put it “you just have to go in and open your eyes, see what is going on, do what you can, and then close your eyes and keep going until its done.” We are learning right now that sometimes it is better to not look too closely at all the details but just keep pushing forward to get it done!

Yayo wood

Yayo wood

When you look at this wood very closely it looks like this……better to close our eyes?
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Construction Continues!

After almost two months of “mananas”, our wood has finally arrived and construction on our wee casita is underway again! Yahoo for the Yayos! The wood we have been waiting for sooooooo long is a unique wood referred to here as “yayo”.

Yayo wood

Yayo wood

It has a twisted, gnarly appearance that gives it a somewhat enchanted quality, like a tiny gnome or fairy could pop out of one of the pocketed undulations in the wood at any moment. We think they are going to make very unique and stunning posts for our casita.
The Yayos are here!

The Yayos are here!

Hopefully, this next phase of construction will go quickly and before long we will have a roof!

Random adventures with eggs

Here is a random post about some of the curious differences one finds when living in a foreign country. Many of these things have no major significance, but I find it fascinating when they challenge my assumptions about “how things are done”. “How things are done” is not the same everywhere in the world, which is one of the things that makes traveling so interesting! Take eggs, for example. In the U.S. eggs are packaged in cartons that completely encase the eggs on both top and bottom. The cartons used to be in a type of cardboard but nowadays it is becoming common to see them in several layers of plastic that will be around for thousands of years as trash. Probably when you buy them in a store they will put them by themselves in their own plastic bag(or 2), lest anything else in the bag bump into them and break them.
Here it is common to buy eggs in no carton at all, they are simply put in a small plastic bag and there you go. Or sometimes they are sitting in a cardboard type egg carton but covered on the top only with plastic wrap. And you can buy them by the kilo, so you can decide if you want to buy 3 eggs or 29 eggs, you are not limited to 6, 12 or 18. We Americans are so used to seeing them in so much packaging that we think it must be impossible to transport them any other way without them all breaking. But indeed, I can attest to the fact that I have been buying eggs for many months now with such minimal protection, and so far only one has broken getting it home from the store! And remember, the average road has potholes the size of watermelons everywhere! No matter where you are, it’s a bumpy ride!

But listen to THIS story: last week I was driving on a highway (with big potholes) and a few cars ahead of me I see a small pickup truck with the back truck bed piled HIGH with something. At one point some things fly off the back of the truck and hit the car directly in front of me. That car suddenly puts on their brakes, and I and all the cars behind me all have to slam on our brakes to not have a collision. It was a close call, but luckily, no one collided. The car in front of me gradually managed to pull over to the side of the highway and when I passed it I saw that the front of their windshield was covered in egg cartons and broken eggs! And then I passed the truck and saw that the truck was loaded up with about 30 layers deep of eggs just sitting in cartons with no other packaging or even boxes or crates to contain them. They were just crammed in the truck bed all willy-nilly. They were stacked so high they were almost falling over the top railing of the truck bed!! The top layer was basically higher than the front cab of the truck, which is why it went flying off to cover the windshield of that car! I was totally shocked and amazed at how dangerous that little scenario was.

I’ve been pondering this for some time now, and it seems that if lots and lots of eggs were breaking while being transported to the store and also from the store to people’s houses, people would come up with a better way and put them in more packaging. Economically it just wouldn’t make sense for an egg seller to lose half his eggs on the way to market. So it must be working well enough for everyone…..It’s working just fine for me, as long as I don’t get hit by a few dozen flying eggs as I’m driving down the road!

Other egg differences here…..
the eggs are not sold refrigerated (I learned that eggs can keep for quite some time unrefrigerated, but once you refrigerate them, you need to keep them that way or they will go bad)
There are no white eggs here, just brown.

A week in Beach Heaven

We spent the whole week last week in a small, colorful little beach town on the southern Caribbean coast. This part of Central America is much different than the rest of the country, with a distinctly island flair that is more similar to other Caribbean islands. There is basically no major commercial development here — no Mariotts or McDonalds, not even a marina. The local people here have had unusual success in saying “NO” to international developers that want to come in and profit off their little slice of heaven here. Instead, there are locals with a bamboo shack on the beach selling coconuts and fruit, lots of innovative, little independent restaurants, colorful street vendors, and unique little cabins, funky hostels and small hotels where you can stay and enjoy the laid back lifestyle of this land of jungle and perfect beaches.

The beaches here are among the best I have seen anywhere. There is one after another, each just as perfect and idyllic as the last, and most of the time you are sharing the beach with only a few other people, if that. The first time I went to this beach at Punta Uva I almost had to rub my eyes in disbelief, it was so perfectly beautiful it seemed like it was out of a movie set or some distant past.

Sweet beach in Playa Chiquita!

One of the things I love best about this area is that it is flat and there is just one road, and everyone bikes. There are more bicycles than cars on the road. It is wonderful! Where we live it is mountainous and a major, strenuous workout to bike anywhere, but in this area it is a leisurely bike ride to get anywhere you need to go. Our baby LOVES going on the bike and would bring me his bike helmet first thing in the morning as a message “come on Mom, let’s go on the bike!” So every day, that is what we did!

One of the most exciting things we saw while we were there was a mother sloth with her baby just outside the little house we were renting. Apparently she had just crossed the road and when we saw her she was on the ground heading toward a barbed wire fence at the edge of the property. Her baby was hanging onto her belly looking quite cozy and comfortable. She started to climb the fence, and halfway up took a nice long break, looking totally relaxed and calm. It is really something to see a sloth’s face up close. They really do look like they are smiling! And the meditative, peaceful demeanor they have is unlike any other animal I have ever seen. You can’t help but fall madly in love with them and feel inspired to adopt their slow, blissfully relaxed attitude. She did not seem afraid of us, even though we were close enough to her to touch her. This photo was not taken with a telephoto lens, that is how close we were to her!

Sloth mama and baby


She stayed “napping” on the fence for so long, we finally left her in peace and went back to what we were doing in the house, but I was wondering how she was going to climb over the barbed wire fence with a baby on her belly…..I went back out to check on her about 10 minutes later and somehow she had succeeded and was all the way at the top of a coconut tree next to the fence!

We loved it so much in this area we are considering going back and spending a month. As long as we have to wait for so long for our house to be finished, we may as well enjoy exploring Central America……

p.s. For those of you wanting cute baby footage, here is Ju-Ju enjoying the ocean in a perfectly baby friendly beach we found that does not have big waves. Alert: naked baby butt! What can I say, it was just too much effort to get a swimsuit on him as he was running around in glee!

DSC 1163 from Wee Happy on Vimeo.