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Friday, October 28, 2011


You might be more familiar with the term "thatched roof"and charming images of thatched homes in England and Ireland but those types of structures exist here in Uruguay as well.

Here a Quincho is usually a thatched BBQ area or a small pool house located in the back yard, however quinchado means thatched. Some main houses still have thatched roofs, here in Uruguay.

The idea of buying your main dwelling with a roof of straw (techo de paja) maybe daunting. The thought usually divides people into 2 camps. Some people will be deterred by the maintenance issues while other people will find these structures individually charming.

One such couple who appreciates the character and charm of a quincho home is Wayne and Janet.

By way of introduction, you may recall a visit by Wayne and Janet to my house (not a quincho) back in January 31st, of this year (2011). The second half of that blog post was about them. They had come to Uruguay on a scouting trip to see if this was a country they would like to retire to, I guess the answer was a resounding Yes! They came back and bought a quincho home.

The advantage of a quincho house is its insulating factor. It keeps you cosy in winter and cool in the summer. Its high roof pitch makes for a lot of room inside the house
and many quincho s are two story dwellings.

I recently had the privilege of seeing their roof re-thatched in this traditional style and building technique, here in Uruguay.

Both their main house and their BBQ/parilla area are thatched and upon moving into their "new home" it was time to have it redone. You can tell when the roof needs replacing when the horizontal "fixings" or wire ties are exposed all over the roof or if gullies are appearing (vertical deep patches of rot).

Here on the back of their house you can see the horizontal steel rod lines or "fixings", showing across the entire roof. So, it was time to reroof!

Traditionally these roofs have been made out of one of three material types. Each has a different life span. #1 Long straw can last from 5-20 years. #2 Combed wheat reed, 20-30 years. #3 Water reed, 30 plus years.

The ridge will last 8-15 years. It will generally need to be replaced first before the main body of the house needs a re-job. It's vulnerable to wind and weather.  I have often seen the ridges covered afterwards with a cement cap.

The reeds used on Wayne and Janet's house come from the Rio Negro, the area in San Ramon.

As you can see, even within the same type of material, the life span of the roof varies. This is due to the following factors: The roof's pitch, design, location (wind and trees, etc..) the expertise of the thatcher and most importantly, timely maintenance.

Ideally the roof's pitch should be 50 degrees. This allows any rain to travel quickly down the slope along the surface from long stem to stem and off the eave (edge). The roof also over hangs the house so that gutters are not necessary.

The idea of this roof catching on fire puts people off to buying this type of home but if some simple precautions are taken then the risk is negligible. Some suggestions are to keep bon fires and leaf burning away from the house. Always keep a non crimping hose nearby, connected if possible to the water spout. Inside, have several smoke detectors and fire extinguishers throughout the house. Some people spray the roof annually with fire retardant chemicals but this easily washes off. Things like making sure the chimney is at least 5 feet above the thatch and has a spark arrester and is swept out annually is important.

It's a good idea to keep trees and overhanging branches away from the roof. The roof lasts longer when it is dry and keeping it sunny helps with this drying process.

Many people wonder about the cost of such a roof. Wayne and Janet got several estimates from reputable thatchers and the price ran from $8000 (US) to $15000 depending on the thickness and extras. This was the price to re-do both the main house and the rear barbacoa (BBQ house). The $15,000 price would result in a thatch of a diameter of 30cm a bundle. They felt that this would be overkill. They choose the 20cm thickness at a cost of $8000. They ended up having the original thatcher come and do the job. He had done the original job in 1998 (13 years ago) and had a page on the house specs already. He knew how much thatching was needed according to those original plans. The roof had not been maintained since it had first been done.

quincho's main roof can have the thatching either, sewntied or screwed on.

 In a sewn roof, the upper layer is secured (fixed) to the lathing with steel wire but without the use of steel rods.

In a tied roof, the upper layer is secured to the lathing with steel wire and steel rods.

In a screwed roof (please resist the urge to laugh right now) the upper layer is fixed with steel wire which is then in turn screwed to the lathing.

Wayne and Janet got a tied roof. The old rods were reused.

The workers arrived each morning at 7:30. Wayne and Janet were warned to be up at that time. At lunch they take a siesta (a nap) after eating. Besides the owner of the company, Señor Gervasio Donatte, there were 3 workers. Christopher, Anthony and sorry I didn't get the name of the third guy, he was on the roof at the time.

The re-thatching schedule went like this;

1) New reeds bundles arrive. 2) Scaffolding was erected at the front of the main house. 3) The old cement caps were removed. 4) The old roof was mostly removed down to the original matting. The original underlaying reed mat (like a very thick beach mat) was still like new having been protected by the thatch. That mat is what is clearly seen inside the house above the rafters. It adds a beautiful look to the inside ceilings.

To continue.
5) The new reed bundles were sorted and the broken small reeds removed.

6) A board is placed along the bottom of the roof to line up the first row.

7) A 20 cm bundle is thrown up to the roof (it is caught in mid air by the worker) and the ties that hold the bundles together (made of reed) are removed and tossed to the ground by said worker.

8) The bundles (one at a time) are secured (fixed) from below with wire ties. They use a long pole with a hook to push the rods in. It's like watching a giant sewing needle or harpoon.

9) gradually they work up the roof.

10) They eventually reach the top of the first side and secure the ridge. The ridge covers the last "fixing."

  You can now see the worker from the other side of the house.

Using simple tools, including a comb like paddle, and some wire this process takes about a week (5 days) to work up a side. They don't work in the rain. You can still live in the house if the original matting is there because they only remove the old roof a piece at a time as they work their way up.

It will take 3 to 4 weeks to finish this project. I believe this includes the roof of the BBQ house. That new "thatch color" will last for 2 years then fade to gray like cedar wood does in furniture.

Their new thatched roof will last 15 to 20 years but it will need yearly inspections by the owner to clear off leaves etc... Also it will need to be looked after about every 5 years to help keep it at the longer life span projection. That's why it takes a special kind of person or in this case a couple who truly admire the thatched roof's charm.

To be honest, I'm one of those people who would shy away from buying a quincho. The commitment is similar to buying an historic house. You feel responsible to keep the legacy pure. I'm glad however that I got to see this traditional method of building first hand and personal. I want to thank Wayne and Janet for thinking of me. Also, I have to share photo credits with Wayne this time around. After taking some 78 photos, my camera's battery died and he helped out with a few more shots that I wanted to take. The really good photos are his!

Now, instead of thinking about only charming English cottages you can also add visions of lovely Uruguayan quincho s to your dreams. It's nice to know that there are immigrants to this country, foreigners like Wayne and Janet who value and want to help keep this Uruguayan tradition alive.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

La Floresta!

Ever since we first arrived in Uruguay we have made a monthly pilgrimage to La Floresta. No, not for religious reasons but to get our monthly Social Security Check.

In case we haven't mentioned this before, The United States has an agreement with Uruguay that Social Security checks can be direct deposited into the Crédit Uruguay Banco but only certain locations of those branches accept them. One was in La Floresta. When that bank was bought out by a different bank it caused a momentary panic. Would the new bank continue accepting those checks? Whew! Yes they did!

So the pilgrimage continued.

The number 711 bus takes you smack dab into the middle of that city. It's said that there are 6 hotels in this city, I saw a number of restaurants. There are two supermarkets, almost side by side to each other on the same block. A large pharmacy and a Pasta factory/store stand on the main drag.  Getting off the bus you get a clear view straight to the water. I looked forward to those monthly trips into La Floresta.

La Floresta is much smaller than the city of Atlántida but both cities are celebrating 100 years this 2011. It was March for La Floresta and (I believe??) this month of October for Atlántida.

However, this is a post about La Floresta because I just found out that the branch location I go to, in order to pick up our dinero/money, is changing to a new location, towards the outskirts of Montevideo. So, no more forced monthly trips to see La Floresta.

One of the first things in La Floresta that catches your eye (after the water view) is a headstone bearing the name Miguel Perea and under that, the name of the city, La Floresta. It stands at the end of the main street. It has a commanding vista overlooking the water. I don't know if the headstone actually marks a grave or not? Is his body under there???

Why is his death marked? Who was he? Well, Miguel Perea was a Lawyer and founder of several banks but he also literally formed La Floresta by planting the Pine trees and Eucalyptus trees in the area between Sarandí and the Solís Chico streams. This was in 1909. In 1911 the area became a tourist resort for arboriculture and bathing. That's the date noted as the 100 year anniversary for this city. It officially became a City on December 3rd. 1969. Here is my take on the stone. Since he couldn't have founded the city 2 years before his birth. The stone's dates don't mark his literal birth but rather it marks the mile stones or significant years of the city and Mr. Perea's influence on it during those years.  Those are the dates on the stone, 1911-1961. He missed seeing La Floresta become an "Official city" by 8 years.

The second thing one starts to notice, is that this city is dedicated to the arts.

The Development league of La Floresta or in Spanish,  Liga de Formento de la Floresta has promoted cultural development in this city. This league promoted the creation of the 1st and 2nd International Biennial Sculptural encounter (meeting). The first encounter was in January of 2005. The second was also held in January, in the year 2007.

These two events attracted International artists from Argentina, Spain, Wales and Belgium besides Uruguay. For 10 days the public was invited to watch the selected artists carve large pieces of granite into finished pieces of art. These works now adorn this city.

Besides the many sculptures now on display, the city has some quirky buildings and residences that are just as artful.

In the first photo above you can see a combination of sculpture meeting residence. This is a very unusual house worthy of its own photo. Notice the decidedly "art deco" look to the second building. The third photo shows a row of houses unique from each other and from anything I've seen. In the fourth photo, the house looks like it used to be a train station.

The coastline is lovely and this must be where the seagulls come to roost, if they do roost? Because the sky had flock after flock of them flying past. I was finally able to capture a photo of some in the sky but they whiz by so fast it was hard to do. Paths and access to the beach are also very lovely and photogenic.

The city's rambla (road that fronts the water) is lined in pebbles of a brown hue and in some pattern. That must have taken a lot of time to do!

I will miss coming to this city on my monthly trips. That is why I thought, I had better commemorate this town by taking lots of photos to remember it by. Sure, I can still go there to visit any time I want but for now, I have to start my new pilgrimage to another town. Who knows what I'll find there?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ahh... Moments!

Ah! Yesterday was beautiful! The sun was shining, it was hot and clear and I took the dogs to the beach.

Yesterday, I noted that my "rose garden" actually had a few roses in it. The daisies far out shine them with a giant bush of yellow flowers and from the african ones, a multitude of purple flowers spread. My Calla Lilies are in bloom, which always reminds me of that Katherine Hepburn movie (Stage Door). My Irises have also bloomed and I forgot I had planted some white ones as well as the purple varity. I also have some yellow ones coming up in my upper garden.

For you gardeners, almost anything that you can grow along the west coast of the USA from California to Washington State can be grown here as well. That includes Bougainvillea, Hibiscus and Cactus, plant memories of my Southern California childhood. Pine trees and ferns, much more recent memories, from my 18 years in Washington State are also abundant here. Everything else, from elsewhere and in between, likewise manages to grow here. So do roses, for you Portland, Oregon, "city of roses" folk.

As for my beach visit with the dogs in tow, I did venture to dip a toe into the water to test its temperature. I didn't scream, like I did back in the depths of winter from fidget waters, so it's warming up. A few years back, during full summer mode, the water was so warm that Wally and I went night swimming to catch small fingerlings with a lantern and net.

The morning started out with a surprising ah moment, as I was shopping. Hard to see where this will lead but bear with me. While I was in a grocery store I saw a young man hovering by me. I am always aware of my surroundings and people near me, since I have (in the past) also lived in New York City. My mother, a native New Yorker, taught me some street smarts. Well, he seemed to want to approach me but was hesitant, so I looked him straight in the eye and that caused him to speak up! "I read your blog", he said "and enjoy it very much!" Then he said softly in English, "How is Wally doing?" He had seen me at the feria before but hadn't wanted to bother me there. We were in the milk aisle of this store and so it seemed easier for him to get the nerve up and say hi. His name is Diego. He is a native Uruguayan and no, I don't always bring my camera everywhere, so I couldn't take his photo, sorry.  He said, he liked reading about our experiences and viewpoint of his country and our life here. I am pleased to know that I have readers from inside this country as well as out. So Diego, thanks for reading and for contributing to this post!

After shopping, doing my gardening tour and the beach trip and a few other puttering chores, I had time to talk to a few people. People in my neighborhood started to say that it was going to rain that night. For a country where most people travel by motorcycle and/or bicycle the weather is a hot topic. Your mother was right in saying, that if you need to make polite conversation, talk about the weather!  I listened dutifully while our gardeners gave me a 3 and a half day rundown on the rain schedule. That night, (Thursday), Friday, Saturday and probably into Sunday (they said Domingo, of course) it was going to rain big time! I can see how, if you have to ride on an open vehicle like a bike, how dangerous it could be and how wet you could become if it rains. So wind and rain are a daily concern. I thought I was almost finished with cold icky weather and fire making as the last two days went by without stoking up my woodstove. Heeding their warning, I thought I'd better get things ready. I went out into the neighborhood (up the street) and picked up some kindling I had seen earlier in a ditch and restocked my plastic tote with branches. Then I brought a few logs inside the house. All the while I was looking at the beautiful blue sky above me!

Come evening time I began to see the first clouds brewing which lead me to wonder if riding my bicycle to my congregation meeting that night was going to be a possibility. Just in the nick of time, a returning neighbor, who normally lives in Montevideo, told me she was now staying here in Marindia with her husband. She lives right across the street from me (in their second home). Normally her grown son stays in the house. A few months ago I met her on one of her vacations here. I found out that she goes to the same Kingdom Hall as I do, when she's in town. So, Ahh..., sigh of relief, she offered to drive me in her car that night to the meeting and to some up coming meetings! Her name is Ana.

Later that night when I was safely home, the rains began! Boy did it storm! My wood stove was all primed and ready to go. All my animals were inside with me enjoying the fire. My last, Ah moment, came when I looked at my cat Nathan snuggled up with my dogs. Barney the black dog has the least amount of fur so he likes to sleep under a blanket. Nathan saw him as a soft warm pillow and so plopped down right on top of him! I am always amazed when supposing enemies like cats and dogs can get along together.

Today it poured down rain again, true to everyone's prediction. So I stayed inside. I have a future post planned. I'm just waiting on an interview. I was going to try and get it done today but instead decided to sit by the fire and enjoy another, Ah moment, watching my pet menagerie enjoy, snuggling together once more. In one photo you can see, two little black legs belonging to Barney sticking out. Looking at the above picture, how could I not help but smile at this group?

It's nice to know, during rain or shine, one can still have an ahh...moment!