Friday, May 25, 2012

Our Robinson Crusoe Tree House

Our second floor ocean-view tree-house perch
While sharing a bottle of wine (or two) a few years ago, we sketched with pen and paper what we envisioned for our new home on Isla Mujeres. 

Our design included a Robinson-Crusoe-style palapa for our upper deck.  Palapas are thatched-roof, open-sided structures made of either dried palm-tree leaves, or grass. 

We love our palapa. 


It's a cool, inviting, romantic place for staring at the ocean, reading books, stargazing, or sipping wine by candlelight. Last year we asked Patricio Yam, our builder, to re-furbish the palapa as it was starting to look a bit ragged. 

Benito, Manfred, and Miguel removing old palapa
Day One: Patricio and his crew of brothers, sons, and nephews arrived to dismantle the existing thatched roof. 

Patricio decided that the original job done by a crew from Cancun was not up to his standards particularly since some of the wood was already bug-infested, and starting to disintegrate.  He had his crew remove most of the original framework, with plans for new crossbeams. 

Day Two: They peeled, sanded and varnished small logs before attaching to the larger beams using stainless steel screws.  The rust and corrosion on the windy side of the island creates havoc with all things metal, so stainless steel screws are a perfect choice for building wooden structures.

Re-thatching the palapa

Days Three to Five: The new thatching was applied.  Angel and his brother Ishmael spent 8 hours per day, working shoulder to shoulder, balancing bare-foot on the small wooden crossbeams. 

No safety harnesses, no boots, no hard hats.  They hand-sewed each small bundle of thatch onto the sticks using a very strong twine, the same type used for making fish nets. 

My hands ached, watching them work. 


Re-thatching the palapa






Day Six: Patricio's brother, José, was in charge of attaching the fish netting to the outside of the thatching. 

The netting is necessary to keep the grass from blowing away during wind storms, and it gives the finished product a smoother look. 


José - balanced on board adding netting

Late in the afternoon of the sixth day I went upstairs to the roof deck to take more photos of their progress.  I discovered that José was balanced on a 2 x 8 inch plank thirty feet off the ground, on the ocean-side of the palapa. 

The plank was inserted through the last rung of two ladders laying sideways across the new thatching. 

The two ladders were then held in place on the roof side of the house by a 4” log.  Juan and Manny were leaning on the log - holding José and the entire contraption in place.  

Both Juan and Manny were exhorting José to hurry up as their arms were getting tired holding the combined weight of ladders, boards, and José. 


I hopped up onto the log, adding my weight to the counterbalancing efforts, and sat there for the next hour while José dangled three-storeys up over our stone patio - his bare toes gripping the edge of the plank. 

José thought it was pretty amusing that I was so worried about his safety.  Joking and perpetually smiling, José is usually the one that takes on the worst, and most dangerous jobs.  Angel, his nephew, was balanced on his stomach, wedged in under the top of the palapa - passing José the twine to sew the netting in place. 

My stomach was doing flip-flop, thinking about their lack of safety equipment. 

A few final touches!

The next night we sat under the finished palapa enjoying a glass of wine, the full moon reflecting off of the rolling waves and were very, very happy that these wonderful, and slightly crazy, people build such romantic structures.

2 comments:

beentravelin said...

I love to watch Palapas going up. We watched some guys put a massage palapa on Playa Sol. Not quite as precarious as this, but neat to watch nonetheless.

Lynda said...

Hi Folks
The crew that built our palapa are good friends ... but they scared the heck out of me while they were balanced on the sticks about 30 feet up.
Love our palapa.
Love living in Mexico.
So glad you read our blog.
Cheers L&L