Outdoor kitchen

Hello there.   Yes it has been awhile.   Of course I’ve run out of excuses why I have not posted in such a long time and quite simply, one runs out of things to say on the SCR building blog when you stop building and begin living the life in the campo. Just finding good bread turns out to be an road trip and an all day affair, but nothing to write home about.  Most importantly, I have moved from building to re-building and that I believe requires an entirely different blog under the Geneva rules of blogging.  Maybe “My Adventure re-building things I’ve previously built blog”.  That would be fun (for you) and definitely not so much for me.  In any case, living in the SCR house has been quite wonderful and it helps that much of the landscaping has been completed.  There are plants and flowers everywhere and now that I have my own Tru-Cut self propelled lawn mower, I have another love to talk about.

Earlier in the year, I boasted about an outdoor kitchen that I was hoping to build and located unremarkably -just outside my existing kitchen.  You know, for all that outdoor cooking that everyone seems to want to do and what kind of a house would you have if you could not cook outside when in the tropics?

Of course a previous trip to Argentina inspired me to want, crave and lust over an Argentine Parilla (like the one in the photo)

DSC00705-1024x768which just happens to be an outdoor cooking thing with a hand crank that lifts your grill up or down depending on how you’re feeling about your meat or heat and why not just have one of those in the outdoor kitchen?  If you are unfamiliar with an Argentine parilla, I defer to the Argentine Gaucho, who is the Argentine version of the American cowboy but who invented slow cooking in the outback of Argentina.  It’s now a staple of any true blooded Argentinians life. Cooking over wood fired coals has transcended from home on the range to the art of cooking beef, sausages, goat or whole pigs in Bobby Flay’s  parilla.   After many telephone calls and afternoon drives to meet and possibly convince a welder to build something far more interesting and less profitable than an oil pipeline in my neck of the woods, my enthusiasm for the project was doused faster than a hot iron a cold water bath. I struck out three times before I simply gave in and went back to where I knew I could obtain a parilla on this planet and paid the price.  I’ve learned my lessons,  really, I have.

At the moment, I am waiting for another (the last) shipping container that will ever appear in front of the Villa.  Unless it’s a container taking my dead body out of this house, I promise that it’s the last container that will be dropping any furniture or house related stuff here again. Ever. Really.  I mean it. No, I mean it.

This fourth shipping container just so happens to have the aforementioned lawn mower which I look fondly upon like a vintage Ferrari, interestingly its bright red but it’s only a lawn mower you say?


I digress, the container has many things that will ultimately fill out the house, but most important is the parilla.   I will be building the parilla within the next week and of course will post photos of the mess too.

For now, I submit for your perusal the outdoor kitchen photos that started in February and almost 10 months later its taken its shape nicely.  Why so long you say?  I could have built another small house in such a period of time?  It’s the wood that is so hard to find in Panama.  Trees here are not that big,  They are skinny and tall which is nothing like the women here but clearly tall fat trees do not exist that you are allowed to cut down into beams.

The photos are over a period of 9 or 10 months.  You can see the idea behind the outdoor kitchen was to make use of a wall that is supposed to look like it’s part of an old ruin.  Of course we did not have an old ruin exactly in that exact spot so we re-created that look and of course married it to the new “great wall” that is opposite.   The stairs leading up to the area are large pieces of flagstone that has similar characteristics of a slate-like material.

We’ve just starting on the bar area and will add the new rustic wood floor within the next few days.  I will keep you posted.


I’m back but a little rusty

First of all my apologies for being away so long.  I have not been very attentive to the blog simply due to the fact that I have not really been in Panama physically and when I have, most of my time has been making repairs or changes to systems that not quite working the way I had anticipated.

My most recent headache has been the wrought iron grilles that I had made in Canada and shipped to Pedasi.  These grilles are decorative and I believe they add a lot of important complimentary character to the revival style.   Now they have all begun to rust despite my efforts to ensure they were made properly and entirely powder-coated to seal the steel.  The grilles on the North side of the house are in the worst shape with rust stains now coming down the exterior walls.  The only way I can deal with the problem is to take them all down permanently. Once they begin to rust, it’s impossible to stop.

It’s bad enough that I have the window grilles that have given way to the harsh elements of the ocean environment, but I also have serious issues with the wrought iron light fixtures that I had custom-made for the exterior of the building as well.  They are all rusting too. So all in all, a very expensive lesson that I knew would be a challenge at the start.  I had hoped with the powder-coating process would stave off any problems for years.

I’ve taken every precaution to ensure I have introduced products that would be resistant to rust and for the most part anything that is marine grade stainless steel on the exterior is fine but any other steel product is giving itself up to the storms and mother nature.  I can’t fight it.   I’ll need to look into bronze or copper in order to avoid the issue all together.

The summer dry season ended about two weeks ago and we had our first rains since December.  The rain has been a welcome respite and most of the plants including the newly planted palms at the front of the house are coming back to life. The wind storms that came in this last season were particularly brutal and they really took their toll.   Today, we have lovely weather, gentle breezes and it seems like there is no better place to be in the world.

Our guest suite has been busy too.  Visitors have made their way to the Azueros Peninsula and we have had some really terrific people who have come to stay and enjoy the Villa, pool and surroundings all to themselves while I was away.

The outdoor kitchen is next to be finished.  I’ll post photos in the coming weeks.

Some recent photos: june2013A 004 june2013A 006 june2013A 009 june2013A 013 june2013A 015 june2013A 040

Rent the guest suite!

It’s really been interesting the last month or so at the Villa.  This is summer time in Pedasi and you know it’s summer when there are more tourists in town, the wind picks up, rain goes away, the kids are out of school and there’s a lot more frolicking from both children and adults.

Summer is also the dry season in Pedasi. We have not had any rain since mid December and will probably not see any until the start of the rainy season in April/May. During the rainy season it rains or pours most days but then the sun comes out soon after accompanied by the humidity.  During the dry season, the wind  shifts from the South to the North and it also gets stronger. This year, the wind has been particularly strong with winds in the 15-25 knot range.  It’s played havoc with the new plants and I’m hoping things will subside over the coming weeks.  Right now, the sun is shining and the dry season (secco) is underway.  The breeze off the ocean keeps the temperatures very comfortable.

Villa de la Torre guest suite rental in Pedasi, Panama


I’ve also made the decision to rent the independent guest suite (by the week) when we are not living in the house. Yes, that means you get the entire pool and grounds to yourself.  Or if you happen to have a luxury vacation home yourself, I would also be interested in a home-swap arrangement the entire Villa for your vacation home.

Pedasi is fast becoming a popular place for visitors from all over the world.  It’s a quaint, Spanish Colonial town in the Azueros Peninsula about 4 hours drive by car or bus from Panama City heading towards Costa Rica.    Pedasi is safe, almost no crime and the townspeople are some of the friendliest on the planet with easy smiles and always a “buenas”  (hello) is customary even if you’re a stranger.  The proud inhabitants of Pedasi now boast more than twenty restaurants with local folklore and a Carnival that rivals others, not in size but in craziness.pedasi-map-marked

There’s plenty of ocean fishing, surfing and exploring along the Pacific beaches. Most of the beaches are remote and unless you are at one of the surfing beaches, you’ll most likely  find that you are the only one there.

You can see Isla Iguana from the Villa and it’s been designated a nature reserve with white sand beaches, fantastic snorkeling and Iguanas!   You can visit the island by arranging a short boat ride from one of the locals who ferry tourists to and from the island at the beach.  On the other side of Pedasi, down the road to Canas, you can see the hundreds of sea turtles who come each year to lay their eggs.

Villa de la Torre fronts the ocean about a kilometer from Pedasi or about 5 mins drive on a paved road from town.  There are no roosters, chickens or barking dogs.  Just the sound of the ocean and palm trees swaying in the breeze.

The guest suite was designed to be completely independent from the main part of the house and we offer it up to readers and friends should you choose to want to come visit.   It is situated on the right the side of the house on the ground floor with its own independent entrance.  The suite has views to the pool, coconut palms and ocean beyond.  It’s a wonderful view to wake up to in the morning. .Dec2012 018

The suite has 20 foot high exposed wood ceilings, air conditioning, a small closet, nice sized bathroom and rain-head shower.  It is a good-sized room but really designed for single or double occupancy.  The entry doors are french double doors that both open allowing you to have an indoor/outdoor space if you want to.   The bed is late 19th century queen size iron quatrefoil bed with a luxurious mattress, both imported from the US.  Bed sheets are 400 thread count cotton sheets and we supply high-end cotton towels for both the bath and pool.

As I previously mentioned, the entire grounds, terraces and pool are yours to use.  The guest suite is entirely self-service. There is no room service or meals provided. We do have a manager that lives off site, speaks English and Spanish and she is available for anything you may need or require.  We can supply you with a cell phone and internet for a small deposit.

There are no cooking facilities until I am able to finish our outdoor kitchen.  The suite does come with a bar fridge/freezer, desk, coffee maker, coffee cups, wine glasses, and bottle opener so you can have your morning coffee/tea, yogurt, cold cereal but you’ll have to make your way into town for a hot breakfast/lunch/dinner which is only 5 mins away via paved road.   In fact, I don’t know why anyone would bother cooking when you see how inexpensive prices can be (compared to N. American standards) in the local restaurants.  Breakfast or lunch between $3.50 and $8.00 per person, dinner depending on what and where you want to eat $5-$12.  You can buy beer at the local store for .50 cents each or wine anywhere from $4-$10 per bottle on average.

Outside, you have the large covered terrace to yourself with two comfortable cushioned rattan chairs, a burl wood coffee table.  You can watch the birds fly by or watch the pelicans dive bomb for fish directly in front of the house.  August and September in Pedasi is whale season and yes they breach right out in front of the house.

The pool of course is right there in front with two sun recliners. We have the pool cleaned three times a week and the landscaping is maintained regularly,. The grounds have been newly planted and still not completely grown out but there’s enough to keep you interested.

If you are interested our weekly rate is $700 per week plus a small cleaning charge of $35. It includes all towels and linens.  If you need to be connected to the rest of the world we have internet and it’s free of charge with small deposit for the stick.  Please send me an email at ez7331@hotmail.com with the dates you are thinking of coming to visit and we can discuss the area, the town of Pedasi, activities and logistics in more detail.

Photos of the guest suite, Villa de la Torre, Pedasi, Panama:

guest house is right there behind those small palms, under big round window

guest house is right there behind those small palms, under big round window


double doors open to the inside of guest suite

double doors open to the inside of guest suite




guest_suite 010

guest_suite 013



bathroom and stand-up shower

bathroom and stand-up shower

covered outdoor terrace

covered outdoor terrace


Happy Holiday’s

Well, another year is almost behind us.  I’m back home for the holiday’s and I’ll be returning to Panama next month to take on a few of the almost finished projects.  Villa de la torre, or as the locals like to call the house “il castillo”, is almost done.  I’ll have more photos of finishes including the new outdoor parilla and bar in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, please enjoy this brief intermission and holiday season.

Salsa is big in Panama and anyone with a beating heart seems to want to dance including this chihuahua despite being tied to a chair.  Can you imagine how well this dog would dance if it were untied!  No really!  ;-)

Thanks Shayne for sharing.

Best of the holiday season and Merry Christmas!




Some photos of installed items:

Living room still needs a large carpet under the seating area and some smaller items that should help fill out the room.   . This is a very large room 33′ x 22′

Thanks to Kelley Barnett for sourcing the furniture   www.kelleybarnett.com

The Powder Room:

The outdoor lounge area on the terrace

The new kitchen counter tops

The circular driveway with monkey tail palms

The flagstone pathway around the side of the house and landscaping.  Thanks Kippy.

Stress: -starting new projects while trying to finish others.

So far, my time in Panama has been no different from any other visit.  Despite my continued optimism, things just don’t happen as quickly or efficiently as I expect.  So what else is new you say?

It should not surprise me every time I visit the project that I don’t accomplish as much as my plans dictate.  I know the answer but I have to admit that sometimes I expect too much from people and then tend to take on too much work myself in order to get the job done.

We’ve all heard one of the most popular definitions of insanity and when things don’t go my way, I tend to get stubborn, keep my head down and keep on pushing.  This feels like I’ve been using a hammer to pound screws into wood when I should be using a screwdriver.

On the other hand, there are some accomplishments that have come together nicely despite the fact they may seem short-lived.  There’s always another task waiting its turn;  in reality all this frustration is coming to and end.  There has been progress and I’ll put up some photos of the more recent accomplishments in the next day or so.

The last few weeks I have managed to unpack the rest of the furniture that’s been waiting patiently for almost a year and I actually have a real living room without cardboard boxes.  I have a master bedroom and bath that does not need any further finishing.   I’ve purchased some new outdoor furniture and now we have a great lounge for the outdoor terrace.  The kitchen finally has the new counter top.

There have been some disappointments with regards to previously finished work and so we’ve had to back up and re-work some areas.  The spa for example has required us to remove the water-fall feature wall and replace it with a large piece of stone along with the removal of the concrete floor to make way for a wood slat floor.  This required a week’s worth of jack-hammering and there is nothing as painful to wake up to than the rat-a-tat-tat of a jack-hammer.

The spa remains 15% unfinished but it’s almost there.  Some paint and the wood slat flooring is all that’s needed.  You can see the workers hauling the big-ass piece of slate through the powder room to the spa in these photos.











There have been three other projects that are new and of course this adds more dirt and debris when I’m supposed to be cleaning up and getting the house in livable condition. One new project is the installation of the underground pipes to take rainwater from the roofs and terraces to an eventual future cistern.

This required digging up the ground immediately in front of the guest house and laying out the pipes and valve to take and re-direct the water.  This is much easier to do now than in the future when the grounds will be fully landscaped.   A little discomfort now to prevent later pain.



Of course the area in front of the kitchen area needed to be dealt with at some point so why not start now?  This is the outdoor kitchen and barbecue area.  I could and probably should have left this project for another time but once again, doing so would require me to destroy the newly planted landscaping.




So I drew up plans for the raised platform and I have Juan Carlos heading up his team to complete the job before Xmas. 

Coconut harvest

Things are progressing well on the home front.  Many of the smaller jobs that needed to be completed are now well underway.  We’ve had a change in plans with regards to the spa and I will be posting photos very soon.

In the meantime, there are coconuts that will be harvested from the tall coconut palm trees at the back of the house.  Over the last few years, the workers have helped themselves to the harvest.  This year, I’m happy to give them away too. Although coconuts do happen to fall to the ground when mature, getting hit in the head by one can result in permanent injury.

I gave the go ahead to have them pick the nut or seed before they mature and begin to drop on their own.  I’m still not sure what food group this item falls under; is it a fruit or a nut?

Coconut palms have been used since ancient times as a source of food, fiber, fuel, water, and shelter, and many of these uses are still important today. Coconut oil was one of the first, if not the first plant oil to be used by man, and was the leading vegetable oil until 1962 when eclipsed by soybean oil.

You can see from the photos that picking coconuts can be a very dangerous job. The day I took the photos, the wind had picked up and was very strong.  Of course that did not stop one of the workers from climbing the ladder and dismounting onto the crown of the tree.

I don’t really have real experience with coconuts other than loving the taste of the pulp in macaroon cookies, using coconut oil or drinking coconut water.  It’s nice to have inherited these trees in my back yard.

Previously, I thought all you had to do was knock them down before they fell to the ground on their own but I’ve come to discover that the coconuts are firmly attached to the stem until they are mature and no amount of coercing or knocking from below will get them to fall until they are ready to be dropped by the tree itself.

You can see from the photos, one of the workers climbing up to the top of the palm and using a machete, he’s chopped off a bundle of coconuts attached to the stem to lower them down on a rope.  Pedro just happens to be there to help out.

You can also see the plugs of Japanese grass that have been planted.  This grass spreads very quickly and I’m hoping that within the next couple of months the grass will cover the entire ground area.


Pedro’s Door

Its been a couple of weeks since I arrived in Panama and there has been a flurry of activity around the house.   We have electricians, carpenters, landscapers, plumbers, and workers digging up things that were covered with dirt long ago.

My closest neighbor laughs when there is so much activity around the house, he instinctively knows that I must be coming into town because Pedro has all his workers scurrying about like bees to a hive.   Of course this makes me happy as I know that many of the overdue small projects are finally getting attention.

I’ll be writing rapid fire posts over the next couple of weeks as those unfinished projects become complete and I’ll include photos of the new spa, landscaping, counter tops, and unveil the furniture I purchased over a year ago.

One of the projects that needed serious attention is the door that connects the interior of the house to the upper terrace.  This door provides access to two bedrooms which are only accessible from the outside terrace.  The door also keeps the outside elements from entering the interior of the house so it’s importance is more than just decorative.

Over the last year, I have sent Pedro drawings and photos of the style of door I’d like to see in that space and for many reasons unknown the door would simply not materialize.  I will attribute the delay to the Panamanian experience of getting anything accomplished within a reasonable time and coupled with the lack of skilled craftsmen to make this type of door.

So over the last few weeks, Pedro has been running around between carpenter and blacksmith to window glazier in order to have the door ready by the time I arrived and it looks great.  The biggest surprise, Pedro decided that he was going to give me the door as a gift and all I can say is what a wonderful and generous gift it is.  I think this is Pedro’s way of making up for some of the challenges we’ve had in getting this door organized and it’s a testament to his good-natured personality.  While not everything can be perfect or done on time, the job will get done and correctly.  Muchas Gracias Pedro.

The entrance to the terrace that required the door is quite high and large.  Pedro employed the same fellow who built the rest of the solid doors for the house.  You can see from the photos, the design is very close to one of the drawings I had sent Pedro and the doorway now provides a beautiful view to the exterior palms which brings in wonderful light to the corridor that connects the top of the circular stairs to the upper bedrooms.


At the moment, I’m planning my next trip down to Panama which will be in the next couple of weeks. This time, I only need to make sure the spa gets finished and the small lingering jobs that need immediate attention, get some serious attention.

Once again, I am picking up a number of items that cannot be found in Panama and bringing them down with me.  This will be my last and final trip hauling bathroom exhaust fans.  I have not been able to find good quality exhaust fans anywhere in Panama.

The best fans in my estimation are Panasonic WhisperGreen fans.  Like most items I’ve picked to go into the house, I spend hours doing research to make sure I get the best unit for each application.  Bath fans are items most builders don’t spend any money on because most people assume all fans are alike, so why spend more money.  You can get a regular fan for $20 and a Panasonic WhisperGreen, is $200.  -Yes, it is analysis paralysis.

This particular line of Panasonic fans have a completely sealed motor which is great for humid areas and they are also the quietest fans on the market.  One of the best features is that they run continuously 24/7 at about one third their maximum speed until built-in motion sensor is activated, triggering the fan to go to high speed and does not revert back until it detects no movement for 20 minutes.  Which means you don’t need an electrical switch if you don’t want one.

The average annual cost of operating the fan is approximately $8 per year with the new DC motor technology so it’s not only efficient but low cost to operate.  The constant movement of air helps to keep the rooms fresh, and can mitigate potential mold problems when the doors and windows to the house are closed for extended periods of time.

I’m going to feel much less like a pack mule in the coming weeks as most of the items I think the house requires have been installed with the exception of outdoor furniture and some electronics.  BUT, like a moth to a flame, I am actually contemplating shipping another container of furniture along with odds and ends to fill out the outdoor covered terraces and pool deck.

I dread the idea of having to ship another container at this point.  The logistics can be daunting if things don’t go right and I’m leery of all the potential hassles that I may encounter at customs.  The last two containers were a nightmare and an expensive exercise.

A little pig-headedness goes a long way in getting myself into trouble I’ve been told and so should I roll the dice and risk more pain?   I just wish there were better and easier options in Panama City.  The reality is that in most cases, if I found something that I liked in Panama City, it’s highly unlikely they don’t have it in stock and I would still have to order everything in, which will take a couple of months, so why not do it myself -that’s where I get into trouble.

In any case, this short update shows the workers planting the front entrance of the house with new palms this week.   Twelve of them will line the circular driveway.  You can see that we still have to begin the landscaping between the palms and the house but that can wait until I arrive at the beginning of November.  These palms are called “pony tail” palms in Panama. Not sure what the official name is.