Saturday, February 16, 2013

Permite que los tiempos buenos rodar (Let the good times roll)!!


Happy birthday, Calala! Mi princesa Nicaraguense tiene dos anos hoy!

What a day! I’ve been living my own Discovery Channel program on third world construction methods!! Today, Iziquel and Co completed foundation pours for both the bodega and the septic tank! The guys really put their dive in the water! Considering that all the concrete was mixed by hand, in small batches on a bare piece of ground, and poured into the foundations one five gallon bucket at a time, it’s amazing. I keep hearing from gringos down here that the locals are not to be trusted, that you have to watch them all the time, and that they’ll avoid work whenever possible. Based on my experience last year with the crew who built my fence, and this year’s crew working on the bodega and driveway projects, I think my gringo acquaintances, as the song goes, just may be mistaken. In fact, the guys frequently work past quitting time to wrap up a particular task. On a three man crew, the guys all have their own tasks to do, and they coordinate their efforts virtually wordlessly. Nobody stands around waiting for the gringo jefe to tell them what to do. Ed Shultz talks about guys who take a shower when they come home from work every day, hard-working salt of the earth types. I’ve met some of those folks here in the campo de Nicaragua.

Today was a great example. I met the guys at the worksite at 7, and they started building rebar rectangles for the foundations, using the same technique they used for the columno towers. My architect specified the standard two runs of rebar around the perimeter; their method used four runs of rebar, based on what they know is needed due to the seismic activity here. Manuel bent 1/8 inch pieces of steel into rectangular frames then David and Iziquel used the frames to wire four pieces of 1/2 inch rebar together. Iziquel and Manuel fitted the frames in place in the footer trenches while David mixed the first batch of concrete. When the frames were in place, David and Iz worked the mixer and Manuel started working on the rebar framework for the septic tank. They just started pouring the footers when I had to leave for another trip to Rivas, so I missed most of the pour for the bodega, but it was essentially done when I got back at 1 pm. I helped assemble the rebar framework for the septic tank, basically a steel cage that will support both the foundation and the concrete block walls, and we put it in place in the big hole. At that point, they noted that it was 3:30, but they decided to go ahead and pour the septic tank foundation, which they didn’t complete until about 4:30. Not exactly what I’d call lazy or unreliable.

I think on big construction projects at resorts they might have cement mixing trucks, but in the campo even a small batch mixer is beyond the means of the average contractor. They just scrape clean a big circle on the ground to remove all loose dirt and organic material, pile sand, gravel and cement in the circle, toss it together with shovels to form a cone shaped volcano, then form a well in the middle of the volcano. They pour water into the well and, circling the volcano with shovels, they work the mix from the outside in to form a thick gooey mass. If they need more water, they form another well and repeat the process until they get the right consistency, then start shoveling the concrete into five gallon buckets and start pouring.

For the septic tank pour, David (nickname: Chele) was the barefoot mono in the hole, spreading the concrete with a trowel while Manuel and Iz dropped bucketsful of concrete into the pit. Chele somehow avoided getting concrete poured all over himself, and also managed to get the concrete smoothed and leveled nicely, with no visible footprints. Iz told me they’ll finish the columnos and the septic tank next week before I have to leave. Wish I had more time and money this year, but I told Iziquel that I’ll come looking for him next year when (I hope) we can finish the bodega.

Margarita’s family has two dogs and three cats hanging about, including Dandy, a tall big-headed white and tan dog who looks a bit like a beefed up greyhound. Dandy has decided we’re pals, and every day when I get back from “work” he insists I give him a good five minute pet before he’ll let me take my shower. I hope Buddy and Calala don’t get jealous, but this kind of thing happens to me all the time. Dogs seem to know what I’m about; Dandy has several times chased other dogs away who come over to my table for some attention. None of them seem the least bit interested in the food, they just want some G time!


The rectangular rebar forms buried in the bodega foundation are called “vigas.” In typical Nica construction they use four kinds of horizontal vigas: The foundation vigas are asismica vigas; above window and door openings they’re called dintel vigas; across the middle of exterior walls, just below window openings, they’re called intermedia vigas; and, across the top of exterior walls at the roof line, they’re called corona vigas. I was expecting the asismica vigas in the foundation, but Manuel explained to me today that they’re also putting in the intermedia vigas around the perimeter of the bodega! I had no idea these were going to be included in the work Iziquel intended to do, and I’m starting to think he seriously underbid the job. On the other hand, it looks like we have plenty of rebar for all this “extra” work, so maybe this was part of his plan all along.

We laid the first row of concrete blocks around the perimeter of the bodega and built the formas and poured concrete for two of the seven columnos today, and then Manuel climbed into the septic tank and laid a row of concrete blocks on the foundation. These guys may not officially be members of the club, but as the Masonic motto goes, they go to great pains to make sure everything is on the level and on the square!

While they were initially surprised that I knew how to use a hammer, saw, square and level, they’ve started treating me as one of the crew, and Iziquel and Manuel both have given me specific tasks to perform. Relatively simple stuff, banging nails, checking rows of blocks for level, hauling buckets of concrete (by the way, a five gallon bucket of concrete is HEAVY), cutting rebar pieces to use for the intermedia vigas. I think because I have proved useful, it’s also helped develop a sense camaraderie with the guys.

At the end of last week, Iziquel asked me for a ride home – he lives in the north end of the village, behind the most beautiful of the several beaces within walking distance. When I fired up my little rental rattle trap and turned on the air conditioning full blast that first day, his eyes brightened and he smiled mischievously; since then, he’s asked for a ride every day. At some point he let Manuel in on the secret, so Manuel stopped riding his bike to work, and now I have two passengers at quitting time. So far, they haven’t told Chele about the air conditioned comfort; he’s still riding his bike to work!

I got home tonight and noticed that Margarita had my room cleaned, fresh linens on the bed and a clean towel set out for me . . . it wasn’t until after I got done with my shower that I noticed the fan. Sweet Jesus! Just like uptown!


Slept like a bebe last night, in fact reported for work a few minutes late. Had to skip the café again, but had so much fun at work I didn’t notice the headache until quitting time.

Saturdays are half days, but the guys got plenty done today. We pulled the formas off the first two columnos (looking really good!), poured numbers three and four, and Manuel laid about half the blocks for the septic tank walls. Iziquel told me we’ll need two more bolsas of cemento, which I’ll get in Tola next week. He still thinks we’ll be done by Friday, my last full day in town. The awesome never quits!

Having lunch at the internet café, watching kids play in the sand (think I’ll join them after lunch) and enjoying the light breeze here in the shade. I’ll grab a bag of ice on my way back to Margaritas and start the weekend off with a doublé Flor de Cana, then take a plunge in the bahía bonita.

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