The rains, a snake and all the blues.
The rains are here. No doubt about it. In the past few weeks we have had a series of very special storms. It’s raining hard most nights and the humidity during the day has been brutal. Last year we missed most of this. It wasn’t till the very end of September that we had any rains worthy of note. Here we are in July hunkering in lockdown. I’m writing this on a Monday morning after 8 solid hours of uninterrupted thumping rain, white flashes of lightning, deafening thunder that rips the sky and fireflies. Not sure why the fireflies all decided to take refuge in our treehouse last night but it was mesmerisingly distracting watching them circle the bed all night.
There have been some little victories over the past month or so. Each of our casitas has been completely renovated. First job was cutting out water channels all around them and rendering the outside walls to prevent floods of rain from the hillside soaking through the block walls. That, we discovered, was less than ideal last season. The base of all outside walls are now circled with river rocks secured with more concrete. This is a very good look but beyond that they act as a further water barrier.
We then get to remove everything from the inside that had been there for nearly two years now, so about time. Everything gets a good clean. Bamboo beds are scrubbed and sealed. The block walls are rendered smooth. Time for a touch of colour so we carefully decide on a very particular dusty matt blue paint. I visit our local paint store and trawl through 300 choices of blue shades and hues. It takes time but I find the exact one and get it mixed. It’s a good idea and after applying a few coats on the first new walls everything is looking great. Disappointingly the colour we end up with is quite a few shades lighter than expected, but acceptable, so all good.
For the second set of walls it is decided to choose a much darker shade of new new blue. Closer to my original vision. I reappear at the paint store and direct them as best I can. It takes a while but everyone is confident that they have it cracked.
It’s insanely hot during the afternoon and even applying a few coats of paint to a few small walls is exhausting. I’m losing my bodyweight in sweat every day. It’s the time of year where I am damp always. I shower twice and change my shirt at least four times a day. I carry a towel with me at all times to mop up the puddles I create. It’s not a pretty sight. After an hour of chucking blue paint around I am done for. I stand back and mop my face. I compare the two casitas and realise the new shade of blue is absolutely identical to the last. It’s clean and acceptable and I’m just too buggered to care so it’s all good.
The casitas are best transformed by replacing the floors. The previous rustic gravel floors are removed. The dirt beneath repaired and levelled. Concrete mixed with the gravel and reinstalled. We now have hard smooth floors textured gently with stones. We can now walk around bare footed without painfully picking up the sharper bits of gravel on more delicate feet. That’s progress.
The casitas, outdoor kitchen and the entire area around have been transformed. We had three rustic casitas where you could happily integrate with and survive the jungle. Now we have three much cleaner, more robust, more comfortable casitas but importantly still rustic and jungle integrated. The paths have been re-graveled and the gardens defined by walls or river rocks. The new outdoor kitchen /roof and the tiled and painted bricksh*t house shower/bathroom finishes things off splendidly.
It’s a good feeling to finally get this all done just in time for the rains to try and wash it all away. It’s interesting to realise that no one has stayed with us this year and we have no idea when next they will. It’s an opportunity for us to look at different options for our future. Maybe with the new big kitchen next to the bar we can start offering retreats. Larger number of people staying for longer periods being looked after by retreat leaders rather than us. Photography retreats, Cooking retreats, Bird watching, Yoga, Silent retreats… If we build a wrestling ring we could offer Lucha Libre retreats! Endless possibilities.
The pool has continued to be a proper needy project but will soon become essential to life and sanity as the humidity conspires to suffocate us. Jayne did some research which suggested that with a lot of planning and learning we can keep the pool in good order without spending a fortune on chemicals and pool companies. We have unique issues with maintaining a pool. The jungle chucks all sorts of stuff into the water every day. When it’s wet its full of leaves and frogs. When its dry its full of bugs and dust. We have very limited water and power. It’s almost impossible in dry season to keep the water levels up and in wet season we don’t have the spare solar power to run a water filter. In fact, maintaining a large 55 000 litre pool in the jungle is a terrible idea. So, we decide to do it anyway.
First job was to remove the frogs. The continuing rain keeps attracting them to what is essentially our green jungle pond. I take the cleaning net and fix it to our newly salvaged extendable rod and take it upon myself to remove every frog from the pool before we start attacking the sludge with chlorine. It’s a challenge chasing frogs around the pool with a net. It’s an entertaining hunt. I start in the shallow end which is still three or four feet deep. It’s just possible to see the bottom so it makes things easier. I have successfully cleared a dozen or so jumpers before I notice a strange movement in the water in the deep end. There are large ripples appearing at the sinisterly opaque deep end.
Now I have seen some things here; amazing, fascinating, stunning and humbling things. I’m not freaked out easily but this was my “Jaws moment”. The scene from the film where Roy Schneider sees the shark, realises the danger and the world around him loses all focus.
As I’m juggling frogs in the net a huge dark snake raises its head out of the water.
The water level is a few feet lower than the rim but that doesn’t matter much to this feller. He glides over the water and slides gracefully and uncomfortably quickly onto the side of the pool. I get to see him as he moves away from the pool and much to my relief away into the jungle. His head moves over the raised pool edge as he manoeuvres deliberately into the jungle. Despite his head being in the leaves his tail is still in the pool way behind him. That’s well over 10 feet away. I make my way towards him cautiously. His tail thankfully follows the head. I get to the edge and see the whole of him moving quickly and silently away. He is very thick and wide. Probably full of frogs! Still wet from the pool he is jet black. Without any exaggeration, this thing is more than twice my height long. I realise our jungle pond has actually been a frog feeder for snakes. I’m also reminded that I dived into the sludge blindly to retrieve my cleaning rod a few weeks ago. I was way too distracted and hypnotised by the bugger to get any photos and have no other witnesses. So, by jungle rules, it’s just a story.
I continue to remove frogs until I’m confident we won’t kill any with chlorine or leave any to attract more snakes. We need to get this water less snake friendly.
We are freshly motivated and agree to buy a new pump for the pool. Our existing pump is ancient, rusted, massive and totally inefficient. It can drain our batteries in no time. The sand filter we have is also ancient. The sand inside it has not been changed for at least 8 years. It might actually be making the water dirtier! We agree to change the sand. We research and google things to find the cheapest solution until we lose the will to live so give in and call our pool contact and get it done.
Our next move is to fill the pool to the brim. We need a consistent volume of water to maintain our chemical balance and allow extra water to vacuum debris away. Our little solar well pump is not going to help much. The sun is inconsistent at the moment and our well is not delivering much. We really need to bring in a “pipa” truck. These “pipe” trucks are local water carrying trucks that will deposit 10 000 litres of water wherever you can get a truck. The question is, can we get one of these huge beasts through the jungle tracks and out to our pool? We decide to find out. I am called to the petrol station in the Razor to meet the driver and guide him in.
The truck is worryingly massive in all dimensions but the driver seems pretty relaxed about it. Unsurprisingly he wobbles his way very slowly and clumsily behind me. He’s dragging 10 000 litres (10 tons) of water. There are some hairy moments but the driver is fully challenged by the situation and just won’t give up. Paint is transferred noisily from the truck sides to various trees. Jungle canopy is ultimately no match for a slightly bonkers pipa truck driver. It takes a while but by sheer perseverance the truck makes it to the pool and tops it up to overflowing.
The full pool has since had endless large vessels of chlorine added and been vacuumed of all unnecessary algae, leaves, beasts, flotsam and jetsam. The clear looking water has had any remaining dust & grot removed by being pumped through our fresh sand filter. It’s been a journey but finally It’s ready to go and sorta kinda worth the effort. At 4 pm when the hot moisture in the air threatens to poach us in our own juices we now have a cool blue snake free sanctuary.
Covid life here remains confusing. Authorities have lost the plot and with their inability to offer any clear common-sense guidance are being effectively ignored. There are more cases here and there are now people clearly dying from it. A local priest died last week which shook a few more people into the reality of things. The neighbouring state of Jalisco is threatening to lockdown the entire place again which has shocked people to wear masks everywhere. When we occasionally venture to a supermarket there we must wear a mask, have our temperature taken and have our trolley cleansed in front of us with disinfectant before we enter.
In our state of Nayarit the beaches are closed – yet full of people. Our town is invaded by Mexican tourists from the big cities every weekend. Alcohol can be bought from 9 am to 3 pm in shops then in bars and restaurants from 3pm to 10 pm. How this helps the situation no one knows. There are more people wearing masks now but it’s all a bit too late. Vulnerable people are still crammed into churches and encouraged to sing at each other. Some levels of outstanding irresponsibility are hard to believe. A nearby school held a well attended end of year mask free prize giving ceremony where every pupil got in line to shake hands with some minor local official. The next day he tested positive for Covid 19! We are doing our bit to stay sensible and sane and reassure the people around us. We are grateful our lives so far have been relatively unaffected and we continue to be healthy.
We appear not to be the only creatures in lockdown. Finally the June bugs have appeared… in mid-July. These small nut hard bugs usually arrive in June to fly into your head or the wall or just about anything in their way. We collect dozens of dazed semi-conscious bugs from the floor every morning. They are not smartest bugs. June bug badminton is a thing here. If you set up a strong light they are attracted in large numbers. Kids take badminton rackets and whack them back into the night as they appear. The noise of them bouncing off the racket is rather satisfying I am told. I have yet to try it.
A new celebrity has arrived in town. Panchito is an impressive big lump of elephant seal that has beached herself in San Pancho. There was some panic when she first arrived as there was concern that she was dying. Local environmental experts arrived to assess the situation. Apparently, it is part of the life cycle of elephant seals to beach themselves, bake in the sun and shed their skin. The process to be fair is not a dynamic one. Panchito may blink her huge eyes a few times and very occasionally yawn a little bit but she could easily be mistaken for a dying seal. She vanished a few times and reappeared and has now moved North.
The relatively peaceful sands, waves and the sunsets at Lo De Marcos are a huge attraction for us. The beaches are home to fishermen, surfers and locals with their kids. The sea does not have the same strong undertow shore break that can smash you hard in San Pancho so is far more kid friendly. There is also a point break and old man long board wave on the far end of the rocks. It’s absolute bliss to swim out as the sun sets. The pelicans fly a few feet above your head. Fish and rays rise around you as the sea and sky changes colour. This time of year, the water is warm and the waves gentle.
The time has come and I’m slowly motivating myself to get back into surfing. I’m old and have a longboard so the waves in Lo De Marcos are perfect. We meet friends at the bar and I set out to try and catch one of the very few waves breaking that day. The paddle out is easy and fun. I sit on my board and watch the local boys pick out the few waves expertly. They know what they are doing and exactly where to position themselves. Next to me is Oliver who is a famous local surfer who is teaching a young girl. I tag along to see what I can learn about this break. The peace is broken by loud screaming. The young girl is in serious distress. I watch as Oliver removes a jelly fish which has wrapped itself around her hand and arm. He flings it in the air and it lands with a splash next to my board. Cuidado amigo! he shouts as he points to the water around me.
I’m surrounded by what look like bubbles on the surface. Each of the bubbles has a blue circle around it and clearly visible long strings of tentacles rising and falling with the waves. The Mexican blue jelly fish is a version of the infamous box jelly fish and potentially dangerous especially to children. Priority is to get the girl back to shore. We talk to her to try and reduce her panic but she is in a lot of pain. Jellyfish have special cells along their tentacles called cnidocytes. Within these cells are harpoon-like structures full of venom, called nematocysts. The nematocysts shoot out when triggered by touch and can penetrate human skin in less time than it takes you to blink. Both quickly and very carefully, I manage to return to the beach and avoid being stung .
Oliver has been stung on his hands when he removed the bugger but you would never know; he tells me he is used to it. Good looking, talented and brave…. not sure I like him. The girl is calming down slowly. She is given much well deserved attention and some healing ice cream. Oliver whisks her off to her Mum for further sympathy. She will be fine but probably will carry the rather cool (if hard won) scars for a while but she certainly has a good story to tell her mates. I have decided to suspended my return to surfing until further inspired.
We have just completed a job we have put off for too long just before the rains came to test our efforts. There has been, for some time, a nagging concern that our treehouse might fall down. This would be less than ideal in many clearly obvious ways. Our inherited and much beloved treehouse is in fairly good nick considering it has stood alone against everything the jungle has cared to throw at it for many years. The parota parts have faired very well but some of the less hardy woods have taken a beating. One of the the balcony cantilevers has rotten through and the supporting corner post which it was attached to has been pretty much eaten away by beasts. We already added three strong supporting posts to keep the balcony from giving in to the weight of people and gravity but it doesn’t remove the stresses on the dodgy corner support. It’s a worry.
The process of disassembling the treehouse and rebuilding it with better wood has never been a temptation. We have been considering more creative solutions and finally tried one out. The amazingly robust wood that we found for the new bar grows nearby and the boys took some time out to go and find some. After a day or so they return with two 5 Metre and another 6 Metre length of tree. They had managed after much effort to chainsaw the tree into long substantial chunks and strap it to their 30 year old pick up. It makes it to bottom of the hill but no further. The three of us manoeuvre the wood lengths off of the truck . Its not easy. The plan is to somehow get this wood up the hill , cut it to length, lift it to support the corner of the treehouse, concrete it a few meters in to the ground and bolt it to the existing post. These lumps of wood are massively heavy and we realise that we are all in danger of badly hurting ourselves unless we respect the complexity of the task in hand. This is going to be fun.
It is decided to use the Razor to tow the wood lumps up the hill and make a plan from there. After roping everything together I make a run up the hill until the wheels lose grip and I’m sliding very nosily nowhere. We abandon that idea and bring on the sub. With low 4×4 and differential lock engaged for extra oomph the wood reluctantly follows the sub slowly up the hill. For our next trick I am positioned on the balcony holding pressure on a rope attached to one end of the beam. The boys with much effort manage to engage levers and more rope until the beam slowly becomes vertical and we tie her on next to the dodgy support. Much digging and sweating and worrying later concrete can be added to the foundations. The biggest beam is now holding up the corner of the treehouse and we are all confident it’s not budging.
Couple of days later this process has been repeated with two further beams supporting a fresh plank of parota beneath the staircase balcony. It is notably reassuring to know that should the treehouse ever fall these wood supports will probably be still standing . We bolt the new front support to the existing pole that still has some life left in it and reattach the cantilever for the front balcony. It’s all looking rather solid. Our chances of surviving the rains have just considerably improved.
I want to take a moment to remember and honour our friend Roy. Roy was an extraordinary character. Old school crooner, world class surfer and all round good bloke. A true Lo De Marcos legend. He died after a short battle with brain cancer with his family in California. He will be missed.