May 29, 2012

One Man, One Tree – Bus Ride to a Wedding

Before you score, you first must have a goal.
Greek Proverb 

Mike in front of one large tree
Above is a picture of Mike in front of only ONE huanacaxtle tree. It is one of the largest, shadiest and longest lasting trees, able to reach heights of up to 125 feet with a trunk measuring more than 12 feet in diameter. It is definitely an impressive tree and the township of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle where we have been for 2.5 months has been named after it.

What the inside of that tree looks like
Weather has changed. We’ve had our second named hurricane already, the first one, Aletta, faded away quickly but the second one, Bud, left behind thunder, rain and high humidity. Bud only reached 105 miles from here so we didn’t feel much of the ‘normal’ wind impact of such a storm.

Thanks to the rain and humidity however the critters and sounds have changed. Each morning we now hear the chorus of frogs/toads competing for the attention of potential mates. For the first nine weeks we were here we never heard them and I do miss their sound so I was happy to hear them so near and numerous.

Also since the rain, our pathways are crisscrossed by the tiniest of hermit crabs. Up north, we are used to seeing good old worms crossing paths after a rain, not here. The hermit crabs blend so well with the pebbles, sand, cement or pavement they cross; they would be extremely easy to miss if it weren’t for the slightest of movement catching our eyes.

The air smells fresher and not so grimy but I’d say there’s a way to go before the accumulated dust of nearly 7 months without appreciable rain can be completely cleaned away.

Tree of Fire or Flame Tree with its bright orange flowers
A new type of tree is now blooming. Passed are the whites, yellows, pinks, peaches, and fuchsias, we are now entering the orange ‘era’. This tree, like many in the deciduous jungle, flowers before its leaves come out. You can see some of last year’s 12-15” bean pods still hanging on the branches. The blooms are an incredibly bright orange you can see from miles away. Delonix Regia or commonly called Tree of Fire or Flame Tree (for obvious reason). In the Caribbean the bean pods are called woman’s tongue because they rattle when the wind blows on them.

We meander through new areas of town before our upcoming departure. As with most mornings, we first see Doña Mari with her small cart going through all the trash containers looking for recyclables for cash. Clothed with dress and apron, Doña Mari must be in her late 70s and the marina is kind enough to give her a pass to all the gates so she can get a little extra money every day.

Horses nibble the grass of an empty soccer field while some men living under a tarp nearby enjoy a lively conversation. We cross under a highway bridge to find what looks like three generations of women living there, the oldest seemingly asleep on a bench. Although obviously poor, they take good care of the place. There are many plants in pots decorating the area and all their belongings are neatly stacked. Laundry is hung to dry amidst a small garden area. In a way this is a great place to live as the temperature here is much cooler than in ‘normal’ homes or at the marina. There is some kind of breeze that keeps it cool and welcoming.

We noticed two large buses near the park and everyone disembarking is wearing white or beige and many are carrying baskets. Is this a theater or singing group? Why is everyone dressed somewhat alike? A taxi driver nearby explains that these buses are carrying people attending a wedding at the local church. It is kind of a neat and ecological idea come to think of it. Music played well into the next morning to celebrate the occasion.

We return home via the beach and noticed the segregation (self-imposed or not?). Some beaches are completely empty and say Private Beach, others are full of Mexicans, some are sparingly used but I cannot see why they are not more frequented. We finally make our way back to the marina to see the maintenance guys on a break playing soccer in flip-flops. At the end of their short game, they pick up the soccer ball and tie a leash around it to carry it back with them.
One cupola
Another cupola
I am fascinated by all the cupolas we see since in Mexico so I thought we’d include pictures of a couple as well as an article explaining their purpose (although I bet most are now decorative rather than serving to cool homes)…

The Cupola: Spain's Gift to Mexico's Colonial Architecture by J. Brad Grieve

“Other than a great view of the lake or mountains, there is nothing that takes a new homebuyer’s breath away like the interior of a brick dome. Traditional Mexican residential architecture is variable in style however, in the colonial range, a brick dome or cupola can be very attractive. And a maintenance problem.

The use of brick domes in Spanish and Mexican architecture derives from the Moors, who inhabited the Iberian Peninsula and brought along their style of architecture from northern Africa and the Middle East. The dome was built not as a visual feature, but rather a functional element of the home. In general, the domes had holes in the top to allow for the exit of smoke and hot air, however the dome would act as a condensing or evaporative cooler for the interior of the home as well. As a breeze traveled over the dome, moisture in the dome would evaporate out, cooling the structure and providing a means to cool the air inside the dome, thereby cooling the air inside the house. As mentioned before, the air traveling over the dome would help draft out the hot air inside the house, much like a chimney helps to draw out the smoke from the fireplace.

During the evenings, air that continues to travel over the dome cools the dome, which then causes the dome to act as a condenser; it allows moisture in the air to stick to the dome because it is slightly cooler than the ambient air. Subsequently, the dome is now moister and ready for the following day of evaporative cooling. Of course, this functions well in dryer climates.

The dome structure itself dates back to the Roman Empire, where the semicircular arch was used for creating large openings in walls. Later, the arches were elongated into barrel vaults, intersections became groin vaults and finally, by rotating the arch 360 degrees, the dome was formed – but not without some difficulty. The basic structure of a dome resolves some structural forces into vertical or downwards loads, however as the weight of the dome pushes down, it also causes the base of the dome to spread outward. Hence the Romans developed buttresses and heavy thick walls to counteract this outward-pushing lateral force.

During the Renaissance, Italian engineers/architects developed the concept of a tension ring around the base of the dome, which helped eliminate the need of buttresses or other lateral reinforcement at the base. Today, builders will generally choose to use a reinforced concrete or structural steel “tension ring” around the base of the dome to support the weight and lateral forces created by the brick dome structure. This “tension ring” structure is generally hidden, however it is critical to the stability and longevity of the dome. Any movement due to shifting or expansion of the base “ring” of the dome will result in minor cracks forming, which can lead to leaks. Structural support of this ring is the second stage in the structure that is also very important. Any shifting, settling or tilting of the base can lead to cracks in the dome, which will lead to leaks.

Other problems that occur in modern domes are usually in the details. Decorative moldings installed at the base of the dome are not sloped outward to shed rainwater. Therefore they trap the water at the base of the dome, leading to leaks. Also, waterproofing the dome is critical, and the exterior material needs to tolerate a wide range of temperatures and hence a wider range of movement due to thermal expansion and contraction.

Moisture problems in domes are not always due to water leakage. Remember these domes are great condensers of moisture and sometimes the moisture that is found on the interior surface is due to condensation and not leakage. Mechanical ventilation with ceiling fans can help move moist warm air away from the interior of the dome. However if you follow the methods used by the ancient Moors, proper ventilation of the domes will help remove the warm moist air from the dome interior. This ventilation needs to be balanced by thermal comfort inside the home and not produce any cold air drafts below. Hence operable windows in the dome can be closed on the coolest evenings and prevent the undesirable entrance of cold air.”

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