Thursday, February 14, 2013

Benjamin Franklin didn't know about double taxation

I've been offline for awhile - my hours at the building site don't end until after the internet cafe closes, so here are my notes from the last few days.


Juan tells me that in Nicaragua the word for steer is ternero. The road leading to my property is just a little wider than one lane, and the shoulders are about as wide as a radial tire. When I drove to the property this morning, another car was blocking my path, so I stopped (not really any point in parking at the non-existent curb). About 20 minutes later, Juan shows up and tells me the oxcart is here and the road is blocked. I moved my car behind el otro, but I doubted the guy with the two-ternero team would be able to get by on the other side, and figured that I’d have to wake the neighbors and ask them to move their vehicle. No need. The cart made it by just fine with room to spare, and they made it down the not-yet driveway with only slight encouragement from the driver. Faustino (or Tino for short) owns the team, and he tells me his two boys will haul dirt up to the driveway – and onto the road itself (which needed a bit of fill in front of the entrada; I guess delivery drivers are also allergic to washouts) for 80 Cords per load. They moved six cartfuls of excavated dirt and rock (total cost: $20), and the limpiadores used the dirt to fix the part of the washout in front of my entrada and create a very serviceable though admittedly rustic driveway. Ready for the delivery truck!

When I was growing up, my mother’s folks lived on a farm in Windber, Pennsylvania, a little town up in the hills surrounding Johnstown. Grandpa Geisel always had a couple of cows and at least one bull (his bulls got to keep their testiculos; grandpa raised his own beef, and you can’t make calves with terneros), and one of the things I learned about bovines (with or without testicles) is that they do not like to go backwards. You can try to push them or pull them in reverse, and they mostly balk. You try arguing with a one ton bull! Tino’s team repeatedly performed perfect “Y” turns, backing up to the dig site to allow easy loading of the cart, made it look like they were born for it.

The limpiadores finished work on the driveway and path by 10 am. Iziquel and Javier finished the septic excavation by noon. Early weekend for everybody, and the workers were all smiles because Sabado is also payday, so they all went home with cash money in their pockets.

Monday is materials delivery day. Iziquel will tidy up the excavations, lay down some gravel to level everything out, then run a couple of courses of reinforcing rebar around the foundation dig and assemble the columno rectangles. We found a 450 liter water tank (about 120 galones) to borrow, and, beginning Tuesday, Tino’s team will haul water to the site, two sixty-gallon barrels at a time, for 150 cords per trip. Iziquel thinks we’ll need one or two deliveries per dia. My neighbors paid about $6 grand for their well. If you can’t afford a well, hire a pair of torneros!

2/10/13 – No fish were harmed (by the author) in the making of this episode

I slept through the Pescadores’ predawn preparations today. God may have rested on el domingo, but when the fishing’s good, the Pescadores work, no matter what day it is. During long stretches of the rainy season, and for a two or three week period in January, when the winds are like the Santa Anas de California on steroids (if you’re standing on the beach the sand will tear your skin and scratch your corneas), the seas are too rough for their 20-foot pangas, but they definitely make hay when the sun shines. I watched while I ate lunch as some of the crews returned home and unloaded their catches. Lots of pargo (red snapper).

I got up about 7 and arrived at the lot about 7:30, worked until 11:30 clearing brush and building a berm, which (hopefully) will help divert rainwater runoff away from the bodega foundation. Had the place to myself (albanilles and limpiadores don’t work on el domingo, no matter how good the fishing is!) except for the birds. Hurachas (think Blue Jay with better makeup and a pretty hat), noisy pajaros (parakeets) and little blackbirds all sang for me as I used a forked stick to move cut branches and leaves off the front yard. A couple of vultures soared gracefully and silently above the treeline waiting for something to die. Viewed up close, these grey-headed vultures are not God’s best work, but they are impressive in the air. In the background, unseen, a howler monkey made occasional reports.

Looks like we’ll have some tree work to do next year before beginning any further construction – a couple of trees suffered enough fire damage that they’ll have to come out. Even so, I’m surrounded by trees, and the whole site is shaded until after noon. Gonna be a nice place to raise goats and chickens. In the front section of the lot I’d like to plant some plantains, mangoes, figs, aguacates (avocados) and olives. I’ll have to come down during the rainy season for planting, and I’ll have to have an irrigation system worked out for dry season before that. For now, I’d be pickled tink if I get a roof on the bodega next year.

Before last year’s trip I bought a five-piece fishing rod and reel and assorted tackle. The whole kit takes up almost no luggage space, brought it down last year and didn’t use it. Nevertheless, I packed it again this year, and today I gave the equipment a workout. Didn’t catch so much as a sniff….take that back, on my third or fourth cast I caught something immovable on the bottom. Cut the line, re-rig, move off the rocks and into the surf.

I never catch anything when I fish. Even in my grandfather’s stocked fishing ponds in Pennsylvania, the only fish I ever reeled in were hooked by someone else. Today I walked the beach from one end to the other in water at least chest deep, occasionally getting knocked off my feet; going (not like going) for a swim with a fishing rod. Between five and six pm, so the sun was setting in front of me. Had me one of them blast things. Probably do it again next Sunday. In the meantime, I’ll settle for some of Margarita’s pargo rojo con salsa rojo o con salsa ajilla.

The ajilla is a white sauce with jalapenos and onions in crema. Crema is like slightly runny sour cream without the sour. Makes a great sauce/sausa base. The ajilla is served in its own little bowl and it’s got so many jalapenos it looks more like ensalada jalapeno. Takes the paint off the back of your throat! Also makes a great dipping sauce for the tostones.

2/11/13 – Irony as a way of life

Started at 6:30 this morning, moving excavated rock and gravel one shovelful at a time to strengthen the water channel I started yesterday. Iziquel arrived at 7, and he watched me for about 2 hours before suggesting that my job would be easier with a wheelbarrow. When I said I didn’t have one, he offered to bring his tomorrow. We’re going to need it.

We spent two days preparing the road through the property and fixing the driveway in front anticipating today’s delivery. What originally was an 8 am scheduled delivery got changed to 11 am and eventually became 3:30 pm. That’s the way of things here. Despite all the work we did to pretty up the place for him, when he finally arrived, the delivery driver refused to make the turn from the road onto our neatly groomed pathway. He claimed the driveway was too steep, and that he’d damage his low-slung gas tank. I think he was full of crap, and I tried to argue as much, but no budge. A representative from Perlins was there, and he thought if we took out one of my fence posts the truck would make it. Didn’t understand that one bit, but even when I said I’d take out the post, no budge from the driver.

Instead, he pulled the truck up the lane just past the entrada, and the crew with him started unloading bags of cement, rebar and tie wire, concrete blocks, wooden planks, and two sixty-gallon plastic barrels, which they hauled down to the base of the driveway, just 100 meters from the building site. Then the best part. They shoveled gravel out the back of the truck and sand out the side of the truck (and down the slope at the edge of my property). Just beyond my lot, the narrow lane gets even narrower due to a two-foot deep and two-foot-wide gulley washer that took out a big chunk of the road. Didn’t occur to me to point this out before they started unloading – in my own defense, they didn’t give anybody a whole lot of time for “hey, looky over there at that big gaping hole in your turnaround, have you figured out your escape route yet?”

By the time el senor figured out he had a problem, after all the materials were unloaded, it was literally too late to back out. He tried that, and got . . . stuck in the sand. Answer? Gun the engine and toss the sand everywhere. The guy from Perlins came to attention and started yelling at the driver, and the driver started yelling at everybody not to say nada (in espanol, the double negative is a means of emphasis rather than a grammatical faux pas). He embarrassed himself, and he didn’t want anyone giving him a hard time. Can’t say I sympathized. Nobody but me found my observation funny: If the driver had just entered the lot and dropped all that material at the building site, he’d now have a clear shot out the driveway and onto the road without having to worry about whether he was going to tip over in the gulley washer. Laughed so hard I peed myself just a bit. Oops. The driver and crew scrounged a bunch of felled logs to fill the gulley washer, shoveled some loose gravel on top, and after about 30 minutes of maneuvering back and forth, inches at a time, he finally got back down the lane. Have a nice day!

Enjoyed a bit of free internet at Margarita’s during dinner last night. The signal wasn’t strong enough to permit browsing, but Skype connected, and I was able to chat with my pal Doug for about an hour before the battery in my computer went out. No place in the dining room to plug in, and no signal in my room. Doug came down with me two years ago, and even though he says he had a great time, I can’t convince him to make a return trip. Doug has a coop full of chickens to feed and care for, so it’s hard for him to get away. Or so he says.


Iziquel has things under control at the site. He and another guy are cutting steel rods and bending them into squares for the columnos, and David is hauling the piedrin (stone) and arenas (sand) from the road, using Iziquel’s wheelbarrow. I’m going to stay out of everybody’s way today. The combination of yesterday’s excitement, too much sol and lots of trabajo has me muy cansado hoy. Enjoying a cup of Margarita’s café negro, trying to recharge. I’ll go out to the site this afternoon to see how everything is going.

Had lunch before going out to the lot to check on things. Iziquel told me that a man from the Alcaldia was next door, and to avoid an unfortunate incident with the taxing authority resulting from my poor espanol, I went to find Juan to help translate. No luck, and when I went back to check with Iziquel, he told me the tax man cameth and wrote up a tax bill for 3,000 cords, or $125 USD for my building permit. Sounds reasonable to me. Because the tax is based on a percentage of materials cost, and because we haven’t figured the final total, I put off the trip, but Juan and I will stop at the Alcaldia tomorrow on our trip to Rivas to square things.

2/13/13 – No bad deed goes unpunished

The process of buying land in Nicaragua can be a lengthy process, and the length of the process increases in inverse proportion to the shortcuts your seller might try to take. One of the steps in the process is payment of property taxes to the Alcaldia, equal to 1% of the value of the land being purchased. Every year after that, you pay another 1% tax. Let’s say your seller hasn’t paid taxes on the land he’s selling you. I guess I just did. If that happens, the buyer can be assessed two years worth of property taxes. Pay the taxes or your deed doesn’t get registered. Picture yourself slung over a barrel.

All of the documents that must be filed with the Alcaldia are in espanol. Imagine that. All of the documents are prepared by the seller, including the document that identifies the parties to the transaction, the property being sold, and the purchase price. The buyer doesn’t see most of the filed documents until the sale is done, registered, approved by the Alcaldia. Now imagine that the seller decides (for reasons that may escape rational thinking individuals regardless of your native tongue) to quote a sales price that the attorney I consulted a few days ago called “insultados.” That’s one of those near-cognates that doesn’t need much translation. Essentially, the seller told the Alcaldia he was selling a 1.7 acre lot for a fraction of the going price for lots a fraction of that size. Response? The Alcaldia established an avaluo (another near cognate) approximately twice the actual sales price. So when I bought the land, I paid tax on that value – twice. Because, surprise, surprise, the seller wasn’t exactly current in his taxes at the time of the sale. Insulting and delinquent. Care to try for a triple? Robert Blake used to say that if you put coulda woulda and shoulda in one hand and a nickel in the other you still can’t buy a doughnut. But it turns out you can get the hole.

Juan and I learned today that the 3,000 Cord bill from the tax man was just for the property inspection. Taxes not included. We talked to the inspector who visited the lot yesterday, and he said that we have 15 days to pay for the inspection and the taxes due, or he’ll order all construction stopped. And we learned there are eight separate steps to the permitting process, including presenting documents that I don’t happen to have with me, Not sure how this is going to work. The good news is that we’ll be done with this year’s construction before the 15 day time limit…..

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