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Published: February 8th 2020
A New Year's Eve tradition in Ecuador is to burn a life-sized paper maché effigy. But how to get him home? This scene on the outskirts of Guayaquil made me do a double-take!
Fortunately, I have never had to live in a war zone....nor had I ever before experienced life in a construction site but in a way I sense they are one and the same. I am ever so grateful to have been able to escape with CiCi three doors down to Shana's little guest house during my building project; the addition of a glassed-in dining room. Every morning and afternoon I could stroll up the hill to see the progress, cringe at the extreme mess and rubble, and then return to the peace and quiet of Shana's garden with the hope that my own home would eventually return to normalcy.
In preparation for the construction and renovation I had to get ALL my stuff out of my house, but fortunately I have a small two-room cabaña on the front of my lot where I was able to store everything. I tried mostly packing in baskets and open top bins to be able to see where everything was, just in case I had to access it. While I was storing my junque, I was setting aside clothes & toiletries for 3 weeks
Not a Pretty Picture
Once I removed all of my stuff from the kitchen I was again reminded how ugly it was!
at Shana's and also packing for 2 weeks on the coast, a trip I had planned long before the architects decided to move the building start date from February back to December for their convenience...they weren't as busy right before the holidays. I told them I wouldn't have the $$ to pay them until Feb (when a bank CD came due) but they were willing to wait for payment.
Once all of my things were out of the kitchen I was reminded how basic and ugly it was, and I started to feel even more excited to see all the changes soon to come! CiCi was a bit confused by all that was going on, but as long as she was with me she was fine. Follow down the photos to see the progression of the construction - it really is amazing how much mess they had to make to accomplish a sleek, simple structure. Since the add-on was going to create so much dust and havoc anyways, I agreed to have the rest of my small living space renovated at the same time.
This is where my new dining room will be built!
For the past 3+ years I've been living a low-ceilinged, two-room mother-in-law suite, called a "media-agua" because it traditionally shares the water meter with the main house. A couple of years ago I had a second water meter installed when I was renting out the front house; I didn't want my renter's shower to go cold every time I flushed the toilet! First order of business for the workmen now was to scrape the ugly "cottage cheese" surface off the ceiling. As the plasterers began this job, huge chunks of the ceiling started to fall down. Almost as soon as I moved in I'd had to install a translucent roof up on the terrace to address the flat roof leaking problem, but it was clear that water had been infiltrating the ceiling/roof for quite some time before and now the extensive damage tumbled forth, making for a much larger project than planned. In the end the plasterers were able to remove all the damage, bury the electric wires (which had previously been routed along the top via plastic canals), and create a clean smooth surface opening up the space making it feel much larger!
Yes, I had been warned that any construction project will likely take twice as long and cost twice as much as planned. This was certainly coming to pass here! It all sort of made sense when I thought about a recent resurfacing project on the road up past my house. The road workers haphazardly filled in a few holes and left piles of gravel blocking the sidewalks and the edges of the street. I went to the municipal public works offices after three weeks of the leftover materials being scattered up and down the hill by wind, rain, horses, and vehicles, to ask when the'd be cleaning up that wasteful mess that was left behind. They eventually did remove the piles but left lots of the gravel behind which made for slippery dog-walking conditions on the edges.
Fast forward to the city-wide street painting project. While having lunch in town one day I watched as a guy with a broom walked ahead of the line-painting machine to prepare the terrain for a clean streak of yellow edging. No
It was hard to see my yard looking like this!
such care was taken up on the hill by my house, a short ways out of town. I watched while the younger members of the crew leaned against the guardrail glued to their cell phones, not a broom in sight. The older workers ran the line painting machine right up and over the remaining gravel and, as I found out the next day, even up and over dried horse turds. I kicked them out of the way and the paint went with them (hahaha funny - not funny!) It was explained to me once, and I believe this to be true, that the shoddy way that work is done serves a purpose...this way the workers will have another job again the following month!
Back to my home construction site. I quickly realized that anything of my own that I left within reach was fair game. Every plastic bucket or bowl that was sitting around was destroyed beyond use, a drainage pipe was pulled off (who knows why) so all the boxed materials became soaked with rain, and the guys thought nothing of emptying their cement sludge at the base
Starting to Take Shape
The metal columns are up and the frame is ready for roof and windows
of my lemon tree. These idiots even took down my shower curtain rod and sawed it up to use as paint stirrers! But here's the kicker -- I had moved all of my larger furniture (bed, mattress, bookcase, dresser, etc) up to the top terrace, huddled them together and surrounded them with a huge tarp tied around with string. Well, the guy who had sanded and varnished my bedroom's wood floor wanted to protect his work from the ongoing dust in the adjacent kitchen. Of course he had not brought along plastic or anything to block the open doorway so he brought down my mattress (MY MATTRESS!) to lean against the door and absorb the smell of lacquer.
I was livid - beside myself with rage. The culprit had already left for the day and the poor tile guy had to watch me have a total meltdown, calling the architects and screaming at them about the lack of supervision of their workers! At the start of the project they had me sign a contract saying that I had no laboral relationship with the workers which they explained
Sliding Glass Doors
Installing the aluminium frames for ceiling to floor glass on two sides
protected me in case of injury or such. The architects assured me that one of them would always be on site supervising the laborers. I agreed to pay the big bucks for the luxury of knowing (I thought) that they'd be keeping an eye on things. Hah! Not bloody so!!
Well, the first week one of the architects or assistants was always on site to oversee the erection of the metal structure, but by the second week they'd stop by for maybe 15 minutes and take a peek. When I called them on it their response was, "we're not about to stand around and watch the paint dry." WELL, you're supposed to make sure that your idiot workers don't pull off stupid stunts like the mattress act! I insisted that they replace my tainted mattress - in addition to the stench the fabric had torn as the guy dragged it down the rough cement stairway. The architects protested saying that my mattress had not been new to begin with and that a new one cost 3x what they'd even paid the floor refinisher. I did NOT back
The sliding doors open all the way so when you're inside you feel like you're outside and the clear roof extension creates a sort of greenhouse for my lemon tree - heavenly fragrance of blossoms!
down. I became that furiously rabid client (hating my own violent reaction) -- everyone looked frightened every time I showed up!
As the work progressed I made it a point to insert myself when it was a question of making sure that things were placed just right, like the configuration of the glass blocks. Technically I was not supposed to have windows on the dining room's long wall since it's shared with my neighbors' back yard - which is just a pile of dirt. They live an hour away and only visit a day or two a month and had no problem with this solution. SO, to maximize light I found some cool designs of glass block and created a pattern with them. The architect told me he was dubious at first, thinking glass block was only suitable for bathrooms, but he now agrees that my wacky idea turned out beautifully!
Each backsplash tile has four unique designs and there are six different configurations so it was tricky to shuffle them so that the designs repeated in a
Looking Towards the Kitchen
A high countertop separates the two rooms, with the backsplash tile carrying into the dining area
random way. In spite of having seen me totally lose my temper, the tile guy was very patient with my meddling in his work and he made every effort to make sure that the results met my expectations. They DO! I put off my departure for the coast a few more days but the guys still didn't manage to finish on time. The aluminum framed sliding glass doors had glitches that the worker insisted was the way they were meant to be, so I had to call down the big gun architect from Ambato an hour away to insist that this jerk complete the job correctly. Lazy bastard. His idea of "cleaning up" was to splash sludgy water at the windows, leaving muddy splotches all over the glass and aluminum. I'm still trying to clean them off.
One of the painters came back (unsupervised) to fix the details that the other workers had damaged (so careless and thoughtless of others' work!) This guy was a dolt -- he started using the darker of the two gray-green colors on the wall that was supposed to have the lighter
New Sink & Counter
Backsplash tiles with a strip of my mosaic along the top
color and when he realized his mistake he just stopped and left it half-done, mid-brush stroke...like I wasn't going to notice? Which meant he had to come BACK again and the next time I was there breathing down his neck, pointing out every little ding that I'd marked with hot pink post-it notes. I had turned into "client-zilla"!!
OK - sorry for all the wailing and whining...now we get to the good part where it all starts coming together! Before I took off for the holidays at the beach I was able to see the kitchen mostly finished (just lacking the installation of the double sink and the stove). Here in Ecuador we buy replaceable metal tanks of propane for cooking and hot water heaters, so during the construction the guys buried the rubber gas line and led it to a tank shelter/counter top beside the front door, which I decorated with tiles I've been collecting through the years from all over the world (scroll through all the photos to see the picture of this towards the end) Little touches like this really make it feel like
Looking out from the Kitchen
I can still see out to the street from my new stove!
I'm pleased with the backsplash tile I chose and since the architect had ordered WAY too much of it, I went ahead and tiled the kick-panel under the breakfast bar at the pass-through over the stove between the kitchen and the dining area. I like how this ties the two rooms together, and how the floor tiles also unite the spaces. For a long, long time I'd been envisioning the mosaic trim I planned to create to top off the backsplash. I had done a triage of beach stones and using the smallest and roundest blue green pebbles I created a wave of semi-precious stones (malachite, tiger-eye, amethyst, turquoise, amber, etc) and some special beads and baubles all topped with tiny white shells and more pebbles. I'm absolutely thrilled with how it turned out...even better than I could have imagined! It really ties together the design of the wall tiles.
The kitchen STILL has no drawers, but using wood shelves and baskets I manage to make it work. I do like being able to
New Room from Above
Not thrilled about the color of the roof, but the clear plastic part creates a kind of greenhouse
see all of my utensils, having everything right at reach. Even now, a month later, there's still a lot more cleaning to do. With all the cement and grout and worker carelessness, it takes a number of deep cleanings to start to feel like it's actually clean. I've hosted a few luncheons to start to show off my new space. It's fabulously airy with all the doors open when it's a nice day. The sliding glass doors open out fully so it's a true indoor/outdoor space. I also included a skylight strip over the breakfast bar in an attempt to keep the kitchen bright. Between the glass blocks and the ceiling to floor glass doors on two walls, the space has great light - awesome for Scrabble playing! I currently have a temporary table - an old wooden door on metal trestles - but it works well for now.
My trip to the coast with CiCi was pleasant - I stayed in my old cabañas the first few nights. The couple that bought them has created an eco-lodge called Tranquilidad. They still live in the states but come down
The cabañas I sold to Angela and Mark have been transformed into this magical spot. CiCi and I were warmly received for 4 nights!
a few times a year. I hadn't crossed paths with them in almost three years, so it was great to spend a few days together at their place. They've always been very kind and generous to me. They made an exception to their "no pets" policy and CiCi was a good girl for the most part - she scampered off on walkabout a few times and didn't come right away when I called her.
The next few nights I stayed at Mandála, the hotel I used to manage. The owners were very busy so I wasn't able to spend much time with them but I did get to see the new house they've built just down the road. Amazing light and space and woodwork. A truly awesome liveable work of art! Their two newest dogs are two young female black Danes, Greta (Garbo) and Frida (Kahlo) and they are very large and rambunctious -- a bit much for CiCi who was terrified of them. Aurelio insisted that they just wanted to play and love on her, but I could tell that CiCi wasn't feeling it that way! As a
CiCi on the Beach
At the far end of Puerto Lopez beach CiCi loved chasing crabs but was afraid of the waves
result CiCi and I spent downtime in our room (my old manager room, Aurelio's hexagonal library) and found ways to sneak out to the boardwalk without alerting the "girls".
We had a few nice walks along the beach and up and down the boardwalk into town. I mostly kept my truck parked and re-explored Puerto Lopez on foot...many new restaurants and businesses! My musician friend Walt and a friend of his I'd met previously, Larry (who now lives in Costa Rica) were also staying at Mandála and we ended up having New Year's Eve dinner together at a classy restaurant down the coast. One day I gathered a group of lady friends for a luncheon...some of them hadn't seen each other in many years so it was cool to help them reconnect! One evening I invited a few members of my adopted family for an elegant dinner at the best Italian restaurant in town. It was lovely to spend time with them in a tranquil setting - usually it's a visit with the whole fam-damily with kids and grandkids, running and screaming.
Some friends I hadn't seen in a few years and several hadn't seen each other in over a decade!
I spent a wonderful day with Freddy (Mandála waiter) and his family (his three kids are my godchildren). I'd brought down some books and clothes for them and we took a full day excursion, heading down the coast to visit the new aquarium in Valdivia, an hour south. The kids enjoyed the aquarium but I didn't get to spend much time inside because CiCi was being babysit by the guards outside and she chewed through the lead. They came in and got me to take over watching her! Silly pooch - never wants to be left behind!
I enjoyed spending time with this special family. The kids are super sweet and I have a special relationship with the oldest daughter, Yibely. We all shared a massive seafood lunch overlooking the sea and en route back north I found some hand-crafted jute lamps and artsy bar stools for my new dining space. I also stopped to give measurements to a guy who creates beautiful handmade bamboo roll-down blinds. As I write this my new blinds are on a bus on their way
Freddy and Family
We took an excursion down the coast with the kids!
to Baños - can't wait to see how they'll look installed!
To see the finishing touches on the dining room ceiling you'll have to wait until the next blog entry...meanwhile, be sure to scroll all the way to the end to see a few more photos that go along with this entry. Yes, I survived my first construction experience...Thanks for reading!
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