Dec 16, 2011

Christmas in the Jungle

Yesterday we celebrated Christmas in a Mayan village about an hour and a half from here. Chumpon was ‘adopted’ a few years ago by people in PaaMul, and is about quite a way off the main roads. This is where we built a school library last year.
For a few years a convoy of Paamulians have brought Santa with presents for all the kids in the village. It started with the school kids but has been expanded to include the pre-school children.

Our rotund white-bearded dive shop master, John, serves as and excellent Santa much to the delight of the more than a hundred children.

Susan and our neighbor Dot, took on the new project of the preschool tots.
Through the summer and fall, Susan shopped for toys, stuffed animals and things like coloring books, for their xmas gift bags. Another woman in the park, Debbie, sewed lovely little bags with straps to hold all the treats.
The preschool teacher, Claudia, got most of her little ones to dress in red and white, and we were quite amazed how patient and well-behaved they were.

First we all had snacks and cake, then they lined up to have a go at the piñata. What a hoot. There is a special song that goes with the piñata attack, and one after another of the little ones had a whack. It resisted quite a while amidst much laughter.

Then the gift bags were given out, completing what for many of the kids might be their first Christmas memory.
It was over in a couple of hours, we were exhausted, and drove home for afternoon naps.

We are floored!

Once we pick our floor, we better be sure as it is what we will be living with.
Walls can be painted, covered with fabric, but ....
The typical floor in this part of the world is ceramic tile. We went through some drama choosing the tiles for our palapa three years ago. (After looking at many, found one we liked, ordered it, the wrong one came, went looking again in a rush, found another tile, drove to the warehouse about an hour away, brought it back in our truck, had it installed, and now are only moderately happy with it -- oh well.)

With another opportunity to choose flooring, we were trying some thinking outside the box. Several friends here have pulled carpets from their rvs and replaced them with laminate. I like laminate. I have installed it several times over many years. As laminate is made with an absorbent base, is not recommended for kitchens and bathrooms. Some of what I read on line, cautioned about its use in humid conditions like new concrete, particularly in this climate.
We looked at solid bamboo flooring, but it was pricey, and meant to be nailed to a subfloor. I couldn’t see how that would work for us.
Then one afternoon, we were in another floor design place and saw these displays of travertine. Wow! This is the stuff that is used in deluxe places like hotels, and up-scale malls, and museums.
It turns our that there is a type of travertine that is mined from a quarry near Puebla (Mx) that had some lovely subtle colors and we thought would be a nice shift from our ‘outside’ palapa area to our ‘inside’ casita.
With our two and a half rooms being only 32 sq. M (345 sq. ft), it was something we decided we could afford.

Like many other aspects of this renovation, once again we were fortunate that it has gone smoothly. They had the material in stock and could start as soon as we were ready. Two guys have been here for the last three days and this morning the floor is going to get final polishing and sealing.
Then paint, then electrical, then furniture, then...

Dec 13, 2011

As the dust settles

At last we brought out the brooms for a proper cleaning. It has been over a month that we have lived in this construction zone. Several times a day, I would grab a broom, shovel or rake in an effort to control the detritus.

Building out of cement involves a lot of grit and dust. Most of the materials - gravel, sand and especially cement are dusty. The same for the stucco, floor adhesive and grout which comes in bags of fine powder. Our hallway at the front entrance has been the storage place for the bags and bags of these powders.
I also created my share of dust, in my role as the electric guy. As the floor, walls and roof went up, I was in there with the diamond blade side grinder to cut all the outlets for the conduits, plugs, plug switches and lighting outlets.
I also was busy with the heavy chisel removing the old floor tiles adhesive and grout along the modified line of the hallway. Pounding a chisel was slow and brutal work, chipping away as though I was working on a rock pile. Still it seemed a bit meditative, swinging away for as long as my hands could take it, resting and going again.
Each pour of cement seemed to include a lot of chipping away where the edges and corners were not quite right. The forms (wood framework for cement pours) are heavily recycled boards of many sizes, and not always a good fit. It seems it is easier / cheaper to chip away the spillover areas than to spend money on good lumber.

Some of the last pieces our albanils installed were glass block windows in the bedroom. Once again Lucio and Gilberto mixed more emulsion of white cement and their part was nearly done.

For the whole month we had some plastic sheets hanging between our kitchen and the work zone to create a little separation between the building area and our living area. These come down yesterday, and today the last bits of cleaning will be done. For now.

Dec 4, 2011

Raise High the Roof Beams, Albañils

The masons who are putting up our casita are called “albañils” in Spanish. I think the old adage which in other parts has been used to refer to Italians, Portuguese and other nationality’s tradesmen, can be used to refer to a typical Mexican, that “he is born with a trowel in his hand!”
Much of Mexico is made of cement blocks, and what isn’t made of cement is made of our other palapa materials -- wood poles and ceramic tile. Very little except doors and furniture is made of lumber. As we have travelled through Mexico it is noteworthy to go through any small region where there are buildings made of boards.

The roof of our casita will be made of cement beams and cement blocks like the rest of the exterior. The cements roofs are assembled in an ingenious method and will be very strong, I’m sure.

Once the walls are up, cement beams are laid across the span of the rooms. These beams are made in the shape of an upside down “T”. They are set to a precise distance apart into which are placed the roof blocks. The roof blocks are shaped with ledges that fit between the beams, dropping into place, side by side, forming a continuous flat interior, ready for stucco.
The roof raising was not a job for the old and weak like me, as the beams weighed about 100 lbs and the huge blocks close to 50 lbs each. It added up to a lot of brute muscle work.

Then more forms are assembled around the upper parameter, and filled with rebar and concrete. The topside is then covered with a steel mesh and covered with a couple more inches of poured concrete, making a solid roof.
When all the forms were fixed in position, my ceiling electrical conduits in place our crew was ready to mix and pour.

This got going about 3 p.m.. Once again we had the motorized cement mixer on hand, making a combination of old methods and the new. Several batches were mixed in the machine, poured into a pool on the ground, then shoveled into pails and lifted hand to hand up a ramp to the roof where it was poured and trowelled.
Dusk arrived at 5:30, and the mixing and pouring went on.
I strung up a few lights from the palapa rafters, and the five guys kept going until the pour was done. With the cleanup of tools and equipment, the guys sat down at 9 p.m. to well earned pizzas and beer.