Sunday, January 18, 2015

Concrete Floors are Next!

During the last week, the construction workers have been doing lots of hauling of dirt and compacting, laying of tubes and pulling wire preparing to pour the concrete floors.  Juan Carlos, our engineer, came to the site to go over the things that would be "set in concrete" once the floor is poured.  For example, where we want outlets, water, gas lines, etc.

As we've mentioned before, string is drawn across the pegs in the ground to determine the height of the concrete.  The pegs will be covered and remain under the concrete.

This photo shows the pegs as well as the tubing that contains the electrical, gas, telephone and internet wiring.

In the kitchen the number of tubes is extensive.  There will be an island in the middle with a gas stove top, a sink, and electrical outlets, all of which require tubing.  The logistics of the whole process are mind boggling to me and once again I have thoughts of "How the heck does this all work!"  Growing up in a family of builders and woodworkers and being married to Don, I have a pretty good concept of how wood construction works.  Unfortunately, concrete is quite another story and a learning experience for both of us.

Once all the electrical, gas and water lines are perfect a wire mesh is put down to eliminate cracks in the concrete.

It goes everywhere!  This is one of the outside corridors.

Each load of concrete is brought to the area where it is needed by wheel barrel. 

 Once the concrete has been dumped and spread with a trowel it is then secreted with a board by hand.

The finished Guest Bathroom and Bedroom.


Everyday truckloads of one type of construction material or another make the journey down our road and up our driveway.  Most days all goes well, but not always.  The other day an empty truck sat in our road for quite some time unable to get up the last bit of our road.  Whether mechanical problems or driver problems we were not sure.
 This truck loaded with bags of concrete and re-bar had it's own problems.  Heading up the hill in the wrong gear and making a rather ungraceful shift, causing the re-bar to hit the road, bow up and send the bags of concrete onto the driveway.

Approximately 9 bags left the truck.

The up side for us is that we now have a partially concreted driveway.  

The down side for the workers was a lot of extra work to put the spilled concrete into wheel barrels, and push them up the hill until they are needed.  

 At least when day is done they have this beautiful, peaceful view to enjoy before the start of another day of work.

Coffee, Coffee, Coffee!

While the construction of our house goes on with just a bit of input from us, we are busy near by "picking" coffee.  "Picking" because mostly our workers pick the coffee.  We help at the end of the day to count each person's haul and take the coffee to the recevador.

Avelardo is our happiest picker, our friend and a full time employee of ICE, the government electric company here in Costa Rica.  We are happy to have him join us whenever he has a free Saturday.

Avelado's family makes up a good percentage of our pickers this year.  Starting from left to right are Sebastian, his son, Mairith, his sister-in-law and Jumary, his daughter.  Juslania, his wife picks on days that Jumary does not.

 Our pickers this year are all local and come mostly from two families that live in Berlin.  The family above and Olga's, in the pink shirt, and her three children, Joselin, Susana and Antony.  We love having them as our pickers and it makes the job much more fun for us.
Here the day is coming to an end and each picker gets their coffee measured and written down to get paid on Saturday.  The coffee is counted by Cojuelos which is the metal box that the coffee is being poured into in the photo.  

 Mairith is taking a break at the end of the day waiting for the coffee to be counted.

 Once all the coffee that has been picked a particular day has been counted and securely tied into sacks, it is loaded in the back of our Galloper.  Affectionately called "POS", the Galloper is a great workhorse but has certainly spent a large amount of time in the repair shop. 

 Roberto carries the sacks to the car and Don adjust them.  It is amazing how many sacks we can fit in that back area.  I think we have had as many as 26.  If we pick more than that we need to take two trips to the recevador.

 If we do not need to fold the back seat forward, the pickers usually ride to the recevedor with us.  If the car is too full for the many pickers and the coffee, we run the pickers home and then return and take the coffee to the recevedor.  Many days we have 3 people in the front seat, 3 in the back, 2 in the way back and a couple hanging on the outside back! Oh, and we also may have a couple dogs!

Now that we have arrived at the recevedor, Cholo is untying the sacks so that the coffee can be dumped into the 1/2 Fenaga bin. We pay the pickers by the Cojuelos and we are paid by the Coop per Fenaga which is made up of 20 Cojuelos.

Olga, Juslania and Sebastian watch as the coffee is dumped from the sacks to the bin at the Recevador.

Dedier and his sister work the Recevador where we take our coffee. In the background is the abacus where Dedier keeps track of the number of times the bin is filled.

 The berries being poured into the bin.  Once the berries fill the bin the handles seen on the side are pulled together in the center and the bottom falls out.  The berries fall onto a conveyor belt and eventually into a very large truck that takes them to Palmares to the Coop that processes our coffee.

Dedier, our happy Recevador worker is also a member of the family who sells us milk.  He always has a smile and a word or two in English for the Gringo Coffee Farmers!  Berlin is so small that there are connections everywhere!

Veronica, Dedier's sister, and student of English, keeps a record of the number of Fenagas each farmer  brings to the Recevador and hands us a Voucher as we leave.  Our calucations and theirs may be a little different at times but it all works out in the end!

 And another beautiful ending to a beautiful day!  The views and sunsets here are a daily occurrence and each one is different!  It is difficult not to grab the camera!!

Sunday, January 11, 2015


Moving right along, the walls of the first floor are finished with holes for windows, and all kinds of pipes added for future wiring and plumbing.  Building by concrete involves a lot of "thinking ahead" and we are very impressed with the people working on our house from the Architect/Engineer to the Contractors, Foremen and the Laborers. Our experience working with wood is little help to us here and is far more forgiving. 

 Little by little the headers are created become part of the walls.  The re-bar forms for the headers are built by the men on the side of the bodega with simple tools to form and metal strips to tie.  They are bent and tied to meet the measurements required and then positioned and secured.

It almost doesn't look real!

A view through a window at the front of the house.

When there is talk about a house being made by hand here it is meant literally.  Very few machines or fancy equipment are used as shown by the scaffold, ladders and wheel barrel in this photo.  Concrete is mixed in an electric mixer, however, every shovelful of gravel and concrete is added by hand and transported to where needed by the simple wheel barrels.

Headings go all around the first floor and are connected one to the other.  A little closer look to see how they are constructed.

Headers everywhere!

I mentioned that some of the windows would have arches at the top.  Those with arches are mostly the smaller windows.  The larger windows, like the one here, will have wood headers or lentels across the top.


What beautiful colors in the sky!

The men are also working on filling in and compacting the floors in the house and the corridors with the dirt they originally removed digging the trenches. .  They do have a gas compactor, but also use compactors which they have made from wood and plastic bags!  Compacting is a tedious and, I'm sure, exhausting job whether by hand made compactor or gas compactor, and there is much to do.

You can see here where they will be pouring concrete to create the base for laying tile in the house and the corridors.  They have added forms to the sides and have been compacting, compacting, compacting!

What you see sticking out of the floor is the pipe used for the electrical wiring.  

Before the concrete floor is actually poured this wire screen is laid down.

The wooden pegs shown in the next 3 photos are used as a guide to make the floor level.  The pegs have been made the same height by the use of string in a grid.

More simple but effective ways used to build homes in Costa Rica.

Last but not least, we are ending with a picture of the newly added electrical box! :)

Morning Moon and More!

We rise very early, usually 4:00 a.m. or before, and just as the hour is reaching 6:00 a.m. we are out the door to gather the pickers waiting to work that day.  After collecting the first group of pickers and heading to meet the rest, this beautiful moon caught our eye and begged to be preserved.  At the time the full moon was slightly past prime but it took nothing away from this beautiful site.  If only the photo could have captured the moment a little better.

As I was off the hook to pick today because we had many pickers, I decided to take photos of the individual rooms of the house and try to explain the layout. Here I at the front of the house--where the hot tub will be--looking at where will be a set of French Doors with stationary side lights.  To the left is the Living Room and the Dining Room on the right with the corner removed for a large window.  There are 2 windows of equal size on the Living Room side.

The hallway on the left side of this photo is leads to the "Bell Tower" and offers another Dutch Door entrance to the house.  The dirt in front of me is the Living Room and the large "wall" on the right side of the photo will be the stairs to the second floor.

We are now standing in the French Doorway that was shown in an earlier photo.  To the right are two arched windows, (Dining Room) center is an arched entry into the kitchen and to the left will eventually be the staircase to our bedroom.  The Living Room is out of the photo on the left.

A view of the Dining Room from the Living Room side showing the 2 arched windows and the one at the angled corner.

As you look down the corridor the second Living Room window is the first opening that is visible.  The corridor goes all around the house and is covered with roof held up by the many columns.  To the right is a steep embankment where coffee grows.  Continuing down the corridor you pass two arched windows located in the hallway leading from the "Bell Tower" to the  Living Room.  Next you will come to the Art/Sewing Room.

The Art/Sewing Room has 2 sets of French Doors with side lights, one set on each side of the room.  This one faces the steep hill on the same side as the above photo while the other is next to the "Bell Tower" entrance and faces the driveway.

Coming up next in line along this side of the house is the Guest Bedroom.  In the distance you are seeing Mt. Arenal, one of Costa Rica's many volcanoes.  I am standing in the Guest Bedroom looking out the entrance doorway.

A wider angled view of the Guest Bedroom doorway and window that looks onto Arenal.

Once inside the Guest Bedroom there are two small arched windows on the opposite side.  You will notice a  number of "holes" in the cement block walls.  These are for electrical items like switches, lights and plugs.  Building in concrete is very different from wood.  Concrete is not very forgiving, as we are discovering.  At this stage it is difficult to make changes and the saying "set in concrete" is very apt.

As we continue down the side of the house we pass the Laundry Room (no photo).  Walking across the end of the house and down the other side, we pass the back sides of the Guest Bathroom, Guestroom, Art/Sewing Room and run into the "Bell Tower."  Entering the "Bell Tower" front entry, we are greeted by an arched window that looks into the kitchen and a larger window to the left.  This area is called the "Bell Tower" because it is 2 1/2 stories high and will eventually have a bell!  A great place to remove muddy boots and hang jackets before entering the main part of the house.

Leaving the "Bell Tower" Entryway you pass through a small zig and zag and can choose to go left to the Kitchen or right around to the Living Room via the hallway. We are now entering the kitchen and are standing in front of the "sink" looking out a very nice large window.  Unfortunately, there is a column in the center but with so many columns, that's just the way it is.  The view is none the less spectacular and I'm sure I won't mind doing dishes there too much.  An added bonus is that the water will be warm!! :)  

Next to the sink window is a doorway with a Dutch Door.

To the left is the Dining Room window and to the right you can see the corridor on the side of the house that faces the driveway and includes the Kitchen and "Bell Tower".  Oh, yes, and the Bodega in the background which will be leaving when construction is completed, although, it is very nice to have someone always on the property!

Pura Vida!