Sunday, 26 February 2012

Week 9 is over

View from above-2nd floor

The "deck" seen from below

View from the balcony

Peones on the second floor
Framing the window of the ensuite bedroom, 2nd floor

Stop for ceviche on the way to San Jose

Monday, 20 February 2012

Week 8 is over

Week 8 - another hot week up at the project - with summer in full swing by 8am its already sweaty allround! Being the last week with 'Maish International' on site (aka my Israeli architect friend) there were 1001 things that needed confirming and 'clarifying' before we headed up to San Jose on yet another shopping spree. Monday and Tuesday were all about assembling the panacor walls of the second floor, carving out the windows. The 'panacor' system being the optimum material for our Jungle Villa's structure because of its durability, construction technique (much quicker than 'block', light weight and temperature control (once complete and finished with stucco. Then there was the running back and forth between local glass and aluminium suppliers. By the middle of the week we had yet another Montoya brother on site (it really is a family show here in Tres Rios), this time in the shape of an electrician. What started off as being an incredibly complicated 'planta electrica' with a clash of Costa Rican and European symbology, instalation techniques and cultures, after a few hours actually walking through each living area imagining how each indrpendant space would be used and enjoyed by our 'eco-luxury' guests - I don't think I ever realised how many options there were!! In a nutshell, lots of three-way switches, dimmers and uplighting will be the final touches of the retreat! 

Special thanks to Maish International (in the form of DonDon) for all his patience and help in whats been a hugely productive last 4-5 weeks!!! Will be very interesting to see how the next few weeks go without my 'in-house' architect on site and at hand!!!

Also, meet the team (they've been a little camera shy until now) and some great inspiration from a local project whose roof construction was constructed out of bambu (guadua) and of course the last sunset of the working week!!!
Photos courtesy of Don Don and 'Maish International'

Week 8 

Roof with Bamboo structure
The project manager managing things :)
The second floor
House on the beach next to a watermelon plantation

Amazing sunset on the beach

Monday, 13 February 2012

Week 7 - Our water supply goes missing again & toilet smuggling!

The view from the kitchen
The week started well, how we have reached week 7 already I have no idea! After some careful negotiations with our contractors Alex & Marvin, they agreed to throw more labour into the project as things were starting to slow a little. 
In the meantime Don and I successfully managed to paint the better half of the rear of the ever so important retaining wall with a thick impermeable, supposedly waterproof, layer of bitumen. With a battered roller & paintbrush, we were done by lunchtime and then proceeded to spend the rest of the day trying to clean ourselves up while the workers cheekily smiled, the penny slowly dropping in terms of why no-one had opted to do this messy job so far!
Back to admin - getting final quotes for stone finishes for the bathrooms, talking with glass suppliers (gone are the days that glass is actually just called 'glass', nowadays one has to choose from tempered, raw, natural, frosted, polarized, pure, re-inforced, semi-pure, naturally tempered, 6mm, 8mm, clear, bronzed, bla bla bla then translate these all into 'Costa Rican' spanish and you start to understand how long things can take!
Then came the drama of no water - AGAIN! Unfortunately just when we are ready to pour concrete - AGAIN! Understandably, the team starts to get vexed, turning to me for answers and solutions. We had already invested 'mucha plata' in the repairs last time round, just a few weeks ago (our water supply coming from a river a couple of kilometres up in the mountains). While the 'developer', who initially put in the infrastructure, is on the other side the world, there is/will be no long term solution, we have no choice but to re-schedule events and play the waiting game to see if the tricks we pulled will result in the arrival of the much needed constant flow of river water one requires for a successful construction project.
As the week progressed, our patience was continually tested as we now waited for the final architectural & electro-mechanical plans to come through from San Jose - I know, it does seem a trifle strange not to have the complete set by now, given that we are already 7 weeks into the project. How we have managed 'improvising' and bouncing between 5 sets of 'old' plans is a miracle - I guess that's where the 'mas o menos' (more or less) Tico culture comes into its element!
Second floor
By Wednesday afternoon we had the 'all clear' that they would be arriving via 'Encomienda' to Cortes just a half hour from the project. This 'encomienda' system - Costa Rica's answer to Fedex (obviously without the door-to-door service within 24 hours!) seems to work via the public transport & bus system. (I say 'seems to' as nothing ever happens the same way here, the words regular and consistant have been replaced long ago with, yup you guessed it, 'mas o menos!')
View from the deck into the jungle
With another useful 'inspection' with our engineer, where we confirmed the designs and implementation of the giant columns that will seemingly grow from the canopy below the jungle villa, supporting our rather large western facing 'hanging' deck I was starting to feel very excited of the form the house is taking. 
The second floor
With the 'structure' almost complete, one can now walk around both levels of the house (albeit clutching onto poles and climbing up ladders) and genuinley feel how the 'experience' will unfold - happy to say it is just like I had visualized, with the real 'impact' coming when you climb the stairs, 'dar la vuelta' (turn around) and are presented with a 250+ degree  view of the jungle canopy and then the open valley below leading to the River Terraba and the Pacific Ocean - very 'pura vida mae'!
Boquete, Panama
After staying up all night Wednesday, going through the electrical plans, (Alex wanted ANSWERS before we disappeared on our second shopping trip to Panama) a blurry eyed Joe and Don swung by the project to check all was clear before we hit the road for Panama. 
Thank G-d for good Panamanian roads otherwise I don't think my poor 23 year old Toyota Hilux would have made it back! There are a 1001 great things about Costa Rica, but the roads aren't really one of them! After all the regular dramas, chaos, form filling queues and stamps required to cross the border, our depleted team was now reduced to three as our unprepared muppet Tico friend tried to cross the border with nothing more than a half filled in customs slip - the whole idea was that with more people, we can 'import' more tax-free Panamanian goods, with the limit being strictly controlled at $500 per person. As Elcer sheepishly headed back to Costa Rica by foot, we headed onto David.
Two days later, with the car loaded with AC units, 'cagaderos' (toilets - unfortunately not of the hanging kind), door locks, aluminium rails for our sliding doors and the remainder of the showers and taps that weren't in stock first time round we confidently headed back 'home'. Yet again, another productive road-trip with a well needed visit to the beauriful hot springs of Boquete in between.
Naively arriving at the border with the car quite clearly overloaded (I'll assume no-one from customs reads this blog!), our 'excess' shopping clumsily 'hidden' under the seats, we are again waved through at the border and police check - having stopped for a juice just before, a local had told me they had recently found a truck full of guns, I guess a couple of 'gringos' branding a 'I've been to Panana' shirt and a shiny white Panama hat, loaded with one too many toilets (to say the least) wasn't their main priority - apparently we don't look like gun runners...

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Week 5 & 6 - Shopping trip to Chepe, Panama & Costa Rica's largest bamboo plantation!

Has it really been two weeks since I 'blogged'??? As things heated up in Tres Rios and progress was going relatively fast at the site, it was time to make some final decisions (and purchases) for the first Jungle Villa. With such limited selection in terms of finishes & 'griferia' (taps & showers) available at the coast a recce was in order up in Costa Rica's capital San Jose. The drive up was long, dusty and emotional, as Kika was leaving after 3 brilliant weeks only to be 'replaced' by a much less attractive Israeli architect friend of mine 'Dondon' - buen rosho ;)

Running round San Jose for a few days was both exciting and maniac. Emotional Airport drop-offs, broken computers, endless queueing for new car number plates eventually made way for more productive 'reuniones' first at Ziruma where we eventually made final decisions on our natural stone 'finishes' for the bathrooms, shower areas and even the plunge pool (for when we get the building permits through!!) We have also 'reserved' two custom made 'lavamanos' (sinks) that are carved out of a smooth and creamy natural stone, that will look beautiful on top of our contemporary poured and polished concrete units.

My car with the new plates, at last!
Next step was ConstruPalaza, with the contractor wanting final decisions on toilet fittings and sizes, my heart was set on a minimalist 'suspended' design - surprising to think how strong one's feelings can grow towards a model of toilet!!! In true Costa Rican 'mas o menos' fashion, the assistant told us she thought they were out of stock and it would be a while until their next delivery - since then we've had optimistic delivery dates as early as two weeks, only to be followed by another phone call with a rather different story of three and a half months!!! The search for hanging toilets continues!!

After being sent round in circles to a every governmental department in the eternal quest to get my new number plates for the hilux I was starting to go insane - the sheer level of beaurocracy had surpassed itself, to the extent that even the 'registro' workers themselves were confused as to which piece of paper had to be stamped, certified, annotated, signed and logged, and then which pile was its final destination???
Progress at week 5
Not to mention the different queues and buying stamps - literally too much 'non-sensical' insanity to write in a blog - maybe one day I'll write a book!!
Eventually made it back to the project and the progress was impressive. The foundations were in and the retention wall at around 2 metres (of its final 3metres plus - that will be the height of the entrance & ground floor).

Progress at week6
The quest for 'better value' (and MUCH lower VAT taxes) took us on a wee road trip to neighbouring Panama. After a couple of hours at a typically chaotic border town of Canoas we were safely into Panama and with the improved roads (ie roads that are actually made of asphalt without pot-holes) we made it to David. After rallying round for a day-and-a-half we headed back 'home' with a truck load of taps, plumbing fittings, shower heads, 2 jerry cans of gasoline and a large bottle of Flor de Cana rum for good measure. As we approached the second line of customs and police checks, the nerves set in, there was 'apparently' a limit in terms of the 'legal' amount of goods one could 'smuggle' across the border. With our intense shopping spree, I feared we were dangerously close...It turned out that 4pm seemed to be the ideal time to cross the checkpoint, a sole policeman lay in a hammock, boots kicked of sipping his afternoon cafe - Pura Vida ;) as he slowly waved us past...

Casa de los peones (workers)
The progress continued back at the site with the foundations complete and the structural steel beams starting to show us the final shape of the ground floor. A couple of days up at the site 'mucking in' with the 'sapo' and 'pala' I think I convinced Marvin that I count as 'medio-peon' when required...

Next stop Perez Zeledon and Costa Rica's largest bamboo plantation.

Bamboo Tico
We needed quotes and measurements with things at the site going to schedule. Guadua, a very strong and resistant bamboo relative seems to be perfect for the structure of the roof while 'tableta' will be what we will use for the detail of the sliding teak panels that surround the entire living areas.Lastly, we decided on ornamental bamboo for the 'cielorazzo' or roof detail.

View into the jungle from the deck
By the time we were back at the site, yet another week of construction had come to an end - ground floor bedroom concrete poured and the 2nd floor structure taking shape - being able to stand on the second floor (where the open-plan living area will be) and for the first time actually see what the view from 3 metres up will be like - stunning!!!!

Feeling confident that our first clients in June will indeed be able to enjoy the full 'pura vida experience' in our complete jungle villa...
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