Keith's Panamanian Travel Ramble

The wanderings of Andrea and Keith around Panama

Wanna Ride Our Frog?

Construction at this stage seems to drag out with little to show for a day’s work unless you look closely and remember that everything is done by hand.

Today we found out that skilled trades are used to working to a daily quota of work. This permits more accurate time estimates and provides a good way to measure the productivity of workers. For example, when concrete block is being laid, each worker must install 11 sq m of block in a day. If they produce less, they are expected to work longer to meet the requirement. Unskilled workers, known as helpers are untrained, paid less, and have no work quotas. Interesting! I wonder how that got by the union?


Our house involves a retaining wall, which is also called a seismic wall. Here, all the footings and columns must be tied together with rebar to give seismic protection. Now Panama is not known for earthquakes and in fact, the Canal is here because of the lack of seismic activity, but the Latin countries around Panama all suffer from earthquakes from time to time so aftershocks are quite common here. For that reason, construction standards here all include seismic requirements.

Here are a series of photos that show the design of the foundation and columns for the very front of the house. The front of the house is a roofed open deck, four meters deep. It has a walled room below the deck, which will be a storage room or may eventually be finished as a suite.

We initially thought that we would have a concrete mixer to mix the cement but we have run into a number of problems. We cannot get a full size concrete truck up to the site due to weight and size problems.  There is a half-size truck but it has the same problems.  A portable mixer would be the solution but there is nothing the size we need available.  We can get a one or two meter mixer but it would take longer to produce the concrete with that small a machine than to mix it by hand.  So, as people here have done for years, our workers mix cement, sand, and gravel together on the ground with a little water and magically you have concrete.  We will be adding some chemicals to make sure the strength of the concrete is to an proper standard.

There are six equally spaced front columns that have a block wall built between them up to the level of the floor of the storage room. The second row of columns makes up the retaining wall or seismic wall. Columns are in line with the six across the front. There are also double columns that will extend up to the house level, above the main deck. This wall will be blocked up to the top of the storage room, effectively becoming the back wall of the room. There will also be connecting walls with rebar connecting the first row of columns with the second row. Everything is tied together to meet the seismic requirements.


Compaction of the earth is done with a machine called a Frog, named for its hopping action to compress the soil. This gas-powered machine hops around the site to compact loose soil. Today, we saw the frog in operation for the first time. Of course, el Bosso had to try it out as well as the real boss, Caterina, our builder.

6 Responses to “Wanna Ride Our Frog?”

    • Keith

      Yes, no doubt! If she can find one the right color and with 4 wheel drive, maybe she will go for it! Yes, progress is there, how-be-it slow.

  1. Laurie

    Nice to see a pic of el Bosso 🙂 How long do you think it will take to complete the build? It seems quite daunting having everything done by hand. I guess that’s just how things are done there. Very different from here for sure. Can’t wait to see more.

  2. Keith

    We are currently projecting late May but this is subject to change for millions of reasons, including the weather. Thanks for the feedback

  3. Janine

    I am so glad I got to see the property so I know exactly what you are talking about. I noticed to Ms. El Bosso is in pictures – how did that happen. I guess it is too much trouble to dodge the camera.

    • Keith

      Not really! When she discovers the photos here, I will need to move into the room under the new front deck. Hope it is ready be then. 🙂


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