Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Septic Tank - more than you wanted to know

When I bought my house 9 years ago, I was told I had a septic tank and a cistern. The cistern was at the back of the house, and was landmarked by a raised concrete lid. The septic tank was at the front of the house and was landmarked by a little piece of metal to serve as a handle.

Not knowing much about either, I ignored them and just let the house do its thing. When I did the addition, the cisterna was opened up, found to be full of water (not sure how), and so was drained and then closed over since I had no intention of using it as a water supply. I still have pictures showing the exact location of the hole though, just in case we ever have to open it up again.

The septic tank top was completely covered up when I tiled the front terrace - I just hoped we'd never have to gain access. A couple of times I brought down some packages of some kind of granular stuff that said to flush down the toilet to help the septic tank. But mostly I did nothing. Before it was tiled over Miguel peeked in there and said it was empty - not sure how that could be, but it sounded good to me. I waited for some kind of sign that it was time to get the septic tank cleaned out; from what I'd read on the internet, the sign would not be a pleasant thing - it would be smelly stuff backing up into the house. But still I waited...

And I never got a sign - the septic tank never gave us any problems, it never got cleaned out, and several years ago they installed sewers and we connected to that and closed off the septic tank (when I say "we", I really mean Miguel because as mentioned, I know nothing about those things).

Now that Miguel is doing property management he encounters homes with little surprises - things the owners weren't aware of, or forgot to mention. Recently one home started draining water out the back wall into the area behind the property. The neighbor said it was the septic tank. Hmmmm...with the entire back yard a patio, it was not obvious that there was a septic tank, or even where it was located. The owners didn't know they had a septic tank, they assumed they were on the sewer system. Time for a cleanout.

We drove through La Gloria taking all the little side streets - I thought it was just a sight-seeing tour. Turns out we were looking for the Aguakan truck. But not just any Aguakan truck - not the blue ones that you see everywhere, it had to be the one with the brown paint (I just figured out that the brown paint means dirty water and the blue paint means potable water - after 9 years!). Anyway...finally we came upon the truck, Miguel talked to the driver, and found out that the only way to get the septic tank cleaned out was to go to the office and pre-pay for the service. We had just come from town but Miguel is still of the old mindset where if you want something, or someone, you drive around looking for them rather than go to the office or use the phone. The island is getting ahead of Miguel, he needs to start changing his ways.

So back into town we went to visit the Aguakan office and pre-pay 400 pesos for the service. They couldn't say when it would be done, but they would call Miguel's cell and let him know. This was Wednesday - we hoped it would be done by Friday at the latest.

The call came on Monday, so Miguel went over to the house to meet the Aguakan truck. Somehow they all figured out where the access point would be, but when they opened it up the Aguakan men said the access was too far from the tank and the hole was too small. They would not do anything until the issue was addressed. albanil was sent over to break an opening closer to the tank. Working in tight quarters, with tools meant to break concrete, the albanil also struck liquid gold - the water pipe that took the street water up to the tanks on the roof.

I don't know all that went on in that little passage, I just saw piles of chunks of broken concrete, and a sad-looking albanil. But after a few words he got to work and dug the new hole while Miguel went in search of something - turns out the something he needed was right in the jungle across from our house. Miguel went down behind the pile of rocks and emerged with a piece of busted up water tank. Seems he wanted to use the hole as the new top for the new opening for the septic tank, and he happened to have that hanging around just for such an occasion (wonder what else he has stashed down in his little jungle bodega?!).

Yesterday Aguakan came back and with the new access, quickly and noisily did their thing. Now it was Miguel's turn to fix the water pipe. I took a peek and saw Miguel in the side passage standing in a hole up to his waist. When he finally emerged his fingers were full of dried silicone, the water pipe was fixed, and the albanil was left to finish off the new hole.

All we need now is a new lid for the hole and the homeowners will have a very modern septic tank top. A trip to Boxito will take care of that.

I was left with the impression that Miguel can handle about 95% of the problems he encounters - he just knows what to do, who to get to help, and how to get the job done. When he's stuck, he has no problem asking for help - an opinion, another pair of hands, some expertise. During all this drama that went on over two days, our own water pump broke, leaving guests with a trickle of water in their bathrooms. Miguel disconnected the pump, found the piece with the problem, and fixed it.

Miguel and I have worked together for 9 years now. He was the first worker I had at my house, he knows all the electrical and plumbing - he did most of it and redid some of what had already been done. Of course now he is more than my 'handyman', and sometimes I take him for granted - it was good to have this reminder of how he calmly just takes care of things for me (most of the time). During Hurricane Wilma, he was my guardian angel - he kept me safe. He is not always an angel, but he is always my hero.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The crazy things they do

Yesterday I put some bones from the rosticeria chicken in the garbage. Later Miguel and I were sitting in the living room and Loco showed up with the upper lip on one side of his mouth sticking out. Miguel asked Loco what he had, but Loco played dumb and just looked at him with that lop-sided face. Miguel figured out he had a bone, and I sort of panicked because I thought maybe it was stuck in his mouth because Loco wouldn't put it down when told to do so. Finally I got hold of Loco's head and opened his mouth and found the bone from the chicken breast - not stuck at all, just neatly tucked under his lip as he carried it into the living room. Which was his mistake because of course we took it away from him. Normally Loco doesn't go into the garbage but he has regained his appetite and I guess it was just too tempting. I wish I had a picture of that stuck-out lip.

While I'm talking about Loco, someone was asking how he's doing. Loco is still on his antibiotics for ehrlichiosis, and the vet will test him this week to see if he still tests positive. We have no idea what his platelet level is, but so far we've been very lucky that Loco is doing well and behaving as normal as he ever does. Fingers crossed he continues to be ok - will post updates when we have them.

Tonight Maya took a flying leap at the front screen door and just about went through it with her weight. Her claws tore a huge rip and the top of the screen has pulled out of the top of the door from her weight. The reason for the leap? A gecko cruising on the ceiling of the front terrace.

Cappuchina has discovered Luna's secret of climbing up to the second level and opening the screen doors. She's so adorable that guests are happy to have her visit and she's lapping up the attention and making herself quite at home. She will be hard to control when we have guests who may not be enthused about cats, although I must say that almost everyone who stays with us loves animals. It's almost a given, I guess...anyone reading my blog when trying to decide whether to stay with us or not will either want to come and meet our crew, or will stay far away. Some people who come already know the names of all the pets - those are dedicated animal lovers!

Luna brought me dinner the other night, I guess she thought I was looking a little peakish and needed a snack. She dropped the dead rodent right at the front door and then waltzed into the house, no longer interested once she handed it over to my care. A broom and dustpan took care of that, but having to look at the beady eyes while I carried it down the road to toss into the bushes was unappetizing.

Minina is a small adult cat - quite a few guests ask her age, they think she is still a kitten because she's so small. Nope, she's just a little cat, but she is one spitfire for a tiny thing. She does not like stray cats outside her house, and she will run from window to door to window, tail all puffed out, and smack at the screen to let the trespassers know she is not pleased. There is a grey cat that sleeps on the chair on the terrace, and waits for food every morning. It was just finishing its meal when I went out, and Minina was quick to dash out too. She went right at the cat, which ran, and Minina ran right behind and clawed at its behind, hissing and spitting to let it know that she was boss. I got to her just as she was about to jump on the ledge after the cat. She was a writhing little black cat, with her paws paddling the air as I tossed her back into the house.

Then there's Smokey - about the only 'normal' pet we have. The only thing I can say about Smokey is that she likes to bite our feet when we're in bed. It's play time for her, and moving feet are too tempting.

Friday, March 25, 2011

If my eyes were cameras

Driving along the shore at the airport strip the other day we passed a man walking along the sidewalk with his nose in a book. He had the more serene smile on his face, like that was his favorite thing to do in all the world. Not only was he smiling from ear to ear, his head was also weaving from side to side, as if in agreement with what he was reading. We chuckled because it would only be a matter of time before he slammed into a post or tripped over a broken piece of sidewalk - because he was so engrossed in the book he wasn't paying the slightest attention to where his feet were going.


Driving along the east shore yesterday, a tourist had set up his chair in the sand and settled in to enjoy the sun and surf. A stray dog sat in front of him, just looking at if to say "well, I'm here now, we can start to eat any time". The look of expectancy on the dog's face was priceless.


Near misses: a dog dashed across the busy airport strip, narrowly missed getting hit by a taxi. The owners were on the other side, they didn't even blink an eye.

Two dogs darted across the road after something in the bushes along the east coast. The second swerved at the last minute to avoid getting hit, then joined his companion over in the bushes. The dog never blinked an eye, he doesn't know how close he was to death just for the sake of an iguana.

As I sat on the cart waiting for Miguel to buy tamales at the roadside stand, a small cat ran across the road in front of me. I closed my eyes, not wanting to watch - but it made it across.

We always stop when an iguana is too close to the side of the road and is pondering crossing. We shoo it away with a purse, a bag, or a cap, saving its life to that moment anyway. The number of smushed iguana bodies on the roads tells me the iguanas are going to do what they're going to do once we're not there to scare them back to safety. But we try.


Yesterday Miguel and Loco were parked at a corner on Av Juarez waiting for me to change money. As I approached the cart I noticed Miguel was talking to a woman, and when I arrived she introduced herself. One of my regular blog readers and commenters - K from Michigan. She had spotted our dog, and went up to Miguel and asked if that was Loco. Yup, she recognized him from his pictures. Loco lapped up the attention, of course. Great eye, K - was very nice to meet you!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Which Maya?

This morning after she had her canned portion of food, and cleaned the plates of all the other cats, Maya started fussing to come in from the back terrace. Some mornings after she eats she gets up on her ledge and is content all day long. Some days Maya and Minina sleep together on the old BBQ. And some days Maya simply refuses to be left out on the terrace. Yesterday was one of those days - she tore the screen off the kitchen window, frame and all, and climbed in.

Today, with one window out of order, she tried to tear the screen off the other window, so I closed the window, which makes her stop because she knows there's no point in continuing. So then she started with the screen door. We had to put a metal mesh over the screen at the back of the door because all the cats kept jumping up and tearing the screen until they could climb in. The metal screen hasn't stopped them from jumping though - but although they may get a bit of a grip in the metal mesh, they can't get leverage. They hang from their front paws and claw at the door with their back feet trying to get a foothold, but eventually they lose their grip and they fall to the ground with a thud.

Maya makes a pretty big thud when she falls. I was in the living room on a conference call this morning when I heard her whining to come in, and then jumping, and then falling to the ground - at least 4 times. She didn't want to give up, but I just ignored her because there wasn't much else I could do.

Just as I finished my conference call, Miguel came downstairs and muttered something about checking the door, and Maya, and bathroom. I really had no idea when he was talking about, and with Maya the cat on my mind, I thought he was trying to tell me something about Maya ruining the back door. I asked for clarification, which irritated him, and he growled something about Maya and the bathroom door. So I went to our bathroom door downstairs and looked in the bathroom, and at the door - I didn't see anything.

What was he talking about? He had run out of patience trying to explain to me, but finally I understood that he wanted me to go upstairs and check out the left side of the bathroom up in the bedroom we call "The Maya Suite" (it's our bedroom but we don't use it during high season).

Oh - he was talking about Maya the room and not Maya the cat. He couldn't see why I wasn't following his thoughts, but he wasn't clear. I knew that he was grumpy because it was bad news.

When I went upstairs I saw the problem - the talavera tiles on the bathroom wall were buckled and ready to drop. A section of about 15 tiles, right at the entrance to the bathroom - and it wasn't possible to close the bathroom door. Just what we needed when guests were due to arrive in a few hours.

But no worries - as Miguel always says, "everything has a solution other than death". So he and "Chino" got busy after breakfast and pulled off the tiles, only breaking about 3 to the point where they could not be reused. We had 3 extra blue tiles from another sink counter, and in several hours Chino had the wall rebuilt and you would never know there was a problem. I happen to dislike those yellow tiles anyway, so if we ever have spare cash again, I would like to take all the tile down and redo it to my taste.

So the Maya suite was put back in order, the guests arrived to a clean room, and Maya the cat gave up picking at the back door and spent the day out there until we got back from evening rounds.

Another day is over...and the peace lily is blooming. Back to normal life.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wordy Wednesday

I'm not sure what the Wordless Wednesday is all about in the blogging community (guess I didn't read the memo). So since I don't know about it, I'll just go ahead and blather on...

Today was just one of those days.

Our golf cart is with the mechanic - oh - I forgot to mention, we have a different golf cart. Limey finally gave it up for good last month, so we left him with the mechanic to use for parts (and some of the parts made their way back to us, like the rearview mirror). We took another used golf cart off his hands, one with the bigger tires, and boy, what a difference tires make when navigating over speed bumps and pot holes. We all (Loco included) like the new cart, but we were in such dire need we took it from the mechanic last month before he was really done fixing everything. So it's back for just a little 'nip and tuck'.

The other day I drove past Limey parked in front of the mechanic's home, and I didn't even feel the slightest sadness or nostalgia that he is now part of our past. Limey annoyed me too much at the end, I was ready to be done with him (and his costly repairs that never lasted more than a couple of weeks). Miguel was the one who hated to let go, he felt that little cart worked its heart out for him (and it did - it hauled everything you can imagine and only broke down a few times while doing so).

Miguel's cell phone bit the dust yesterday. I replaced it with a new one but didn't tell him, so he left early this morning without a phone. He had to go to get the keys from the guests from one of the homes out near Garrafon and then wait for the cleaning crew to arrive since this would be a same-day turnover of a very large home and property. Of course his phone rang here at the house, and of course I answered it.

A panicked voice of a guest checking out of one of the other homes - "I'm going to miss the ferry and I've left my passport in the safety deposit box and we've locked the keys inside the house because we're leaving. We need Miguel to come and let us in right away". I told her he was at least 10 minutes away, if I could even reach him, and felt sorry for her when I heard her sigh of dismay.

I called the house where Miguel was, except the cleaning crew had arrived and he was no longer there. He was somewhere - either looking for the yard worker in Col. Guadalupana, checking on guests at another house with same-day turnover, buying orange juice at the local market, over at the apartments checking on guests there, or simply on the road to one of those destinations.

With a spare set of keys at our house, I jumped in a cab and had to deal with an English-speaking Mexican man in the back seat who decided to get my life history in the 5 minutes we would be sharing the cab. "What's your name?" he asked. I replied - "Sue". For the life of me he couldn't pronounce it - "Sus" (no, Sue), "Susana" (no, Sue), "Sus" (no, S U E, I spelled it), "Su-eh" (no, it's really Sue but ok, Susana)". In my frantic mood, I really wasn't in the mood to chat, so was glad when we arrived at the house in question.

Nobody was there. As I put the key in the lock, the front door opened - it was unlocked. I entered, and a stiff wind blew the door shut with a bang. The kitchen window was wide open. Hmmm...I went into the bedroom and noticed that the safety deposit box was open, and the two sets of house keys were on the kitchen counter. I guessed that the woman had climbed in the kitchen window (no easy feat, the window overlooks the pool with a very narrow ledge, and is a little high - no idea how she actually managed to do that without falling in). She got her passport and in her rush to make the ferry, she forgot to lock the front door when she left. So luckily I was there to secure the house, it's located in a area known to have problems with break-ins.

When I got home the woman had left a voice message saying that she had climbed in the kitchen window, but discovered that her passport was not in the safe, it was in her bag all along. She apologized for leaving the window and door open. Poor thing - she must have wanted to kick herself, it was all for nought, but I know how easily one can panic when in a hurry and you can't find the one thing you know you must have. Sometimes the thing is right before my eyes but I don't see it because my brain is racing - she probably went through her bag several times before deciding she'd left her passport in the safe. I do hope she made her flight.

Good thing we had already arranged not to do breakfast for our guests today - that would have been one stress we didn't need. We'll see what tomorrow brings...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

At the Risk of Repeating Myself...

The truth is...Facebook has stolen my blog. I have lots to say, and Facebook lets me say it quickly and in fewer than 420 or so odd characters. I know this because several times I've written a post on Facebook only to be told it's too long. Probably was a post better suited for a blog, but when I told Facebook to put my too-long story into notes, it didn't tell me to copy my text first - and when I got to my notes, it was a blank page. So, a post lost - lost on Facebook, and lost on the blog. Because I was not motivated enough to write it all over again.

My blog is blogging me down...even though it actually is a better forum for sharing stories accompanied by pictures. I need to get motivated again to write here or shut it down.

So, I will post some updates that will be repeats for those of you who are my friends on Facebook.

1. I was reluctant to write about Loco because I suspected something serious was going on with his health and I didn't want to write until I had all the details. The weekend after I got back from Canada (about 10 days ago), Loco had a fever, was listless and didn't want to eat. I found a big tick and a small tick (in the same spot) on his left shoulder, and feeling around, thought I felt a huge, hard lump behind his left ear. By Monday he was eating again and acting more like his old self, but I took him to the vet anyway.

The preliminary diagnosis was ehrlichiosis (tick disease), something he's been treated for before with limited success. He cannot take the monthly tick drops as he is very allergic, so my method of control is tick patrol over his body, which he quite enjoys because it's like a little massage. One big danger of this disease is platelet destruction, leading to uncontrolled bleeding and often, death. A year ago Loco's platelets were low, around 25,000 (they should be 10x that level), but after 2 months of treatment the platelet count did not go up so we abandoned the costly testing since there was nothing more to do anyway, apparently. We waited for signs of cancer, as that was the next logical explanation.

Blood tests this time showed a shockingly low level of 2000 platelets - a level where most animals quickly die. The vet had never seen a level this low before, and came right over to get Loco started on the antibiotic of choice for the tick disease. Along with diet, the only other thing to be done is to keep him quiet in an attempt to prevent any type of injury that might trigger a bleed.

Loco is horrible for taking pills, he can spit them out after you're sure he had to have swallowed them. I thought I had him fooled after I started stuffing them into the hollowed out center of a piece of hot dog, but now he's caught onto that trick and won't even eat the piece of hot dog when it doesn't have any pills. The battle continues, he will be on meds for a while, so I am going to win...

Unless you knew about his platelet problem, you would think Loco was a happy, healthy, energetic dog. His blood will be retested in about 10 days, so we'll see if the meds have worked this time. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Goofy Dog

This is Loco being illogical. He loves the cookie I'm offering him, he will sit and wait for Miguel to give him a piece. For some reason he wasn't sure he wanted the piece I was giving him, but he finally took it and as you can see, gobbled it up.