Friday, March 1, 2013

Leaving Las Tangaras

Hey, guess what folks - I married a geek:

Yup, those binoculars are backwards.
But you knew that.

We're on our way out of Ecuador.  Today, we meet the new managers of the reserve and show them around.  Tomorrow we get ourselves out of the country as quickly as possible, since that's the day our 90-day visa runs out.  Nothing like cutting it close.

As we exit, we are leaving the reserve a bit better off than when we came - something managers do here, and kind of a fun challenge.  When we arrived, we talked with the previous managers and the owner about what potential improvements could be.  Trails could be fixed - but we were headed into rainy season, the worst time of year for that.  Lots of varnishing could be done on the house, although that's a typical job for all managers - not exactly a legacy project.

And then, Jaime mentioned a couch.  This place could really use a couch, she said.  I thought, yeah, where do you take naps, anyway?  Going to bed is entirely too much of a commitment for just a nap, but with the early bird watching mornings and rainy afternoons, naps will be needed...  The two kilometer entry trail prohibits the carrying in of a purchased couch, though, and there aren't any IKEAs around - so everything would have to be built on site.  But we've got three months, so sure, I'll build a couch.  Actually, while I'm at it, why not a whole living room suite?

As soon as the idea was formed, I started realizing how much a couch really was needed.  The living area was quite large, but so empty, and plastic furniture just doesn't cut it.  Jeff noticed, too:

But, building furniture from scratch requires some planning.  We had bamboo around the property, but that requires harvest.  Harvesting bamboo is not just about cutting the bamboo, although that's part of it:

Bamboo, like wood, needs to dry before it's used so it doesn't shrink, warp, or split unexpectedly.  Looking on the internet, I found varying amounts of drying times quoted by different people, but no consensus.  The shortest time quoted was six to twelve weeks, depending on humidity and rain.  Well, we're in the rainy season in a humid place... but six weeks should do.  We couldn't wait twelve weeks, since we're only here for a total of twelve weeks.  Oh well, inexact is better than nothing.

We let the cut bamboo dry for a few days standing up with the leaves on, hoping transpiration would hasten the drying process.  Then we cut the branches off, scrubbed the moss from the poles, and drilled holes in each section of each pole to let water trapped inside out.  Then we hung the poles from the highest part of the roof, and let them sit for a little over six weeks.

Visitors often asked what the bamboo was for.  I told some it was a sculpture, and got a kick out of their artistically polite reactions.

This job made me covet others' bamboo.  Our bamboo is fairly bumpy and not huge, but on the road to Mindo for shopping, I would always see huge, very straight stands along the road.  Forgive me for my sins of the heart.

We had old sleeping cushions that had outlived their cushiony lives, and decided to use those to make the couch and chair cushions.  I figured I could use the old fabric on them to make the cushion covers, since it was still fabric, after all.  However, it was pretty ugly and falling apart.  When we went to Quito for other business, we stopped by a tourist market and checked out the fabric there, and decided it would be perfect.  We got home, and I got busy:

All sewn by hand.  ALL.
I had originally planned to build the frames, as well, but time was ticking down, and sewing was taking forever.  Every time Jeff asked about it, I could see his brain whirring away on the strongest but nicest way to build the frame, so I let him go for it.  In just a couple days, he had it all cut and the basic frame built.

Then came the wrapping part.  Bamboo is traditionally wrapped with cord, rather than nailed or screwed.  We did a little internet research to find out the best material for the job.  Waxed nylon cord, also called artificial sinew, was agreed to be the best, as it didn't stretch over time and didn't slip out of place.  We asked all over, even in Quito, but no go - people have heard of it, but it's always sold at a different store in a different part of town - even when you track down that different store, it's still sold at a different store.  After all of our searching, we ended up with the only cord we could find - the nylon cord that's available all over, even in Mindo.  Of course, it only comes in technicolors like bright green, red, or blue, and you get whatever color they happen to have that month - blue, in our case - which matches oh so well with the natural bamboo...

But, as it turns out, with our brightly colored fabric, the blue twine fits right in.

Jeff played with waxes available to find something that would be sticky, but not too messy.  He ended up with mixing candle wax, which was too flaky, with toilet seal wax, which is too messy, to make a perfect coating.  He rubbed that on each and every bit of cord before he wound it on the furniture.

He also really wanted a coffee table.  Specifically, he wanted something to put his feet on.  (No, really, that's why he built it and what he sized it for.)  The boards we had lying around were too narrow on their own to make a good coffee table, so he put two together, but being Jeff, he had to do it right.  He had to drill holes into the adjoining sides and put them together with dowels.  The problem?  They don't sell dowels around here.  So, he carved some:

That's devotion.

So when it was all said and done, about three days ago, we went from this:

to this:

Yup.  Looks like a real house now.

All of this had to be done by the time we left (tomorrow), as well as everything else we are responsible for, which is a pretty good list of things.  Waxing wood floors and walls, checking the water system one last time, making sure trails are cleaned, etc.  But, as these lists go, one item on the list always breeds more.

We had been griping about the kitchen counter for a long time.  Why would anyone put wood right up next to the sink and not caulk it?  Grumble grumble grumble.  Jeff bought a caulk gun and some silicone, and we spent a couple days trying to do dishes with as little splashing as possible to let the edges of the wood dry a bit.  When they were as dry as possible (this is Mindo, after all - dry just means no standing water, not actually -dry-), he went to dig out some of the residual crud that builds up in cracks near the sink.  The problem was, he kept digging:

Okay, folks, how many of you predicted this?  All of you, right?
Not shockingly, but definitely inconveniently, the wood was rotten a couple inches around the entire sink.  Another woodworking project - surprise!

So our last week has been utter madness, trying to deal with this and other surprises, but things have turned out pretty well:

I think we're handing over the place to the next managers in pretty okay shape.  If not, hey, we tried...

And so we say goodbye to our lovely cloud forest home, and head out for a couple weeks of fun travel with our good friend, Fawn.  Then home to the grindstone - oh, wait, that's right, no grindstones for us!

Bye bye, lovely forest!


  1. Holy crap! The furniture looks awesome. I am way impressed.

  2. What a beautiful job you two did on that furniture! Congratulations on completing it, plus the nice repair job on the sink.

    Can't wait to see you!

  3. Good job guys, looks perfect, jungle style decoration, IKEA pay attention! I hope you keep writing, much love from the frozen north, prokop