I was planning to start providing construction progress reports next month, as we wrap up the year’s progress with foundation work for the inn on the east side of the island. However, a comment yesterday inspired me to start now, even though the photos we currently have are incomplete and primarily only of “field quality.” So, without further ado, here is the initial construction progress report for The Resort at Isla Palenque:
For the past 18 months or so, our construction crew has been busy setting up a base camp and installing basic infrastructure for building construction on Isla Palenque. While construction has at times been slower than I would have liked, we have actually made an impressive amount of progress, and work on buildings for our guests is now beginning apace. Construction takes a little longer here, for several reasons: one, we’re in Panama, with its tropical Latin culture; two, we’re on an island, which creates its own logistical challenges and infrastructural requirements; and three, we are working very hard to build delicately within the existing landscape (which takes extra planning; note in the photo below how base camp has been nestled within the existing trees and jungle) instead of just bulldozing everything.
One also has to remember that the island was virtually uninhabited when we began late last spring, and our construction crew had to spend their first few months on site essentially camping: sleeping in tents, importing their water, etc. Conditions were incredibly rough, especially since our crews must live on the island for weeks at a time while working.
So, the first order of business was to create a construction camp capable of functioning as the base for future construction activities. This camp now has dormitories capable of sleeping about 50 people, with running water, bathrooms and showers, a field office, internet, a mess hall, warehouses and a workshop.
As work on the base camp was wrapping up, we began work on the road system that will comprise our initial phase. This includes about 8000 feet of roadway, along with the associated bridges, culverts and drainage systems. Right now, all of these roads have been cleared and graded, temporary bridges have been located, and we are in the process of laying the road base and gravel down, along with culverts where required.
The photos above depict the road construction: on the left, an in-progress shot of a section of road being compacted, with roadbase and a permeable geotechnical fabric being laid down, and on the right, a concrete culvert being poured.
About one-third of the road has now been completed with culverts and gravel, and they make for fine driving and walking; the picture to the left shows our camp dog Vera happily running down a newly finished section of road.
Also, completing this critical section of road now allows us to get heavy equipment to the site of our six-bedroom inn, and begin foundation work.
In fact, foundation work started about two weeks ago. I arrived after three caissons had been drilled, and two had been poured. The photo below shows a completed caisson and rebar cage.
(Caissons are concrete piers going down to bedrock which provide support for the building through a post-and-beam structural system. Except in a few select locations, our construction systems use caissons instead of traditional footings and foundation walls because it allows us to disturb the site less, which is especially important when we are building very close to trees and do not want to disturb their root systems.)
Now, I mentioned before that construction here can take a little longer than normal. And as it happens, the day I took the photo of the caisson was a good lesson in this. The drill rig’s computer broke down after drilling the three initial caisson holes; and, being on an island, this wasn’t going to get repaired quickly (especially since this week is filled with holidays in Panama). But no matter, we were able to shift our crew to other work, and will be forging ahead with the caissons again next week. And early next year, I’ll post another update on construction progress.