Saturday, September 25, 2010

Kitchen progress - walls and roof

Tom and the crew made amazing progress on the kitchen building over the past couple of weeks. After getting all the cement poured for the footers, Tom, Julio, and Marvin went out in the jungle to find some suitable trees for the support poles.

They found the trees and carted them back to the Farm in Tinkerbell.

The next step was to strip the bark from all of the trees. The timing of the tree cutting was important, because all the wood and the thatch must be collected in the week before and the week after the full moon. It sounds like superstition, but we’ve come to believe it, and some scientific types tell us it actually makes sense because the water in the plants follows the moon like the tide, and the water level in the trees and thatch is at the right level for best preserving the wood when the moon is full.

When the poles were stripped, they started mounting them on the footers. With a combination of man power and ropes, they stood the poles upright and while some of the guys held them, somebody else would drill holes through the bottom of the log and bolt it to the bracket mounted in the cement.

The tree used for the corner pole is quite large and very heavy, so they used a different procedure to get that tree set on the footer. The day before, Julio, Marvin, and Tom built a large stand as a brace so they could mount a block and tackle on it to pull up the pole.

They strapped the pole to a chain on the block and tackle, and used the pulley to get the log in position.

They left the bark on the big log until it was in position so it wouldn’t be slippery, and then stripped it once it was up.

At the end of the day, all of the logs were up on the footers. Most of them were roped to each other or to trees so they wouldn’t fall over before they were hooked together by the supporting beams at the top.

The next day, the supporting beams were added, all the way around from the top of each log to the next, and across the structure for stability.

This involved lots of climbing, using both ladders and the logs. I find it amazing that construction workers in the US always seem to wear heavy boots. Here, the workers find it easier to climb on the logs with bare feet, so they usually work in Crocs or sandals, and kick them off when they head up into the roof.

They then had to go back to the jungle to get the smaller trees that would be used to build the whole frame for the roof. They hauled these sticks back to the farm, and then spent the better part of a day stripping the bark from them.

The first step to building the structure of the roof is to set up the pole that will form the peak.

They then start running poles from the peak to the side beams to form the sides of the roof.

All of the poles must be nailed to the top roofline pole, and that’s way up there. The ceiling of the building is about 10 to 12 feet above the ground, and the peak of the roof is 15 feet above that. You’ll notice that there are lots of tree branches hanging over the roof. These will have to be removed when the roof is done because cohune thatch roofs need sun, but the construction guys decided to leave them there while they worked on the roof both for shade, and in case they need to grab something attached to something to get their balance.

When the sides are on, more poles are added for the front and back of the roof.

Horizontal poles are added for more support because the leaf is heavy, and to support the structure of the roof. A single tree is used for each side without joining trees in the middle.

The next two days were spent cutting the cohune fronds to be used as the thatch. The leaves are better when they’re cut from cohune palms in the open, rather than trees in the jungle. Only a few fronds are taken from each tree so the trees aren’t damaged. The guys had a problem this day because many of the cohunes had wasp nests, and everybody was stung. Fortunately nobody is allergic to bees! The timing on this was perfect because they finished the structure of the roof two days before the full moon, so all the leaf was cut the day before and the day of the full moon.

All the fronds were hauled back to our place on Chuck and Marjie’s trailer. About 600 fronds will be used on this roof, and the weight really adds up. It didn’t help that they day they hauled them back it was raining, so everything was even heavier because of the water.

All the leaf was unloaded, and it then needed to be split. A couple of the guys split the leaf, and the others sorted and stacked it, organizing the split leaves by length and by which way the leaves grow from the spine.

The splitting of the leaf here took all morning, and by the end of the morning we had stacks of leaf everywhere. Although we’re going to need more leaf to complete the roof, this gave them enough leaf to get started.

The four guys from 7 Miles went up to start tying the leaf to the roof supports, while Tom fed the leaf up to them.

Tom doesn’t mind being the guy on the ground, for a couple of reasons. First, he doesn’t like heights, so he’s more than happy to let somebody else do the work the requires your feet to leave the ground. Second, he knew how all the piles of split leaf were organized, and he knows what order they need the leaf of the roof, so he can keep track of which leaves from which piles are going up on the roof in which order.

By the end of the day on Friday, we had a respectable start on the roof. They guys had intended to work through the weekend to get at least the ends of the roof done, but Tropical Storm Matthew changed those plans. The crew still showed up here this morning to work, but Tom and I decided that we didn’t want the risk of the guys up in the wet slippery rafters working with heavy slippery leaves…and none of them looked too disappointed at being sent home. Work will continue on Monday.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Visit to San Miguel, Toledo District, Part 3 – Hike to cave

(Julio, Germo, and Tino) Germo’s cousin or uncle, Tino, I wasn’t too clear which he was, wanted to show us the project the town was working on, a walking path to a large cave up the river from the town. A couple of interesting parallels to Julio here: Julio and Tino are both chairmen for their villages, both have projects going to help the village, both are trying to promote more tourism with their projects to help provide more money for their towns, and both projects involve caves and hiking trails. Julio and I were glad to go out to see the progress on their project which they started about 6 months ago.

As we started out, we entered into sections that were thick with Heliconias that were well over our heads. Throughout the hike we kept finding sections like this, it was like a real hike in the jungle!

We had a beautiful shallow stream crossing that we used to wash our hands and faces to cool us off a bit.

Along the way we met up with some of the youths from San Miguel that are working on the project. Tino and the town council select workers from the local school graduates that wish to make some money to put towards their further educational expenses when they go to college (high school for those that live in the US). The workers are chopping the trail and planting hardwood trees along the way.

There are also a number of small shelters along the way with roofs that the workers have built so that in the case of rain or you just need a bit of shade, you can sit for a rest and enjoy the view of the river as you make your way to the cave.

Since the trail winds along the river side on public land (30 feet either side of a river is considered public access), we passed by numerous farm fields. I had never seen a rice field since Marge and I lived in the northeast US prior to Belize. Also, where we live in Belize, the foothills to the Pine Ridge, there is not enough rain and water to grow rice so we haven’t even seen it growing here in Belize, even though rice is a major part of the local diet.

The trail to the cave is not complete but most of the work is done, there is a section that still is not yet chopped though. Tino had to chop a narrow path for us for about a mile so that we could get through the dense brush.

We finally got to the cave area, but Julio and I were surprised to find that a hydroelectric station has been built on the river. A dam was built upriver from where we were (we did not see the dam, maybe next trip).

The cave was huge, the ceiling probably 100-150 high. We went through one section,

broke out into the thick jungle, then went back into another section. The river used to run through the cave and it looks like currently, when the rains are very heavy, there is water that passes through. Tino and Germo told us that the river did not run through the cave PRIOR to the dam being built.

We did not go very deep into the cave due to our timing, so we need to go back for some more exploring (another trip – hopefully when the trail is done and ready for tourists).

We left the dam area by foot on a road that goes back to town. About a quarter of the way back a truck came along hauling firewood to town so we all jumped in back and were happy for the lift. The plan for tourists is to have a canoe ready for the guests to enjoy a leisurely paddle back to town and enjoy the view of the jungle from the river.

After we all got back to town, the kids were excited to see all of us return so we played in the yard for a while.

That evening we had venison and vegetables, a very filling dinner after a long day of sightseeing.

Visit to San Miguel, Toledo District - Part 2 - Nim Li Punit site

Germo and his brother Bernadino had planned a full day for Julio and I so that we could get a feel for what tourists would be able to see if we had anyone interested in traveling down to southern Belize. Our first adventure for the day was a tour of the archeological site known as Nim Li Punit.

Nim Li Punit is just off the Southern Highway up a fairly steep, rocky hill; I am not sure how a vehicle would do climbing the hill if it was raining and didn’t have 4WD. At the top though, the view is gorgeous, looking out to the south and east over the flat low lying areas going out to the sea.

Marge and I have been to a number of Maya sites and there is always something that sticks in your head to differentiate each site from all the others, and for Nim Li Punit it was the number of stela. Inside the museum there was a very tall, well preserved stela laying down to view,

along with a number that were standing up.

There were also various pots and tools on display that were found at the site.

As we were walking around the site we caught glimpses of agoutis running all about eating fruits that had dropped from the trees.

Germo and Bernadino’s little brother was along and he had a wonderful time trying to catch up with one.

One of the other notable items from Nim Li Punit was the open tomb that was displayed at the site. The tomb was open from the top and from looking down from the top you could see the cap stones and how far down the room extended; for one or two bodies, it was a lot of room.

After touring the site we climbed back in the car and drove back to San Miguel for lunch. Germo helped with making a lunch of breadfruit soup from the breadfruit tree we had passed the day before; it was delicious, and I usually don’t eat just soup for a meal. We rested up for about an hour and then we were off for our afternoon tour.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

We’ve Started!

I’ve been feeding our guests out of our very small kitchen in our house since we opened for business. It works, but it’s so small that I can’t get any help even when I need it, because only one person fits in the kitchen. Tom and I agreed that the next thing we need to improve our business is a bigger kitchen and a dining room. Around here, most people have their kitchens in separate buildings from the rest of the house. We thought this was strange at first – definitely not what we were used to – but after living here for almost four years, we’ve learned that like most customs around here, it makes sense for a bunch of reasons, with the primary reason being that getting the stove out of the house gets a big heat producer out of the house.

So, last week we cleared an area in our yard. It was a little bit of a challenge finding a big enough area in a spot where we didn’t have to cut down any of our fruit trees, but we did it.

We’re going to have the building mostly screened, and with an open thatch roof – again, in an attempt to keep the air moving so it doesn’t get too hot. The thatch roof will be built on a frame of trees, so Tom and Julio broke ground, digging holes to fill with concrete for the footers.

We made a couple of interesting discoveries as construction started. The first was that the area we selected for the kitchen is apparently a Maya house mound, since Tom was pulling bunches of pot sherds out of the ground.

The second was that sometime in the past, one of the previous owners of this property attempted to drill a well. Tom, Julio, and Marvin were collecting big rocks around the property to use as part of the foundation, and when they moved a rock in our front horse pasture, they found that it covered this drilled well. Julio tied a rock to the end of a 300 foot spool of fishing line to see how deep it is, and it fell off the spool and kept falling at the end of the 300 feet – so it’s pretty deep. The rock covering the well is not going to be part of the kitchen foundation since it’s back where it was to keep the hole covered.

After collecting the rocks, they piled them around the holes dug for the footers, and filled the holes and the rock edging with cage material before pouring in the concrete.

Mixing the concrete is a tough job, and given the relatively small scale of this project, they’re doing it by hand. We had a dump truck load of sand delivered, and Little Blue was called into heavy service bringing about 1000 pounds of cement from San Ignacio. Marvin, being the youngest of the three working on the project, got the honor of mixing the cement, sand, and water on an old concrete slab, and then helping Tom shovel it into buckets so Tom could wheel the buckets to Julio, who poured it into the footer holes.

The next step is to build the walls and create the cavity to be filled for the floor. The front corner is about a foot and a half lower than the opposite back corner, so we’re going to need quite a bit of fill, and it will be obviously built up on the side nearest the house. Looks like Tom and the guys will be out collecting more rocks this next week!