Monday, 20 June 2011

THE GHOST ANTS OF TUETAL

This is a tale from Day 3 of our taking possession of the Pura Vida and amended on Day 42 as we discover reality. I explained this to Colleen today, a guest who had observed something similar.

Returning to “Day 3” or so of our new life. I wander down to the kitchen - it is 11pm, I turn the lights on. I notice something small had died in its tracks half way across the kitchen. I also notice a trail of the local tiny gray ants has found its next victim - the small dead thing. About 200 of these tiny ¼ sized ants had picked up the dead "insect thing" and were "walking" it back to where ever tiny ants take their prey. I watched and wondered about this automatic and so natural system. The simplicity, the elegance of the solution.



200 tiny grey ants here and another million or so somewhere under the house. The wonder of it all. I learned later these ants are known as ghost ants from a local Costa Rican bulletin board on Yahoo.

On Day 3, that was my view of the "ultimate solution" at Pura Vida Hotel. It is now day 42 and my views have changed on a lot of things . . . not least is the efficiency of the tiny gray ants. It started a few nights later. It culminated a few nights ago - the great gray ant reassessment.

It happened as I watched the abject failure of the usual 200 ants to deal with a lumbering giant of a beetle who had crawled out of the primordial swamp. This followed numerous gray ant failures of a lesser scale. My Hormigas, as they are called here, were bloody failures at their job. I needed swift execution. I needed immediate removal of the carcasses that landed in the Casa. If reinforcements were needed I expected the jungle telegraph to assist. If 200 Hormigas was not enough, I wanted to see 300 or even 1000.

Whatever it took to get the job done. After all, there were another million or so under the house sitting in lounge chairs listening to our Cuban CD's. Where were they when you needed them???

One possible advantage of these little grey ants are so small is that it doesn't matter too much if you step on a few. The mess is not noticeable. However with failure after failure the trails of these little idiots were growing.....200 Hormigas near the green sofa working on a brown beetle, another 200 working on a very large Hormiga of different specie near the dining table. Another 200 under the Fax machine dispensing unsuccessfully with a black thing of no identifiable specie.
The old Casa in 2002

These trails start to add up.... worse they take so long to get the job done when there's only 200 per carcass! Leave them to do it their way and a big bug could take 3 or 4 days. Then there's the "walking on them thing". How many do you end up walking on when their trails start to resemble the London underground train system? Something didn't feel right about all this. My Hormigas were just not cut out for the job.

This is why they are no longer a "wonder" - in the short space of 42 days, they are now persona non grata at Casa Jubb & Chu. Of course, it really won't matter a hoot what the Casa government thinks about their presence. But I have a new mission and it is to seal the entrances. I realize the futility of this since the windows here are never closed. We have the perfect temperature day and night of about 75/68. We have screens on most things yet the small gray ant is of a perfect design. It was built to penetrate the smallest mesh made by man or womankind (I do, however, have grand hopes for nanotechnology). I know my mission may be pointless, but it was important to put behind me some of the naivete of a newbie in Costa Rica.

The main Casa today
I actually now believe we may be reaching full d├ętente with the Hormigas because I now realize it matters not if I can keep them out. What I am keeping out is the bigger bugs they are seeking. With nothing to carry around, no night time exercise regimen so to speak, the little buggers don’t even want to launch an expeditionary force inside. Their scouts report back to base, "Nada at the Casa" and off they go searching for other 6 legged things to play with in the gardens.

Only Day 42 and I feel like the Hormigas and I have reached the proper accommodation.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Neo-tropical plumbing


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We needed to replace an electric hot water tank with a bigger one. For our own security we had two different guys measure the space needed (it lives in a crawl space under the Casa with a very limited height we call the Cavern after the old Beatles fave gig).

Both of them, of course, came up with different measurements so we took the one most likely to fit (hey, you tell me). They ascertained the appropriate meterage/height and we bought the big new unit from Suplidora in Alajuela (p.s. this is south of the Agonia church by 200 meters and is a Surprisingly Good local electrical supply house).

The following Monday morning bright and early Suplidora delivered the tank. Of course it was too tall. So we commenced chipping away at the concrete of the "basement" to make it deeper due to the likely difficulties in raising the house. This then required we lay concrete in the "hot water" pit. As raw concrete tends to get Very Moldy we laid some left over tile in the new pit the next day. Small digression.

I checked with "ourguywhodoessuchthings" later the next day to see how it was going. He told me he had made the pit EVEN bigger so he could put the heater on a platform and he was busy fashioning a new platform out of recycled floorboards from the remodeling. It was taking longer than expected. I hadn't expected this part but it seemed to be the right thing.

Later I asked how it was going as guests had just arrived and there seemed to be no water anywhere except in the pit itself which was now brimming with the stuff (dripping water) and our guy is slopping around with electrical cables ankle deep in water.
Nonchalantly he opined "we have a small problemito" and that I "should not worry". I have learned that such responses are indicators of scale varying between the bite of a single fire ant (0) and loosing part of your torso to a Caribbean version of Jaws (10). I never know quite what to make of small problemitos . . . so generally I over react just in case I need to fend of Jaws in the next 10 seconds.

He explained that Many Years Ago whoever had done the plumbing had managed to pull it off with electrical conduit for the water tube (the pipe in his left hand) and it was of a different diameter to the water pipe (in his right hand). I could see he had a point. For a moment I thought perhaps we could "meld" them in some way as I had seen remarkable adapters in use with different sized water pipes used by the municipalidad. He said no, but he would need to revisit the subject (he never tells me when).

The next day 3 guys are under the Casa marveling at the creativity of their predecessor by maybe 15 years. They are not there later so I peek under the casa and into the new hole. Bits of pipe, valves of varying shapes, cut offs and so on lie haphazardly. I notice a large amount of plumbers tape in use
which always makes me nervous as I suspect it is a solution to a common problem with cross threading caused by those who claim a modicum of plumbing expertise in our neighborhood (everybody).

I find our guy again and ask where the Induni people are today. FYI Induni is a local pump store that does decent plumbing of pumps. Our water heater is located next to the water pumps in the same under casa cavern we had just excavated. Induni allows us to call them for water heater issues because (I think) the heater is so close to the pumps and they really don't trust us not to mess up the pumps. These are things that go through stupid gringo minds sometimes. Apparently, this is SUCH a simple job we do not need to call Induni in on this . . . and this is how it is explained to me many hours of work later.

I find our guy much later finally as the work day is ending and dusk is creeping up the Itikis valley. I ask him how it is going. He tells me "It is going well". I hold back the obvious question "do we have any hot water in the Casa yet?" for another day.  I know it to be a bit too pre-emptive a question.
One of our construction experts

The next afternoon two guys are under the house - my guy and his plumbing assistant looking at some Rube Goldberg combination of tubes and a pipe with a "little appendage you can diddle with". I know enough about plumbing to stay well clear of such appendages.

My guy explains that it seems we have one too many valves - the new tank has its own valve and the old plumbing has its own valve which I am guessing is one valve too many. Unfortunately my guy had already gone to Induni, but being Saturday they were closed or didn't have the part that would allow us to discard the extra valve.

He explained that though it took a day to figure this out, he had made a command decision and would install the pipes with both valves. Later that day as dusk descended across and down to the Itikis river we get the news that connections had been made. I didn't want to ask about the electrical conduit issue anymore . . . I was in need of a hot shower!

We learn of this as we are driving home with supplies and my wife is given some additional information by phone which is how "my guy" lets me know about not such great news (he knows it is far safer if he tells her and then she finds better moments to let me know about them).

She explains as we park the Chariot up by the casa that things may not be all they seem. Yes, she says we have everything connected now (a couple of weeks later)! My stupid gringo mind puts this data together into a linear accelerator and I see nothing but hot water spinning out the end of the machine. Yes, she says, it is connected but there is an issue with the timer.

It seems we have 2 timers, one that is built into the new machine and the old Intermec timer which was how we managed the on and off timing on the old machine. We had left specific instructions to use the old timer because it was reliable. It seems that the combination of the two timers meant that the machine was now somewhat unpredictable and it "was just a small problemito" according to the relayed report from "my guy". He had somehow become bemused by a kind of electrical moebius strip of two interconnected timers talking to each other and shutting on and off in unpredictable ways.
"So, does that mean we have hot water this weekend or not?" I pondered. We think the answer is "some of the time but we are not sure when".

We have didled with the timers BTW, unfortunately our electrician appears to have pushed the new timer inside the new machine through excessive pushing of its buttons while trying to gain control of its brain. Sometimes you wish you had taken plumbing instead of economics in school. Then I'd know the real function of plumbers tape.