Friday, May 30, 2008

Back to abnormal...

We have been home from the Rockies for five days now, and life is settling back into what now resembles normal for us. It felt really good to step off the plane onto this sunny, friendly little island nation that we call home. Strange how much I missed this place after only a few days.

Actually, I guess it was three and a half days enjoying Colorado and several life sentences spent hanging around the Miami Airport.

I have been playing with my old obsolete digital camera now that I finally found some batteries for it. I had not been able to uses it for three years. It's slow, it only has 5 mp resolution (Gasp!) but it has some decent Zeiss optics and a 10x zoom. I think the better glass is eventually going to capture some good shots. So I have been stalking around, camera in hand, looking for something interesting to take a photo of. Alas, the views here lately have been pretty humdrum. Other than all the stuff regular readers already know about, nothing much has been happening. Kind of sad, we had hoped that a lot of things would happen in our absence. Ha.

I had taken a photo of the old stranded and falling-apart freighter "La Familia" early this month. A friend on Pine Cay was thinking about putting a small WiFi relay station on it so that he could tap into our internet connection. Here is that view taken with my new camera:

It's still sitting there slowly falling apart on the Caicos Bank. I snapped another photo of it this morning with my old camera for comparison:

That's 4.35 miles (about 7 km) away. And the older camera's image is certainly an improvement over the little pocket digital. Both mornings were hazy, and both photos taken from the same spot on the patio at max zoom on each camera. I am coming to realize that, with digital cameras, at some point optics are more important than more pixels. I am still new at this photography stuff, but having a lot of fun with it. Of course I was hoping for some electrical storms..a dazzling sunrise or sunset...maybe a half dozen waterspouts. ANYthing that would make an interesting photo. Nada.

One of us, of course, has absolutely NO use for electrical storms, and that would be Dooley the Dastardly Dog. He can't relax if he hears thunder. He cringes at his memories of thunders of years past. He gets nervous just contemplating thunders to come. Yesterday he was out working on his tan. I think he feels conspicuous with his 'jail-house pallor' after spending five days in cages while we were gone...

He gives me a dirty look if he even hears me mention storms. He gets all slitty-eyed if he suspects that I am hoping for some good lightning displays. We are getting into the time of the year. I can't wait. Dooley, well, he says he definitley can wait. In fact I am pretty sure he would be perfectly happy to live out the remainder of his life on this planet without ever experiencing another thunderclap. Little wimp.

With the house located near one of the major marinas here on the island we get to watch a lot of boat traffic in and out. Some come to take on fuel and water. Many come here for repairs. Being boat-lovers ourselves we watch all of them with interest. Still playing with the recently resurrected camera I was snapping some photos today.

This boat left and headed South, and that's a little unusual this time of the year:

(the local atmosphere has been hazy lately, so the photos are not the best. Sorry.)

Most of the sailing cruisers seem to like to be either way North, or way South (Trinidad) before hurricane season. Which starts tomorrow,by the way. We are pretty much in the middle of the hurricane belt here, of course. And while I am sure they might be interesting blog fodder, those are some photos I don't really want to be taking. If given my 'druthers', I mean.

At one point this morning we had two of the local live-aboard dive boats sitting at anchor waiting for space at the fuel dock. Here are the Explorer II, and I think the Agressor:

Here is another view of the Explorer II.

The marine archaeology group that is coming to the TCI this summer to investigate some old shipwrecks has chartered this boat for essentially the whole month of July. La Gringa and I have been invited to participate in their search. I think we might take them up on it, and lend them a hand with the survey work. That kind of stuff is extremely familiar to me. We have also offered to show the researchers some of the shipwrecks that we have discovered on our own. Fun stuff.

I took a lot more boat photos than that, but this is probably enough boat pix for one post. I might slip another one in later.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch....we returned from our trip to find Munn and Patrick completely stripping the paint off the deck over the garage....sigh...

Seems like every time we get a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel with this house construction....somebody builds more tunnel.

They had originally rolled on this FlexTec coating. Rolled it on flat. It wasn't supposed to be applied with a roller. Our architect hit the roof over it. We really didn't think we much cared whether it was rolled on or daubed on with a trowel. We didn't think it should make much difference. Actually we just wanted it finished and to not have to deal with workers in our house six days a week while we are living here. We know our builder tried to save a few bucks by having his own guys apply it instead of hiring a subcontractor who specializes in this stuff. Despite the fact that the spec for the house clearly states that the application of this stuff was to be done by someone familiar with the product and finish. We were actually going to let it slide. Just finish the house. And then in frustration at our lack of concern, the architect brought over a sample of what the deck floor was supposed to look like:

Oh yeah, now we understand why he was hot under the collar about it. The texture looks so much better than the smooth painted-on finish. It will be safer with wet feet. It will drain better because it's thicker. We had to agree with the architect. Of course this will add more time to finishing the house. Nobody has stated it yet, but I am thinking three weeks sounds about right...

I guess it must have been windy while we were away. The new palm trees on the windward side of the house all have little support straps holding them upright now:

The dirt pile that will eventually be the second driveway is slowly taking shape. Although absolutely NOTHING got done during the time we were gone.

Today four more loads of fill were delivered. Dumped on the road in front of the house. The guy running the Bobcat (Jesus prounounced "Hey Seus" of course) apparently is pretty particular about his hair, and this stuff produces a ton of dust in this wind. So Jesus wraps up like a terrorist to transfer the piles from the road to the future driveway:

Most of the plants seem to be making the adjustment from their pampered nursery beginnings to life in the real world:

Now if we can just get that sat dish to do a palm tree or cactus impersonation...

We are having torrential downpours at the moment...or I guess I can accurately say tropical downpours. But before the rain started Jesus was busily transporting bucket loads of fill from the pile to the driveway:

(you can just see the approaching squall line behind him. Hey, didn't we used to have a dog around here somewhere?)

I was paying a lot of attention to this, me now being among the brotherhood of Bobcat drivers, of course. Well, really I was watching him more because he has already chewed up an expensive new garden watering hose with that thing.

I pointed out to him, with gestures and my pidgin Spanish, that his left front tire was completely out of air and trying to work it's way off the rim:

He shut the machine off for a moment, looked at the tire, fired off a shrug and a stream of what sounded to me like extremely fluent Spanish, and went back to work. I suppose it's not realistic of me to expect him to avoid driving this thing over my garden hose. Reminds me of the old phrase..."beaten like a rented mule.."

Yesterday the upholstery lady started bringing the furniture back. La Gringa has arranged to get just about every piece re-covered and it completely transforms the way it looks. Looking at the outside of this house we decided that it looks like the kind of place that would have black, white, and chrome inside. Well, we decided to make the inside a riot of color. This is a good start, with the rest of it due back by early next week:

And she just put that coffee table on my growing list of things that need re-finishing.

We hauled a 5 inch diameter green limb from a Casurinas tree (also called Australian Pine, although it's nothing like pine at all) back in the boat with us from another island last week. I finally sawed it into a small pile of planks this week:

I sealed the end grain up with glue, and will stack it where it can dry for a few months while I think of what I want to do with it.

I am limited to 3" widths since I am using a table saw to cut the planks. Eventually I hope to pick up a decent bandsaw and I set up the workbenches so that I can support and re-saw much wider planks. This wood has a lot of potential.

I am very interested in the concept of working with local hardwoods and this stuff is looking pretty good so far. It's hard, dense, with a close grain. Now I just need to see how stable it is when it dries. I suspect it would be good for turning with a lathe. So there will definitely be some DIY posts coming up.

Speaking of DIY...the beginning of the rainy season is pressuring me to finally do something about the cistern "first-flush" situation. When we were buying water by the tankload we really didn't have a silt problem. The Reverse Osmosis desalinated water is clean. No dust in it at all, and the filters I installed handle it just fine. But now that we are getting rain every few days the dust that accumulates on the roof between storms is getting washed into the cisterns. I tried to find a commercially viable device to install, but am giving up. The only things I could find online are Australian-made. They could be modified for what we need, but unfortunately for me they only come in metric PVC sizes. And I have to deal with inches. So, bottom line is that once again I am going to have to invent my own. Keeping in mind that local availability of materials is good, I have come up with this re-modified modification of an earlier modified design:

I have calculated how much water we need to divert, and I can store that with a six foot length of 6" PVC on each cistern. The little floating ball is not as critical as with my earlier idea. The water will get diverted into the cistern when the dirty water tube is filled whether or not I have the ball in there as a check valve. I think it will work. It's cheap. And of course, simplicity is a real good design criteria.

So, that's the situation here, on this last day of May in 2008. We are back on our little hilltop on this little island, where men still go out early in small boats to make a living from the sea...

And where I am now better equipped photographically to snap some good sunset photos. If the sunsets will just cooperate. So far this week, they have been just our ordinary sunsets:

But I am sure some colorful ones will be forthcoming during thunderstorm season.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A DIY lifestyle

First off, I am going to try to write a post that does NOT ramble on and on about the landscaping. Nor the water filtration system. And I have already shut up about building the pantry shelves. (They are finished and installed, anyhow.) I am not going to post another one of those repetitious sunrise photos. At least, not right now. In fact, since I haven't posted a photo of this part of the house in a while, I will use a pergola photo for a change:

And it is taking a lot of self control not to discuss the landscaping going on around the pergola or that row of outside lights I had to fix. Already.

We are once again back to thinking about what to do with that opening in the end there. Maybe a custom wrought-iron gate, or I might build something funky and unique out of driftwood. Heck, most of what I build turns out funky and unique anyhow. Not usually on purpose, unfortunately.

I was just looking over our past few blog posts here. I wanted to add another photo to that previous post about having to fix the lights after they spent just four months in this climate. I was also a bit interested in how we got selected for this "Best of Blogger" thing, and how we got into the "finals" in the DIY (Do It Yourself) category. I am a little surprised at that, because I really did not intend for this blog to be about DIY projects. Heck, it is supposed to be about living in the tropics. You know...sunshine, beautiful beaches, coral reefs, diving, fishing....all that tropical island type stuff.

But.....looking back at what I have been posting lately I realized that there probably is a bit more of the do-it-yourself aspect of life inherent in living here than there is in almost any other place I have ever lived. Basically, it's pretty much a necessity. Being able to be somewhat of an all around handyman is pretty important to living in a small remote country. When something breaks (not "if" it breaks, here, it's definitely "when" it breaks) the choices are to fix it yourself with materials already here, or hire someone to fix it, or replace it or just learn to live without it. We have experienced elements of all of those choices.

If you hire someone else to fix it....well...that doesn't mean it's really fixed. "Fixed" is a very nebulous term here. Some of us consider "fixed" to mean returned to full functionality. Repaired. Problem solved. And then there are others who consider "fixed" to mean that some small bit of the original functionality has been restored. This can lead to misunderstandings when you get the bill from whomever you hired to fix the problem in question. If what was once a coffee table can be made to stand on three legs by adding weight to one it fixed?

You can, of course, simply replace whatever has most recently failed. This is usually only slightly more expensive than fixing it, but at least you will get something that works for a while. And if you keep the original failed item you end up with an almost complete set of spare parts. Which you can use to fix it when it, also, fails. And it will.

And of course in many cases when something fails you can just learn to live without it. This is the most cost effective solution by far. But it just doesn't work in every case. It's pretty much up to the individual (and his spouse) to decide how many creature comforts one can live without. If you can get by living under palm fronds and spearing fish with a sharp stick, you've probably got what it takes to adapt to life here. Ah, but you will need to sharpen the stick. Knives, whet-stones, 3-in-1 starts getting complicated fairly quickly.

So, becoming your own home repairman is the logical solution. Not everyone seems to have the genes or chromosones or whatever it is in human DNA that makes some people naturally understand mechanical things. I am lucky in that I do seem to have that particular genetic bend. I struggle with quantum physics and chaos theories that others find to be simple concepts, but I can remove a rusted bolt or re-gap a spark plug in my sleep. There are places for all of us, I guess. Fortunately for me, I think I finally found mine.

Being able to fix things requires at least some access to materials. That is the major gripe about life as a homeowner here. There is just no way that an infrastructure this small can stock and supply all the bits and pieces that a homeowner would like to be available.

For example, there is obviously just not enough local demand for 6-32 stainless acorn nuts in order for the local hardware people to stock them. I am sure I could ask them to order some, but the usual answer when you do that here is "three weeks". Need a new water-heater? Three weeks. Need a starter motor ? Three weeks.

The other stock answer is that "it's on order, maybe it's in the next container from Miami which will be clearing customs on Monday".

Well, for a few months after first moving here one will tend to start counting off those three weeks. As though the part in question is actually going to arrive 21 days later. That is SO "North American" thinking..... Eventually, after enough experiences, one wises up and guess what? It's not going to be here in three weeks. When you call three weeks and a day after you thought it was ordered, you are most likely to hear something along the lines of "Oh, it takes three weeks after we order it. Did you want to order it?" You can forget all about the arm waving and shouting and showing people credit card receipts dated three weeks earlier. Waste of time. If it didn't get ordered, it just didn't get ordered. Take a deep breath. Do whatever mantra works for you. Put a smile on your face, and see if you can get it ordered. And be ready to hear the phrase "it should be here in about three weeks".

I am not joking about this, incidentally. We have been "Three-Weeked" for months on items including kitchen sinks, water heaters, storm shutters (11 months), louvered window cranks (six months and still counting)....the list goes on.

I actually did not intend to get onto a rant about how long it takes things to happen here. That's just a fact of tropical life. It takes some time to order whatever it is. It has to be shipped to Miami. Then it gets loaded into a container, and then onto a boat. It takes a while to get here. Then it has to be cleared through customs. These are all real factors.

What generated this particular post was thinking about the DIY livestyle. Some people choose to live like that, and some of us are forced to. We are a little of both. The other factor that generated this post was a brief visit to the USA over Memorial Day weekend. We had not been in the US since August of last year. And every time we visit up there, the contrast just knocks us silly. It's a different world. And seeing it again brings that home in big ways.

For example, this was part of the view from where we were staying, and it's nothing like where we live:

We were 2,400 miles NW and two miles above our new home. (And YES we were freezing our butts off. I had to actually put shoes on.)

Two miles above sea level. Wow. I don't think you can even get two miles from the sea anywhere on this 17 x 3 mile island we call home.

The area where we stayed has a population of around 10,000 people. About a third as big as the entire population of the TCI. But in contrast to the TCI, for example, I saw a professional installation truck with "Solar Systems " on the side of it. I couldn't find anyone who installs solar systems in the TCI. I had to reseach all that myself. I saw a building supply company here that specializes in "Green" homebuilding supplies. Here, I am happy to be able to just find a straight 2x4. We went into a Wal-Mart store , and I realized that if one were to take every single item off the shelves and out of the storage buildings of every single store in the entire TCI and made a big pile of it.....that total pile would not fill half the floor space of one medium-sized Wal-Mart in the USA. We tend to forget the differences between where we come from and where we now live. We have gotten used to the island life I guess. Living in the TCI, we have become accustomed to dealing with it. It's our life. Visiting the US even briefly sure resets the old perspective, I can tell you that.

And while in the US we walked into the tool department of a Sears and Roebuck. La Gringa had to drag me out by the scruff of the neck, with a set of taps and dies in one hand, an 80 tooth table-saw blade and stabilizer in the other, and a spray of drool on the floor marking where I apparently made a desperate lunge for the power tool display.

I have jokingly referred to the TCI as the "Land of Make Do" from time to time. I don't mean that in a derrogatory manner at all. Most vacationing visitors to the TCI will never see the small day-to-day McGyverisms needed to keep things functioning here. All of the resorts have their own repair people. They have backup generators for power. Some of them make their own fresh water...but for someone living here one constantly must be thinking in terms of Plan B, C, and D on the almost certain knowledge that Plan A isn't going to work out the way one might have anticipated. Oh, it will usually be something small, like a specific tool or part that does not exist here. Or an expertise or service that just has not materialized here yet. And 'yet' is the operative word there. It's all coming. We have seen huge changes just in three years. I wish we could slow it down, in fact. We like it the way it is. Warts and all.

It can be frustrating, for sure. The TCI is NO place for a "Type A" personality to settle. Those people will not be happy here. The pace is different. The life is different. Up in the USA there is always a choice of suppliers. There is competition for overnight delivery services to anywhere in the country. There is a Yellow Pages phone book an inch or two thick. Not here, amigo. Not here.
The small size and remote nature of these islands dictates that one adjust to the local pace and realities. It's all part of it. And it is definitely not for everyone.

So, maybe the DIY aspect of these posts is more about us leading a DIY life, as opposed to being used to buying a life off-the-shelf in the USA.

Back to the TCI...well this week we saw, for example, what at first looked like one of the Marine Police boats following one of the small local "conch" boats:

Then we took a closer look, because I noticed that the outboard motor on the Police boat is not fully down....

And we discovered that in fact the small local boat was towing the disabled Police boat...
I don't think you would see that too often in the USA. But here, it's a pretty sure bet that the Marine Police officers in the disabled boat are blood relatives of the fishermen in the conch boat.

As for new developments at the house, they are still going on. Here's a look at the electric water heater that we have been using for the past three months:

Notice how it pretty much fills the closet that it's installed in? That's pretty convenient, wouldn't you say? Well, maybe not if you understood that this was supposed to be a linen closet. Nothing to do with hot water. The electric water heater was supposed to be in the little attic above the closet. See, the idea is that the solar heated water from outside would feed the electric water heater. Then we would only need to use electricity to slightly (if at all) heat the water in the tank. The tank is very well insulated, and our idea was that it was more for heated storage of solar heated water, than to be the primary source of hot water. It needed to be installed higher than the solar collector for some simple reasons having to do with physics.

Well, the contractor somehow did not notice that little part of the plan. And he was not too happy about us insisting that he make it right. But we did. And he did. Well, almost.

The electric water heater he installed in our linen closet was too tall to fit into the attic. And the correct model is too wide to go up the pull-down attic stairs. So the solution was for him to buy the correctly sized water heater, and cut a hole in the wall above this linen closet in order to be able to fit it into the attic.

In the US, this would have taken maybe two days. Here, it has been about four months, so far. And it's not completed YET...!!

Here is the new short,fat water heater up in the attic, as seen through our new hole-in-the-wall:

That was a blank wall last week. Now it will have a louvered door in it. Oh well. We rescued our linen closet, at least.

Oh, and after hooking up the solar collector to the new electric water heater, the sub-contractor left without hooking up the electricity to it. On a Friday afternoon. Well, we went for an entire week (so far) without a "functioning" electric water heater. It's not wired in at all. And we took hot showers not only at night, but the next morning as well. And the solar heated water being stored in the non-functioning electric water heater tank was piping hot. I guess that speaks pretty well for the whole concept. The plumber was so impressed, I think he is planning to do future installations the same way. It's a pretty simple concept, using the insulated tank to store the solar heated water. Put the tank above the level of the solar collector. Heat rises. Makes perfect sense, right?

Totally new concept to several people here. This took four months to sort out.

The landscaping continues to progress. They are about half-way done. When we signed the contract for it a month ago from start to finish was supposed to take......three weeks.

I do have some more DIY stuff planned for the very near future. La Gringa has been keeping her eye out for driftwood and similar building materials when she takes Dooley the Devious Dog on his daily beach walk. She found this dead hardwood tree, which is pretty common here. (See our previous posts on the Christmas Stumps):

She says it is about three feet tall. I am thinking this might make a good first project using local wood for furniture. I can see this becoming an outdoor patio table. I just need to go back at low tide and dig it out of there. Fun project coming up!! Funny, it doesn't LOOK like patio furniture, now does it. Yet...

Hmm..Would that qualify as a DIY project? I can see it now..."Building a patio table, Step 1. Search the local beaches and mangrove swamps for a suitable dead tree. Step 2: figure out a way to cut the roots and retrieve the dead tree at low tide....Step 3, transport the dead tree home...."

This ought to be good for a blog post. Too bad the voting on the "Best of Blog" contest will be over by then...

We just got back home to the TCI last night. It was a short trip, but we did manage to hit a few stores while we were there. We came home with tools, camera and music stuff, new Crocs, and a renewed aversion to the Miami airport.

This trip should have some impact on the blog, by the way. La Gringa picked up a new web-cam, and we should be able to get that going for those who want to watch sunsets. And I managed to buy some of the special batteries for my old, obsolete Sony F707 camera. It's ancient by digital camera standards. It's slow. It's only got 5 mp image storage, but it's got optics way superior to any of our newer cams. I was checking it out this morning, and now I can, for example, get photos of that marina that is 900 yards away if you are a bird (10.2 miles of bad road if you are driving):

I can get closer photos of the "ironshore" from the patio than I could before:

And we should be able to get better photos of boats, the moon reflecting on the ocean, waterspouts, and other distant subjects that the little pocket digital just couldn't handle.

This is the house we tried our best to purchase back in 2005, as seen from our new patio:

We got overbid by someone who offered MORE than the asking price, sight unseen. We just could not compete with that. So, we started driving around, banging the rental car off the rocks...depressed, frustrated, looking for another house we liked as much, when La Gringa found this desolate hilltop lot ....and said "hey, why don't we just buy some land and build our OWN house?"...and if you follow the blog you pretty much know how that story is going.

We bailed old Dooley the Delusional Dog out of re-hab first thing this morning, since we got in too late last night to spring him....

("I want my lawyer. I want DNA testing. I want some was NOISY on D-Block last night....")

And we are all extremely glad to be home and back to our DIY life, right here at our own little timberline... only 50 feet above sea level.

We like our ice to stay on the inside of the glass. Ahhhhhh

Friday, May 23, 2008

Stumbling right along...

Yes (for those of you who sometimes wonder) we are still inching our way toward completing this house! Hey, what's a few more months of one's life spent waiting on sub-contractors. We now are of the opinion that we have in fact have gotten a pretty good handle on the "two steps back" concept. Some days we even see the "one step forward" bit, as well. Not every day, mind you. But sometimes.

In the meantime we still love the place. Both the house, and the TCI. We still get woken up every morning by the sunrises;

And we try to start every day optimistic that something major will get accomplished. Unrealistic, yeah we know, but it's a good attitude to have starting out.

The landscaping continues to be the main focus at the moment. This week the contractor managed to get a load of "topsoil" delivered. I hesitate to call it topsoil, because I counted five automobile tires in this particular load. I mentioned that to the contractor, and he proceeded to tell me about the time he got a truck load of topsoil that included an entire car. maybe five tires isn't so bad. At least we didn't see any body parts in it. Automobile or otherwise. And no, we really don't need to know where this topsoil came from. On an island made entirely of limestone, it might be best not to ask too many questions about organics. It doesn't stink. That we know.

Of course it got delivered just in time to block off the driveway as I was about to head out to the hardware store :

Ain't no driving around or under that thing. Patience is a virtue.

They did manage to get the topsoil spread around and clear the driveway. And then they delivered one of those little "Bobcat" machines with a front-end loader. This was in anticipation of two loads of fill they needed to extend the second driveway out far enough to complete that portion of the landscaping. I want enough straight driveway to park a tow vehicle and a boat trailer. So, in order to complete the landscaping there they have to build that part of the driveway.

Strangely enough, the people who were supposed to deliver the two loads of dirt did not show up on the day they promised to deliver the dirt.... Gosh, how unusual. So we had this little machine sitting there in the driveway with nothing to do. At $$$ per day rental. Well, I had always wondered what it was like to drive one of these Bobcats, they are kinda cute. Sort of like a Tonka Toy truck for the bigger kids...(like me) so after studying it from several angles, I climbed in to see what the controls looked like:

Yeah, I sat there a few minutes making motor noises and looking around at this expensive sand box.....and.....well hey, the key was in the ignition, so I decided to see if it would start. No harm in that, right? And it did. Fired right up with a roar of infernal combustion, diesel fumes, and all kinds of hydraulic pump noises. Cool.

A few minutes playing with various pedals and levers, throttle, various switches, and I discovered that I could actually move and steer it, and control the bucket. It's kind of like a little helicopter without the takes both hands and both feet to drive it. After figuring out which lever did what, I rationalized that we didn't want it sitting in front of the house all weekend, idle, so I decided to back it around out of the way. Just move it a bit.

This was so much fun I thought I would get some use out of it, and sucked up my courage and took off out of the driveway. Make a few turns with that drop-off on the side of the road. A few minutes of messing around and I was ready to head down the road in search of some rocks to move:

I was able to start scooping up loose rock and fill from the side of the road, and after only scaring myself a couple dozen times, I managed to drive it around miss the corners of the house, and start dropping some limestone on the new driveway:

Only a few hundred more trips, and we should have a good start on it.

Driving this thing is easy on level ground. It gets a little more interesting driving up and down slopes and over rough ground and bare rock. You don't steer them with a wheel, but by reversing the wheels on one side or the other like a bulldozer. Takes a little getting used to.

Of course the dog was pretty interested in all this. He has seen me handling various machines early in the learning curve before in his brief life. He watched me with ultralight aircraft, and in three different boats so far. Now he was keeping a close eye on this new contraption. And I noticed that he even had the sense to keep a nice solid wall between himself and the Bobcat:

So I spent a big part of the afternoon cruising around scooping up bucketloads of rocks and dumping them. Of course eventually the fill got delivered, and the regular Bobcat driver showed up and took my new toy away from me. Two loads was not enough, and in fact four loads was not enough. So we have agreed for four MORE loads of fill. I am kinda hoping that I get another chance to drive it.

Meanwhile, until this driveway fill issue and the irrigation system get sorted out, a lot of our new plants that have not been planted yet are living in various spots under the house:

Some are still stacked up by the front door:

and we have some still underneath the deck as well:

It's starting to do some of what he hoped, though. For example, it's forming a nice screen between the open door of the garage/workshop and the road:

A nice man from the Dominican Republic named Marino has been making little erosion barriers from rocks. It's taking us about two hours a day to water these things. Eventually, of course, it will all be automatic.

I have been looking for a good sunset to photograph, but lately they have been kind of boring. More stuff like this, for the most part:

(it still looks better through the trees, I think)

And this one showed some promise for a while:

Oh we have taken a few other photos this week, and I plan to write another post over the weekend that will have NO photos of the landscaping. We also can now report that we have a web-cam on the way and La Gringa should have that up and running in the next few days. I may have to build some kind of weather-proof enclosure for it so that it can live outside.

And we found out that this blog is in some kind of blog competition! La Gringa posted a link to it over here on the right of the page. If you like the blog and feel like voting for it, please follow this link: You can vote as many time as you like. (If nothing else, it's probably a good lead to find some other blogs that might interest you.)

And as always, the comments and emails are very much appreciated. Feedback is good.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Green Splash

No, not a Green Flash...we haven't seen one of those here yet. Other than the bar on Salt Cay, but that's different. Most of the green in that flash comes from Heineken bottles. The weather has finally, and suddenly, switched from winter windy to summer sultry mode. We have had three days in a row with sunsets like this one last night:

Temperatures in the mid 80's, and water temperature around 83. It's survivable.

And that particular view is about to change for us. Because starting this morning trucks full of green plants started showing up at the house. The landscapers had dropped off one load on Friday, and after two months of feeling like exposed lizards sitting on a sunny rock up here we finally got into keeping plants watered over the weekend. Then this morning, the rest started arriving. First we got some thatch palms and a couple mahogany trees, with two workers:

They unloaded and then drove away. "Well" (we thought) maybe they will come back with some more tomorrow...or sometimes.." That would be pretty much in line with our experiences here for this kind of thing. But these guys are serious. Another truckfull of green stuff showed up,

And then another load, along with another truck full of laborers, shovels, rakes, pickaxes, more bushes, and of course...electric jackhammers. You wanna plant a bush on this hill, you have to start with a jackhammer. The house started looking different immediately:

We got mahogany and palm trees going in on both sides of the driveway:

We got some kinda dead-looking grass ("fountain grass") and a zillion small buttonwood trees running all over the place:

The idea with the buttonwoods is that they are tough little boogers, they should be able to withstand our harsh conditions, and they are being planted three feet apart. So after they get established, we start trimming the tops and they spread out and intertangle, making a hedge-like barrier against the wind and blowing dust. They should protect less hardy plants going in between them and the house. And provide a little privacy.

The driveway is getting it's own hedge. This should help with erosion and make us feel less exposed from that angle as well:

Everything we chose for the landscaping is something native to this area. We left out the standard Coconut Palms, for example. We went for thatch palms, which are native to the TCI.

Things went pretty smoothly for the first day of official landscaping. Oh, they did get one of their trucks stuck, with no weight in the back it was spinning its rear tires trying to back up the hill. I was standing by with the camera, as the rear of the truck was sliding over toward a nice little drop-off and I was thinking this might be a decent photo. But finally El Jefe called the help together and they managed to push it out:

That Christmas Palm is going outside La Gringa's office window. That should be a nice change from the view of bare dirt and rock. Well, she's still got the view of the dirt and rock, and the ocean, and all that stuff...but now she's got green palm trees in the frame as well. An improvement.

The area around the front door, where we sometimes stand to take the sunset photos:

This is where we have been thinking of putting a web-cam with a view of the salina, the new marina, and Provo in the distance. Oh, and the sunsets of course. We have watched the sun setting further and further to the right as the Northern Hemisphere approaches summer. I used to think about American Indians, the people who built Stonehenge, the Egyptians, Greeks, Aztecs, Maya...all those cultures that developed knowledge of the movement of the planet and astronomical details from simple observation. Before telescopes and complex computers. Living here and watching the sun and moon, and seeing the constellations rotate around Polaris...I can sometimes get a slight feeling of how they felt, observing it all and having to come to their own conclusions. And getting it right. And all without a High School diploma or worrying about getting a mark on their permanent record...

This would be a fantastic place to take up astronomy...great place for a telescope. It's not yet on the same priority list as plumbing, carpentry, wiring, cabinetry, auto and boat maintenance and repair...

We think the entrance to the driveway has benefitted from some foliage:

I can see I am going to have to find a better parking spot for the boat trailer. I have some ideas. Unfortunately they will have to wait for the second driveway to go in.

And Dooley the Delerious Devil Dog doesn't know what to make of all this activity. He likes things to be the way they were when he went to bed the night before. He is like a little grumpy old man. He doesn't like changes. He will bark at a new stump. He will bark at a navigation buoy on the ocean. He barks at rumors. He insists on knowing what the plan is, and can barely tolerate being out of the loop in these matters. But he has taken on his appropriate share of the responsibility for the new plants, starting this afternoon right after he realized the scope of the job:

He told us he would be finished with the first coat by Thursday if his kidneys hold out and it doesn't rain. Yeah, yeah, where have we heard THAT before?

By my figuring, and completely discounting his promises to double up, Dooley could water a different new bush every morning and it would take him six months to work his way through them all. That's the problem with these sub-contractors....they don't reastically estimate schedules when they promise completion dates...they don't allow for weather and delays in water deliveries...

(I need a break from this house)

And with all the water issues we are going to have to solve to keep these plants alive, maybe we should get a bigger dog, and we could call the house "The Oasis"...(somebody help me. I can't stop...)

I honestly intended to get a sunset photo today, but just before dark our buddy JR (Evan) stopped by to say hello, and of course he needed a cold beer on a hot tropical afternoon and we started talking and I missed the sunset. We have written about Evan before. He wanted to let us know what he's been up to. Here he is showing us the keys to his new truck, a graduation present:

After a bumpy 2007, Evan (JR) has landed on his feet pretty well. He just graduated from a Yamaha factory mechanic training program in Jacksonville. He has been working full time as a Yamaha mechanic, and now he's factory certified. As far as we know, he is one of the only, if not the first, person with that certification in the TCI.

La Gringa refers to him as "Our adopted son in the TCI", and that's not far from the truth. So we are pretty glad to see him happy and doing well. He's dating our builder's receptionist, whose mother is in Customer Service at the telecom/internet company. She also is good friends with our builder and has been trying to help La Gringa get the internet problems here sorted out. Okay, got that part down? This is a small country, remember. Everybody is related somehow, somewhere to something someone else is involved in.

Now...he used to be "Evan" on Pine Cay, because that's his given name. BUT now he is living on Provo and his name is "JR" which is short for "Junior" He always went by JR on Provo, but when he worked at Pine Cay there was already a JR there, so he went by his name Evan. Even though there was another Evan there as well. (Still is, but that Evan goes by "Punch") But if JR goes by Evan on Provo it confuses people because they all know his father as Evan, which is why Evan Jr. goes by JR. He would go by "Junior", but you cannot imagine the confusion that would buy into. We got LOTS of "Juniors" in the TCI.

This is not uncommon here. The ratio of preferred nicknames over given names is many times higher here than anyplace I have ever been in North America. (And if you are down here and hear "Hardcore" on the radio helping someone with a Yamaha problem, thats Evan. Junior. JR.)

And for the record, we liked the kid LONG before he just happened to become a factory-certified Yamaha Outboard Motor mechanic...... (Whew. I was needlessly worried that he was going to get into medical school. We got good doctors here. Yamaha mechanics are like gold.) Hey, JR, old buddy, old pal........wanna nuther beer?

So, that's a quick update for those people who follow this whole living in the tropics thing. The house completion creeps along. We are still, for example, waiting for 27 ( yes, twenty seven) window louvre cranks so that we can open and close windows without inserting, cranking, and then removing one of the few cranks we have, for every window. They have been "on order" for something like four months. Strange that I can get parts for Land Rovers, entire water filtering systems, gas grills, and inversion tables down here in a week. A dumb Gringo.

Okay, I went and mentioned the filtering system. I am trying to break myself of that. At least I didn't post another photo of it. Sorry I missed the sunset, but I have hopes of some decent sunset photos coming up from somewhere behind the new palm trees. From a photographic point of view, I am thinking this kind of angle has some promise:

Kinda helps "Tropicalize" the place up a little bit, don't you t'ink?