First, I want to post a couple progress photos. The first one is the last banner photo that I had at the top of this site that I took on April 13th:

Panorama -- 13 April 2014

And here is the photo that I took today, July 20th:


Some difference with everything greened up and that eyesore sand and gravel pile gone!

July is Cynthia and my favorite month here in Panama. Technically it is the rainy season, but there is usually a dry period in July. And there aren’t many tourists and there isn’t a lot of smoke in the air. To take advantage of the lack of rain, Armando and I have been concentrating on the driveway turnaround. This area hasn’t been seen for several years as we have staged piles of sand and gravel here. But now, there aren’t many more jobs requiring big concrete, so we were able to scrape away and find the driveway below.

After clearing the area, we laid a six-inch drainage pipe across the turnaround area. Left as is, the car would crush the pipe in short order. To support the pipe, on either side of the pipe we poured a foundation and then laid a row of concrete blocks. Finally, we poured a slab above the pipe and blocks. Like this:


Soon we’ll buy some more four-inch rocks so that Armando can rock the edging as he did on the other side of the driveway.

Armando spent a day leveling the area. We had been using the area as a dumping ground for extra concrete and mortar, so there was a bit of pickaxe and sledge hammer work to do.

Soon I’ll buy some crushed gravel to give the driveway a top coat. But we have to wait at least a month before driving over the concrete that protects the pipe. Here are other views of the turnaround:



In other news, I spent a day installing another section of the kitchen ceiling. This section is a couple of inches lower than the other sections due to the pipes that come down from the sink in the loft. The lower ceiling creates a cozy nook for the TV that will be mounted on the wall:


I still need to trim an edge or two and install a pop-rivet or two.

I also painted the beams white  (I used a four-inch foam roller to get a smooth finish) and installed four LED mini can lights in the four beams. These lights will light the aisle in front of the sliding pantry doors:


One rainy day Armando and I poured the black concrete that we formed and described in my previous post. Here are two of the five pours:


This is the eighteen-foot-long bench in the living/dining room, useful for overflow seating for parties. Colorful cushions will make for warmer seating; even in the tropics the concrete feels cold on one’s backside!

This is the sink counter for the half-bath off the kitchen and under the stairs:


The back garden looks good:

Panorama -- Back Garden -- 19 Jul 2014

For a year now, Armando has been promising that the hydrangeas will bloom…

There are a couple localized riots of purple:


And last but not least, lunch:


My tasty salad (Cyn wouldn’t be caught dead with the cheese) of avocado, carrot, zucchini, celery, and red bell pepper, dressed with herbs, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar, complimented by an aged, hard goat cheese.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

12 thoughts on “Turnaround

      • Hey Fred,

        Where did you get the materials for the black concrete in Panama? Is it a black powder tint that you mix with the concrete? If so, what is the ratio?

        House looks great btw.

        • Hi Alan,

          The typical way to color concrete here is to shake the colorant powder on top of the wet concrete and trowel it in. But the colorant wears off over time.

          Instead, I mixed the colorant into the concrete as it was being mixed. You will use a LOT more colorant but it will be forever durable.

          My counter top job measured in at just a half yard of concrete. I had no way of knowing how much colorant to mix in, so I just guessed. I used 25 pounds of black colorant per half-yard of concrete.

          I was lucky to be able to buy some black sand that a road crew was using when they redid the main road to El Valle. With the black sand I used the dark-gray one-inch crushed gravel.

          Many of the local ferreterias seem to carry the “colorante por concreto” in various colors; the fine powder (lamp black?) was really quite easy to come by.

          Always a pleasure, Fred

  1. Looking good Fred , bet Cyn highly approved the cleanup of the driveway. And how is the missus by the way . 🙂 . Regards for now , looking forward to your next post . Mike

  2. Dear Fred and Cynthia, been looking forward to all the progress that you have made over the past year or so. Hope your new eating plan is working out well.
    We (Sandra and myself) have investigated the option of building a container home, but the “rules” here in New Zealand make for quite a difficult and costly building process.
    I think that you are building piece of history. Really enjoy all the technical aspects (Mech engineer myself)

    • Hi Titus & Sandra,

      Thank you very much for your generous compliments.

      A container house is indeed a mechanical engineer’s dream! I certainly have had to engineer, I mean head scratch, many components including the pivot front door and my homemade sheet metal bending brake. It is a shame that the NZ Powers That Be can’t see that container houses can be so much more than a big caravan sitting on a concrete slab. Although there is a significant planning process for any complex building project here in Panama, I still hold to my belief that if you think that you can get away with something here, you are welcome to try. Just make sure that the “proper permits” are paid for.

      Thanks again Titus. Fred

  3. Hi Fred.
    Greetings from Australia! I found your site a whole ago, and look at it periodically. Your house is beautiful!
    Such a labour of love, and unlike many other gringos that I seem to find when looking at blogs from Panama, it appears your enjoy working alongside locals, and joining in your local neighborhood.
    My husband is Panamanian, and a boilermaker, so I feel connected to your project. I have lived in Panama previously, in Penonome, and visited el Valle many times. A beautiful part of the world.
    Best wishes for the completion of your dream, and all the best for your wife’s recovery.
    Saludos, Jacqui

    • Hi Jacqui,

      Thank you so much for your compliments. Yes, it has been a labor of love as well as a labor of persistence.

      As to participation in the community and working with the local workmen, I think that there are two kinds of expats. One type wants to “escape from” something, whether it be the weather or politics or tight economics, for example. They may not have a lot of curiosity or interest in their new country of choice, but mainly they are “escaping from.”

      The other type of expat is wildly curious about the world, so much so that they are excited to “go to” a foreign country to experience an entirely new culture. I am very fortunate in that when Cynthia and I met, that she told me about a dream that she has had since she was very young; to move to a foreign country. When she was ten, she wanted her parents to send her to attend the University of Mexico! Her parents didn’t agree, and it took her this many years to see her dream come to fruition.

      This assessment isn’t critical, just an observation. Whatever floats your boat. But yes, Cynthia and I are in the second group. My most enriching experiences here are when I can connect with the locals and get a glimpse into their lives and culture.

      Thanks again, and best regards from El Valle. Fred

  4. Hello Fred and Cynthia,
    It was good to stop by, see, and talk with both of you on my visit to El Valle. Wenmin says HI and is amazed like me by the progress you’ve made.
    What’s that ? Wheat belly you say !.
    Zero in on the glass design for the lighting yet?
    Forgot to ask. Saving any cargo container remnant such as stenciling or those cool latches used to seal the container ?
    Take care Fred. Jim

    • Hi Jim,

      Yes, Wheat Belly is the name of the book, along with another, Grain Brain. We are losing the gut like nobody’s business!

      And yes, we are currently working on making nine lamp shades for the kitchen. I’ll be blogging about them in my next post soon.

      As to stenciling, my favorite markings on the containers are the weight and capacity stickers. I think that I would like to duplicate them, but make them double or triple the size of the originals. This sticker would look good on the container wall to the right of the front door. We’ll see.

      And the latches — we’re keeping all of them in place, even on the doors that are permanently open on the first container.

      Thanks for the compliments. We should be done when you return a year from now! Good seeing you again. Fred

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