Property Upgrades 2021-January

Project Work Dates:        Monday 1-4-2021 through Friday 1-8-2021

Costa Rica Work Crew (January 2021)

  • Jairon              Crew Leader
  • Jonathan         Multi-skilled craftsman
  • Carlos              Multi-skilled craftsman
  • Justin              Assistant to Jonathan and Carlos
  • Rabin               Machete work, bush clearance
  • Marciel             Machete work, bush clearance (bother of Rabin)


Base Material: A mixture of course sand and small stones.  The base material is delivered to the property in large quantities – typically either 6-cubic meter loads or a full truck load at 12-cubic meters.

Cement:  A binder material used for construction that sets, hardens, and adheres to other materials to bind them together.  The cement that we purchase locally is very strong and is sold in 50KG bags.

Concrete:  A composite material composed of both the base material and the cement combined together.  When mixed correctly with the appropriate portions of base material and cement, concrete can last for centuries.

Cuneta: These are concrete pre-cast forms that have a U-Shape and are used to capture and channel water flows.  For Casa Armonía, typically the 8-inch version of cuneta is the most practical size and therefore the most commonly used throughout the property.

Alcanteria: These are pre-cast concrete forms that are a full concrete pipe.  Alcanterias come in many sizes and are used when water needs to be channeled under the ground surface.  On the property we typically use the 6-inch, 8-inch or 12-inch versions depending upon the situation. 

Lastre: Lastre is a material of mixed rock, igneous and various mudstone, that is the one of the primary road building materials for areas that cannot be paved with concrete or blacktop due to excessive costs.  Lastre is typically sold in quantities of 6 or 12 cubic meters per load.  As can be seen from the definitions provided via the web-link, the historic antecedent for this word comes from the Spanish colonial past.  Lastre in strict definition terms pertains to the ballast material that was used in the age of wooden sailing ships. 

For the project goals for January 2021, there were three primary areas of the property that required attention.

Front Entrance

The front entrance of the property that connects the driveway to the main “Lagunas” Road had been suffering the effects of erosion for several years.  During the dry season, the entrance was nothing more than a minor inconvenience of dried mud ruts and numerous bumps.  During the rainy season, the entrance of the property could turn into a large puddle sometimes 4 to 6 inches deep with stagnant water that did not drain easily. To remedy this situation, a trench was dug with a backhoe and then filled with a line of 12-inch alcanterias.  A total of 15 alcanterias were required for this trench line.  Once the alcanterias were set into the trench, the entire trench was refilled with mud and rocks.  The top of the alcanterias were then covered with 4 inches of concrete. 

The trench line now drains to a stone-covered spill way.  The skeleton of the spill way was constructed with 16x16x1.5-inch pre-cast concrete pavers, then completely covered with natural stone. 

To more effectively channel water that can be rushing downhill in torrents to the alcanterias, a line of six cement-connected cunetas (8-inch / one meter in length each) was also set in place.

At the front entrance looking toward the property, on the right side is a sloping hill that was bulldozed several years ago to create the driveway.  To give the front both a cleaner appearance and to also stabilize the slope, four cubic yards of natural stone was dry stacked to form a natural wall. 

The final action to clean up the front of the property was the deposit of 24 cubic yards of lastre (two full truck loads) at the front entrance.  The backhoe operator did real magic with this material and the machine.  Driving over this entrance is now just so pleasant as compared to the bumpy and sometimes messy and muddy adventure that existed prior to the completion of this project.

In front of the Shipping container

The shipping container is located on an area of previously bull-dozed ground that is a rectangular-shaped plot that is roughly 40 feet by 60 feet.  This is a nice part of the property that is already leveled and ready for a future structure.  Unfortunately, drainage of rainwater from the house, which is located just above this area had created a naturally cut water channel that was so deep that vehicles could not access this area.  There was only one small access point remaining, and in many cases this remaining area that could be accessed had to be filled with cement blocks or chunks of wood and logs to allow a vehicle to cross.

To remedy this situation, the backhoe was used to cut a trench roughly 30 inches deep.  This trench line was then filled with the 12-inch alcanterias and covered with concrete in the same manner as previously described for the front entrance. 

At the end of this trench line, a concrete connector box was constructed so that the alcanterias could round a corner and turn 90 degrees to keep pushing the water further down to lower levels of the property.  Our original plan was to continue to move the water toward the jungle and let the water just flow naturally.  When this plan was brought to the attention of our neighbor, we had to make a significant adjustment.  Our original plan, as logical and cost effective as it was, was deemed unacceptable to our neighbor, as the assumption was that the rainwater coming from our property would contaminate the water from a natural spring that is very close.  This is not the case, as there is no effluent associated with this drainage coming from our land, but the situation was not worth fighting about and jeopardizing a relationship with our immediate neighbor and colleague, therefore the line of alcanterias must be extended for a significant distance beyond our original plans.  In January of 2021, a total of sixty-two (62) 12-inch alcanterias were installed.  As of this writing, it is estimated that 30 additional alcanterias are required to complete this section of drainage.  This is a significant cost for additional materials, labor, and backhoe machine rental, but that is how life is sometimes.

After the alcanterias were reburied and covered with 4 inches of concrete, another truckload of lastre (12 cubic meters) was used to cover this area and reconnect the driveway with this part of the property that could not be driven over for many years.  This has truly been a welcome improvement, as parking has expanded, and large trucks now have sufficient room for maneuvering in and out during routine drop offs of materials.

Property cleanup / bush clearance

During this trip, we were fortunate to have two new guys added to the work crew, two brothers named Rabin and Marciel.  Rabin and Marciel worked tirelessly to both cut down brush and trees and remove all the debris from the ground.  It is customary for the most part to simply cut down the brush and let the detritus just rot on the ground.  The rotting detritus may be part of nature, but in actuality this decomposing material forms a thick bed on the ground that becomes infested with all sorts of insects and other things that crawl and have venom.  By using some nylon mesh tarps that we brough down with us from the States, the brothers would take load by load to the furthest downslope of the property that was away from everything that really matters.  As the days passed, the property really began to shine – literally speaking, as the sun was able to penetrate areas that were previously shrouded in the jungle darkness. 

The bush clearance of the property that Rabin and Marciel did really has changed the property significantly.  Sunlight now penetrates and radiates in all directions.  Additionally, young tree saplings that typically must struggle to climb to the light were spared during the bush clearance.  Rabin and Marciel carefully cut down all the jungle bush around these young saplings and cut the vines that typically kill these trees.  The hope now is that these young trees will now have the opportunity to reach full maturity.

Special side projects

During this trip, some really cool items were addressed that had been lingering.  In the back of the house, there is remnant row of trees that were not been hacked down during the house construction process.  Some of the trees are nice and have long term potential for value-added beauty to the property.  But as with everything in the jungle, it is a survival of the fittest competition of plant life to climb high and reach the sunlight.  Along with that, there are the ever-present vines that seem intent on tangling things up and sometimes literally pulling trees down.  Within this messy assemblage of a tree stand of various competing species and vines, the electric line that comes to the house is mounted within this nest-like assemblage of biomass.  This is just problematic and obviously was not the best idea when the electric was installed.  Over the course of various days, typically while drinking beers and Cuba libres, the three of us (Brandon, Pete, and myself) cut trees, numerous branches, vines… pulled things down and dragged the detritus away.   This turned out to be a lot of stuff removed.  The effect was phenomenal, for the clean up removed so many of the trees and vines that were just suffocating and killing each other and opened everything to sunlight.  This is one of those side projects that brings a lot of joy and relief.  The remaining trees are now free from the burden of their immediate competitors and those destructive vines. Additionally, the electric line that attaches within this tree grouping can now be more easily reached and this poorly thought out Tico-rig will be corrected in the very near future.  We really owe it to our colleague and friend Brandon who was able to climb high into the tree stand and reach things that looked impossible to do until he did it. 

Brandon doing the impossible….

Another item of note that deserves special mention would be the Guanacaste Tree that appears in many of the photos taken from the front of the house, typically from the porch.  This tree is huge and beautiful. Unfortunately, over the past year or so, one of the smaller branches that juts out had died.  Brandon again, climbed up as high as possible with a 20-foot extension ladder, then roped his way further up to get a good base point to work.  From here, Brandon was able to cut the dead branch with a small hand saw, a tool typically suited for smaller stuff with maybe a 3-inch diameter.  This branch turned out to be roughly 8 inches in diameter and required a lot of time and effort to remove.  The photos taken of this tree from January 2021 going forward will have a cleaner and streamlined appearance, though we will miss the little branch appendage that did not survive. 

Guanacaste Tree with living branch
Guanacaste Tree with dying/dead branch
Guanacaste Tree in current form, with dead branch removed