Steve & Michael ..... Building in Boquete

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The Dream Begins Becoming a Reality ....
Week One, June 16, 2003

I should first report gas is $2.16 per gallon and the temperature right now is 67; sorry, it's a Luce thing. We're writing an update to let you know that tomorrow construction begins on the house. Can you believe it! The attached photo is of the house site before the bulldozer with a view looking from the end of the 125 foot driveway. It's the rainy season so there are lots of clouds and photography is a challenge. We've negotiated a price for labor to build the house and we will purchase the materials ourselves. Needless to say, we're a little busy right now. Tomorrow (Monday) the contractor will mark the area for the house and Tuesday a bulldozer will level the building site. Wednesday 7 trucks of gravel will arrive to cover the slippery clay driveway and make it possible for materials to be delivered. The house will be about 1200 square feet, two bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths and windows all along the west side which is the Volcano Baru view. As time permits we'll send photo updates. We're excited and nervous.

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Week 2 ...... Progressing, Soggily

For the week we only received 6.6 inches of rain and we had two days of no rain. On Monday we received almost 4 inches.

The week went well! Outside of the good work the crew is doing it has been easier on us. Three of the six workers are our neighbors at the farm. So they just walk next door to work. The other three have decided to stay in the existing house on the farm during the week. (this is the house we call our cabin). That means we don't have to get up as early in the morning to pick up and deliver the workers to the work site. Gracias Adios to that!

We have completely given up on the idea of getting materials delivered close to the house site. Instead they are being delivered to the top and are being brought down by wheelbarrow. We're talking about a 30-foot vertical drop over about 150 feet. All the sand, gravel, cement and cement blocks are being carried down. We've hired a young man to do this and he occasionally gets help from two other workers who are his brothers. We will have the driveway finished when the weather is drier. That doesn't stop the work on the house though. The foundation is done and photos are attached. Next week clay will be delivered to fill the foundation to the floor level. In case you are wondering, yes it will all have to be brought down by wheelbarrow. We expect we will need 1,400 cubic feet of clay to fill the floor and there will be 4 men with wheelbarrows hauling it to the house site. We are very pleased with Oscar, the builder, who is being very careful to make sure everything is square, plumb and level. That's unusual for house construction in this area.

Wish us luck next week because we are dependent on one truck driver to get the fill delivered.

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WEEK 3 ..... Hello to everyone and a happy Summer Solstice to all!

To give you a hint about the house project, we'll start with the weather. We've received 21 inches of rain so far this month and 12 inches of that rain came down last week.

The first week of house construction is behind us and there are two words that come to mind to describe it - mud slinging. This is not necessarily a negative thing even though we are delayed a bit because of it. As many of you know Panama is in the midst of the rainy season right now. However, there is a two-week period that usually begins right now where the rains stop and it is more like the dry season. This period is commonly called 'Verano de San Juan'. The word 'Verano' means summer and it's from 'San Juan' because there is a Catholic day celebrating Saint John on the 24th of June. So, this should be a good time to start a project, right? Well, we received a more than the usual amount of rain in the early part of the week (see the opening sentence to this email). That has made it difficult to excavate and level the area for the house. In other words, there is a lot of mud. A job that should have taken 2 days has taken 5 days. The house site excavation is complete but yesterday we came to the conclusion that the new driveway would have to wait for drier weather. This won't stop the project however. The delivery of materials will be left at the top of the new driveway. The workers will have to haul materials further to work with them but they will be able to continue with the work.

Yesterday, the first major deliveries of materials arrived. Ironically, the first truck to arrive had the 4x8 wall panels of a product called Covintec. The Covintec will be the walls of the house and you'll hear more about that subject in the future. All of the rebar was delivered and the cement and concrete blocks for the foundation will arrive early next week. The rain makes getting to the farm a problem so we are using a supplier that delivers with a 4-wheel drive truck.

One pleasant surprise this week was the appearance of a coral snake. Yep, they are very poisonous, but they have a very small mouth and are much more of a problem for a dog than a human. Attached is a photo of the coral snake with its yellow, orange and black colors. It was a beauty. Our neighbor thinks we are totally nuts for not killing the snake. Stay tuned for more. Hugs from the Chirigringos of Panama!

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Week 4 ... June 29 - July 5

What an exciting week! The house now has two of its outer walls standing and all of the footings defined for the rooms inside. It's so amazing to see something you designed on the computer come to life. It's a great feeling!

As you can guess by the first paragraph things went well this past week on the house project. We even got a couple of days without rain, which is always helpful. Included are some pictures from the project. Some of you have asked for some people pictures so we've tried to include those. The short wall shown is on the south side of the house and is the wall of the main bedroom. The long wall is on the east side with the property continuing up behind the house to an unused dead-end road about 60-70 feet away. The area of the house closest to you and without walls is the parking area first then the kitchen. The walls are made from 4x8 foot panels of a product called Covintec. This is a wire-framed panel with 2 inch Styrofoam in the center. A cement stucco will be applied to the inside and outside of the panels after the electric and plumbing has been cut into them. Covintec is a newer construction product in Panama. The finished product mimics the cement block and stucco construction, which is most common here.

Many of you have asked us when the house will be finished. I'm sure what is implied by this question is that we would be moving in once the house is finished. It's not that easy though. Right now the house may be done by the end of September. Unfortunately the process for getting electricity to the finca (farm) is going a lot slower than the house construction. Right now our estimate is that the electricity won't arrive until January 2004. The reason for this is too long of a story to tell here but let's just say that we are going to do some lobbying to see if we can get electricity earlier than this. Think electric thoughts for us, OK?

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Week 5 ... July 6 - July 13

It was a great week for everything except photographs. The photo included shows most of one wall with stucco applied. The stucco and the wire make for a very strong wall. Later another coat of stucco will be applied and it will be very smooth when it's done. During this week the septic tank was completed except for the top slab, much conduit was installed for wiring, the sanitary plumbing is done and most of the water plumbing is done. The rains have held off until late afternoon or night every day.

This week we met with the provincial general manager of the electric company. After some time discussing our situation, he overrode all his staff's decisions and gave us an October 31st install date for electricity. We are thrilled! We expect to sign the contract and pay for the installation on Monday. IF everything goes well, we might be able to move in November. We're not holding our breath though.

Week 6 ... July 14 - July 21

There's not much to report this week. The electrical conduit in the walls has been completed as have all the gas and water plumbing. Almost all of the first layer of cement has been applied to the walls and 2/3 of the roof supports are welded and installed. Attached are photos of the workers.

Oscar is the contractor and a jack of all trades Juan, Oscar's son is a mason and very good at installing Covintec. David is our neighbor and the oldest of the brothers (Olmedo & Noriel). There is a 4th brother not working on the project. All of them are excellent workers. David a a construction helper who digs ditches, hauls cement, mixes cement and does whatever unskilled tasks there are. Olmedo is another construction helper. Noriel is another construction helper who also knows about assembling Covintec Roberto is the welder Ruben is the electrician and Oscar's brother Generoso is a mason and electrician and Oscar's brother.

Oscar has 11 brothers and sisters.

Enjoy! Steve & Michael

 

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Generoso
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Ruben
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Roberto

Noriel
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Olmedo
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David
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Juan
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Oscar
Week 8, August 10th

Hello everyone,

There is a tradition in Panama where you fly a red flag once the roof is on and have a mondongo and beer party for the workers. Mondongo is tripe (not the Door County kind, Dale) and is cooked with water, potatoes, carrots, peas, peppers, celery, cilantro, onions, garlic and tomato paste. After some discussion, Oscar said he'd cook the mondongo over an open fire at the construction site. That's what happened and we enjoyed beer, mondongo, rice, beet and potato salad, bread and Michael's chocolate chip cookies with all the construction workers. Michael fed his mondongo to the dogs; the texture of mondongo is too gushy.

Week8-5 is a shot of Steve with David and David's puppy named Mani Blanca (White Peanut in English). David made the outdoor cook stove that consisted of an upside down barrel, sand and two cement blocks with the fire between the blocks. It worked perfectly. In the background are the west wall of the house and the supports for the deck.

Week8-13 is a shot of Oscar, the contractor, stirring the pot of mondongo. The blue tarp was to keep the wind from blowing too much.

Week8-20 shows the red flag and our mondongo buffet. The images on the tablecloth are of Thanksgiving. Seemed appropriate...

As of Saturday, the crew has been reduced to two skilled workers and two helpers. We are at the final phase where most of the work involves applying the last coat of cement to the walls, squaring and cementing the window and door casings and pouring the floors.

Constructingly,

Steve & Michael

 

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About Week 10, Aug 27th

Hi everyone.

At this stage in house construction there is progress being made but nothing very photogenic. So that means there really hasn't been anything that interesting to report.

The project continues steadily. After getting four bids for windows we've chosen a company. The window people will be coming in about a week to get the final measurements then the windows will be made and delivered. It will take about 12 days to make the windows. We've ordered the kitchen counter top. We will be traveling to Panama City on September 6 to pick it up, as well as, a kitchen sink and we'll be shopping for some light fixtures. This will be our first real road trip since getting our truck. It should be interesting. Unfortunately this will be a business trip. Not a lot of time for fun. We'll be staying with our friends Dennis and Gladys (hi you two!). Today Oscar began putting the wall tile in the bathroom shower. That was exciting to see.

One really cool thing happened today. While Michael was hanging out at the house and the workers went to lunch he was standing in the master bedroom looking out the windows. In about a 15-minute passage of time he identified 7 different species of birds flying about. Some of them were quite colorful and welcome to see. It's surprising with all of the construction happening that the birds still feel comfortable to 'hang out'.

Until next time!

Michael & Steve

Week 12, Sept 10th

Hi everyone.

At this stage in house construction there is progress being made but nothing very photogenic. So that means there really hasn't been anything that interesting to report.

The project continues steadily. After getting four bids for windows we've chosen a company. The window people will be coming in about a week to get the final measurements then the windows will be made and delivered. It will take about 12 days to make the windows. We've ordered the kitchen counter top. We will be traveling to Panama City on September 6 to pick it up, as well as, a kitchen sink and we'll be shopping for some light fixtures. This will be our first real road trip since getting our truck. It should be interesting. Unfortunately this will be a business trip. Not a lot of time for fun. We'll be staying with our friends Dennis and Gladys (hi you two!). Today Oscar began putting the wall tile in the bathroom shower. That was exciting to see.

One really cool thing happened today. While Michael was hanging out at the house and the workers went to lunch he was standing in the master bedroom looking out the windows. In about a 15-minute passage of time he identified 7 different species of birds flying about. Some of them were quite colorful and welcome to see. It's surprising with all of the construction happening that the birds still feel comfortable to 'hang out'.

Until next time!

Michael & Steve

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Week 13, Sept 15th

Hi all,

This last week was incredibly stressful and rewarding. The concrete mixer arrived on time and the crew walked it down the driveway to the carport. While we struggled to get enough cement and gravel delivered, the crew mixed and poured concrete. The first picture shows the crew waiting for the first batch of concrete to be mixed. The second picture shows the project foreman, Oscar, instructing some members of the crew. During the first two days the interior of the house got poured and polished. It's a labor-intensive job. The cement gets mixed one bag at a time and all the ingredients for concrete are brought down by wheelbarrow. Once the concrete is mixed, it's loaded into wheelbarrows and delivered to the room being worked on. After the room is poured, they wait until the concrete will support their weight and then they "float" the surface with a smooth wooden trowel. After that they take a polished steel trowel and go over the concrete until it's glassy smooth. Oscar and his son Juan did all of the concrete finishing. They worked from 7:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night the two days the interior was being poured. During the next two days the patio, carport and sidewalk were poured. The last day of the cement pouring Steve was hauling gravel 1/2 cubic meter at a time in our pickup truck and finally cement because both of the construction material suppliers in Boquete are incompetent.

A day later the window openings and patio door were measured and ordered. They should get installed the last week of September. Except for some small repairs, Oscar's work is done! He'll come back to install the plumbing fixtures after the windows are in and we can lock the house.

Believe it or not, we are talking about moving into the house by November 1st (or maybe before) whether there is electricity or not! We'll be painting all of the interior walls in December after the cement cures well and when there are great paint sales.

Please send electric thoughts our way.

Steve & Michael

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