The Hot Winds of April – Getting Hotter Each Year

The heat has come back on as it does every April in the Yucatan. The land looks scorched, what’s left of Merida’s natural vegetation (that which can still be seen around the ever-expanding grey city) is dull and grey and those unfortunate people lacking air conditioners in their cars (you know, the ones that have a “for sale” sign on them that says the car has A.C.) hang various bodily appendages out of their windows while driving in the vain hope that somehow, something, might get cooled off. Even the ever-present, mangy street dogs are less energetic than ever, if that is possible, lying around with their tongues hanging down to the sidewalk, sides heaving in the heat.

Many factors can be blamed for the heat that seems to be getting more and more intense each year (and it’s not just me). The greatest factor, at least at the local level because I don’t want to get into global fossil fuel consumption, the Kyoto Accord – thank YOU Australia you coal burning 16th cetury throwbacks and thank YOU USA for protecting your fat oil company presidents at all costs – ahem, as I was saying the greatest factor, at the local level, in my humble opinion, is at least partially due to the expanding, cement-fueled growth of the formerly white city and the burning and destruction of what’s left out there that is green.

Downtown, el centro seems impossible. What with all the buildings, the traffic and the mass of humanity that swarms there every day, it is like taking a relaxing stroll in an extremely noisy industrial convection oven. Even so, it is evidently a planned city, where spaces for streets, buildings, and parks were, at one time (I am talking back in the colonial days, not anytime in recent memory), carefully thought out. There are many lush, refreshing interior gardens in el centro; many public parks with giant, shady trees under which to find refuge from the assault. These trees are so large that any attempt to cut one of them down results in a public outcry and the dirty deed usually is stopped.

It is another story altogether in the new fraccionamientos, the ones being built on tiny individual lots by constructors who obviously have little regard for the concept ‘quality of life’ unless it refers to their own, where it must truly be hell during this time of the year. In housing developments like Las Americas on the road to Dzitya, the monstrous Francisco de Montejo and others near the periferico, the houses are built, shoebox style, on tiny lots that leave little room for planting a cooling shade tree (you didn’t expect the constructor to think of that did you?) let alone anything resembling a lawn, garden or something to that effect. So each of these shoeboxes will get their air conditioner, adding another grain of sand to the ever increasing challenge of climatic change. The so-called green areas, where children could play, trees could grow and oxygen could be replacing carbon monoxide, which are mandated by the municipality when granting permission to builed these one story ghettos, invariably end up being converted to parking and or commercial areas.

With regards to these new housing developments, I would like to extend my congratulations to the following for making Merida, and Yucatan in general, that much hotter, less green and drier, not to mention damn uglier:

  • the construction companies -out to make a buck, a peso or many pesos, the construction companies that build the so-called ‘clase popular’ housing deserve a hearty pat on the back because they are dividing up the large parcels of (formerly green) land in the Yucatan, dividing them into extra small, bite size pieces, so that every family can have an affordable house. How good of them; it almost makes them look like saints. Of course they are for-profit businesses and are within their right to exploit whatever it takes to make a profit, right? One can’t expect a these companies to consider such things as ‘quality of life’ and ‘dignity’ of their customers, the environment (who has the time) or the long-term effects of their depradation. So they exploit whatever they can: needy campesinos who sell off at ridiculously cheap prices the only thing of value left ot them, their land. Needy families who are being paid such low wages that they cannot afford a house bigger than a case of Coronitas, weak municipal, state and federal governments that can be persuaded to bend rules in exchange for some takin. It seems that the housing construction companies subscribe to the U.S. right wing Ann Coulter “rape the earth, it’s yours” school of thought.
  • But none of this would be possible if the government was doing the job it was supposedly ‘elected’ (smirk) to do; to govern, not make money like another corporation. Instead, the inefficient, bloated and corrupt government – at all levels – with it’s pathetically paternalistic third world mentality becomes the facilitator of all the rest. At the federal level, the junior politicians in Mexico City who grew up without clean skies, wildlife or anything natural, surrounded by the ugly mess that makes up a large part of Mexico City, are designing housing programs for the rest of the country. These housing programs rarely take into account local conditions and are based on the Mexico City Mess Mindset. Eventually the entire country will be that ugly. Through it’s Infonavit program, the federal government contracts the construction companies – add a generous helping of corruption and kickbacks at this point – and approves projects that are destined to become future slums.

While the city is being paved over, out in the Yucatecan countryside the campesinos, Yucatan’s farming folk which has a romantic ring to it when they are in fact the poorest of the poor, weigh in with their contribution to the general increase in temperatures by continuing with their age old tradition of burning their lands, thereby ridding them of last year’s crop leftovers or whatever it is that bothers them so much.

Gigantic grey smoke clouds can be seen all over the peninsula; apparently sometimes these ‘small’ ‘controlled’ burns become somewhat larger thanks to the hot winds blowing this time of year. This ancient and charming tradition apparently goes back to Mayan farmers many many moons ago (the resulting barren-ness of the croplands coincidentally contributing greatly to their demise but we won’t talk about that; let’s stick with the magical peaceful nature-loving theories and that they all dissappeared when aliens came and abducted them) and obviously results in the burning not only of that disturbing corn stalk left over from last year, but also any shred of organic material that might have turned into valuable topsoil leaving the land looking like a nuclear bomb went off. After an agricultural burn, the land is black, with grey patches where the rocks stick out. A lovely sight. When the burn goes out of control, the result is the same with the added visual of skeletal charred tree trunks poking out of the smoldering ash covered rock.

When the rains finally come, and they eventually do although increasingly less it seems (hmmm wonder why that is) the campesinos poke around in the ashes between the stones, making small holes and then drop seeds into them.

This it the Yucatan peninsula in April. Of course there many wonderful things about Yucatan in April, none of which come to mind at this particulary sweaty time of the year ewhen one wants to run screaming into a walk-in freezer, but the infernal heat is not one of them. Of course there are many hopeless romantics who have been and are writing on the wonders of Merida as you read this and you can turn to them for affirmation and support for that investment in Muna you just made.

As for the heat, there’s not much to do about it, except to learn to live with it, I suppose. In my particular case, I have chosen to live outside the city, and when building our house, was pretty adamant that any tree at all that could be left, be in fact left. Now all the trees have grown and thrived and the property is cool and green. So if you can, find something green and nurture it and convince others to do the same.

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