Saturday, March 25, 2006

Chacala Palmas

Until I came to Chacala I didn’t have much experience with palm trees. In Los Angeles, where I grew up, there were palms everywhere, but mostly they were discussed in terms of the rats that lived in at the top of the palms. The big kids would try to hit the rats with their BB guns. And in Hialeah FL, where I worked at a school for disturbed kids (that is, children of disturbed and inadequate wealthy parents), the rats would run across the sidewalks at night. Bigger then small dogs.

But here in Chacala palm, or palmas, are very valuable. The town is set in a palm grove that was (I believe) planted in the 1950’s. Marie/Palila has told me she came to Chacala as a child to help plant the palms. I have been reading a little booklet about the history of Chacala, and it mentions a tsumani and a couple of hurricanes that have come through Chacala. And a lot of the palms are still standing. Don’t know how many have died for various reasons. During hurricane Kenna, in October 2002, a lot of the sand was stripped away from the bases of the palms, but I can’t tell if that killed any palms or not. When I came here the first time, in November 2002 , and then again in March-April of 2003, some of the palms were being removed, maybe because they were dead or dying. Don’t know.

What I do know is that palms are a widely used construction material. This weekend, Leovardo, husband of my landlady, has been re-building the showers and toilet stalls here at the camping area. Someone in the family brought a truck load of palm fronds from the hills around town. Then the green fronds are trimmed from the main stems, which become like 2x4’s, and are used as structural members for the walls dividing the shower and toilet stalls. They are about 12 feet long and are wired or tied in place. The uprights are posts made from tree trunks, which generally sprout into trees, offering shade to the area. Also offering leaves falling into the toilets, which can clog the toilets.

I love taking showers here at the beach. In the past, at the place I have been a housesitter in the warm season, I turn off the gas water heater (too cheap to pay for gas for hot water) . Then I either take luke-warm showers in the bathroom or take showers outside using the hot water heated by the sun in the garden hose. But here I shower in nice hot water every day about 2 or 3 in the afternoon. The water is heated in the big pipe that brings the water around to each shower head. And the sun shines right down on me and the water is very warm and comfy. I love standing in the hot water in the sunshine.

I got a messy and painful ear infection here a couple of years ago, and the ear doctor told me that it is important to take make sure your ears are regularly washed in warm water showers. I guess in the old days before hot showers, people had serious problems with wax build-up in their ears. Plus, the sand from the ocean tends to get embedded in earwax, causing problems. According to this guy, the sandy earwax is itched and people scratch the itches with whatever, and then end up with small cuts in their ear, which become infected. It kind of makes sense to me. Who knows.

Back to the palm fronds. My little camping area is covered with a ramada. It’s about 8 or 9 feet high, and about 18 by 36 feet, plus a little sunny, sand garden opening out onto the beach. I have seashells out there, and driftwood, plants, bead and shell wind chimes and stuff out there for decoration.

The roof of my ramada is built by planting posts in a rectangle that includes one or two palms, (for stability I think). Then a few rafter-type posts are tied to the vertical posts . Then the long palm fronds, maybe 20 feet each, are laid across the roof rafters. Nice and shady. And it catches the breeze off the water.

There are some drawbacks to this kind of construction, though. For one things, it’s not waterproof. For another, the coconuts falling from the palms come right thru the roof like missiles. Plus The palms are self-pruning, so when on the giant palms fall down and break off the tree trunk, they tend to come crashing down on the ramadas. It’s kind of scary when the whole roof shakes and all kinds of crud falls down onto the tents and my eating table.

People have told me scorpions and rats like to live in ramadas, but I have not seen proof of that, and I don’t look because I don’t want to know. I have my outside light bulb hanging over my eating and visiting table. It’s attached to one of the palm fronds by a wire, and I am very careful not to stick my fingers up into the greenery.

People camping here like to make small campfires with the dried palms. The “leaves”, or fronds, over whatever dry into perfect kindling, and the thick stems burn for quite awhile.

The high-end use for palm products around here are the giant palapa roofs built over some of the restaurants. They are maybe 30 or more feet high, and look wonderful from both underneath (where you can see the woven design of the fronds), and the outside, where they look thatched.

I just read an articles in a “rich people houses” magazine that said that the wood of palm trees is practically indestructible and good for floors. Etc. New to me. I have been trying to draw palm trees every since I got here. The trunks are so beautiful, with lovely patterns caused by the fronds breaking loose from the truck. The colors are soft browns and greys. Hard to draw but pretty to look at.

One of Esperanza’s sons just drove up in his pickup, loaded with palm fronds. Fresh, green, and just macheted fresh from the tree. They are for the new ramada in front on the house of the eldest son, whose house is next door to my landlady. They build the frame of tree posts and stripped palm fronds in the last few days, and now they are putting the fronds up on the “rafters”. It will give them a nice outside shady place that faces in the ocean. Nice for summertime.

Plus, the palms grow coconuts, which are used for everything, especially for drinks. They chop the top of the coco off with a machete and then stick in a straw for drinking. I think they add flavoring sometimes too. When the coconut gatherers show up, they climb the tree, maybe 40 or 50 feet tall, barefoot, without a safety line. They carry a rope up to tie around the clump of maybe 20 coconuts. After they tie the rope around the clump, they lower the clump. Very slowly so none of the cocos get cracked. Last year someone told me they get 50 pesos a tree to clear the coconuts over parking lots and motor homes.

Don't forget to check out the Friends of Chacala blog.

No comments: