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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Bamboozled in the Jungle!

After spending a couple of hours earlier this week sawing down huge bamboo stalks in the jungle with no ill effects, this morning I pull a muscle in my back making up the bed! Go figure. But with Layne’s devoted care - ice and ibuprofen - I am recovered enough to sit here at the computer and bring my faithful readers up to date on our latest adventure: bamboo harvesting! Through one of the Costa Rica online groups, I had seen a call for volunteers to help in cutting bamboo on Finca Amanecer in the tiny pueblo of Londres a few miles outside of Quepos, a beach town on the Pacific Coast. The vision and dream of Elena Ross, Finca Amanecer is part of the Intentional Conscious Communities of Costa Rica or ICCCR. ICCCR bills itself as a “work in progress,” established to create “our own online, open-source directory, Costa Rica specific, that seeks to educate (inform and empower), promote and market, match conscious investors and stewards with progressive communities, and most importantly, protect Costa Rica’s natural resources and its people from being bought out by BIG developers. The ICCCR seeks to enable ‘conscious people’ and their communities in making their eco-sustainable programs, permaculture and green communities, eco-tours and holistic communities, centers, and small businesses economically sustainable.”

Quite an ambitious goal, needless to say, but one that appeals to Layne and me with our belief in organic foods, sustainable agricultural practices, humane and free-range animal husbandry and pro-active efforts to preserve and protect the environment. And since we’re always on the lookout for another adventure that will introduce us to new people, places and projects, we decided to volunteer. After a pleasant phone call with Elena, being sure to forewarn her that our senior status meant a measured approach to chopping down bamboo, we made a plan to join her and other volunteers for a morning of harvesting and a couple of nights of socializing and good food.

Elena is a vivacious and creative woman who has lived in Costa Rica some twenty years and who claims that in the late 1990’s, she had what she calls “a Noah experience” -- referring to Bill Cosby’s comic bit where “God” calls down to Noah, saying “Noah, this is God! Go build an ark!” In Elena’s case, the heavenly voice that spoke to her declared, “You are supposed to manifest an intentional community.” Since 2002, when she bought her beautiful seven or so acres, absolutely bursting with bamboo forest, she has been working to do just that. Her vision includes a “longevity center” helping residents to “live younger, longer,” sharing a community van, building housing from the property’s bamboo, an apartment complex with a library, pool, gym, art studio and much more. Currently, she runs a bed-and-breakfast eco-lodge from January to April then works on developing the property in the “green season” months.

Which is where we came in. With all the gorgeous, gigantic bamboo available on her land, Elena had hoped that with some volunteer laborers who would benefit from the educational experience, she could harvest and cure a supply of bamboo with which to build experimental housing later this year.

Rio Naranjo
The Londres Bridge
So on Monday, we hopped on the early bus to San Jose in order to catch a “directo” bus to Quepos, where Elena had said we could get a bus to Londres, which would drop us off right at her driveway. All we needed to bring were beach clothes and a saw, which we borrowed from our landlord. Aided by the excellent directions on her website, all went according to plan, even the “shake, rattle and roll” of the Londres bus -- definitely not the comfortable modern buses we are used to here in Atenas. But as we approached the final bridge across the Rio Naranjo, the bus stopped and all the passengers began to disembark. We sat there, looking befuddled. The kind bus driver tried hard to explain to us, the only Gringos onboard, that we needed to get off, but then as we finally picked up our bags to exit, he shook his head no, indicating we should leave our bags on the bus. Finally, we remembered that Elena had warned us we might have to get off the bus and walk across the bridge due to worries about its safety after suffering damage last fall from the heavy rains of Hurricane Tomas. Smiling sheepishly at the patient Ticos when we arrived on the other side of the bridge, we re-boarded and were soon at the entrance to Finca Amanecer.
Nancy says Hasta Luego to Sashi

We had half-expected to meet up with Elena on the bus trip from Quepos where she said she would be buying more saws but it was a half hour after we arrived at the lodge when Elena drove up with Nancy, an old friend she’d happened upon in town. Nancy was facing some personal difficulties, which forced her to find a home for her beloved dog Sashi, and lucky for her, Elena had agreed to keep the pup for a month or so while Nancy went to the States to work out her problems.

Rich, Layne and Gabriel on the patio
What Nancy needed right then, Elena declared, was a margarita, which sounded good to us as well. We were soon joined by two more volunteers, Rich, another retired Gringo who arrived on his motorcycle, and Gabriel, a charming 22-year-old Tico, who turned out to be invaluable on the project, putting in much longer hours and more muscle power than any of the rest of us.

The Crew
Tuesday morning, in spite of a too-festive evening of beer and margaritas, nachos and salsa, we headed down the trail, saws in hand, muck boots on to protect against snakes (yikes!) and gloves and other heavy-duty “finca clothes” provided by Elena. Of course, Layne and I were working with our dull and rusty borrowed saw, which proved to be our undoing. After thirty or forty minutes of backbreaking work, hardly making a dent in the massive bamboo shaft, we changed to one of Elena’s new saws and lo and behold -- we were cutting bamboo!

Ready to Go! 

Layne hard at work
Kat hard at work
Now these things are tall, perhaps 70 feet or so, and very heavy so it was hard work and somewhat dangerous as well. Elena managed to brace our cuts by tying our target trunk to another standing bamboo but even then, it was dicey business. After a couple of hours Layne and I had managed to sever two stalks, each about ten inches in diameter. Our fellow workers managed more like three or four with their sharper tools, but since each bamboo stalk should yield eight or ten sections of “lumber,” Elena has a good start on her construction project.

Layne and I learned a bit about bamboo and still more about our stamina for such physical labor. Elena learned something as well. Next time, she says, she will hire a crew of knowledgeable Ticos and let the volunteers learn more by watching. Sounds like a good idea to us. As grand as her vision is, the dream is a long way from realization, but as Elena says, “Believe in miracles!” We do - we consider it a miracle that we survived our bamboo adventure!

1 comment:

  1. the “Learning Curve Bamboo blog” continues.......

    After Layne and Kat jumped ship and headed back to San Jose, two new unsuspecting French volunteers arrived. Since I do everything by the Farmer’s Almanac moon cycles, the next morning was NOT a good day to harvest. We decided to gather wood and prepare to “fire cure” the newly cut bamboo. Bamboo is one of the few construction materials in which you can use the raw product to create finished product. Also while removing the old dead “ramas” from the clump promotes better health for the plant and looks nicer too.

    The following morning we “learned” several things while fire treating the bamboo.
    1) preparations and patience.
    a) build a rack ahead of time so you can keep the material off the heat (preparation)
    b) COALS not fire is best. (more patience)
    c) cut them into pole lengths before treating (preparation)
    d) SLOWLY move them into and out of the heat as the chambers will EXPLODE. (Patience)
    It is like gently toasting marshmallows rather than cremating them!!!! (lots of patience)
    e) Each variety will “toast” at a different rate. As they gently turn from dark green to light green you will know you’ve got the hang of it.

    Now, we have Ziggy’s hooch to deal with....... humm you have to give the guy credit he built the skeleton SINGLE-HANDEDLY during my two Christmas vacation. It had numerous structural problems so we had to strip it back to the frame. In order to rectify the flaws, we had to build a ladder to reach over 30 feet!!!!

    with Guillaume being an engineer and Margerie a graphics designer, I figured I’s let them create these ladders on their own. So, off into the Enchanted Bamboo forest in search of non-structural grade bamboo. Whow, take a look at what they created!!!!!! First order of business was to test the ladder and what better motivator than AVOCADOS!!!!!! Yippie.

    The ladder is great!!! and the avocados ripening.