Masks, Tasks and Burnt Chocolate. - La Colina Project
Jungle Journal

Masks, Tasks and Burnt Chocolate.

The weather is thick and gooey hot. Rains appear most nights to offer slight temporary relief but sets up long sweaty suffocating afternoons. Movement is ill advised. Fans are essential. Clothing optional.

The lightning storms are regular with hits around us getting closer than is strictly comfortable. The amount of rain some nights has been mad and more than enough to create rivers of mud that have covered our newly finished casita area and deposited heaps of wet earth into the outdoor kitchen and bathroom. Well it was beautiful for a day! We have cleaned up as best we can and extended a small wall entirely down the hill so that at least our kitchen is better protected from sludge.

Touch of rain for 6 hours straight

Our pineapples were a victim of the mudslide. They are strange shaped but the right colour so we take the opportunity to pick the largest of them. To Jayne’s considerable surprise and irritation they are protected by tiny biting ants that have taken resident in their crowns. After a spot of ant-cide and bad language the fruit are cleaned up and ready. They look and taste great. Our first real batch. Only took a year. They didn’t last long.

La Colina Pineapples

This is the time of year where we are perma-damp. Shirts, pants and towels soaked by rain or sweat can hang on the balcony for days drinking up the humidity and somehow getting damper. The only way to make life less moist is thanks to our lovely ever suffering laundry ladies who deliver our bags of soggy horrors back to us dry and clean.

Morning after a proper soaking

The water has woken the sleepy jungle into a constant state of growth.  It is possible to watch the vines actually move as they slowly creep their way upwards and outwards.  An exhausting hour of thrashing around with a razor-sharp machete offers delusional short-lived satisfaction. In a matter of hours, the vines, leaves and entire branches recover, replacing the space with thicker and stronger growth. Its humbling.

Jungle coming at us every day

Our latest project is turning out to be a considerable feat of engineering. Our wish is to create a road up to our house from the bottom of the hill. It’s hard enough to drive up but walking up in any degree of safety is now unlikely. Despite our best efforts to channel water the road has been effectively washed out.  The only thing that remains untouched are the huge exposed roots that now present a challenging obstacle to even the best efforts of the Razor and the Sub.

Road builders makeshift work & storage area.

We plan to lay about 400 m2 of river rocks. The rains have shifted tons of debris from the mountains our way already. The river beds are full of them. Finding a smart and practical method to lay rocks in such a way as to give us good traction, divert the water and, most importantly, manage to stay stuck to the hill, is, however, not straight forward. There is a lot of steel underpinning. Large retaining curbs have been hand fashioned out of rebar and anchored into the earth every 4m.  The curbs are joined together with further rebar cross-members every 2m. This solid concrete frame will house the rocks which will be set in concrete. This is going to be a long job. Months of hard physical work made more difficult by the rains and the heavy heat. It has been decided that it is worth the cost and effort so we have made a start.

Concrete frame buried and anchored and awaiting rocks

My complete apathy towards the dill pickle is not shared by others. Jayne and our Californian friends in town have in fact been making large efforts to recreate dill pickles from their past.  The perfect sized cucumbers, carrots, garlic and onions have been collected. Large glass jars are cleaned and prepared. A source of fresh dill discovered. We are invited to a fabulous kitchen for a pickling party. My role in all this is to create refreshments. I provide a steady flow of stiff Palomas while the act of pickling is underway.  In the time it takes to drink three good sized Palomas the jars are filled and the diary marked for three weeks’ forth when the tasting can begin. We head out for a celebratory lunch but discover that the world is little more confusing than we had expected. It may have something to do with the tequila heavy Palomas – so I am blamed. We return home carefully and suitably pickled.

Pickling with Palomas

Our cacao tree has produced two large pods that we guess are looking ready, whatever that means. After some limited research, I collect both the pods and remove the beans. They are covered in white slime and take some cleaning.  I then rest them for a few days before roasting them in the oven.  I attempt a high roast which is rumoured to give deeper flavour. The nibs are removed and the hard brittle covering discarded. I employ a pestle and mortar and a lot of arm work. Eventually the ground nibs warm up a bit with the friction and what resembles a dark grainy chocolate like substance appears. After a cheeky taste, it becomes obvious that my roasting might have been a touch high. The flavour is that of burnt dark slightly grainy chocolate. I attempt to fix it with a little butter and honey.  After further manic grinding to smooth the mix I find a heart shaped ice tray and fill four of the holes.  After a little cooling, we now have our first La Colina chocolates! They taste of buttery burnt chocolate with a hint of honey. Green and Blacks need not worry. Room for improvement.

Cacao pods ready to play with.
La Colina first “burnt honey butter ” chocolate

The roads to town have taken a thumping from the rains already. There is an influx of sticky silt washed down from the road construction which is adding to the problems.  Sasha has had a series of mechanical adventures with Django and is effectively stuck in town, the van won’t make it back to us now.  With Sasha absent Gargoyle has taken up residence back in the treehouse. Mausetrappe is unimpressed. We are now woken regularly to the hiss, spit and crash of two fighting cats knocking lumps out of the place and each other in between naps.

Cat love/fighting/napping

We are trying with limited success to keep the jungle from over-running the flowerbeds.  We have added fresh earth and de-marked all the beds with large rocks which should stop everything from being washed away. With the regular rainfall, it is theoretically the best time of year to establish new plants. We have added an olive tree, a number of flowering vines and the odd random cuttings we have acquired. We have been gifted a couple of rather impressive flowering Peyote cactus buttons which we have planted and have so far survived.

Casita garden just before the mudslides
Flowering Peyote button

It is with some irony that we are coping with floods of rain but our well is out of order. No well water is getting up the hill to fill our tinacos. We raise the pump from 20m down and find it wrapped with a great foxtail lump of grass which is unhelpfully isolating it from the water. It’s burnt out. The good news is that it’s wet. We have a few meters of good water in the well so we made it through with water to spare again this year. Shame we can’t pump it out. In fairness this pump lasted 6 months longer than any other pump we have had so we happily replaced it with the brand new spare that we had smuggled in from Canada and stored in anticipation.

The water pumped strongly for at least a day or two before it didn’t.  We spotted that the tree mounted white switch box between solar panel and pump looked a bit different. The front panel was black and charred. On closer inspection, the LED voltage display was actually melted to the plastic.  I replaced the whole thing and restored solar power but the pump just won’t pump. We suspect a lightning strike.  There has been enough of it.  We now need to await another unit on our next import (smuggling) run before we can pump water. We have some options next month so we should be alright.

Our Tinacos will have to make do till our next “import” adventure.

It’s butterfly season. Thousands of them have appeared to drink from the rivers and feed on what they can find. They congregate in large crowds of every colour (rabbles) and collect around the river banks. When we walk or drive through them they all take flight and swarm around us . They land on your skin attracted by the moisture and salt. Life affirming moments.

This is not a winged frog. It’s butterfly lunch.

Brian, the new generator, has been working like a champion. There have been many a cloudy day and the solar batteries have needed topping up regularly. We have provided new oil and created an exhaust from some old metal cowling that sticks out of the wall. The only thing we need to do is check the batteries and keep the fuel topped up and remember to turn him on and off.

There has been, however, a cunning plan to make our lives even easier.  It is an idea hatched between Jayne and her Dad in Calgary.  As we know Jayne’s Dad is something of an electronic savant. He amazingly has the motivation and skills to invent a custom-made device that automatically checks the solar batteries and turns the generator on and off automatically.  Mable is created. Mable is a box with a suspicious amount of wires attached. She will literally stand out like a bomb in customs and so getting her down to us is an issue. Mexican customs are notoriously unhelpful and expensively corrupt. A creative solution is found.

Mable is Brian’s new mistress

Jayne, very conveniently, has a cousin working in the American Embassy in Mexico City.  They have a diplomatic truck arriving from Texas every week and we are told if Mable can get to the truck the truck will certainly get to Mexico City unhindered. This is arranged and a week or so, after a long series of journeys, Mable arrives at a friend’s house on a carrier from Mexico City.  All the bits arrive in good shape with an installation guide that looks like an underground map of Tokyo.  Jayne is not intimidated and fully confident she can install it. She gives it a go.

The Mable map

After a few intensely sweaty hours Brian has been successfully taken apart and put back together. He is now forever connected to Mable. A match made in heaven (Calgary actually). Mable is now in control of Brian. All we have to do is make sure he has petrol in the tank and Mable does the rest. It’s quite an achievement. Mable now removes the need for me to ever again get up in the middle of a rainy night and fight my way to the battery house. We are very impressed with Jayne’s Dad.  Nice one Alan!

Jayne makes all the connections

We are home to a few strange and perhaps less obvious items that we are collecting for no particular reason. We talk often of strange objects being hidden in the jungle in the name of art.  The latest addition to our collection is Bubba. Bubba was, until recently, a rusty old set of people-weighing scales with a measure for people-height.  Bubba is now restored to nearer previous glory. It’s had a scrub up and a lick of paint anyway. Bubba can precisely highlight the additional Covid kilos that we are all developing. I’m going to measure how the next six weeks of moving very little but sweating profusely will alter my body mass.

Bubba ready to judge

The pool is holding up well. It still requires effort to keep it leaf free but now we are confident enough to use solar power and a timer to run the pump that filters the water every day. If the power gets low we now have Mable to give Brian a kick and top up the batteries. Genius.

When I went to check the timer in the pump house under the pool I found a new friend.  I’ve seen huge spiders, snakes, bats and iguanas taking refuge in the pump house but never a dog?! Somehow a dog had got inside the locked room and lodged himself under the pipes. He must have been caught in the huge thunderstorm two nights ago. When the lightening is striking right by you and you feel the pressure wave from the the thunder as it breaks your ear drums its hard enough to keep your pants fresh. This poor bugger must have been scared enough to force itself through the bars on the gate, hid under the pipes and got trapped.  He was grateful to be let out and get some reassurance. After water and food he recovered quickly. He stayed close for a night or two then vanished again.

This chap hiding from the thunder under our pool pump

We decide to take advantage of a credit from our Airbnb account and book a short night out to Puerto Vallarta for a change of air and temperature. We find a posh seaview apartment with a huge sofa. We miss a sofa. We manage to eat very well as there are a few good places still open.

Jalisco has been threatening another lock down so everyone in the city is wearing a mask. Even the joggers, solo drivers and cyclists. There are intimidating masked armed soldiers guarding access to the beach which is closed. Every one of the many statues on the sea front is roped off and guarded.

Despite the strangely restricted atmosphere we spend a splendid day in town and a relaxed night on the apartment balcony. We watch the sunset over the sea and people watch the steady stream of visitors walking past mostly closed shops and bars on the Malecon. Very unusually we didn’t see another gringo pass by all night. No international tourists at all. That has to be a real worry for Puerto Vallarta. A lot of vendors and venues will need a lot of luck to survive.

Impressive Puerto Vallarta street art
Some lounging around
More lounging around … we miss a good sofa
One of the few statues we could get close to
Beave

7 COMMENTS
  • Jeannie Dettori
    Reply

    Great read Beave. Lovely glamorous photo of Jayne. Loved the butterflies, they must be Franch!

  • jwilson@wileng.net
    Reply

    Beave, thank you for sharing your adventures in Jungle survival 101! We both really enjoy your writing and look forward to your blogs. It keeps us closer to our winter home of San Pancho. We aré summering in SE Alaska and always think about what a summer in San Pancho would be like, now we know! Thanks!
    Jeff & Karen Wilson

  • Diane Burnette
    Reply

    What a continuous practice in patience you have! Thank you again for the continuing adventures of Jane and Beave. Hope the road, gardens and pickles all work out. Stay safe

  • Amanda
    Reply

    “Mable is now in control of Brian. All we have to do is make sure he has petrol in the tank and Mable does the rest.” Ha – such is life!!!
    We too now have a second cat – so ‘hiss, spit and crash’ is pretty much the early morning call here….
    Retirement only 11 days away – need to see you guys soon! Any plans to come over soon? Much love. X

    1. Jayne
      Reply

      No air travel in the time of Covid Amanda. We’re staying put in our jungle isolation. When it’s over, you guys should come for a jungle adventure!

  • sAM
    Reply

    Beave, your posts never fail to give me at least one belly laugh not matter how dire the situation. Ginger Tarzan king of the jungle alright. Needless to say, we can’t wait to visit again!

  • Julie
    Reply

    Love Reading your Blog.. You bring it to life and having had the privilege of visiting early days can just visualise everything when I’m reading it. Can’t wait to see the progress you have made in the future. Stunning picture of you on the sofa Jane..jungle life suits you. Love to you both x

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