Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Solid but Different Beginning - Part One

When I was told by a real estate friend who happens to know about building in Mexico that I should start with building a fence, I thought huh. . . why? It made little sense to me as it would hinder the traffic of trucks delivering things. Never mind machinery! Little did I know that everything is done by HAND! After a number of weeks boondocking on my lot, I not only understand but cannot wait until the fence or barda is finished. The dogs have no clear idea of definite boundaries and announce every life form that comes from either side, be it the pastures around us, or the street in front, or the one a little ways off on the west side. While I was exposed on all sides in the desert, it resulted in a feeling of openness and freedom. We were ALL equally exposed. In a more residential environment, even with very few houses around, it fosters a sense of not belonging, vulnerability. Like living in a fish bowl.

So the decision was easy to determine; first the fence. And as the old adage goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, I opted for fencing the Mexican lot in Mexican style. A fence made of cement blocks of a height between 5 and 6 feet high. It will later be covered with flowering vines.

It began with excavating a ditch around the lot, which had been done by the previous owner of the lot, then building a stone and cement base in it to hold the heavy fence. Now the lot is unequal in level, a bit like a sheet of paper exposed to rain and drying up warped. The end at the northeast corner is quite lower than the rest of the lot. What truly amazed me was how the mason (albaňil in Spanish) figured out how to level through the whole ditch. Very ingenious and marvellous in its simplicity. No laser gizmo here!

He used a clear plastic hose about 10 feet long, filled it with water, leaving about 4 inches evenly spaced and empty at each end, adding the appropriate mark on the hose. He then lowered the hose into the ditch, thumbs against the open ends to prevent water from escaping. He had first planted a rebar into the ditch and marked where the height of the stone base should be on it at the higher end. While I held one end of the hose one the mark he proceeded to about a third of the length of the ditch. He had put a rebar at each third of the way into the ditch. He held the tube against it until the end marks on the hose indicated both ends were level; then he marked where level was on the rebar. He repeated the process for the second and third parts of the ditch and was able to determine that the fence would have to be staircased at the base so as to be even at the top. At least at the northern end.

He then nailed pieces of wood in the form of an inverted U (sorry, I can’t call them planks as they were salvaged odds and ends pieces) and planted them at regular intervals. You’ll see them in the last photo. These he used to string his marks all along the ditch.

The actual building of the base was slow, hard, painstaking work. It started at the southwest corner, and when the perimeter of the lot was done, the front was easy to make level with its beginning southwest part. He broke the stones by hand with just a hammer, fitted them as in a jigsaw puzzle, cemented them in place into a trapezoid base wider at its bottom and even in width and height at the top.

Here are some photos of the process.


Making the mark against the hose mark.








The hose lies at the bottom of the area to be levelled. Here photographed over the stone base after the fact.


Pieces of wood and strings will serve as guides throughout the building of the stone base and whole fence.


The top white string indicates the limit of the stone base in line with the limit of the lot. The blue string on the left indicates the level height against which to build, the second lower white  string indicates the upper width of the stone base. Note the hammer on the ground and the tape which he used to constantly measure his work.

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