Living in a treehouse, clearing and cleaning jungle out of living spaces, the swimming pool and everywhere else, close calls with trees and bees, gaining a Maustrappe and losing weight… A lot has happened in just six months.
It’s been just over six months since Beave and I applied to become Mexican residents and moved to Mexico. It’s been just under six months since we took possession of “La Colina”, and started living in 3.5 hectares (8 acres) of jungle just outside San Pancho, Nayarit.
We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, and we’ve worked very, very hard.
Now a three bedroom open air glamping jungle retreat
Our intention of building a place using sustainable methods and materials, permaculture principles, full of art, which will be self-funded by hosting guests and creating value on the land is becoming a reality much quicker than I had thought possible. Back in the summer, as we packed up our lives in England and prepared for the unknown, I’m not sure where I thought we’d be now, but it wasn’t with five cabañas and casitas rented out and living fully off-grid with solar power and hot water showers from our well!
We moved to La Colina at the end of rainy season. The palapa roof on our house has three major leaks. We learnt to put buckets in the right places. We had no power. Just a few headlamps and solar lights we’d brought from the UK. We bought brighter lights, and a generator to charge them. At first we used a small cooler with ice to keep a few things cold, and soon upgraded to a chest freezer with the bottom filled with ice, it was clear that a more permanent (and much quieter – that generator is LOUD) solution was needed.
We were introduced to Frank, who is a retired firefighter from the USA and now installs solar systems in Mexico, where he lives with his wife and twin children. Frank designed us a solar system and we took the (very expensive) leap in October. We ordered 12 solar panels and a space age set of batteries, inverters and controllers from Outback.
Then we waited.
We’d been told that the hurricanes in the Caribbean and the associated “disaster dollars” had bought up all the off grid solar systems in stock.
So we waited.
My dad came to visit for three weeks and helped us wire up our house ready for the arrival of the fabled solar power.
Christmas came. Christmas went.
And still we waited.
We bought a single solar panel and hooked it up to this Amarine-made 24V Submersible 4″ Deep Well Water DC Pump we bought online. Best $125 we’ve spent. That pump pumps water up a massive hill to fill 2500 litre tanks without missing a beat. When it’s sunny, it’s pumping. Now we just need to see if our well goes dry before it starts raining again…
And still we waited.
Our friend Alex came to visit and started building our composting toilets, Beave and my sister continued the good work. We had learnt from seeing raw sewage flowing into the ocean in Sayulita and having to lug all our water up the hill to our house, that using water to flush poo down the drain is not the way we want to live. Inspired by The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure, we built ourselves five wooden boxes with toilet seats on them, into which we place buckets with a bit of sawdust in the bottom.
These are what we, and everyone who visits La Colina, use to make our deposits. After each use more sawdust is added to cover the business and keep the smell away. When the bucket is full it is emptied into our compost bin, and the cycle begins again. In a couple of years we will have beautiful compost for our gardens, and no sewage will have polluted the local rivers or oceans. The cycle of life, looking after our planet.
And still we waited.
Since the day we moved to La Colina, our neighbour Rogelio has worked with us. We would not be where we are today without him.
He and his son (also called Rogelio, but lovingly referred to by his family as “Burro” (Donkey)) help us with pretty much all aspects of our land. In particular Rogelio Sr is a genius with a chainsaw. He made our gates, stairs, and so much more with just a chainsaw. We feel privileged to call him our friend, and to help provide his family with a living. It’s what La Colina is all about, providing abundance for us, our friends, and our community.
My sister arrived for a visit, followed shortly by my parents and then my brother and his family. At one point in January we had nine people visiting at once!
And still we waited…
One of the reasons we wanted to live here is so that we can welcome our friends and family to visit us. Having so many visitors is both a great pleasure and a jugging act. It was wonderful to spend time with my family, who I don’t see often. The number of visitors we have means that we need to have online forms to collect information about when people want to visit and what skills they want to share, and to keep a calendar of who is here when, and where they are going to stay.
It is also a balance between being very social and having time at home to ourselves. I find that if I spend too many days and evenings out working hard then socialising I run out of energy and get grumpy (poor Beave takes the brunt of that). I am learning to make sure I get some evenings at home, spending quality time with Beave and looking after myself. Sometimes this means leaving our guests to their own devices for a time, which is not always easy. I’m working on learning how to get the balance right and not upset anyone in the process.
Mid way through February we swapped my family for Beave’s. Over the space of a few days my family left and Beave’s son arrived with his girlfriend and two more friends. We installed them in our newly built palapa roof cabañas and put them to work.
We’d been in touch with our solar designer throughout this time, and now, four months after we’d ordered the system, there were finally rumours of our equipment being in Mexico.
After overcoming some issues with the frame for our panels not being quite level, the panels were installed.
We met some wonderful new friends who offered to come help us. We put them to work laying hundreds of meters of cabling and conduit from the batteries to our treehouse, the bodega and the cabañas. This is backbreaking work, and we can’t thank them all enough for their help. Even Nicky, one of our first ever paying guests, helped lay the cabling!
It was the 22nd of February, 2018 when we finally switched the solar power on. We had silent light in the treehouse. We bought a fridge the next day.
After such a long wait it was great to finally have on demand power. There was also however a feeling of loss. The days of living by the rise and fall of the sun, of candlelit evenings, of a simpler life were gone. It was an important lesson to us both that living without modern day essentials is not only possible, but very enjoyable.
Recently we’ve wired in power to the Sky Casita (thanks to our good friend Kevin), the Las Palmitas Cabañas and the Jungle Cabin. I felt the most proud of myself I have in a long time when I switched on the power to what is essentially a three bedroom house, that I had wired myself, and it all worked. I am very grateful to my father for teaching me electrics and so much more in life.
One of my favourite aspects of living in the jungle is achieving tangible successes. Picking a chili off a plant I’ve grown from seed, watching a tank fill with water on top of a hill, plugging a light into a socket I’ve wired and having it work – these give true feelings of achievement. I can’t help but feel that the lack of physical, tangible achievements in so many office jobs is part of the reason so many of the people I care about are feeling disenfranchised and disillusioned. Getting your hands dirty, learning new skills, and enjoying the fruits of your labour are fundamental parts of being human.
I invite you all to visit La Colina and experience the joy playing in the dirt can bring.
These have been some of the most fascinating months of my life. It is amazing how rewarding building, making things work, welcoming guests, living in nature, and settling down in a beautiful jungle paradise (full of biting creatures and falling branches though it may be) has turned out to be. I am so fortunate to have Beave as my partner in this endeavour, we make an excellent team.
It is difficult at times to be away from family and friends, and to balance “work” with “me time” while living and working in the same place. It’s a constant act of juggling relationships, friendships, responsibilities and relaxation. But really, we all have that same juggling act no matter where we live, or what business we are in.
At least with this home, and this way of making a living, we can invite others on the journey with us. Our guests, our family, our friends, our community, our volunteers and our staff are all so important to us, and they all benefit along with us.