Hi, Elizabeth here with the third part of my story about building a vacation rental in a traditional Mayan village. As described in part 2, the building process was very labour intensive but true to tradition. Part 3 is about the process of construction in traditional mayan style…
Having completed the foundation, floors and walls of my three mayan-style houses, it was time to think about the palapa roofs. According to mayan tradition, it is very important to harvest just after the full moon to ensure that the wood does not lose its strength, or become eaten away by boring insects. It also means that you do not have to treat or fumigate the wood. So in the days after the full moon Santiago and his team ventured deep into the jungle to cut lengths of wood to make the structural support for the palm leaves. This wood was stored for a few days before being stripped of their bark. They constructed a skeleton of support for the palm leaves, skillfully measuring the lengths, choosing the correct dimensions, and wedging and tying the branches into place, all by eye, without a single tape measure, plumb line or set square.
In the Yucatan, traditional palapa roofs are either made of a certain type of long grass, mainly used at the beach, or leaves from a palm tree called the huano palm. The Yucatan used to have many plantations of huano palms, but since the development of modern construction techniques using concrete and cement, these plantations are rapidly disappearing, making it difficult to find huano, and of course expensive, as the majority of people who want a palapa roof are hotel and restaurant owners. Santiago, Santiago Junior and I set off to a nearby town where there are still some small plantations of huano, and found an old man who was prepared to sell the 7,500 leaves that I would need to roof my cabañas. After good-natured bargaining the price was reached and the date set for Santiago and his team to return to cut the leaves, again just after the full moon. Another important mayan tradition that has to be observed is that once the leaves have been cut, they have to lie at the base of the tree for three days, in order to return the energy to the tree for growing more leaves. After waiting the required three days, the team returned with an ancient truck to transport the leaves back to Chunkanan. 7,500 leaves meant two trips for the truck, weaving its lumbering way through the winding narrow lanes of central Yucatan.
Watching the skilful craftsmanship of the roofers, I was so impressed by their efficient handling of the rough palms, turning what seemed like a load of dead leaves into a work of art, creating a dense, waterproof roof, about six inches thick. Looking upwards from inside the houses it never ceases to fill me with awe the beauty and skill of this traditional work. Every time I arrive at the village, and step through the door of my cabaña, I inhale the sweet perfume of the huano leaves, and feel so happy and thankful that there are still artisans with the skills to create these beautiful roofs.