Category Archives: Building

Nibbling at the Edges

Staring at the formless void of the entire job, my husband looked a bit bleak. I had spent hours imagining various landscaping ideas. But as our friend Bill Salomon said of housebuilding, in the end, it builds itself. Form follows function. One day at a time, Poco a poco. Whatever.

We decided on two driveways; one upper one lower. The bottom entrada needed a ramp, so we made one using a bulldozer. That created the need for two retaining walls.  “Huh, that looks messy and if water comes down that gully it will erode the driveway. Bet some rocks would help.”

The first one I built myself, laying one rock on top of the other, puzzling out how they fit together solidly until somehow it became a sitting height wall. Then we backfilled it and started planting.

Francelin looked at it, smiled kindly, or maybe smirked,  and started making more walls where earth might otherwise slide or an edge needed tidying.  Needless to say, his are much finer than mine, especially since he can maneuver rocks weighing  more than he does with the delicacy and precision of a Japanese netsuke master, using only his hands and a large baretta.

I walked in one day and there where there had been only a weeded slope was a tidy little bench terrace. So I filled it with walking iris, succulent flowering sedum, and pineapple plants. Then we put in a massive dry rock wall to hold the driveway, and it seemed logical to terrace and put in a bed to use the earth that had been between the rocks.  The place that is windiest seems a good place for lavender, but further in, I need to start some things to eat, like kale and lettuce, and then there need to be some things to hold the slope, and my friend has some coffee plants that a client is ripping out, that are bigger than mine. A jump start on having our own coffee. So bit by bit the area around the road in is taking shape.

Thanks to photographer Gloria Davis

Terraforming

All I really need is for the river to allow me two trucks and a bulldozer. Maybe three trucks. I need gravel (grava) and coarse sand (arena gruesa) for the foundation of the toolhouse, and fine sand (arena fina) to mix mortar. My bricks will be fired in ten days, says my ladrillero, so no rush on the fine sand, says the maestro. I say rush, as the river may abate on a day that the road is blocked by a landslide, or the bulldozer operator has a toothache, or there is a week-long fiesta. The bulldozer has to carry all of our leftover supplies from building the pumphouse up to the bodega site, and tidy up all the mess at the site.  After that all the bulldozer has to do is flatten a few areas, push a few piles of rocks, and dig out some terraces.

All it has to do, say I, with desperate optimism. Actually I am pretty nervous about the terraforming. The topography of the land is rather lovely, but it doesn’t hold the water long enough, so the objective of the bulldozing is to help with permaculture, but without wanton destruction and burying of topsoil.  There are two driveways; one at the bottom and one at the top. The rock piles from the building of the road present the first dilemma. Either they should be shoved over to the boundary fence, which is made up of live young porotilios, for eventual use on a stone boundary wall, or they should be pulled down to the next level to broaden the top of the hill. The downside of the first option is that I may hurt the porotilios, which were planted last year and will be a live fence, in order to plan for a stone wall that I may never get around to. The downside to the second option is that the breadth I add to the top of the hill may need years to stabilize, and may just be a big mess. I’d like the top of the hill to be a possible home site, because the view is spectacular, and it is convenient to the road so we wouldn’t need to big driveway destroying land.  So that is something I hope will be resolved by facts I don’t have yet.

About 20 meters in from the top entrance, the land drops a little. If I were to flatten the whole area, it would make for a pretty homesite. However if we did less damage, it would make a lovely split level site, which the property really lends itself to. My conclusion on this is that if we do less damage now, we can change our minds later. So all I really need to do is deal with the big row of rocks from the road building that was done years ago, and flatten the area enough to start landscaping the entrance.

1/15/2017

We managed to get one more day in before the rains swelled the river again. All the materials have been carried up from the lower site where we built the pumphouse. All sand. coarse sand, rocks, and bricks have been delivered. We had to break the bricks into half loads in a smaller truck so that we wouldn’t exceed the bridge’s 5 ton limit.

2/1/2017

Bodega built, small argument about a price increase on the roof welding, doors and windows fabricated and installed.

Who’ll Stop the Rain

 

In Ecuador seasons are either wet or dry. While occasionally the rainy season here in the sierras can feel hotter because of the humidity, it really isn’t. It is cool and pleasant at night, just right for a light blanket, and sometimes the pattering on the roof is just what I need to fall asleep. The mist rising out of the newly greened mountains in the morning is lovely, and the rivers rush down…..the streets.

Sometimes it rains so hard the locals say it is a lavado. A wash. No time to soak in.  A heavy rain in Vilcabamba rolls golf ball sized rocks down the street. Families without the traditional horse-mounting high sidewalks brush gravel off their porches. Storm drains?  Ha! Somebody had that clever idea who either wasn’t from here or just wanted the work. All storm drains are full to the top with gray sand. From our apartment I can see the street turn into a fast moving river. Of course is it gone in less than an hour, leaving the street sandy but clean.

Out at the property it is a different matter. Our bridge is big and has aletas, wings, so the river won’t get behind it, but the rains bring huge amounts of water down from the Podocarpus National Park. The river becomes wild and muddy, and not until it drops below a certain big square boulder can we bring across it the trucks and heavy machinery that exceed the bridge’s weight limit. You see my problem. Had it not been for Burrocracia, we would have gotten all the construction and terraforming done before the rains.  Now we wait with bated breath for a day and a night without rain. If that happens, we pressure the operators and pray that they won’t blow us off for a bigger client. Not everybody has our particular set of issues, so I am hoping for tomorrow or the next day, -like I always do.

All I really need is for the river to allow me two trucks and a bulldozer. Maybe three trucks. I need gravel (grava) and coarse sand (arena gruesa) for the foundation of the toolhouse, and fine sand (arena fina) to mix mortar. My bricks will be fired in ten days, says my ladrillero, so no rush on the fine sand, says the maestro. I say yes to rush, as the river may abate on a day that the road is blocked by a landslide, or the bulldozer operator has a toothache, or there is a week-long fiesta. The bulldozer has to carry all of our leftover supplies from building the pumphouse up to the bodega site, and tidy up all the mess at the site.  After that all the bulldozer has to do is flatten a few areas, push a few piles of rocks, and dig out some terraces.

All it has to do, say I, with desperate optimism. Actually I am pretty nervous about the terraforming, see post. But days go by, demoras after demoras. Sometimes it is the rain, and sometimes it is a polite lie. Today the sky is as blue as the flag of Bavaria, and the soft fresh breeze barely stirs the branches of the nispero tree in front of my window. I may ask my neighbors if they would like to go get some deadwood for their pizza oven. We are in Ecuador. Poco a poco.