The stucco is on, both interior and exterior. The floor is poured with expansion and contraction lines cut. The stairs to the roof are under construction. When they are finished the roof will be sealed and our albañiles will be done. Thursday, tomorrow, we’ll drive to La Paz and order the windows and buy some wood for our front door. Next up are the Gypsy Carpenters or, I should say, the Gypsy Carpenter. I’m semi-retired from that line of work. The elbows, wrists, and hands just can’t do that kind of labor for long. And this job is small. Burt won’t need much help. I’ll hold up some studs or cut a board if he needs me but mostly I’m just going to tell him what I want aesthetically. What do I want? Quién sabe? Hmmmm…There’s no rush. I’m leaning towards wabisabi industrial in lavender and gray with apple green accents.
Life is rebooting into our normal routines. The Todos Santos Bridge club added an open duplicate game on Friday afternoon. Burt and I are very happy. Playing once a week was no way to advance our understanding of the game and our partnership. It was too hard to remember anything in between Mondays. The kids are coming back around now that I walk down to their house and escort them past the very friendly dogs they think are dangerous. The migratory birds are leaving but we’re still birding.
I have two book recommendations for you. It’s rare I read a book with the damn phone addiction and music and bridge and birding and yoga but I’m trying to reinstill the habit. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and When Breath Becomes Air. Both are about death and they are both great to read and completely different. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes made me want to be an undertaker (again). It’s funny and informative about the death industry. If you don’t feel like reading it let me advise you to avoid embalming at all costs. You don’t want to know. When Breath Becomes Air is the sad and inspiring memoir of a young neurosurgeon as he dies of lung cancer. The takeaway was find what you want to be and be it. And that can change. Adapt. Live. Love. Serve.
Burt and I are back at our Mexican home base and all is well. The work on our house continued in our absence and we have nothing to complain about. The weather here is cool and moist. Actual rain fell two days ago and nighttime temperatures are in the 50s. Spring is upon us. La Primavera is typically damp and cool. Yay for spring.
There’s lots going on that I cannot discuss here. Pescadero politics, infrastructure, Bridge. Suffice it to say we are muddling through trying to help where we can. The kids have all but disappeared recently but have no fear we are rounding them up today for a big meeting to discuss our mission statement and goals. A lack of continuity (illness, travel, school) and kid level politics all contributed to the confusion. So today we’ll see what they want. The kids are in charge. We are going to regroup and move forward. Stay tuned.
Here we are at what happens to be the end of week 5 of construction. The structure is complete. Next steps for our team of albañiles (masons) is the half wall on the roof deck and the start of the exterior plaster. Word is the interior scaffolding will remain in place as the roof concrete cures for two weeks. I just looked up the cure curves for concrete to refresh myself. Seven days is generally accepted as 70% strength under optimal temperatures and humidity. We’re pretty close to that here on the Tropic of Cancer, maybe just a little dry and too much day to night temperature swings, for a perfect cure but way ahead of the US right now. So two weeks is well within the margin of error to remove the forms.
The pour was uneventful but a little stressing for me. Our concrete was ordered from Cabo San Lucas. Two of the spinning Easter egg shaped trucks and a pumper truck came in stages but by the time the pumper was situated the concrete was two hours old. ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineering) says no truck over 1 1/2 hours old shall be accepted. I know from past experience that 2 hour trucks get poured but it’s not what you want to do. It was a very dry, difficult to work concrete that landed on our roof. Only time will tell if it’s adequate for the job. Most likely all is well and this is a case where ignorance would be bliss. I have no fears about the structural integrity but I do worry about the finish. Here, again, our location is an advantage. There is no freeze, therefore no thaw, and the concrete finish should not be heavily stressed.
On other fronts I was laid low by a severe bout of vertigo last week. It’s happened before and it’s never fun but this time I projectile vomited. Surprisingly easy to do when your inner ear isn’t working. The ear doctor hear ordered me onto a no salt diet. My ear seems to hurt less, and my fingers are skinnier. I guess I was retaining water. The vertigo is lessened but not gone. It might take weeks.
We have a show next week and we’ve been regularly practicing with our friend Priscila. Check us out on Valentine’s Day at Las Fuentes, 6 PM, Todos Santos. Love gone good and bad.
Soon we will have a roof over our casita. Yes, Kevin, I call it a casita because it’s just a one-bedroom home. There’s no room for guests but that won’t be a problem. We have the rumpus room for any visitors. Hint, hint. For those of you concerned about construction management while we are gone for ten days I say you are right to be concerned. We’re pretty relaxed about this but there is no telling what might or might not happen. The Gypsy Carpenters often work in similarly unsupervised conditions with very few problems. We’re extending the same trust to our team that we enjoy from our clients. In addition, our neighbor and good friend Janet will be serving as the treasurer. She can give the guys money if they need any supplies while we are gone. Janet knows our team, she speaks Spanish, and she is right next door. She will be well compensated for any work she has to do on our behalf. The job should be at the plaster and stucco stage so there’s not much that could go wrong. Famous last words, right?
The construction technique for the ceiling has finally come clear in my head. I was confused for years about how insulation and concrete and rebar came together to form a roof. and ceiling. Rebar and insulation are built over plywood forms in a matrix. Concrete is poured over the mass to a thickness of 2″ above the rebar. After two weeks of curing the forms are removed and the bottom (ceiling side) is a grid of reinforced concrete and styrofoam. They call this style of roof caseton. Maybe casaton. I’m not sure. When the forms are removed the underside is then plastered. My fears of concrete landing on my head during a Baja earthquake were unfounded. This is a well reinforced structure. If a big earthquake hits only plaster will rain down. I feel better. Were you worried? Our workers tell us only the gringos and really rich Mexicans get a caseton roof. Most families here live under simple concrete slabs or corrugated metal roofs. These homes can be unspeakably hot in summer.
Oh, btw, our workers built that brick colored house behind ours in the photos.
Progress continues at a most satisfactory pace here in El Pescadero. Our team works with minimal oversight and zero drama. Every day Burt meets with them in the morning to discuss material needs. If something must be bought Burt goes and takes care of it while the guys get to building. Typical daily purchases are some combination of sand, gravel, block, cement, or water. There’s a limited amount of storage on our lot so materials come in only as they are needed.
Reinforced concrete beams have been poured to support the slab that is both ceiling and roof. It’s not just a roof, it’s a floor too. Our roof top will be accessible for viewing your enjoyment. Until someone builds on the lot south of us we have a clear view of the dancing humpback and gray whales. A few years ago Burt used to be able to see the surf break with binoculars but that view has since been obliterated by beach level condos. He uses the internet now to decide if he should go surfing. The roof, ceiling, floor…the slab will be insulated with blocks of styrofoam. I can’t quite envision how this is done. I’ll be sure to pay attention and let you know. Today temporary scaffolding is being installed to support the plywood forms for the concrete. The big slab pour should be very, very soon.
It’s Friday. We are officially temporary residents of Mexico. We succeeded in convincing Mexico to let us come and go as we please or stay as long as we want for the next year. In 2020 year we can renew our temporary residency visas for three years and at the end of that span we can apply for permanent residency if we so desire. There’s no telling what we’ll do in four years. I’m happy we can stay longer than 6 months and we’re on the road to residency. The process was surprisingly easy and we did it ourselves with a couple of interpretation assists. My favorite bit is that we succeeded during a change of government and the Christmas holidays. It took only two months from our first visit to the Mexican Embassy in Tucson and we only paid the normal fees. No lawyers, no advisors, no gifts. All on the up and up. The Mexican staff were very helpful and professional in Tucson and La Paz. I felt like they wanted us. It’s a nice feeling.
Our yard is full of construction materials and a staff of builders. We have finally plunged into the Mexican construction system. We’ve owned this lot for six years and ever since we bought it we’ve wrestled with the next big step. Build or permanently live in our gNash? If we build, how? Wood or concrete? Rammed earth? Prefab panels? It’s obvious we’d prefer wood since we could do it ourselves and we’d be in total control. The termites would prefer we build with wood, too. Or so most people think. We thought we’d solved the wood dilemma with an anti-termite treatment in our rumpus room. And we have. There’s no termites eating our treated rumpus room but someone wisely pointed out that if we wanted to be able to sell this place most people would be suspicious of wood. Termite bias is reasonable and most likely insurmountable in future buyers. Also, hurricanes. Concrete houses withstand hurricanes and we have hurricanes. With climate change we’re going to have more and stronger hurricanes.
So finally having decided to build meant we had reached the conclusion that we had to build with concrete block. Block is the local preference. There are many competent building crews to choose from here. Block is also less expensive than modular panels and rammed earth. Rammed earth is gorgeous but slow and very, very expensive. And it’s hard to remodel the interior. Concrete is easy to patch. Late last year we started getting estimates but really we wanted one crew, a team of guys whose work we’d seen and who we knew to be great workers. But that team had a boss and regular jobs working for their boss. We did not need the boss and we certainly didn’t want to pay the boss. Between Burt and I we can build a house in concrete and in Spanish. There was no need to pay money for the middle man. So we resigned ourselves to working with some other group but didn’t settle on anyone.
Over the summer we played with floor plans. Independently Burt and I realized an L shaped home would be best for our lot. The L would provide a secluded shady patio and allow us to cram in more floor space without crushing some nice cactii. When we arrived this year Burt noticed the guys we wanted were not particularly busy. So he asked them if they were available for some independent work. We got lucky. Things were slow and the dream team wanted to work for us and they got their boss to agree. The Magic 8 Ball revealed: All signs say YES. So we leapt on the chance to get our casita built by this team of quick and reliable builders. And here we are. The yard is a disaster. Rain fell into the mess yesterday so it’s an even worse situation than we could have imagined. But the workers persist. And the house is flying up while money flies out.
More later on construction techniques and the work culture.
This year’s Todos Santos Christmas Bird count was an unprecedented success for our area. I hope in future years we’ll be able to look back and see it as the start of a new day for citizen science in our part of the world. Twenty people from three countries speaking at least two languages got together and split up over 170 square miles of terrain to count as many birds as they could in one day. The first three years of counting only uncovered 74, 66, 44 species respectively. We got 51 species with my team alone on CBC day. Our combined CBC circle teams tagged at least 109 species together. (An increase of 47% on the best year and 147% on the worst.) We don’t have the final numbers yet because only half our teams have submitted their completed tally sheets. Among those species seen were prized endemics found only in Baja California Sur: the San Lucas Robin, Xantu’s hummingbird, the Gray thrasher, Cassin’s (San Lucas) Vireo, the Vioscosa’s Band-tailed pigeon, and the Acorn woodpecker. Some people may quibble over endemic status for some of these but our Baja pride dictates we support the local UABCS scientists working so hard on the status of these birds. There were a couple other subspecies seen, too, but I can’t recall which right now.
I am eternally grateful to all the hard working bird professionals that came out to support the community effort. Staff and students of the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur gave up a day of their holidays to ensure our success. Burt and I are will continue to do what we can to help your programs succeed. Many thanks also to the expert guides and non-professionals who lent their eyes and ears. Your love of the birds is inspiring. And finally, to the newbies that were eager to learn and offered any support they had with driving, navigating, and feeding of teams. May you continue to learn and share all you have. Here’s who turned out: Emer Garcia, Gerardo Marrón, Victor Armando, Joaquin Corrales, Daniel Galindo, Andrea Quintaro, Kurt Radamaker, Cindy Radamaker, Bequia Martel, Damian Gonzáles, Pablo Gonzáles, Bobbi McElravey, Bill Levine, John Konovsky, Don Martin, Alejandra Yarely Barrios, Osiel A. Flores Rosas, Haidé Cruz, Burt Mittelstadt and me.
The week before the count Burt and I drove a lot of miles to make sure we knew the most productive areas and the best routes through the mountains. The results show our prep work proved worthwhile. Many people were surprised the mountain endemics were in our circle but we knew where to find them and those sweet birds showed up on the big day. What a relief. Thank you woodpeckers and robins.
My own personal day was spent slogging through my home turf of downtown Pescadero. But before that I had to get everyone else split into teams and out in the field. That night my fitbit said I slept 3 hours. Adrenaline was pumping as soon as my head hit the pillow. Thoughts kept popping up: Did I have enough maps, cars, snacks? Will they find the snipe at the dam? What about those Harris’s hawks? Do I need to bring sunscreen and bug juice? What if nobody helps me in Pescadero? When was the last time I saw a gray thrasher? What if nobody shows up? The alarm went off at 5 AM and I was in Todos Santos at our meeting point at 6:45. Burt arrived 15 minutes later in a spare vehicle. By 7:15 it was obvious we had enough experts and support to cover all the areas I had hoped to reach. I showed the teams my suggestions and we split up the people into teams of experts and support. There was a mild squirmish over the mountain areas. Our main coastal oases were so familiar to the best birders that they hoped for a day in the new terrain. Burt wound up in a car with 5 people, all of them with strong local skills and two of them at the expert level. That A team headed to the mountains. We had six teams. Three coastal oasis and town with agricuture and desert, and three in the desert to the edge of the mountains with some agriculture.
As for me, I had two amiable and kind helpers the first three hours but the slogging through sewage ponds and desert thorns under an unrelenting sun burned my guys out by lunch time. after a quick count at my feeder and some lunch I finished the lonely afternoon chasing sparrows and birds of prey in our agricultural fields. Around 3 PM Emer called in to say his team was done and back in Todos Santos. They had done the Santa Inez dam and its environs. We agreed to regroup and have a snack with the teams that were in from the field in Todos Santos. I did a rough run through of total species seen. Aside from the endemics we added 12 species that weren’t even expected to be seen in our count during the CBC. I’ve got my work cut out for me explaining all the new birds.
After the snack groups went home to Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, and La Paz. Kurt’s team was unaccounted for until 5 PM. They finally retired and headed to their hotel and Gerardo, Burt and I headed out to try and pick up some missing species and the night birds. Finally at 8 PM we showed Gerardo our guest bed and crashed. You might think the next day we would give it a rest but I had one of Baja’s best birders in my guest room and he was willing to bird my backyard and see what Pescadero had to offer so no, there was no rest for us. Burt and I took Gerardo to our local black water effluent and Gerardo got to work. He confirmed my find of the endangered Belding’s Yellowthroat in our local cesspool, but where I was lucky to see one, he found six. This bird is a difficult ID. It is easy to wishfully call a common yellow throat a Belding’s so I was eager to confirm I wasn’t seeing things. I am very relieved. Gerardo is our local eBird reviewer and the only person ahead of me for number of checklists submitted to eBird in 2018. I tease him because if I was here full-time we’d have a real competition. And so we spent another day birding in the company of the amiable and productive Gerardo. We went to Elias Calles and La Poza, too. At 3:00 we parted because Burt and I had a tennis match with my dad and Sara Gay. After that I collapsed.
A special shout out to Jackie Lewis and Bonnie Bowen for encouraging me and Todos Santos EcoAdventures for passing the baton.
Christmas Bird Count season is upon us. That’s something to celebrate. This is the 119th anniversary of the largest citizen science project in the world. It’s successful because humans all over agree to go out and focus their birding efforts in a tight circle on a scheduled date. The collective CBC circles cover an area and span of time to have produced the most important bird trend data in the world. Burt and I were lucky to have participated in a Portal, AZ count a few years ago. We followed our friend Peg Abbott of Naturalist Journeys as she birded her way up a mountain road over the course of a day. Peg explained the science of the CBC and shared her incredible bird identification skills while we spotted and kept count for her. We are hooked on birding in large part because people like Peg have generously spent time helping us learn the birds.
Yesterday Burt and I went to La Paz to help count in their amazingly diverse circle. They’ve got desert and agriculture and miles of shoreline and the open water of La Paz bay. Daniel Galindo-Espinosa is the compiler for La Paz and he welcomed our participation and has agreed to come to Todos Santos and help me out this week when we do ours. We were assigned to help our buddy Emer Garcia of the UABCS birding program at the city’s wastewater treatment plants. This might seem like a loser spot but it is actually one of the most important habitats in the Baja Sur region. I kind of hoped for a new area and new birds but I was relieved for two reasons. Emer is a pro and Burt and I had birded the area the day before so we knew what to expect. Still it was also kind of overwhelming. The volume of birds on the treatment lagoons can make you crazy when you’re desert rats like us. We are used to spotting birds as individuals. Counting entire flocks and picking out unique individuals inside of heavy flocks is tiring work. It takes practice. Our team of 5 set to it with Emer keeping us under control and we think we did a pretty good job. Our search revealed 59 species and over 1000 individuals. There was nearly 100 white-faced ibis alone. And the ducks. Holy quakery, Bat Man, there were a lot of ducks.
Meanwhile Burt and I have been driving roads to make sure we can get people out to the areas we want birded this Thursday. Today we are taking one last excursion to the border of the Sierra de la Laguna. I saw something I’m hesitant to report just yet so we’re going to try and find it again and also check out some other spots.
Join us Thursday at 7AM (12/20) if you’d like to participate in the Todos Santos Christmas Bird Count.
So Burt and I are getting into the swing of things. We’ve just plunged right in. Spanish, yoga, surfing, birding, kid’s classes, Bridge. Our schedules are packed full of fun and meaningful interactions so it’s not like we were looking for anything to do. The annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is coming is these next three weeks. Birders all over the world work together to get an annual census. There are rigorous scientific protocols everyone agrees to follow. These protocols have given us 118 years of priceless data on birds. Todos Santos has had its own CBC for only 3 years. We’ve got some catching up to do. I noticed last week that I did not know when our CBC was planned so I contacted the organizers. There were a few emails back and forth where in summary I politely informed them that the answers they were giving me did not follow Audubon’s protocols. They very kindly said, “Will you take over for us?” I said, “Yes.” That old adage of no good deed goes unpunished comes to mind.
Now I am a scrambling to learn the formalities of running a circle and finding enough birders to cover our area. Luckily we know a bunch of the best and so far they are eager to get this thing underway with the new management. And by best I mean waaay wayyyy better than us best. So buh-bye. I’ve got a lot of work to do.