California Cob comes to Senegal Village!

Yène Kao is a traditional Lébou fishing village just an hour south of Dakar where Hans and Roos, the Dutch hosts of CruzinCobGlobal’s first month-long cob building workshop in Africa, have leveled out the upper part of their plot to build the first salvaged tire foundation/cob and sandbag house in Senegal.

Prepping the tire foundation for cob with toothy laterite rocks

Prepping the tire foundation for cob with toothy laterite rocks

With 100 feet of cob walls built using their own ochre and brown clay soils dug up to create their 10-foot deep septic tank and added to local sand and straw, the house build is a very visible model of sustainable locally-sourced and affordable construction for the passers-by to witness each day.  Hans and Roos moved to Senegal 4 years ago to create a non-profit called Studio Placemakers, in which they team up with locals to create attractive and artsy functional public spaces from abandoned and unkempt land.  The building of their house is an opportunity for Senegalese and foreign students to come together and learn cob building while erecting the walls of their house.  The tire foundation was built the week before the cob workshop began by Ecomen 3000, a local non-profit that has trained people to build tire foundations all over Senegal.

All the students coming from Europe and the US are living in two rented houses right in the middle of Yene Kao, right on the beach, and each day walk to the build site after breakfast getting ready to make their 6 daily batches of cob with their Senegalese counterparts.  Everyone is new to this material, even the Africans,

The Afro-American Cob Dance

The Afro-American Cob Dance

who have forgotten the art of earthen construction through the last few generations and are amazed at how hard and simple the cob is.  Yesterday was our second day of wall building and it seems everyone is getting it quite quickly.  The 7 foot walls will go up quickly with this 20-people strong workforce, the hot and dry climate and the quick-drying mix which is rock hard after only a few days of drying.


Early morning run below the gorgeous ochre, orange, red and purple Gareye cliffs

Each morning at 5am the Imam prayer calls from the beachfront Mosque wake me to my meditation time.  Sounding like Sanskrit mantras, the repetitive chants are a soothing reminder of Gratitude and Love for the day to come.  Early morning workouts on the beach are communal and I am met by the other healthy bodies jogging back and forth on the sand in their soccer garb as I spread my yoga mat out to welcome the morning in Africa.  The big yellow disc rises over the land behind me highlighting the palm trees shading the village houses.  The small and large children call out their morning greetings: “Toubab! Toubab! Ça va?” “Oui, ça va bien. Nangadeff?” “Mangui fi! Yanguisi jam?” “Jama rek”….and on and on.  Greetings in Senegal are indispensable.  They are a sign of spirituality, education and politeness.

At 8am Sissy has the breakfast ready that will launch our day.  Watermelon, rice cereal, round Moroccan bread, local exotic baobab, green lime and cashew apple jams decorate the morning table and welcome us to a new day.  The Tai Chiers arrive and soon the long wooden tables are a bubbly atmosphere of laughter, stories and happy smiles.  IMG_5297Oliver calls the warning bell and at 8:50am more or less we are off to the site across the road,  where we meet up with our Senegal counterparts waiting with big welcoming smiles.  Sometimes we have to remember we are in Africa because we are a little bubble of a family enjoying our learning vacation here in Senegal.  Walks through the old village at night, down the beach or on the road through the line of fishing villages bring us back to the reality of Africa.  My favorite times have been when I am not visible and can watch the Africans in their daily activities without my presence interfering.  On two occasions I could not help but follow the African drum sounds at night and ended up once  in the middle of the whole village celebrating their Soccer Championship with IMG_5318wild drumming and dancing and another time watching a very whiny and endless Baye Fall chant accompanied by drumming and ritualistic stepping movements that went on all night.  I love those moments. True Senegal. True Africa. A lifelong dream come true.


A Stay at “Le Tremplin”: A Model Ecovillage for Dakar Street Youth

As all good things happen when you are open and in the flow and on your Heart Journey following The Call…Fred, our gracious Warmshowers host who picked us up when we arrived at midnight in Dakar with bikes and bags, told me about Village Pilote.  Within minutes of hearing about this organization focused on “natural building” located on the path of our (my son Viva and I) first bike ride through Senegal, I felt driven to see it.  Looking it up online I was filled with even more interest. But its 2-D representation did nothing to prepare me for the grand Soulful experience  of spending a few days with the 120-strong Community of 3 to 25-year olds and their Counselors, Teachers and Mentors living near the famous Lac Rose (Pink Lake) region 50km north of Dakar.

I contacted the French expat Director Loïc the day of our departure who, upon hearing of my own mission of COB trainings in Senegal, came right over with map in hand to introduce himself, shake my hand, and invite Viva and I to stay there and share meals with the group.  As always happens when 2 or more Eco Freaks get together, vibrant conversations of compost toilet cover material, earthen building styles and the latest on cob oven fuel sources ensued.  I knew I was in the company of my global “family”.

After 2.5 hours on the most blasphemously long, polluted and dangerous road I’ve yet biked, the 15-mile stretch of “Route Nationale” that is absolutely (they say) unavoidable when wanting to leave Dakar and go anywhere else except for the airport…Viva and I finally lowered our physical, emotional and face guards after turning left onto the smaller offshoot towards Keur Massar

The majestic and ancient Baobab

The majestic and ancient Baobab

and the even smaller offshoots taking us to the tourist-heavy Lac Rose area.   

Biking through the salt mounds of Lac Rose

Biking through the salt mounds of Lac Rose

The villages became smaller and more bearable (only 20 rather than 50 onlookers surrounded our bikes in excitement) until we arrived at the source of all of Senegal’s salt.  The water looks red because of an algae that lives in it, the only thing that can withstand the ridiculously high salt content.  Flurries of “salt flower” foam line the shore as do repetitive mounds of greyish-white salt being packed into bags for shipment.    Now our road is an undulating and hard-packed (thankful!) dirt path weaving through the salt mounds until we reach the end of the Lake accompanied by a fast-jogging gaggle of young girls who have spotted us.  Eventually between questioning passing locals, trying to make out GoogleMaps on our phone and using common sense with regards to the ocean direction….we were on our way to the Village Tremplin in the distance.

We arrive at Deni Biram Ndao at dusk, led by a local co-biker Mamadou,  hesitating to stop lest we get surrounded once again with a team of short onlookers.  IMG_4894The sun is set now and the last minutes of light accompany us to the Tremplin Village of red mud brick buildings that announce adobe land.  A big smile of happiness and relief fills me with joy to have found my brethren here in Senegal: natural builders, no concrete. Immediately the feel is different. We arrive to a scene of 30 male sandy soccer players of all sizes in the center of the village. Noone cares we are there. They are used to the visitors. Giorgui the 2nd in charge comes to welcome us. He shows us to our room in the main red building with a giant thatch roof. It is dark and the generator is not working and they don’t have enough solar panels to light the night. He tells us that when we hear the triple clang of a metal spoon on a tire rim, dinner is served. Viva and I have been pedaling for 6 hours or so, with minor food stops, and we happily go bucket shower ourselves and prepare for a wonderful dinner experience Senegalese-style.

There are about 100 youth here of all ages.   They have been found on the streets lost, away from their families and up to no good. They come from Dakar neighborhoods known for street kids and have been brought here if they passed the first three steps of showing willingness. Here they are in a safe, joyful, IMG_4931healthful setting which is also strict, regulated, organized and focused. They get loving teachers and counselors who teach them life skills, work skills and academic skills…all on this large piece of red sandy land dotted with trees. This is the brainchild of Loïc Treguy, a French expat, who has garnered the support of France, the US and some other organizations to create a beautiful model of community, brotherhood, love and support. IMG_4930Here the boys all work and play together within the strict rules of the village and receive all they need to grow into confident, respectful, hard-working and inspired individuals. They receive schooling and practical specialized skills in the area of their choice: woodwork, electrical, metal, masonry, cooking and general cleaning services.

Viva and I are blown away at the fluid and happy flow of life here at Le Tremplin. With only red mud (laterite) brick buildings built by the youth specializing in “masonry”, compost toilets that are emptied daily into a big hole in the ground, shower water lifted up from a well, a huge commercial kitchen that is spotless, this simple place with a vegetable IMG_4922garden and sheep is a wonderful model for the world. I imagine grabbing the inner city kids in the US and placing them in somewhere like this, even bringing them to Africa, would heal them quickly. Lastly, the food we ate out of a large communal round silver dish in a circle of 7 IMG_4939spoon-ready mouths each meal , quietly and respectfully, was phenomenal. Perhaps the love with which it is made adds to the deliciousness. No desserts but noone is complaining. They are happy with so little. Few have phones, but they have each other. Love, companionship and mentorship.  We have been well-taken care of here. Kindness abounds. A deaf youth follows us and stares, picking up all the information he can. Apparently he is one hell of a rapper, despite his inability to hear. We watch him beat rhythms on the walls, unconsciously.  One of his “brothers” passes him with a supportive pat on the back.  Viva and I decide we will be back to build a giant cob oven with these boys.  It is hard not to come back here.  There is so much LOVE in the air.  My Heart is touched. Bless this place.



“Rio do Prado”, a unique Portuguese Eco-Hotel, November 8, 2015

IMG_4572On a 40-mile bike ride with my son Viva through the country roads and villages of the famous Óbidos region, we IMG_4568noticed an unusual cut-out wooden sign that kept popping up on our circuit.  “Rio do Prado” was all it said, in a very humble fashion.  It was clearly not an official government sign pointing us to a local river.  After another mile we finally came upon the official Rio do Prado sign, at the entrance of a well-attended parking lot.  We tried to see beyond the cars and were able to detect an unusual sloping building that looked like it was diving into the Earth as well as several IMG_4570other box-like “rooms” that were partially Earth-covered too.  Sisal poles decorated the doors and all in all it looked very discreet, quiet, alternative and special.  Like a secret spot you either researched hard, happened upon or got lucky enough to be told about.  It reminded me of Esalen, in Big Sur, with its very old, simple and uneventful sign.

When I got back I found it online under  The ex-mayor of Óbidos created this low-key and pricey eco-hotel for the busy city folks to completely get away and sit with what’s real for a few days.  For 350€ a night you get to IMG_4562bathe in a concrete wave-bottomed bathtub that sits behind your double bed.  The design is very avant-garde yet the materials are simple, inexpensive and local.  All of the outside furniture and dining room chairs are made from recycled and reused wood from vegetable/produce crates.  The rooms are Earthship-like, with the back of the IMG_4553buildings underground and the roof garden-topped.  There is a long skinny greenhouse attended by happy Portuguese farmers, which doubles as a meeting and yoga room!  The menu looks fantastic and prices reasonable. They use their own organic produce as much as possible AND the ocean is only 10 minutes away as it sits at the edge of a long lagoon that fills and empties daily with the tides.  Great surf too!

It really touched me though if I were to create this place I wouldn’t charge such extravagant prices excluding most people from getting to experience it.  But everyone is welcome to visit and eat there.


Pictorial Evolution of a Cob Bathhouse, November 1, 2015

Just a short quick blog here to visually demonstrate the steps in building the bathhouse, which is still waiting for its green roof….

Next up:  An ultra-cool zen & sleek partially open cob house in Yène Kao, near Dakar in Senegal.  Here is an idea of the floor plan designed by Roos, the host of the workshop along with her husband Hans.  It includes a tire foundation and a two-tier roof for insulation reasons and an open front veranda….perfect for the Senegal lifestyle!

Senegal Workshop House Floor Plan

Senegal Workshop House Floor Plan


Wow! Coolest & Prettiest Bathhouse Ever Sits on a Hill at El Molino de Guadalmesí, October 23, 2015

I am so utterly proud of my 15 students who together brought into existence the most beautiful bathhouse I have yet seen.  With a blank and flattened slate of 25m2 atop a steep hill hidden in the woods to begin with, we spent the first few days before the course began emerging a unique triple circle design based on sacred geometry


that would enclose the compost toilet in the southern circle, the shower in the northern circle and an attractive walkway between them with niches, arched shelves, a sink and ultimately a flower of life design in the center of the structure\’s earthen floor lit up by the oculus at the center of the hexagonal roof structure, made from local eucalyptus roundwood branches and small trunks.

We began to dig the trench on Day 1 for the next 3-4 days and then used the large local rockpile from a torn down old house to build the foundation with hydraulic lime and sand mortar.  The rocks were walked up a steep path one at a time by our burly rock crew Viva, Sylvain, Normunds and Greg.  Sylvain from Fuerteventura led the rock wall building which took the next 4 days to complete. \"IMG_3662\"

When the lunch gong rang, relief filled our well-worn bodies, ready for some  luscious vegetarian fare cooked up by the Molino staff and work trade crew, a variety of home-grown veggie specialties to titillate our taste buds day after day.


As we relaxed around the shaded wooden communal eating area, filling our tummies to happiness and recollecting the morning hours…the siesta hour called us to the hammocks, chill spots, tents and beds, giving great gratitude for the long-standing southern Spanish cult of downtime for the next 2-3 hours, which grew smaller as the month advanced and the ends of the wall called harder.

Afternoons were also beach time, yoga time, massage time, music time and building time.  Perfect weather spoiled us the whole month and the ocean temperatures concurred at 60-65 degrees F.  Excitement set in when it was finally time to start building niches and bottle and arched windows, sculpting and when Jamal arrived to lead us in the Tadelakt process to seal the bathroom and walkway walls.  Finally a pause from the cob day in and day out, though big rocks helped advance the wall a bit faster.  Now the artsy part, the beauty, the aesthetics \"IMG_3883\"for which cob walls and houses are so renowned.  Everyone picked a spot to work on and, as always, I saw the artist in everyone begin to blossom and fire up.  Sam and Sari went to town on the beautiful tall tree sculptures that grace the east entrance\"IMG_3870\", merging the surrounding forest with the earthen bathhouse, to the point of embedding some real olive branches directly into the cob as the continuation of the cob trees. Goretti created her own version of tree on the northside, while the westside entrance welcomes you with bottles and the Molino logo \”Head, Hands and Heart\” encrusted into the cob with special local brain-like rocks, a handprint, and a heart rock.

The last few days brought us happily to experiencing the wonderful pleasurable earthen plaster made with local horse and cow poop, the green onsite clay, fine sand, and fine straw.  A totally different feel than the tadelakt lime-based plaster \"IMG_3946\"which, with the specialized thick cedar trowels and plastic trowel, results in a waterproof and breathable ultra-smooth finish that you want to rub your face on.  The special Tadelakt finish is smoothed with a very polished green mottled granite rock.  Students got to experience both, each one having their preferences.

While we never got to put the roof on, everything was ready for the eucalyptus rafters and hexagons that would come on next.  Our days were full for sure, full of work, full of laughter, full of learning, growing, loving, deep experiences in the sweat lodge, around the fire circle, during mealtimes and in the final checkout straw pile.


\"FinalCheckout\"Deep friendships always happen around cob, emotional release and lots of growth and self-confidence and empowerment, especially for the Earth Goddesses.

Thank You El Molino for hosting us and Thank You to Samantha, Sari, Greg, Roberto, Eduardo, Fran, Sylvain, Normunds, David, Mano, Goretti, Laurie, Samuel, Viva, Johnny, and Jamal…best COB CREW ever! Good luck with all your endeavours and may you spread the COB wherever you go!  You are always welcome to come assist or take another workshop!  LOVE LOVE LOVE!!!! See all the photos on Cruzincobglobal\’s Facebook page.




Here We Go in El Molino…Week 1: Trench & Foundation, September 12, 2015

The most southern tip of Spain is Tarifa and 12 km to the east lies El Molino de Guadalmesí, IMG_3541an ecovillage and farm on a hilly oak woodland trimmed by 45 healthy goats, with the Río Guadalmesí (River of Women) running through it, lined with colorful Moroccan hammocks, a big veggie garden, a sweat lodge and beautiful old earthen buildings on this old mill site.  Viva and I arrived Friday, a few days before, along with Samantha, Sari, Greg and Samuel to start the trench for the new bathhouse with compost toilet, shower and sink that would be nestled in the forest.  We spent the first few days in the design process, learning about the creative Dragon Dreaming cycle with Johnny, one of the founders, and came up with a beautiful, symmetrical circular flowing design based on Sacred Geometry and built around a Flower of Life mosaic in the center.IMG_3552IMG_3533

The rest of the group trickled in on Sunday from all over Europe and Monday morning the digging began.  Tough digging in a clayey soil good for cob that we would use in our mix.  The location is not the easiest for sure as we climb uphill every day and use a quad to transport the sands and everything else we will need to build this bathhouse which will be finished with Tadelakt, a beautiful Moroccan clay and lime-based polished plaster that is waterproof.


The first week saw the trench finished and the rock and hydraulic lime-sand plaster built on a steep slope that caused the lower walls to be three times taller than the upper ones.  Hard work and sometimes a bit frustrating to figure out in such a short time.  IMG_3567In between we are nourished with amazing all-organic and local fantastic meals prepared by the staff and some of the students, and learning Thai Massage and other activities including building a cob oven with Roberto from Sicily.

Life is good at El Molino. Air and water temperatures are perfect (at least for me!) and the beautiful quietude of the Strait of Gibraltar Natural Park, broken only by the sound of the windmills, is relaxing.  Only a fifteen minute walk to the Mediterranean ocean for an early morning or afternoon plunge to wash off the clay and the physical effort…we are happy in our new family for the month, figuring out our new rhythm as we build and work together every day.

taller de cob_06IMG_3644IMG_3641

Life is good.


One Build, One Heart: Fuerteventura, August 2015

I think what keeps me so IMG_3340fulfilled in leading these workshops and builds and what keeps people coming is the “one heart” community that is created, nurtured and cherished from the beginning.  The first giggles and smiles appear on people’s faces from the moment theyIMG_3339 touch the mud, roll up their pants and stomp in their first squishy, welcoming cob burrito.  No matter where in the world, I am learning, the results are the same.  And what a joy to see international groups, language differences notwithstanding, singing and dancing together like kids again as they do the cob hug circle dance I’ve seen time and time again.  I mean look at their faces!!!!!

The Fuerteventura Cob Workshop was unique in that I arrived to a partially-built gorgeous rock house that would require cob fill-in.IMG_3034

Yeah! Something new and different, yet the walls were 50cm thick!!!! Yikes!!! And we were destined to finish in 2 weeks, the walls that is.  Sylvain and Miltiade had gone for the old-fashioned Euro-style thick-walled look.  We dubbed it the “Rock’n’Cob House” and ploughed forward with hungry motivated IMG_3395cobbers-to-be.  Luckily the warm windy weather that dominates on this island would allow us to go up 30cm a day if we so determined to.  Anaïs cooked up the greatest menus IMG_3343which added to the motivation.  As usual our students were from all walks of life: surf instructor, mason, biologist, administrator, Reiki healer, masseuse, conventional builder, pre-school teacher, organic farmer and recycled bag maker.

During our one-week workshop we were treated to the first August thunder and rainstorms in 100 years! Shocking, yet everyone got a chance to see COB in action!  Yup, that’s right, it gets HARDER after it gets wet and dries again. What? Yup, those clay-sand bonds tighten up with each evaporatory event.  Touch it!

Our second week saw a small, hard-working and very committed group of student builders and this nugget got really tight.  Showing up at 8:30 on the dot while Claudine was still makin’ it to the site, they rolled out those tarps, got the cement mixer—-oops, I mean feet warmed up, and off they went getting the first 6 mixes done.  IMG_0358Truth is we did try out some larger-scale cob production mechanical equipment that was handy on the farm.  Miltiade was especially motivated as he would be left to finish the tops of the walls alone with his children Loic and Anais.  The final verdict was that the human hands and feet were fastest and best….yet in order to ease up on the heavy work we let the cement workshop fuerteventura_110mixer do the mixing as we hosed down and watched it go round and round.  The tractor never quite got the mix perfect and then scraping it off the tarp or ground ended up making the whole thing take double time.

In the end the LOVE among this group of novice builders became so STRONG that tears were almost shed in saying goodbye, though we all know that it’s never GOODBYE with COB…just until the next time.   Oh and thank you Loïc for documenting the whole two weeks in time-lapse which I will post a clip preview of on the site. Stay tuned for his full-length instructional and time-lapse video to come of the workshop, en español and in english….of course!

workshop fuerteventura_18


Found a Cobber on São Nicolau, Cabo Verde, July 22, 2015


Serginho building his new place with a local cob plaster…just his soil with flour paste.

Well I finally found an authentic cobber from Brazil, Serginho, living in Praia Branca on the West coast of São Nicolau.  He has been trying to set up a cob training in Cabo Verde while running a guesthouse, building a new place with cob bunglaows, adopting a son and preparing for a child with his Cabo Verdian partner who is also a cobber!  Serginho has been training his helpers to make adobe bricks, cob plaster and cob floors.  He has found the perfect recipe for his cob plaster over concrete blocks (his first building in order to get it upIMG_2672 quickly) using his own site yellow clay soil (ready mix!) with flour plaste.  When I touched it it was as hard as stucco and appears to be quite water-resistant.  While the locals have been watching with curiosity and also humor, not trusting the cob will hold, Serginho keeps moving forward happily finishing up his projects.

Yesterday I happened to be eating lunch surrounded by the mayor of Tarrafal and other local officials, architects and engineers and, as always happens, they wanted to know my story and next thing you know I am driving around with the Mayor, Jose Freitas, going to look at potential building sites to help families in need of “healthy” shelter (asthma issues).  Tomorrow I will meet with the technical staff and organize a training workshop for next year!  I tell you things manifest quicker and quicker…people are interested…and as soon as the first model houses go up…more will follow.  As a matter of fact, the Mayor suggested a whole neighborhood of cob houses if the first one is a success!  Bring on the cobbers!!!


Stone & Cob on Santo Antão, Cabo Verde, July 1, 2015

Here in the Cabo Verde archipelago the traditional house building material is stone with a cob mortar.  There is lots of clay on these volcanic islands, however there is more rock and it’s everywhere and, like the Basque people, the Cabo Verdians on the mountain & IMG_2221valley island of Santo Antão climb and descend large distances carrying large loaIMG_2203ds daily.  When I inquired about all the physical labor they poo pooed it saying that they enjoyed it and it keeps them healthy.  This is their health insurance .  The old stone and mortar homes I found to be located often on dangerous-looking precipices, cliff edges, and mountaintops with great views.  Many of them are now roofless and unihabited but the walls remain vibrant and ready to house new tenants at any moment…with a good roof!


Fontainhas, an hour walk along the mountain face from Ponta do Sol, as seen from the path and overlooking a farmer and his breathtaking terrace view!