Tarantulas, Kitchens & All the Rocks

Jungle Journal

Tarantulas, Kitchens & All the Rocks

We eventually reappear in town after our New Year adventures. Many large Mexican families have spent many hours on buses to drag heavy coolers, kids & granny to our paradise beach for their New Year holiday in an undersized tent. The mad rains have somewhat scuppered them of any chance of fun or sleep.  There are queues of buses at the end of town loading up long lines of tired, miserable and very soggy kids and grannies. Beside them is a growing pile of sodden undersized tents and discarded coolers.  It’s a depressing scene.

The sun returns and restores our energy and brightens our outlook. Jayne is back at work 3 days a week and that leaves me unsupervised. It’s apparent that we need to make some plans to keep me out of trouble. We agree to get stuff done. It‘s about time.

With Jayne working we can restart investing time and resources.  Two very handy local boys have just completed months of work at our friend’s new build house and are available. Julio & Jorge are now our latest crew members. Five days a week. 7 hours a day.  Emma & Pauly are with us for another month too so we set ourselves some tasks.

We have a number of challenges daily.  The hillside where the treefall happened is one of them. It is, to say the least, treacherous. It’s a jumble of loose block steps, rebar, roots and either dust or mud depending on the season.  When we need to climb up to the solar panels or the water tinacos it’s a relief that we make it without incident.  One of these days it’s not going to end well. The boys have decided to remove a great chunk of this danger from our lives. They are going to make a proper staircase up to the very top of the hill made from river rocks.  It’s a good few hundred feet of steep incline. It’s a formidable task.

A friend in town, Ferdy, is also looking for work so we decide to explore the prospect of creating garden areas and actually planting things that we will look after and protect from being eaten by the ants. Emma has skills and takes on the role of “agricultural engineering lead” and works with Ferdy to clear some land and create stone ringed beds. During a banana collecting expedition to one of the corners of the land we find a hidden wall. A few hundred machete strokes later and a path is revealed that takes us to a, up to now unexplored, section of land and a new route down to the river. This is inspiring as it has opened up a large new area which we name “the secret garden”.

Days are spent collecting unfeasibly large rocks from the river to create stairs and surround beds and newly planted trees. The boys bring us seemingly endless truckloads of soil which we use to cover layers of carefully collected leaves, wood, sifted compost and branches to create hugelkulture piles. The idea is the organic waste holds moisture and breaks down delivering nutrients to the soil over time.

secret garden is revealed

 A few truckloads of fermenting horse shit arrive and is mixed with more soil. We cover all the beds with cardboard to discourage undergrowth and cover everything with the soil/shit mix.  We take large amounts of brush away and cull many of the over hanging plants and branches which lets light into the area for the first time in many years.  We also apply rings of natural diatomaceous earth This stuff is created from the crushed shells of fossilized diatoms to form a fine powder consisting of incredibly sharp edges that will penetrate an ant’s body

During our clearing and digging we uncover a number of good size tarantula spiders. They appear to be living just below the surface. We haven’t seen so many up to now. We manage to relocate them to the more remote areas. They are not so dangerous to humans but they use their hair as a weapon. They can fire out hairs from their body which causes pain, irritation and swelling. I discovered this many years ago in a coffee plantation in the Dominican Republic.  My hand looked like a catcher’s mitt for a week.

Terry the Tarantula

It takes many hard days of preparation before we can with any confidence give anything we plant a fighting chance of survival.  We have been collecting plants for weeks and months and finally comes the satisfying process of planting and relocating trees.

While we have been entirely preoccupied with the gardens the boys have slowly and steadily perfected the art of river rock staircase building. The rocks that are being lifted from the riverbed and carried up the slope are huge and unbelievably heavy. It’s back breaking work but it’s looking magnificent and it entirely practical. What used to take a death defying age to transverse is now an easy scramble.

The now easy access top of the hill.
sexy stones
The start of the stairway in progress

They have also ripped out the janky rotten wood planks onto which we climbed to open the solar house door and drag out the generator. That was another task that was bound to end in tears one day. They have been replaced with the largest and heaviest stones to make a solid staircase on which we and the generator are safe from disaster.

Our upgrade from a janky termite ridden plank

We are currently living in a small cloud of melty deet. Deet is the less than lovely ingredient in the most vicious of mosquito repellents and actually melts clothing and removes paints and dyes from stuff. It does keep the tiger mosquitos away and that at the moment is all important. Dengue fever, which the little bugger is responsible for, has become very common around us in recent weeks. Many people we know have been felled.  It’s not pretty.  Worst headaches, no energy and achy flu symptoms. It can get worse with haemorrhaging from eyes and ears but there have been very few cases like that thankfully. Can last months. We are stocking up on papaya leaves and coconut water which blended together reduce the symptoms significantly. Despite our preparations it’s clouds of deet for us. We can live with melty shoes.

This an anatomically accurate drawing of the Dengue virus.

San Pancho has very active turtle protection programs and we find out that a release of nurtured baby turtles is happening on the beach at sunset.  We head down to check it out. The sunset is particularly pretty and we gather next to five channels of sand raked smooth into what look like race lanes. Over 70 baby turtles are placed at the “start”. It’s vital that these tiny creatures make the struggle to the water without much assistance. It’s the struggle that activates the survival instinct required when they hit the ocean. Without it they don’t make it.  Some race off and are gone in minutes. Some take a lot more coaxing. There are a few sneaky side bets on our favorites.  Eventually the waves carry then all away. In future years the females that survive will return to this very spot to lay their eggs. We all hope that this beach survives the pressures from developers to make that possible. We are working on it.

Photo credit: John Curley
74 turtles in a box. Photo credit: John Curley
Lane 3 the fastest : Photo credit John Curley

While gardens and stairs have been preoccupying our days Pauly has quietly and skillfully ripped out and replaced the entire kitchen in the jungle cabin that had become too rotten to live with.  The scaffold and cement frame wood we rescued from our friend’s house build was recycled (sanded and treated) into a kitchen. It’s all natural wood, varnish and tiles.  It’s a cracking job. Great improvement.

Jungle cabin Kitchen in fairly urgent need of an upgrade.
Not a termite in sight . Our first spanking new kitchen .

We like the idea of recycling wood so make a point of returning to our friendly building sites and claim as much raw wood as we can. We have quite a stock so make further plans.  It’s about time our treehouse had some attention.

Not to be outdone by Pauly and the new jungle cabin kitchen the boys have taken on the task of ripping out the wooden outdoor kitchen at the brick sh*t house. It’s done its job but is looking a bit termite bitten and also needs an upgrade. We decide to use our boy’s local skills and create a Mexican style concrete kitchen. Worktop, walls, floor and shelves all poured and polished concrete. Looks great and lasts forever. A few weeks work but absolutely worth the effort.

Concrete kitchen in process.
Upgrade complete and drying off

Not to be outdone by fancy concrete work Pauly takes on the challenge and entirely upgrades the kitchen in the treehouse.  Wood is skillfully recycled at great speed. The whole new kitchen re-model includes an entire shelving system where previously there were none. A new bespoke unit for the water jug, raw natural parota shelves on the window and a brand new medieval style internal door.  There is also the addition of a set of rather splendid wooden drawers so that Jaynes infamous  floor-drobe  has a new home. She is beyond delighted.

Our new front door that actually closes !

More kitchen pimping

Jayne’s life has had a further and significant upgrade. We have two angelic girls who visit us twice a week and clean stuff! Despite my own fastidious organizing, cleanliness and seemingly endless tidying there is still much to do. Jayne is not famous for her tidiness and cleaning is perhaps her least favorite activity ever. Our need to provide clean places to rent out and regularly change sheets has been a constant source of misery. Our own treehouse has been in need of a thorough clean most days. Humidity and apathy are not a good mix.  The kitchen upgrades were actually demanded by the girls who couldn’t work out how we could be living in such disorganized chaos.  Fair point.   

The wonderful kitchen goddess at the Cerveceria has been called away as her pregnant daughter and her mother both have Dengue. The call to arms is sounded and Jayne answers. For a number of long nights, I am forced to sit at the bar all night “supporting” Jayne as she cooks burgers and pours pints. Everything goes very smoothly.  I am obviously very good at supporting.

We have made a plan for a road trip to find the legendary 2000-year-old Petroglyphs that we have heard exist not so far from us. It’s Emma’s birthday which we take as a great excuse. There are 13 of us. We load up an old painted VW bus and the sub and head for the hills. This process takes many hours as we discover the Mexican ability to fanny about is quite extraordinary. Toilet stops, snack stops, stops for stops sake.  A trip which may have taken maybe an hour takes us half a day. My incredible patience and equanimity was well employed.  We finally arrive deep in the hills.

Thankfully we have folk with us that know the lie of the land. It’s a short walk through ancient forest and layers of exposed rock. It’s not long before we see rock faces and boulders with elaborate carvings weathered and moss covered. It’s impossible not to touch them. Run finger tips over the ridges and grooves. It has the effect of transporting you back in time to imagine whoever it was that carved them.  A 2000-year-old graffiti artist.  They are spectacular and the setting is perfect.

We gather in a high walled valley crowned with a quite uniquely beautiful rock formation that creates a small waterfall and plunge pool. Impossible to resist diving into the cold water.  We dry off in the speckled sunlight making it through the canopy surrounded by patterned rocks and bird song.

We slowly and meditatively gather back to the vehicles and agree to continue the extra hour down the road to visit some natural hot pools. Before we reassemble there is further inevitable faffing around.  We find a deflated football beside a tree that we kick around. It lands a few feet away and I decide to launch it impressively over the VW bus. It’s airless so will need some force. I apply all my efforts and energy directly in the center of the ball with a golf swing like kick. To my immediate surprise the ball stayed exactly where it was.  Behind it was a large rock buried in the ground. My foot entirely stopped instantly. It hurt. A lot.

A little over an hour later we are in the hot pools drinking beer. I have a stream of hot water on my foot which is throbbing in disapproval. This is the nearest thing to a bath I have had in memory and I’m not going to let my first authentic “sporting injury” for years make it any the less wonderful.  We all overdo it a bit with the hot water and make ourselves rather dizzy. Nothing at all to do with the bottle of tequila being enthusiastically passed around.

We are incredibly relaxed as we make our way back. A scheduled stop at a Pizza restaurant is welcome. We forgot to eat all day. I am limping again but on the other leg this time. There are some sore bits from those refreshed enough to travel on the roof of the VW as they dodged branches and hung on.  A grand day out.

Superbowl Sunday arrives and we are treated to our own reserved table for 18 by the beach.  There is some throwing and catching and bashing and a bit of kicking. The half time show has some middle-aged girls pretending to be teenagers. I am absolutely convinced and thoroughly approve. There is also betting and eating and touch of drinking. Kansas beat SF and we lost all the betting. We awake at our friend’s house in Lo De Marcos very early.  It’s raining hard.  Here we go again. We had a large BBQ day arranged with the local bar closing for the day and all the staff coming to us but it’s too wet so we postpone.  We spend a pleasant long recovery day with friends in the treehouse listening to music and watching the rain.  We indulge ourselves with shakshuka and wine and crossbow target practice from the balcony

Days of rain and cloud and chilly nights get old quick. Our half –a- solar system goes down too often and our generator struggles to keep up. It’s February and highly unusual.  The rivers are running and our well is full but we both actually miss the sun. We’ve gotten used to it. Nayarit has 350 sunny days a year. We need a few more just now.

The morning sun finally arrives again and all is peaceful until it isn’t. We are both in the treehouse drinking tea and contemplating our day. Its 10.18 and the world changes. An explosion tears apart the silence. The depth and volume of the sound is very worrying.  We consider that a large gas storage facility has gone up. We wait for the sounds of emergency services arriving.  Nothing happens.

We then hear Emma & Pauly coming up the hill. They are flustered and talking quickly but we can’t understand what they are saying. They arrive at the new door noticeably shaking. They tell us the story.

They also appreciate the morning sun and are sitting outside the jungle cabin drinking coffee and reading quietly.  At 10.18 they are stunned by the explosion and look upwards. The hill on the skyline is torn apart and lumps of earth as large as trucks are flying upwards. They are hypnotised by the sight until they realise that the sky above them has rocks in it. Lumps of stone are falling all around them at high velocity.  Pauly runs for cover but Emma is caught in the open and crouches terrified.  Rocks are flying overhead and landing way too close.  Lasts about 10 seconds they reckon but feels like a lot longer. It’s clearly something to do with them.  We head back out to check for damage. I’m highly relieved no one was hurt but I fear for my solar panels. We soon start collecting hand size sharp rocks and notice impact marks all over the new stone stairs. By some miracle the missiles missed not only people but solar panels and our buildings. No real damage.  We then find some of the larger lumps very close to where they were. It was terrifying to think what could have happened. What nearly happened.

Dust cloud from the explosion
This lump got way too close

Two sheepish looking engineers appear. I pick up a rock and throw it at one of them. They tell us that they didn’t realise we were here but beyond that admitted that they f+ked up and the blast was way bigger than planned.  It became clear to all of us how close they were to causing a fatality.  The days ahead for all of us are emboldened with a new fresh appreciation of life and luck.

Collection of missiles

So  January has passed us by and we can look back with some pride and exhaustion at the amount of work so far achieved.  We have glorious stone walkways up our entire hillside.  We have beautiful gardens throughout the land.  The jungle jeep actually works. There are new trees, bean stalks and plants around our pool, the casitas and the new secret garden. We have three new kitchens.  Our treehouse is shiny clean and we can actually see the floor around Jayne’s side of the bed. We are happy and healthy (except for a broken foot) but a touch knackered by the pace of life. More time in appreciation and less time in the making ahead. One day.

  • Jeannie Dettori

    Obviously you have made lotd of progress step by step. Kitchen prowess and newlook bedrooms.. Add a club foot and turtles that can move faster than you, you”ve got it made as long as you haven’t rocks in your head!

  • lindawhit@shaw.ca

    Never a dull moment in the jungle! I assume the blast and rock fall was due to road making?
    Very impressed with the upgrades to the kitchens.
    My apologies for not being able to bring up number one daughter liking housework. She never
    did and, unfortunately, never will !However, she has many plusses and great earning ability!
    Oddly enough, number two daughter doesn’t like doing housework either! -( they both take after their father
    in this regard).

    The gardening progress sounds great, too.

    Hope the foot has healed. (Alan did a similar thing some years ago kicking a build up of ice and snow from
    our car’s wheel well).

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