spikey trees, and steel beams: a nicaraguan treehouse adventure

The idyllic sojourn down under was cut short by an entirely different sort of adventure.  My friends at Two Crows Ecological Design Had a sweet gig in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua — doing site planning for a development called ‘el Encanto del Sur’ including (several) tree-houses. Which I got to design and build! (only the substructures/access — local carpenters will do the rest) So I tore my self away from Mulumbimby, spent a week getting gear together in the USA and flew to Nicaragua.

The flight was an adventure of its own, l’m used to dragging weird gear through airports and customs — but we took it to a whole new level. An expresso machine, and 7 boxes of special treehouse bolts were just the tip of the iceberg, as our luggage included esoteric climbing gear, bicycles, surfboards, and power tools. As well as assorted baby paraphernalia — my brother JJ, his wife Alison, and their (soon to be) 1 year old daughter June were on the mish. We had so much stuff that it was actually cheeper to fly first class (because of the larger baggage allowance) so we had cushy seats and free drinks and all the rest. Other than physically moving the huge luggage pile, it went amazingly easily, no hold up at customs even.

Getting a complicated construction project going in nicargua on the other hand, required a whole lot of learning. Sourcing materials turned out to be the hardest part — to the point that we always felt like rejoicing when things we need actually arrived on site. No matter that it was usually not quite enough, or not quite the right thing. We arrived to a pile of (preordered) bits of steel in the corner of someone else’s warehouse — and set about finding welders, both machines and people to operate them. In order to turn the pile of metal into joists and beams of the required dimensions. By the end of the project, l was managing 4 different welding crews, and the other guys working with 14+ agricultural workers. All in spanish of course.

We started with the largest tree house. Destined to be a bar. It ended up being about 1,000sqft (1,600sqft if you include all 3 levels) supported by two cieba trees. In fact all our treehuses ended up in cieba trees — the area being somewhat deforested, these fast growing softwoods were by far the largest trees around. The ciebas weren’t without their complications — fast growing soft woods are, soft, so we had to use special treehouse bolts designed for soft trees (and design accordingly) — they are also spikey, the branches and some parts of the trunk are covered with (slightly) poisonous thorns. Not to mention it was the windy season, and lets just say welding while hanging from ropes in spikey trees is hard enough — without enormous gusts of wind. Conditions were so tough that l had to wear shoes! Fortunately l had brought some tabi (japenese carpenter/ninja shoes) which are flexible enough that l can stand to wear them.
well dressed

We ended up spending 3 months welding in trees (amongst other things) and building the foundation and access for three tree houses. Starting with the three story CanopyBar — complete with complicatedly curvaceous staircases.

The other two went much more quickly, mostly because our Nicaraguan aerial welders had learned the ropes, so l didnt have to do everything, and could supervise multiple crews/projects at the same time. The Creek House, is to be an apartment sized, two-story vacation home, balanced between two trees and a spiral-staircase. The staircase was fabricated offsite in an awesome metalworking shop stuffed with enormous soviet-surplus machine tools, ready to fix or build practically anything. It came in on a semi truck, but then had to be carried/rolled a couple hundred yards (up hill) to its final resting place. Which took 20 guys and a couple of hours.

The third, Sunset Platform, tree-house also featured a spiral staircase/post. Even taller than the last. But this one we built in place (as suggested by my stairbuilding crew Johny and Juan Carlos). And good thing, just getting the central post to the top of the hill was hard enough (6″ diameter thick walled steel tube 40ft long). Not to mention this stair case was intentionally nestled in the branches of a nearby tree. We were working aginst time and power outages, at this stage of the project — so in addition to the orchard and landscape crew (a 14+ crew of folks digging planting and such) which noah was supervising — We had a shop crew of 3 making beams, a platform crew of 2-3 placing joists making railings etc, the aforementioned (fancy) staircase crew making curving staircases in the treebar, and another crew building the 30 foot tall double-vuelta (720*) stair case. Pretty exciting. Thanks to alot of over-time, and the strong work ethic of our Nica welders we got all three houses to the point where l was comfortable walking away.

1 comment

  1. // Bern   •  

    Shod goat…frightening…

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