A group of 17 high school kids from High Tech High in San Diego came down to Nicaragua with Surf With Amigas (formerly Suave Dulce) for the trip of a lifetime. They learned to surf, did yoga, went horseback riding on the beach, and boarded down an active volcano. They learned to make tortillas and jewelry while interacting with the local community.
Living in Nicaragua is awesome. Warm weather, warm waves, affordable homesteading, and a simple life lived barefoot. There are however a few things we miss about the US – mexican food, fast internet, and good beer!
Luckily, Kim is an amazing cook, so we get our mexican food fix via homemade guacamole and chipotle chicken burritos. Despite many efforts to rig a fast internet system we’re still confined to the drudgery of dial-up. But, it is definitely better than nothing! Getting good beer has been much more of a challenge. Continue reading
Everyone loves a tree house. This one is particularly pleasing.
Inspired by an acorn, this 8′ domed tree house was made of fiberglass, resin, wood and glass by
San Franciscan artist Jay Nelson in 2007 for Larry Rinder. It was intended to be discovered on his property by visitors and used as a creative space.
We moved into our new cabana about a month prior and had yet to take full advantage of the loft because we didn’t have any stairs. We had considered several funky stair designs with notched logs and spiral things, but in the end just wanted to have nice wooden stairs finished in a reasonable amount of time. We decided to use dimensional Guanacaste with 2 x 6” x 12’ sides and 1.5 x 12” steps. Continue reading
San Francisco based functional artist Jay Nelson built a tree house in Kauai for pro surfer family Aamion Goodwin and Daize Shayne. The top floor is 30 feet up, with 140 square feet of interior living space.
Imagine sipping coffee at eye level with tree-dwelling birds, savoring that giddy heights-induced adrenaline rush with every look over the side, and taking in the freshest oxygen imaginable in every breath.
Who doesn’t have arboreal living fantasies? Vicariously climb into a treehouse home through these photos then start designing your own! Continue reading
Imagine you’re a 12 year old kid growing up in a remote fishing village in Northern Nicaragua. You’ve spent most of your life barefoot, chasing chickens and skinny dogs through barbed-wire fences. You learned to ride a horse at age 5 and by age 7 your dad had you herding cattle between pen and pasture. Your parents keep you busy with the chores of survival. There’s a two room school house just down the street but not much incentive to attend so you don’t know how to read. Continue reading
When we were at the Real Goods Solar Living Center in Hopland, CA last September, fermented pleasures were not (as usual) far from our minds. We had already rounded up beer-making supplies to take back to Nicaragua (no more being stuck with just Victoria and it’s twin Tona!) and had been sampling micro-brews on the drive down through Northern Cali. So when we spotted a book titled: Wild Fermentation, alarm bells started ringing. Continue reading
Fire ants suck! They’re just like regular ants except they swarm, bite, and then leave a painful itchy reminder for hours – usually all over your feet and ankles. I dislike mosquitoes but I hate fire ants.
Even though I hate the fire ants, I still don’t want to spray poison all over the place. We searched the internet for suggestions for an eco-friendly solution and didn’t come up with much. Baking Soda does deter them. Dousing a nest with baking soda scattered the ants causing them to move elsewhere, but they would usually just move their nest a few feet away and start over again. We tried to keep them out of our cabana by spreading a line of baking soda in front of the door, which works fine until you need to sweep the porch and end up sweeping away the soda as well. Continue reading
As a 31st birthday present to myself I decided to build a garden. I’ve been reading through The Permaculture Garden by Graham Bell and thought the design for a German Mound looked interesting. Continue reading
While trying to install our signal booster antennae on our new house, we heard a buzzing and came across a buzzing mess lurking under the palm fronds. Kim grabbed a plastic bag and I got in place with the camera. With a quick grab he was able to safely contain the stinging creatures within the bag and quickly chuck the swarming mess over the fence. Problem solved! Continue reading
The walls are up, the siding is on, and our cute little 18’sq cabana is nearly finished! We had to leave Nicaragua at this point and are very excited to get back down there and put in the details like counter tops, stairs, etc.
On our standard tri-yearly drive between Oregon and LA we finally stopped in the deliciously named Hopland to check out the Real Goods Solar Living Institute.
The Tiny House was obviously appealing – a micro home on a trailer built with recycled materials including a recycled solar panel desk. We liked the size, the feel of the wood, and the fact that it even had an indoor shower and composting toilet. Continue reading
Click the link to watch the video:
Designing the window placement was a fun experience that involved measuring, re-measuring, and measuring again, then erasing, measuring, and changing the dimensions multiple times. Our friendly red-headed framer was smilingly patient as we changed our minds back and forth. Right now there are windows on three sides with the North-Western wall window-free since it gets the most hot afternoon sun. We may end up adding some light penetration on this wall in the future. Continue reading
Building in Nicaragua is both much easier and much more difficult than it would be in the States. This project in particular is easier than most since we’re building on Coco Loco property with full access to power (except when it goes out) and water, and we don’t have to worry about any sort of permits. We’ve got two teams of guys eager to get to work, but they can’t work without materials and accessing those can be a problem. Watch the video above for my rant about a few little mishaps that cost us some time. Continue reading
When trying to figure out what type of siding we’d use for our new cabana we checked out the cabanas at the French Guys restaurant (who also have a few cabanas). They used guanacaste horizontal siding and it looks really nice even after a couple of years. Then there was a killer lightning storm! Continue reading
Using the Barefoot Architect by Johan van Lengen to get a few ideas during the design process.
Accessing the palm fronds for the thatch roof turned out to be one of the easiest things we’ve had to do so far. There’s a property nearby owned by a friend full of the right kinds of palms, so we simply had to have a chat with the caretaker there and negotiate a fair price for the 2.5 fletes we needed to cover our roof with thatch. Each flete costs 1,900 cords so 2.5 plus tractor transport ended up costing about $250 US. The palm fronds get hand woven along the varilla in tight rows and when done correctly will last about five years. Continue reading
Mangle, mangle, mangle!
We were told we needed to get some varilla to support the palma (palm thatch leaves used for our roof). So we said “OK, where do we get that”? We could either buy it from a local guy or at the market for 30 Cordobas (cords; exchange rate = 22 cords/US$) per dozen. We’re trying to use local materials and labor wherever possible, so decided to order it from the local guy and were waiting for it the next morning. When it didn’t come we found out that the local guy’s son had been struck by lightning the week before while fishing in a boat at sea and he had forgotten to cut it. Understandable, but what do we do now? Continue reading
It’s been brewing for a while and now we’re going for it. We’re planning an eco-friendly community on an amazing piece of land consisting of two ridges, a hilltop, and valley situated behind a bay with great waves and a beautiful beach within easy walking distance.
There’s an estuary on one side of the bay and rocky points framing a wide sandy beach. The area is quiet, rural agricultural, and undeveloped, with a few local villages, several restaurants, and up-and-coming hip hotels to hang out at. Almost all of the 20 or so ½ acre lots have sea views from a slightly elevated ridge capturing cool breezes, plus plenty of green space for privacy and to maintain the natural beauty.
We (Holly and Kim) are leading the project and partnering with Steve, the current owner, to get the lots and community designed and done right. The area has so much going for it and this piece of land is the most beautiful around (we’ve seen them all). We are psyched to get the lot map finalized, finish planning the water and power system and start building our own eco-pad on the front ridge with killer surf views!! We’re hoping to build with bamboo, local plantation wood, and palm thatch, have a composting toilet, grey water filtering system and organic garden.
We’ve got a few friends who are interested in joining in and we’ll be showing more around starting in November. If you are into the eco, low impact philosophy and want to check out a way to own land and build a house in an awesome country that is friendly and affordable, then let us know. Shoot us an e-mail and plan a trip down to check it out. email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
For more info…. email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
The house progresses rapidly. It’s amazing how quickly the eucalyptus posts can be assembled into home shape.
Our nine supporting pillars were bought, cut, delivered, and cemented into place within four days.
For the rest of the roof structure we needed thinner diameter eucalyptus and drove a few Kms down the main highway towards Chinandega to an enormous eucalyptus plantation totaling 300 – 600 acres depending on whom you asked. The jefe wasn’t around despite the fact that he said he’d be there at 9am. We waited from 9:30am to about 11am before we finally heard a motorbike roaring up through the quiet. Off stepped a very smiley guy in a long sleeve, pink, buttoned up shirt, fancy leather shoes, and a dark black dyed hairdo.
Our main man Orlando had already walked through the plantation and marked the trees he needed so as soon as the jefe showed up the chainsaw went to work. Mr. jefe asked if we’d seen the hilltop and then hardly waiting for an answer started leading us upwards. When we reached the base of the rocky summit he said, “It’s a race” and charged up the steep trail at full speed. He won of course, there was no room to pass him on the trail, and when he got to the top triumphant he asked how old we were then revealed that he was 50 and the secret to health was drinking a lot of fresh natural juice daily – that and his relationship with Dios.
“I’m a Christian,” he said, then waited for us to also profess our love for Christ. “Oh yes, of course we are too,” I replied. I figured it was the best answer but it did not stop him from preaching a bit. I suppose it was appropriate to hear a little sermon on the mount, so I nodded and smiled and enjoyed the view. From the top you could see the distant city of Chinandega and the outer reef at Asseradores, with a multitude of soft-looking eucalyptus treetops below, slow dancing with the breeze.
After the Christ talk he explained his plan to eventually build a hotel for tourists up there, starting with a big rancho and swimming pool. He was just waiting for his kids to finish their university training and for a little more capital to get it started. That led to the political discussion.
First religion, then politics. It’s interesting to get the opinions of relatively wealthy educated Nicaraguans on the topic of Daniel Ortega. He said he’d fought with the Sandinistas during the war in the 80s, but after Daniel took power he disagreed with the policies and began supporting the other side. I asked him about the upcoming November elections. (Nicaraguan presidents get 5-year terms and are allowed to hold office more than once but not sequentially. Daniel used creative tactics to change the constitution allowing presidents back to back terms, and is now running for the top office again. The people will decide November 6th.)
Like most other educated people I’ve polled he said that Daniel will win fairly or steal the election (as he stole the mayoral offices elections in 2009), and will remain president for another five years regardless. He told me that while he doesn’t agree with those tactics, he doesn’t mind Daniel. “All politicians are corrupt,” he said, “Daniel is no different. But Daniel gives roofs to the poor, fixes the roads, builds schools, and supports hospitals. He has done more good work in the last five years than any of the presidents before him. When he was a young man with no money he took land from the rich. Now he is a rich man with a lot of rich friends. He knows that Nicaragua needs business and foreign investment in order to improve. He’s not redistributing land anymore. Nicaragua is a good place to do business.”
With that we cruised back down to tree level, paid him 4,040 Cords (about $184 US) and gave 800 Cords ($36 US) to the big truck driver who would deliver the wood to the construction site. So, about a week into construction with all the materials for the main structure pillars and roof beams we’ve spent 10,038 Codobas or about $456 US (not counting labor).
And then we went surfing right out front…
Lately our home base has been a thatched roof cabana at El Coco Loco, the Eco-hotel where we run our women’s surf and yoga retreats. Since the guys at Coco Loco have been letting us crash there in between retreats, whenever their 5 cabanas are full with paying guests we get relocated to a tent, which means constantly moving our stuff around. We love Coco Loco but we’ve been getting desperate for a place of our own where we can unpack more permanently. We have a few land purchasing deals in the works but realizing that closing on any of those deals isn’t going to happen anytime soon we decided that it’s time to start building a semi-permanent home for ourselves.
Since Coco Loco only has 5 cabanas, as more people find out about the place they will eventually need to expand. We decided that if we funded the construction of a new cabana that we could live in for the time being but that would eventually be useful to Coco Loco guests everyone wins. Two days later, we were shopping for eucalyptus posts and breaking ground on our new home site.
We wanted our cabana to fit into the Coco Loco environment and decided to use the same materials and general building plan that they used to build their other cabanas. We measured the one we’ve been staying in and made a few design and size modifications.
Our cabana will be slightly bigger – with an 18’ x 18’ footprint that includes a 7’ x 18’ porch and 11’x 18’ interior. We included an 18’ x 7’ sleeping loft to allow the entire downstairs to be used for kitchen and living space. The roof support and pillars are locally sourced eucalyptus, with a palm thatch roof, and concrete floor. We are still trying to decide between pine and guanacaste for the walls. Guanacaste is a local beautiful hard wood that is more expensive than pine, but also forest harvested, whereas pine is cheaper and probably more sustainable since it is grown in plantations.
We got a cost estimate from Orlando the Coco Loco caretaker and chief of building operations for just the roof and wall structure to be about $643 US to build.
For the eucalyptus pillars, we drove out to farm up the road that was lined with a eucalyptus fence. We walked the fence looking for trees with the right trunk diameter, length, and straightness and picked out nine winners.
Each post cost 250 Cordobas, plus a 200 Cordoba cutting fee for all of them which came to 2,450 Cordobas. With 700 more Cords going to the guy who delivered them to the building site with his tractor, the nine pillars ended up costing us about $143 US dollars. We spent another $35 on four bags of cement to secure them into the ground, so with just our main support pillars up we are at $178 US.
We happened to come across a few guys actually making the Esterilla and stopped to check it out. Click play below for a demonstration.
The search for a sustainably built home has led us all over the place in the past months. We’ve been learning a lot about various green building methods and materials, from hay bales, to clay, earth ships and bamboo. We want to build a home-base in Nicaragua and decided that the giant grass, bamboo, with its fast growing ability and amazing strength, looks awesome and is the most green to use. This has lead us in search of the best bamboo, and how to use it to build something functional, sustainable and hip! Since then we’ve traveled to China, Thailand, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama and Ecuador looking at and learning about bamboo and green building traditions.
One of the main thing we learned was that you need to start with the right kind of bamboo, not just any type will do. Guadua! This big stuff is native to Central America,and when cut and treated right will last a long time and be very strong, besides awesome to look at. There are other types of bamboo that will work (eg. Bambusa genus native to Asia), but in the Americas, Guadua is king! It should be locally available in Nicaragua and so we’re on the hunt. When it is found it needs to be harvested correctly to make it last. First, it needs to be cut based on the moon cycle at the right time of year (end of the rainy season I think). All this to limit the sugar and starch content that the bugs love. Treating it right to make it last, means aging it and soaking it with borax (sodium borate) or other salts to further thwart the hungry bugs. After its dried it can be used for building.
Building lines can be fluid and arcing, forming lines that are more like what you see in nature. However it requires different building techniques compared to wood. It can be combined with other natural building materials such as clay and thatch for the roof to create a really natural, low cost and beautiful structure (Super Steve’s awesome bathhouse on the Osa Peninsula shown below).
As I mentioned before, we’ve been researching ways to use bamboo in building and so future blog articles will cover what’s happening with bamboo in China, Bali, Thailand, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Nicaragua. We are hoping to do a trip to Columbia soon, home of some of the most advanced bamboo artisans, builders and architects on the planet. Check out the work by one of the masters, Simon Velez:
Hiking through permaculture farms and admiring bamboo structures makes one quite thirsty. Usually, quality hoppy libations are inaccessible in Latin America, which is why we were so ecstatic to happen upon Cafe Flor and Roche’s Brewery in Canoa, Ecuador.
We’d heard rumors of locally brewed IPAs on tap served with burritos. It was just what we were craving. And while it did turn out to be a little too good to be true (the IPA had run out the day before), we did like the passion fruit hefeweizen so much we returned the following day with a 2 liter water bottle that brewmaster Brandon Roche happily filled as a growler to go.
While visiting the Rio Muchacho farm we met a silvaculturalist (tree specialist) named Noah who suggested we check out the Jama-Coque Ecological Reserve. He gave us some vague directions and we followed a dirt road through some squishy mud, left our rental car in the care of a pack of pigs, and hiked into the reserve with a backpack full of a change of clothes and some PB&J fixings. To see what we found, click “play” below.
Holly Beck and Kim Obermeyer tour the Rio Muchacho Organic Farm in Ecuador, milking cows to make cheese, carving mate bowls, climbing huge trees, and checking out the bamboo structures. http://www.riomuchacho.com