OCTOBER 2005: “Will the hammering never stop!?!?”
Just for fun, just because we hadn't been without it enough already, and especially because I had a six-page newsletter from our biggest client that needed to be coded and uploaded to the Web, October began with hours and hours and hours of electrical outages. And, of course, that means no Internet ("Just shoot me!"), which reinforced our decision to get a generator—we've made a deposit. Not to be too wonky, but for those of you contemplating living in a cabin and stockpiling Spaghetti-O's, here's a little info on generator fuels:
Okay, repeat after me: "If I build it, I will go... to the city a gazillion times!"
Not to beat a dead caballo, but our life up to and including October consisted of visiting the construction site and going to town. That was it. People would ask us: "Have you been to El Valle?"; "What did you think of San Buenaventura?"; "Chiriqui?"; "San Blas?"; "Lake Gatun?"; on and on. And all we could say was, "Ain't been there yet, Lieutenant."
(Okay, okay, if you're wondering what the "Lieutenant" thing is all about, it's a nod to Mr. Timmons in Dances With Wolves, and his line, repeated several times, "There ain't nobody here, Lieutenant!" as Kevin Costner searched his abandoned calvary post. Now, you know.)
Yup, if it wasn't visible from the Pan-American highway, we hadn't seen it. But, we were getting real familiar with the city, and especially city driving. You see, traffic laws in Panamá are more like guidelines. Meaning, if you think you can do it, do it! And sometimes even if you don't think you can. Basically, every driver is trying to get where he wants to go in the shortest, quickest way possible, and if you are in the way, "LOOK OUT!"—horn honking is an art form practiced by everyone, some better than others.
You know how in the States they tell you to drive defensively, to act as if other cars are trying to hit you? Well, in Panamá, THEY ARE! The proof is readily discernible in all the dents, crushed headlights, and crunched rear-ends. But, if you rear-end a cab, it's your fault, no matter what the circumstances are; you'd be amazed at the number of "nipped and tucked" cab butts.
What all that means is, you learn to drive like a Panamanian or you spend a lot of time stuck in left-turn pockets—bust a move or die. It was serious driving, dangerous driving, and a lot of fun. You see, I could finally drive the way I'd always wanted to, the way I would have, if I hadn't been concerned over arrests or getting shot. Besides, you're car ain't as wide as you think it is!
Our formula boiled down to me doing the "bumper car bingo" and TC navigating. By October we were making our way around the city like ol' pros...most of the time. There's always that glitch, or that intersection that goes into gridlock because there's no light and no consideration in most of the drivers, but we usually got wherever we were going, sooner or later. And that's driving success in Panamá City.
Well, by sheer luck, just because we stayed at Ingaso longer than usual after a Sunday breakfast, we met Denise and Jaime. Jaime's wood factory, Orozco Plywood, made our machimbre, and he had driven out from the city to see how our installation, and another in the area, were going. He hadn't planned on meeting us, but it was a fortuitous and serendipitous encounter.
TC and I were talking about the poor job los muchachos were doing installing the ceiling wood almost at the same time Denise and Jaime were entering Ingaso's front door. It took a while, but between their English and TC's Spanish we finally understood who they were and why they were there. After that, Jaime inspected the installation and also wasn't thrilled by what he saw, pointing out the mistakes, and talking about calling Eleuterio, our builder, to explain how it should be done. We thought that would be great!
And, as it turned out, Jaime called Eleuterio the next day, and los muchachos stopped installing the wood. At first, we were a little concerned with the stoppage—being upset any time things "stopped" mid-course on Ingaso—but when we found out the reason for this cessation, we were thrilled: Jaime was going to come out and instruct the installers! Which is exactly what he did the following Saturday.
Being Saturday, it was time for los borrochos (the drunks), rather than los muchachos, and when TC and I arrived at Ingaso with the ice chest of cerveza, we noticed a different truck. It was Jaime's, and he was there with his college friend and budding interpreter, Lilo, instructing los muchachos!
Not only that, Jaime had loaded his top-of-the-line table saw with its custom-built table, and his pneumatic nail gun. Hoohah! And, as we watched, it was encouraging to see how the workers receiving the instruction were serious about it: making cuts following Jaime's instruction, placing joints between boards in their own pyramid-pattern, and measuring in such a way as to make joints and seams fall inside the pattern. It gave us hope that our "on-the-job training" ceilings would improve; and that's exactly what happened!
First, los muchachos removed and reinstalled the master bath celing, which had been completed with scraps from other rooms, no less. The results were wonderful. Next, they performed the same task with the guest room (so those of you planning a visit, know that viewing the ceiling while lying in bed will be pleasing). And then—the reason we were concerned all along, and the reason we pursued things with Jaime—los muchachos began the installation of the great room's ceiling—the last thing we wanted was a great room ceiling that looked like our bathroom's before the replacement. So, it had been a very fortuitous encounter.
But, it also illustrates one of the gripes we have about some construction practices at Ingaso: paying for on-the-job training. The last thing you want is raw beginners learning how to do something while building your house. I don't care how hard they try, their work is not going to be of the same quality as the guy who's been doing it for a while. That's the guy I want, but in several instances he's not what we got. It's one thing if the new guy is learning to lay concrete blocks which will be covered with repello, or even spreading the mix called repello over the blocks, but when he's laying your used Spanish roof tiles, or your expensive and beautiful tongue-n-groove ceiling wood, it's another matter. So, you can imagine our concern over the pending arrival and unknown expertise of our floor tile installers.
It started unexpectedly: "Hey, what the heck are these little piles of cement?"
One evening on our daily inspection tour of Ingaso, we discovered in almost every room these little piles of cement with a flat piece of broken tile embedded in the top. After much head-scratching and mental-gymnastics—me, not TC—we decided they must be how los muchachos poured a level floor. And, sure enough, the next day they had used those little piles to layout a gridwork of small lanes that looked like paths through a rice paddy.
Then, using the hardened paths, they filled-in the larger areas and leveled them by dragging 2x4's across the wet cement, while keeping the ends of the boards on the rice-paddy lanes. Ingenious! And we wound up with these smooth, thick, very sandy floors, ready to receive our floor tile. And, I'll tell ya, that sandy under-floor was a vast improvement on the raggedy, raunchy, filthy...am I talking about a floor? Yeah! The dirty horrible cement that had been ravaged and ruined over and over again by all the construction which had occurred on top of it—quite the metaphor for doing the nasty, ain't it? Nevertheless, the new cement was like a breath of fresh air, clean and satisfying. "Aaaaaaah..."
But, of course, Bo had to put his stamp of approval on the process, too! The little bobo. We kept mum, since this happened after hours, and pretended that it must've been some stray animal that made the prints, not our Bo. Naturally, I don't think los muchachos fell for it, but they made the repair and let it go—I like these guys. At any rate, we were all primed and ready for instaladores profesionales de baldosa. In other words, the tile guys!
Meantime, while the sub-floors were prepared, work on the piscina (pool) continued. Okay, allow me to make a confession: I think building stuff with concrete block and cement is an ugly process. I would watch los muchachos work, and I would cringe. It was a constant struggle to keep myself focused on how it's going to look, not on what was before me, and the pool was the worst. What a mess!
Beginning with the muddy hole, it was just a very upsetting time for me—"Hey, I didn't know I was a construction weanie!?!? No one told me..."
At least most of the cement was poured by this time—the mud in abatement—and los muchachos were applying the repello, which I found even more mollifying: a smooth, emotionally pleasing surface that appealed to the old black 'n white photographer in me. And, about that time, I realized that my mission would be to forget the ugliness lying under the pretty surfaces, once the house was finished. (We'll just have to wait on that one.) Why didn't TC have these same feelings about the construction? You'll have to ask her. She's having the time of her life, while I'm loosing sleep over cement dreams. It's all very perturbing.
And, for me, that's how October ended: perturbed. TC was afraid I was going to give myself a stroke with all the anxiety and worry I was causing myself. So, she developed a plan. When I finally wigged out and needed that wheelchair, she was going to have a ramp built off the guest room wing of the terrace, off over the 70' drop down into the barranca there. Then, when she got fed-up with caring for me—probably sometime during the first week, she'd just push me from one end of the terrace to the other, picking-up speed, then launch me out over the barranca. Depending on my condition, I'll either gurgle and drool on the way down or cry out, "Look at all the pretty trees, pretty trees! Wheeeeeee.........."