December is a special time in our wee part of the tropics. The humidity takes a few days off now and again, welcome fresh air is deliciously breathable and there are moments when I’m not soaked in my own juices. It’s Goldilocks weather. Not too hot, not too cold.
It’s absolutely the time of year when we feel the pressure to start growing stuff. The jungle has had its months of taking over and is retreating as the wet season turns to dry. We decide to treat ourselves to a xmas present. We persuade our local boys to again collect piles of river rocks and transform them into three large raised planting areas right outside the treehouse. The plan is to keep a much closer eye on what we grow and install an automatic irrigation system to keep stuff alive and healthy. The planters look fabulous and are filled with good earth and irrigation pipes ready to install. It’s a process but we are getting there slowly.
After one of our regular and very necessary organise days in our stuffed bodega we find a load of seeds. Our Argentinian garden ninja has also left us various bags of newer, fresher seeds. We have separated them into flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables and started the process of germination in a large seeding box, a couple of our existing flower beds and a dozen or so plastic flower pots. Good soil and lots of watering (when we remember) and there are some signs of life. It’s an exercise in patience and faith.
Jayne has recently become intrigued by the cultivation of mushrooms. A friend of ours has been propagating for over a year and developed all the skills and collected all the stuff to make it happen. After much boiling water and sterilising of straw and wood chips we now have mycelium all over the place. Up trees, in trees, in buckets, on the jungle floor and even in our new Xmas planters. In a few weeks, we are expecting flourishes of blue oyster mushrooms. Theoretically.
On the other end of our highly limited production our vanilla beans are starting to turn yellowish. It’s been around 9 months since we were up ladders pushing pollen in all the right places and this year’s crop is impressive. At a loose count, there are around 60 big fat beans on the vine. We know it will take some time to nurture them to dark oozy vanillaness but it will be worth it.
Xmas comes at us fast. We have never exchanged presents but do sometimes make the effort to write a terrible song or slightly offensive limerick or a dodgy looking card but not this year. 2021 seems to have crept by and again we have been thankfully saved the endless exposure of Xmas trees, snowmen, Wham songs and adverts to spend heaps on seasonal crap. We have entirely missed being caught up by the Xmas spirit.
We have friends staying with us for a few days so Xmas Eve was more of an event than usual so Xmas morning was treacly slow. As is now tradition we have arranged to open our place up from 2pm till very late to the great and good of San Pancho as well as a few of the more dodgy and unwashed. Our Xmas morning is, therefore, a sanctuary time for us to gather ourselves to what will come and eat the best of what we have before having to share. This year our contribution is slow cooked lamb so if no one else turns up it will suit me just fine.
As I’m slowly imbibing buckets of tea and mustering my battered enthusiasm Jayne is clearly up to no good. There is something she is not telling me. The silence is deafening. After a few too many moments of anticipation I am invited outside. In front of me is one of the finest sights I can remember. My bath which was lugged across the jungle and installed outside the treehouse is now full of hot water and very importantly overflowing with bubbles. There is a cold bottle of Chardy on a table within reach. The next hour is spent in bliss and gratitude. Perfect Xmas present.
Unfortunately, my lamb, along with deep fried turkey, fresh BBQ fish and many dozens of other dishes are demolished by around ninety guests who spend a rather excellent Xmas day in the jungle. We are lucky to have such an amazingly close and supportive (if ravenous) community here. The festivities go on just late enough.
We take advantage of the strange gap between Xmas and New Year to arrange the start of our new build projects. It has become clear that building material prices are going to go up massively in the next few weeks so we buy strategic amounts of steel & cement in advance and push forward getting our new bodega built so we have somewhere to keep it all.
We buy a tinaco to store water for the build. It arrives on a truck that has no chance of getting to our land so I take the Ranger and strap it to the back in the middle of one of the rivers. Once I get to roughly where it needs to be we work out how far up the hill we can site it. It fills from our primary tinacos which are far away and not much higher. The whole area is recently cleaned jungle and is full of ticks. The wood tick is not a lime disease candidate but is not a lot of fun. They jump on you and head to your neck in search of warm blood and soft skin. They are usually fairly easy to remove once you find them but often leave holes that take a while to heal. It takes three of us to get it all done. By the time the pipes have been laid out and the hillside dug out we are all covered in the little bastards. I look like a dartboard for the following weeks.
Designing a building from scratch takes some concentration. We have architect/project management support which helps a lot. Our plan is to create a 6m x 4m storage space where we can have a real concrete floor for the first time. This will help with getting under vehicles and generally keeping the place less filthy. We will keep the option of building a casita on top should we need to later. For now we intend to create a large deck on top accessible by a bespoke design iron work staircase. Sketches of electrics, water, doors and retaining walls fly back and forth.
A big issue is the trees. It’s a constant issue for us. We have one of the highest concentrations of Capomo trees in the world. They are extraordinary knarly and beautiful trees that rain nuts that can be made into a coffee type drink that is highly sought after in expensive hippy organic emporiums. The downside is they get invaded by Bromeliads which are gorgeous but heavy. The branches of the Copomo fail often and fall over a hundred feet to the ground. Because of that they are often called widow makers. One hit our Razor and we were only saved from being squashed flat by the highly substantial roll bar. Copomo surround our new build site so we need to find a way of making it safer.
Our cute little Mexican town is home to all sorts of mad buggers. The maddest are the lads that climb the trees to take down coconuts and dangerous branches. They risk everything by shimmying up 150 foot trees with a chainsaw, no safety ropes and apparently no fear. All for the price of a bottle or two of tequila. We persuade these boys to spend a few days up our trees and remove all the branches that could potentially kill us the quickest. We agree to pay them well and for four days there are a mix of fresh noises. Many arguments, chainsaws, crashing branches and lots of swearing. The result was that no one died, all the branches that we were worried about safely on the ground. There is now a lovely patch of clear sky now surrounding our build site. The only casualty was my brand new 7.5M ladder. It is now a more reasonable 5M. It could have been a lot worse.
There is good news. We are sent a photo of our new expensive heavy solar batteries. After researching a load of traditional methods of shipping 150kg of batteries from the US through the web of confusion and corruption which is the Mexican border, we settled on a less conventional solution. Without going into too much detail we have shipped the batteries from the supplier to a unit in Texas and a number of days later they are somewhere North of us but South of USA. We should get them soon and our power issues will be solved. Theoretically.
New Year comes and there are a number of options to celebrate. San Pancho has a famous street party that is, for the first time in two years, not COVID cancelled. As an alternative, our friends have suggested a beach party which will be less crowded offering a few DJs and a big fire. Both sound good. I donate a generator to the beach party and prepare to meet up with everyone. One of our good friends has just returned from Guadalajara after a brain surgery to solve an aneurysm that was diagnosed just before Xmas. It will be good catch up with him.
My plans are thwarted by man flu. I am without energy, shivering cold and sweating like a horse on speed. There is not a chance that I can communicate effectively with anyone and it is very likely that I am highly contagious. My New Year is destined to be in my bed. I spend four days horizontal for perhaps the first time ever. It’s bloody awful but I have three negative COVID tests so get no sympathy.
Jayne is a good nurse and leaves me in bed to take up the mantle of our social diary. She ends up after dinner at the beach party for the night. It’s an unexpected hit and hundreds turn up. That did include the police who were very supportive and wished everyone a good night and some local business people checking that no one was making money from the event. My friend who was recovering from his brain operation added a touch of drama. He suddenly developed a significant bleed from his groin wound and was very lucky to make it to hospital in time thanks to fast thinking and faster action from those around him. It was a sobering start to the year. It could have been a lot worse.
It takes some days for me to recover and start my New Year by watching our bodega rise up. Concrete mixed and carried in large quantities. My strength slowly returns to find that almost everyone we know now has COVID for at least the first time. This does not seems to be unique to us. We know of people all over the world reporting the same. It makes for a quiet start to the year. Thankfully the vast majority of folk have a lot milder symptoms than my near fatal man flu. They do, however, evoke all the sympathy.
We lose a number of our workers and foreman to COVID who are instantly replaced by others so the bodega continues to take shape. It will be completed in a few weeks so we start to collect things we might need for the main build. After a few false starts we manage to rescue a few funky wooden windows from nearby Sayulita that we plan to incorporate. We also manage to ship an actual sofa (our first in Mexico), a bench and table from a friend’s house in San Miguel de Allende. It was a journey of 700 km and we had to unload onto a pick-up truck at a petrol station 25km away with 40 minutes notice but somehow it all worked out and arrived perfectly. Our new oven and fridge for the new place are due to be delivered soon. At this rate, our new Bodega will be full in no time.
Then something bloody terrible happens. We get a call early in the morning. Our very close friend who we have had many great adventures with has had a stroke. I was drinking with him watching his beloved 49ers win in overtime just hours before. Thankfully he had enough help quick enough to get him to a good hospital 30 km away. We head there immediately. It’s not good news and the artery feeding the right side of his neck is almost fully blocked and his brain needs blood urgently. Emergency surgery is very quickly arranged. We wait for 7 hours until we finally get the message that he is still alive. During that time, we are invited to have meetings with the surgeons during the operation (to agree what happens next) where we see live real-time scans of his brain and the blood flow within. It was remarkable.
After 5 days of induced coma to allow his brain swelling to reduce he is now conscious again. He is now starting a long road of rehabilitation. With a lot of work and some luck we are expecting his physical and brain function issues to repair but seeing our close mate damaged and vulnerable is hard to take. It’s been an extraordinarily emotional time for everyone. Our lives have been so touched by his.
It’s been a proper thumping wake up to understand how complaisant I have been with my own health for a lot of years. It’s made me take long over-due extra precautions to reduce my own risk of vascular brain issues. The impact is just so fucking awful.