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sábado, julio 02, 2011

Up On A Roof

(Note: This essay is an appreciation of traditional architecture in Quintana Roo, Mexico. It is the second in an informal series. The first essay is here.)

One of the greatest, if not the greatest invention of Mayan traditional building is the palapa roof. A palapa is made of palm that has been dried and tied together so that it can then be fastened to a wooden frame and withstand both high wind (hurricane winds, in fact) and heavy, driving rain (hurriane rain, in fact). It also provides shade from a hot tropical sun. Put on a building with the right openings, it can create a delicious cool spot in the midst of intense heat and humidity. Put simply, the palapa is a natural wonder.

At Nah Yaxche there are a number of palapa roofs. Each is slightly different in shape, but the construction is basically the same. These roofs are constructed by palaperos. The artisanship of being a palapero is passed down within a family. It is not unusual to see two or three generations working on the same roof. The oldest, most skilled member might not go up on the roof. The youngest member gets to do the heavy lifting, carrying material up and down the ladder. The main artisan work is done by those who stand on the roof and install it. None of this is approved by OSHA. These are trained professionals. Do Not Try This At Home.

Here is what a palapa roof looks like from outside. This photo is of the main roof at Nah Yaxche. It is very tall. As you can see, after the roof is completed, a net is placed over the roofing material. This keeps wind from twisting the material and making it stand on end. A roof like this can last decades if it is maintained and repaired. Eventually, as with all natural, organic building materials, it will either rot (and become porous) or dry out (and become porous) and have to be replaced. When that happens, the old roof is removed, the framework is tightened up, and a new roof is installed.

Here are two additional roofs. The one in the foreground is the casita at Nah Yaxche. The big roof in the background is the main roof at Tulipanes, our neighbor.

But what holds this up? Traditionally, trees of the correct diameter are cut, the bark is removed, and they are made into a framework to support the palapa. This is not done with heavy equipment. When something needs to be lifted, several people pick it up and move it into place. This can be heavy, backbreaking work. Here is the inside of the big palapa at Nah Yaxche:

How very beautiful. The tree at the center, holding up the roof is about 14 inches in diameter at the base (about 1/3 m). It is approximately 30 feet tall (about 10 m).

Yesterday, the palaperos arrived to fix some wind damage from the storm that would become TS Arlene. It is fascinating to watch them work. What language are they speaking? Mostly Mayan with some Spanish thrown in. They work quickly and quietly. The repair is done in a flash. I climb a roof to take a photo.

The palapa roof is a wonder. Unfortunately, as there is little new construction in Estilo Robinson Crusoe, and more and more buildings are being built with tile or other material roofs and no full size palapas. But the palapa continues up and down the beach.

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