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Charlie Rendall
Posts: 26
Location: Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
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NATURAL BUILDING and FOREST GARDENING WORKSHOPS IN GUATEMALA
 
Learn how to build low-cost, ecological buildings with natural materials, and grow food forests in the beautiful tropical highlands of Guatemala.

Two-week Residential Workshops in Lake Atitlán
Courses every month from January till June 2012

Set in the valleys of San Marcos La Laguna and Tzununá, this introductory course is ideal for beginners as well as experienced builders and gardeners.

Cost: $1,000-$1,500  All-inclusive  (Lodging, Food & Tuition)
Price varies according to your choice of accommodation

Week 1:
Build naturally and renewably - discover the basics of working with bamboo, adobe, wood and other natural materials.

Week 2:
Plant food forests – learn the art of forest gardening for low-maintenance, high-yield sustainable farming.

For more info, visit: http://www.returntotheforest.org http://www.returntotheforest.org

phone: (+502) 4631 1635

Added attractions: Tours and treks around Lake Atitlán, local markets, ancient Mayan ruins, live volcanoes, rainforests, beaches, hot springs,  national parks, Spanish schools, volunteer projects… …and much, much more.

I hope you can come!

Many thanks,
Charlie Rendall

Director - Natural Building and Forest Gardening Courses - Guatemala, 2011
Filename: Guatemala-Courses-Flyer.pdf
File size: 710 Kbytes
 
                                
Posts: 4
Location: Rocky Mountains, Northern New Mexico, USA
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Hi, I have had Guatemala on my mind for years, and this post has prompted me to ask a few questions about Green Building there....I apologize in advance if this if not the correct place in these forums to post this, (this is my first post although I have been a lurker for several years off and on)  Most "land for sale in Guatemala" type websites gloss over most any and everything concerning the reality of living there. No place is perfect, and I definitely have some questions!  Having lived all of my life in heavy snow, temperate areas of the Rocky Mountains, the 70 - 80 degree daytime temps with 50 degree nights 365 days a year sounds quite appealing to me!  ; ) 

I have long had a dream to re-locate to a place where gardening is possible year-round outside, without requiring greenhouses...but I do not want to contend with a hot steamy tropical jungle type climate year round....and my budget to do this is in the $200,000 or less mode for everything - land, structures, etc.
I have visited areas of South America looking into various areas, but am still searching for the right place, within my limited budget...

1) What is current  availability, and cost of land in the  Lake Atitlán area, that would be suitable for all aspects of permaculture? Something in the couple of acres minimum, with lakefront, privacy, good sun, drainage, decent soil, etc.... (I realize  many of these types of properties are boat access only)

2) Obviously, there is no "Home Depot" down the road, or across the lake....how do you obtain building materials, and get them to you building site? If not locally available, is it possible or financially feasible on a budget to do a one time,  "fill a huge moving type vehicle" and do one large load driving from the US to the area with any and all building materials needed that are not available locally?

3) Climate -  I realize the climate has two seasons, wet, and dry, but I am wondering just "how wet" the wet season is in the area surrounding Lake Atitlán,  "how dry" is the dry season, a and what are the laws pertaining to pumping water from the lake to sustain your crops during this time?  What are the general water rights type laws in Guatemala?

4) What sort of pest type critters do you have to contend with in the Lake Atitlán area, as far as poisonous snakes, mosquitos and the like?

5) What is the state of the water in the lake, as far as being clean enough to swim in, filter for drinking, etc? (Perhaps using something like a Big Berkey type filter, when rain water isn't available that is)

6) Are there any building codes, covenants, rules and/or regulations pertaining to building in the area? Are permits required?  Bottom line, what does it take legally for a US Citizen to buy and build there?

7) Are there local sources, plant nursery type places for starts in trees and plants, such as fruit and nut trees, and anything else that does not grow from seed, or do you have to ship these in from out of the country?

8 ) Once one would be totally setup down there, having purchased land, build a home, what would be an estimate of what it would take in monthly expenses to survive, compared to say in rural areas of the US, or Mexico? One website I visited claimed  overall living expenses would be around 1/3 of the US?  (I am talking a very frugal, rural green lifestyle here)

Anything else you can discuss about moving to, building a green home,  and sustainable living in the Lake Atitlán of Guatemala would be greatly appreciated!

AC
 
Charlie Rendall
Posts: 26
Location: Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
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Hello Wilderness Green and thank you for your interest and questions, which I'll do my best to answer below:

(1) What is current  availability, and cost of land in the  Lake Atitlán area, that would be suitable for all aspects of permaculture? Something in the couple of acres minimum, with lakefront, privacy, good sun, drainage, decent soil, etc.... (I realize  many of these types of properties are boat access only)

Prime lakefront property is around $20,000 per cuerda (676 square meters = 26mx26m) but you can also find land for as little as $500 per cuerda if you look for larger plots further from the lake. Besides the expense, lakefront isn't advisable on this lake as its level varies enormously (it has no run off apart from fissures in the lake floor) - I helped salvage materials from a house just last week, and many beautiful properties went under this year. There are several people and small groups setting up their own permaculture/homesteading projects, and some have been very successful - I know one, a Canadian forestry expert, who's been living off his land's produce for nearly 12 years and says that the climate here is one of the best in the world for doing so. A friend recently bought a beautiful 4-acre plot for $25,000 with a spring, established coffee groves and some poorly maintained fruit trees.

(2) How do you obtain building materials, and get them to you building site? If not locally available, is it possible or financially feasible on a budget to do a one time,  "fill a huge moving type vehicle" and do one large load driving from the US to the area with any and all building materials needed that are not available locally?

More and more materials are available in hardware stores in the three big towns on the lake: Panajachel, San Pedro and Santiago. I have to carry all materials a further 200m from the roadside, and many others have even further to go. This adds about 10% to the cost of materials, although basics like sand, gravel and earth stay the same as they're extracted local to your site. Specialist materials and tools are sometimes harder to find but people often bring these from the US/Canada as they go back and forth, but the basic stuff is available in Guatemala, with local providers happy to deliver for fair prices.

(3) Climate -  I realize the climate has two seasons, wet, and dry, but I am wondering just "how wet" the wet season is in the area surrounding Lake Atitlán,   "how dry" is the dry season, a and what are the laws pertaining to pumping water from the lake to sustain your crops during this time?  What are the general water rights type laws in Guatemala?

Rainy seasons vary. Last year was very wet, the year before (2009) was much drier. This year has been normal. Finding land with year round water is a big help and means the land can be always productive. We don't see more than a few days of rain from early December till the end of March, although occasionally we get a freak week of good rains in January/February. No problems pumping water from the lake, water cost around $80 per year for foreigners in my municipality (yes, they discriminate, and there are some court cases in progress about this), although this varies from one town to the next. Water rights are a hazy subject here and it depends where you are and what the local government is like. Some are very relaxed, some are very controlling, but usually where there's a will there's a way!

(4) What sort of pest type critters do you have to contend with in the Lake Atitlán area, as far as poisonous snakes, mosquitos and the like?

There's no malaria or dengue as we're too high for there to be lots of mosquitos (1600m above sea level), but there are some about, especially during the rainy season. Little biting flies can be a bit of a nuisance in some places but I toughened up to them after about 6-months. I've only seen one poisonous snake (a rattler) and five poisonous spiders (black widows, all in the same place) since I moved here: we have rattlesnakes and coral snakes, and Black Widows and brown-recluse. We see a lot of scorpions but they're thankfully not very venomous - I find bee stings hurt more and last longer.

(5) What is the state of the water in the lake, as far as being clean enough to swim in, filter for drinking, etc? (Perhaps using something like a Big Berkey type filter, when rain water isn't available that is)

The lake at the moment is clear and safe for swimming and we're hoping for an algae-free year - nonetheless the lake does sometimes "gunk-up" and you can't swim in it then. It's best not to drink it and people usually get their water from the many sources in the valleys here, for which a basic filter system is recommended: we use just a one-stage carbon filter and haven't had any stomach problems in years. Poor hygiene in the kitchen is the usual source of any illness, and people sometimes come down with with an intestinal infection after the first rains, so it pays to be extra careful during that time (May-June).

(6) Are there any building codes, covenants, rules and/or regulations pertaining to building in the area? Are permits required?  Bottom line, what does it take legally for a US Citizen to buy and build there?

Again this varies depending on the municipality. Technically there's a 10% building tax and one must solicit a permit from the local municipal authorities, but I don't think anyone in this village has ever done either! They've recently started instituting a property tax but it's minimal, even if they do eventually get around to charging everyone. Usually when you buy a plot then it's yours for good - they don't even take any away for death duties/inheritance tax (compare that to 40% in the UK!) In our village it's a little strange in that technically the land belongs to the community, but there has never been any removal of land from anyone, and I don't expect there to be as it would only create big problems with the growing foreign population here. Anyone can buy or sell land, no restrictions there that I know of. All you need is your passport and a lawyer to draw up the papers. A typical land sale costs about $50-$100 to arrange.

(7) Are there local sources, plant nursery type places for starts in trees and plants, such as fruit and nut trees, and anything else that does not grow from seed, or do you have to ship these in from out of the country?

The availability and diversity of species is huge and there's no need to bring seeds in for most crops. I get a lot from the local market although non-GMO/organic purists prefer to source their seeds from guaranteed US suppliers. There are many nurseries locally and nationally, including some excellent ones in the city and Antigua, as well as a few around the lake.

( Once one would be totally setup down there, having purchased land, build a home, what would be an estimate of what it would take in monthly expenses to survive, compared to say in rural areas of the US, or Mexico? One website I visited claimed  overall living expenses would be around 1/3 of the US?  (I am talking a very frugal, rural green lifestyle here)

That's difficult to answer! One guy I know who lives off the grid nearby spends less than $150 a month, but he's tough, he works hard on his land and helps local farmers a lot, and so hardly buys anything in or travels anywhere.

In my house of two adults and one nine-year-old, we still have quite large energy demands, have to buy most our food and run two computers all-day-long, so we get by on about $700-$800 a month all in. We could reduce that considerably if we changed our lifestyle to a more frugal, rural green one but neither my partner nor I have the time to dedicate to that at the moment while we continue to participate in the wider cash economy...

I'd say the best way to find out more about building and living here would be to come visit and see for yourself. There are literally hundreds of people dotted around the lake who've done it and are making it work, so there's a wealth of knowledge to be gleaned from them. There are also many millionaire's properties that lie empty in the rainy season that could be house-sat - they'll sometimes even pay you for the privilege! Santa Cruz La Laguna is a good place to look for them. I also know a good WWOOFing operation, volunteer organic farms and similar where you can see if it's the place for you. Even better, come on my course and find out a great deal in a shorter time!

There are also many other interesting locations around Guatemala, for example up in Quiche, although the foreigner community is a big plus to living in Lake Atitlán, and one that makes it a much safer and more culturally diverse place to live in than many other parts of the country.

I hope this helps answer your questions, Charlie Rendall
 
                                
Posts: 4
Location: Rocky Mountains, Northern New Mexico, USA
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Allow me to express my thanks for your speedy and detailed answers to all of my questions!  Much appreciated!

I am going to do more research, and also contemplate attending your workshop.

One last question - would your workshops be more for total beginners to green building or also offer something for people with a bit more experience?

Personally, I have hand built several off grid passive solar homes, using natural materials, (adobe, rammed earth, cob etc), with catchment systems, composting toilets, ete... And although I have been involved in green building and organic gardening for many years - I have no experience whatsoever in a climate like you have down there!

I imagine you don't have to worry about ice-dams on your catchment systems!  ; )

The area I am currently in, the Rocky Mountains of the US, has experienced recently some early snowstorms and very cold weather - so this is the time of year, looking at the potential of a long hard cold snowy winter, one's thoughts start bringing up climates such as you have in Guatemala!

AC
 
Charlie Rendall
Posts: 26
Location: Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
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You're welcome, I hope it helps.

To answer your question: "would your workshops be more for total beginners to green building or also offer something for people with a bit more experience?

"Personally, I have hand built several off grid passive solar homes, using natural materials, (adobe, rammed earth, cob etc), with catchment systems, composting toilets, ete... And although I have been involved in green building and organic gardening for many years - I have no experience whatsoever in a climate like you have down there!"

The most significant things that you could perhaps learn would be finding out about the materials and techniques used in this part of the world and how to build for the climate here (e.g. passive solar isn't thought about as much because we don't have the same extremes of climate, so it's more about more solar protection in the day and rain and damp protection for when it rains heavily). There's bamboo, which is a big subject in itself; the bajareque technique using the non-hollow otatea bamboo and local hardwoods; thatching palm roofs; natural rope-making using a local agave called maguey.

The forest gardening part of the course will no doubt be very different from a similar one given in the Rockies!

I do of course recognise the value that experienced builders or gardeners can bring to the course, and I understand that some of the classes we give will be more interesting to some and less so to others, and so, when workshops aren't yet full, I'm willing to lower prices a little to fill the course and make it more interesting for all - if this might suit you then best if you write to me directly via the contact page on my website: http://www.returntotheforest.org/contact.html

Thanks again for your interest and questions, Charlie
 
Charlie Rendall
Posts: 26
Location: Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
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Update: You can now do just one of the two weeks - either natural building or forest gardening, or of course both of them!

Cost is approximately half of the full 2-week course - see website for details: http://www.returntotheforest.org

Group discounts are also possible, PM me here or use the website contact form.
 
I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam - the great philosopher Popeye. Tiny ad:
Video of all the permaculture design course and appropriate technology course (about 177 hours)
https://permies.com/wiki/65386/paul-wheaton/digital-market/Video-PDC-ATC-hours-HD
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