The rebuilding of the wrecked wall project became official in my mind when I turned my car into my carport and saw the pile of supplies: a stack of collapsed gaviones (galvanized steel wire cages that would be filled with rocks), hard black plastic tubing, a roll of black hardware cloth, several rectangular steel purlins and a huge roll of wire. Cautioning myself to be careful not to get my hopes up, I felt the first flutter of anticipation in two and a half months since the devastating landslide that took most of my front yard and threatened the house, Frank’s house and the Infinity deck. I answered my cell phone ring to hear Billy, my Tico friend and neighbor ask how I liked the delivery. Of course I was elated and eager – and it seemed that he was too. We would be beginning in the morning at six and Billy would be the facilitator.
Showered and ready by five, I walked down with the aid of my walking sticks to greet Billy and the rest of the project crew. As I carefully maneuvered the slope, I thought back through the time since Tropical Storm Nate pounded the country with wind and heavy drenching rain and was proclaimed the worst devastation Costa Rica had endured in living memory. The unrelenting rain and wind caused power outages, heavy flooding and hundreds of landslides. We who lived in the southern zone were physically cut off from the rest of the country to the north. The main roads and a primary bridge had been destroyed. We knew that this ambitious country would work feverishly to repair, but it would be awhile. After the shock and initial fear gave me some time to breathe, and after Billy, my Tico friend, neighbor and ‘like a son’ helped by locating a backhoe and dump truck to remove the huge pile of concrete, rocks and earth from my neighbors’ access road, I talked with my son, Tim in the states about what to do. In the nine years I had lived in San Isidro de El General, the slope in front of the house had failed three times due to poor and makeshift solutions to the too steep location. We knew we had to find a permanent solution. The three of us – Billy, Tim and I researched, talked with experts and finally agreed upon a good plan to secure the slope and property.
And it was about to be implemented now after we had to wait for the rainy season to be over..Now in mid December, the Dry season was here and we were ready! Billy would be the Project Manager – over-seerer of it all including the finances, supplies, etc. Team Manager would be Ronny, one of the sons of my neighbors below – who would enjoy the added security of the wall to prevent future landslides.
The first step was to make the area ready for rebuilding, again using the back hoe that followed lots of measuring and planning and discussing.
Using the Tico methods for measuring the site elevations, Billy and Ronny, the project foreman made their calculations and designations. Our building blocks would be the standard steel wire gaviones that were used throughout the country for freeway embankments and retaining walls. Since each gavione measured 2 meters long, 1 meter high and 1 meter wide, the area to prepare was about 36’ long and sloped up to a height of about twenty feet at about a 60 degree angle. After talking with engineers, we decided that the base level would begin about 18” below grade both for stability and the estimated height. And we decided that some of the base level gaviones would be placed in a perpendicular rotation extending further under the slope for greater stability and strength. They were the ones on each end as well as two side by side in the center. This decision meant digging mini caves for those oriented differently. There would be a total of 38 gaviones – quite a project. Most of Saturday morning was used for the digging prep work.
The actual rebuilding began at 6 a.m. on Monday morning, the week before Christmas. Momentum was set with a varying number of workers that ranged in age from 7 – 75 and who were all neighbors or related except for Billy. Billy was the man in charge – negotiator, overseer, Project manager. With the huge help of my son Tim and daughter in law Shelby, I gave Billy the money that he estimated and he would be in charge of it all. My job was to observe from above, photograph, and to bring large bottles of soft drinks to the working crew twice a day. Additionally, I was the cheerleader – complimenting and approving the work. Behind the scenes, Billy and I would discuss any related issues privately.
The crew was all family and Ronny was in charge. He was the gavione expert with quite a lot of experience. Billy had said from the outset that it was crucial to have Ronny in charge not only because of his expertise but most importantly because of his position in the family. As a family member he would make sure that the project was handled well and would ensure that the family was engaged and approving.
With the digging and clearing in place, we were ready for the rocks. The first dump truck load arrived at daybreak on Day 2.
Then the real work began with the first gavione being wired together and placed in the ground As more gaviones were wired together, a huge dump truck made its first delivery of rocks – mostly smoothed and varying in size from 3” to 10” in diameter. Then the tedious and very repetitive business of picking up the rocks, each by hand – and placing them into a waiting gavione.
Different members of the extended family contributed their efforts and these included grand children and even Grandfather Antonio and Grandmother, Virginia.
Concurrently, and while attention was focused upon one gavione filling, Ronny would carefully string wire across the length and breadth of each gavione to keep it braced against the weight of the rocks. And he would position each of the larger rocks around the periphery of the gavione – placing them strategically. Additionally, long steel purlins were wired to the face of the gaviones to further reinforce the front or cara of the placed rocks. After a gavione was filled, the top would be wired closed and the purlins would be removed to be ready for the next placement. And so it went, gavione by gavione.
Most of the time Billy was there working as well as being a part of the crew – and always with his faithful dog Bruno.
Seurat had a few things to talk with Billy’s dog, Bruno
Originally, when Billy and I discussed how the wall would be rebuilt, I had expressed a few reservations about hiring Ronny and the rest of the family that lived below. Billy was quite sure they were perfect choices, however – primarily because the wall bordered their property. They were in the one position to make or break the project. I looked back over my almost 9 years in Costa Rica and remembered a few difficult encounters that included suspicions of robbery by one of the grandsons. Billy, too had some reservations about one of the family members. Still, the lesson in amiable living with one’s Tico neighbors was in learning how to let go of a misgiving no matter how suspicion fortified it happened to be. We both would focus on positive aspects of each family member. And the person in question had a great smile! Costa Rica was, after all Pura Vida!
So the week before Christmas was consumed with work on the gaviones, beginning at six a.m. and ending around 5 p.m. The hours were punctuated with lively exchanges, family member visits, comings and goings of other family members along with dump trucks filled with rocks and quite a succession of barking dogs. By Christmas Eve, work was stopped mid-way across level three with promises of more workers and efforts on December 26.
As I drove back to my house after delivering various baskets of Christmas goodies to several families in the neighborhood that included my workers below, this view of the project in process caught my eye. There was a lovely still life arrangement of the various tools and equipment all against the backdrop of the partially finished wall. The haphazard placement of the wheelbarrow, makeshift stool and a leaning bucket was perfect next to the remaining pile of rocks. I thought to myself that this was a perfect Holiday Christmas card. It represents a pause; a moment in time. There is a promise of much to do ahead but for now – there is time to appreciate the simple beauty of what has already been accomplished.