Earth, fire, and waves: readying the lot for building

Late May 2008

After a couple weeks surfing and hanging out, we finally made it back to the lot we had purchased a year ago. Before leaving the country on our previous trip in June 2007, we commissioned a guy named Berto to begin digging our well. He told us that it was best to begin in the rainy season when the rock was softest. The topsoil only goes down about 6ft, after that it’s solid bedrock. They dig by hand. No shoes, no gloves, no hard hat, no eye protection. Just a man and a pick, and guy at the top pulling buckets of rocks up and then sending the bucket back down for more (see below for video of this action). He quoted a price of $2,000 for the well, the concrete topper and the hand pump. We left him with $1,200 as a deposit. In September, he called and said that at 37ft, they hit water and couldn’t go any further. He told us that the well would eventually dry up and the following Spring, at the end of the dry season, we would have to dig a few meters deeper, but once we hit water then, the well would never dry out again. So, in September we wired him the balance of $800 and agreed to go a bit deeper when we returned.

Now, at the end of May, almost a year later, we returned and were stoked to see our well for the first time. We looked inside and it was bone dry. We had planted about 18 trees the year before but only about 8 remained living. The lot was covered in tall dry weeds. There was obviously a lot of work to be done.

While Ryan caught up with Alex, another lot owner, I was happy to reacquaint myself with the puppy named “Ducha” from my previous post. A year later and she was all grown up.

This mango had grown a lot in the past 11 months!

Berto told us that this is a very sweet fruit, but the exact type was lost in translation. He said that one of the well workers had eaten it, thrown the seed on the ground, and it ended up sprouting. We used some of the rocks that had been pulled out of the well to build a protective circle around it so that it wouldn’t get lost in the weeds.

Here’s Ryan and Berto, discussing the well.

Alex came by to check it out also.

Since i’m sure you’re curious, here’s what it looks like inside. The smooth concrete sleeve goes down to where the bedrock starts and from there the rock is jagged where they have chipped away at it. No water here, not yet at least.

Berto said he would re-paint a second coat on the pump. We decided we didn’t want ours to be orange and white like everyone else’s and suggested he paint it blue. He came back with an awesome turquoise color.

Seeing the lot once again inspired Ryan to continue with the house plans.

Ryan stood on top of the rock pile to get an idea of the more elevated view.

We wanted to plant some fast growing local trees on our lot that would provide some shade since all we had already were fruit trees. Shay suggested a tree called Neem that grows really quickly and doesn’t take too much care. You can see a Neem tree in the center of the photo above. We asked Shay about where to find them and he said you could just go look for a Neem tree and below it there would be a bunch of seedlings that we could transplant. So we embarked on a hunt for Neem.

You can see a Neem tree over Ryan’s shoulder

The first Neem tree seedling we found was already about 4ft tall. It was perfect but since it was so big we would attract too much attention digging it out. It was on the side of the road and wouldn’t be considered stealing from anyone, but we were too scared to cause a scene and decided to keep hunting.

We then found another Neem tree with a bunch of small 6″ tall seedlings. These we could pull up without too many people noticing.

“Come on little Neem, you’re coming with us!”

We brought it back to our lot and planted it then circled it with rocks so that it wouldn’t get lost in the weeds.

After working in the dirt all afternoon, Ryan’s feet were super dirty!

His legs and shorts were covered in dirt too.

So he got in the shower to wash everything at once, including his sandals. “This is how a man does laundry,” he said.

After all that tree hunting, it was time to relax. I went back to the room to grab a bottle of Nicaraguan rum.

This is the owner of the hotel and godfather of the area, Shay O’Brien. Coolest guy ever.

I made up some “Nica Libres”.

Flor de Cana 12 year rum is the best i’ve ever tasted!

In this photo you can see my green bracelet. I bought it for $20 to support the nica health clinic located near Popoyo. Please see the Roberto Clemente Health Clinic link in the “Giving Back” section on the right side of the page for info on how you can contribute. All donations are doubled, making your money go even further, and are also tax deductible.

The guy in the hammock is Osmar. He works for Shay but we hired him on the side to help with maintaining our trees while we are gone. We paid him $200 for the year to clear the weeds around our trees so they didn’t get suffocated and to water them. He was very apologetic that half of the trees died and explained that the well ran out of water in November, making his job difficult without water.

One of the main goals for this trip was to begin the building process. In order to figure out where to put the house, we needed to have the head-high weeds cleared. We hired Berto to have the lot cleared. He brought in a few guys with machetes to start weed-whacking.

They told us they would cut a perimeter around the lot and then burn the weeds in the center. We weren’t very excited about the idea of burning it but they said that is how it is done. We were worried about our little trees, but they assured us that it would be a controlled burn and the trees would be fine.
To see a very short video clip of the guy digging the well and his buddies weed-whacking, hit “play” above.

That night while we were sitting at dinner, someone said, “look at that fire over there!” I immediately realized it was our lot and jumped up from the table to run over and get a closer look.

We weren’t very happy that they were burning everything. Ryan kept saying, “it’s a good old fashioned slash and burn!” We were worried about the fire depleting the soil and about our trees getting burned.

This is me, checking it out with Berto, the night watchman, Felipe, and his daughters.

The next morning we were saddened but not surprised to see that five of our remaining 8 trees were burned in the fire. Next time we’ll pay them extra to chop the whole lot and not use any fire! Here’s Ryan tending to a smoked out lime tree that hopefully will survive.

My friend Kristin Wilson lives in the area, working for Century 21 selling real estate. We used to compete together in the NSSA back when we were in high school. I hadn’t seen her too many times since then, so it was good to catch up.

This is Ryan with our new friend “Tio Kevin”, a merchant marine who also owns property in the area.

Kristin invited us over to check out the house she rents right on the beach to get ideas for the house we would build. We were very impressed. It featured an enclosed bedroom with air conditioning, but the rest of the house was open to the outdoors and artfully decorated.

The view from her living room.

The view of the living room from outside.

Back at our lot, we had noticed that our neighbor installed a fence. We decided we should do the same. Ryan decided we should have two entrances to the fence with a half-circle driveway. In order to mark out where the gates should be, he drove back and forth in the truck.

Using the marks left by tires, we could see exactly where the gates to the fence should be.

We then had Berto install the fence.

Have you ever seen a shinier barbed wire fence?

This is Chevello, the caretaker at Shay’s hotel. He had a lot of good information to share. We asked Shay who might be the best guy to talk to about building our house. Shay and Chevello both agreed that Don Emilio was “the man”.

We found Don Emilio and he came over to discuss ideas. We decided that we would start by building the caretaker’s house, a small 400 sq ft “studio” with just the basics. We told him we wanted it to be more or less the size of the bathroom building with the same type of roof and similar shape.

Don Emilio measures the bathroom building while Ryan watches.

We then walked out to the lot to show Don Emilio what he would be working with and discuss where to put it on the property.

You can see the ground charred by the fire with a few isolated fires still burning up small piles of weeds that didn’t get consumed by the first blaze.

Don Emilio looked into the well and noticed it was dry. He asked us if we had consulted a divining rod prior to digging. While some people had suggested we try that, we had decided against it. We were worried they might tell us to put the well in a place we didn’t want it, like right in the middle of the lot. Ryan also being a cynic, didn’t want to even bother with something so silly.

Besides being a contractor, Don Emilio also happens to be the pastor of the local church. He was incredulous that we hadn’t consulted a diving rod. He pulled off an extra piece of barbed wire, un-twisted it into two pieces, held one in each hand out in front of him and started walking the perimeter of the lot.

Berto, a member of Don Emilio’s congregation dutifully followed a few feet behind him on his walk.

After turning the second corner, Ryan joined in the parade.

When the boys returned to the starting place, Don Emilio said, “no hay agua,” and starting laughing. No water? Ryan didn’t think it was very funny and started panicking that they would never find water. He calls himself a realist although he definitely tends towards the pessimistic side. I was optimistic and held out hope. “They might just have to go deeper than expected,” I reasoned. “They’ll find water,” I tried to assure him.

Berto agreed with my optimism, and they kept digging.

The very next morning, Ryan and I walked out to the lot to do our daily surveying and peeked into the well. We were both thrilled! At the bottom was a small pool of water reflecting the light filtering in from above. WATER!

In this photo you can see a few pockets of reflection. It’s not a lot of water, but it’s a reassuring sign. They won’t have to go much deeper now.

With water in the well even at the driest time of year, Osmar wouldn’t have any trouble keeping our trees alive this year. So, we went back to the vivero to buy some more to replace those that died of thirst or fire.

Osmar said the trees would be better planted after the first rain, so we left them in their bags for him to plant in a few weeks. We agreed to pay him $40 a month to keep the entire lot clear (rather than just around the trees) so that the weeds wouldn’t have the chance to grow to a height where they would have to be burned.
Oh yeah, we surfed too and the waves were pretty fun!

The end of Ryan’s vacation time had come. After three weeks off, he finally had to return to work. On our way back to the airport we came across a parade.

This guy on the horse saw me taking a picture and saluted me with his beer!

Check back soon. Next post – the building begins!

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