Sunday, January 16, 2011

Old Merida

The house I rented in La Ermita a year ago had lots of good books for hot afternoons in the hammock under a creaking fan. One great one was Ronald Wright's Time Among the Maya. Many stories about the ways and places in which the Mayan World thrived, or faded, or went underground, in Belize and Guatemala and the Yucatan Peninsula.
An image from the book that has nothing at all to do with Mayan civilization stuck in my mind. It was from Wright's description of Merida in the 1970s, a sleepy city with windmills planted on every property to draw water up from the household wells.
I've long been fascinated by metal windmills, loved to see them in the dry hills of Nebraska slowly sucking water up from the vast Ogalala aquifer to fill the livestock tanks. I often imagine it would be great to hook one up in our patio to irrigate the plants from the old well, wherever it is. I coveted one of the ones on display at the state fair in November.
The other day this image turned up in my Google alerts. The image that's been in my mind since reading Wright's description. Tom surprised me this week by propping the postcard up on my keyboard after buying it on eBay. I wonder how many people remember the city looking this way?


  1. I understand how you feel about the windmills, as I covet one that's in an abandoned property at the end of our street! However I did look them up on and they actually sell some...... if only I could figure how to get it to Merida!

  2. Carlos, I will post the photo of the windmills I saw at the fair - with contact info for the manufacturer or distributor in Yucatan. Maybe you won't have to import one. (The one I saw was quite a bit shorter than these beauties. What would you use it for?

  3. Debbie,
    Beware! The windmill club is expensive. I speak from experience. We put one up on our farm, and I enjoyed the project immensely. (It was a generator rather than a pumper.) It came with a 12 month warrantee. Fourteen months out, it failed atop the tower, 66 feet up. In attempting a repair, we crashed it. My homeowners insurance covered most of the cost. Great fun while it lasted! But it's out of my league. I miss it, and really love watching them. Learned lots about the wind. ~eric.

  4. Eric, glad it was fun, sorry it didn't last. That is a huge windmill. I've now posted a photo of the ones I saw at the fair that seem to be more my size. Would love to hear more on what you have learned about the wind.

  5. Rule #1: The taller the tower, the greater the power. (There is greater greater wind force to be harnessed from higher in the sky.)

    Rule #2: A device intended to survive strong winds needs a furling system which causes it to fold out of a headwind above a certain rated speed, rather than a braking system which makes it rigid in the face of a storm. Think: palm tree, or pine tree. Ask: which one will snap. (Furling is a more modern approach; some older systems which do not furl can still survive extreme winds, if built strong enough, and operated wisely; but furling is much less worrisome.)

    Rule #3: Maintenance at high elevation is a big challenge, suitable only for the young and strong; or for those with plenty of cash to scatter into the blowing wind.


  6. Eric, It sounds like you could give a very entertaining workshop on this topic. I admit your question about pine trees and palm trees has me stumped though. Just a guess: Is it the palms that will snap in a strong wind?
    I remember in Mexico City after the earthquake that the tops broke off all the palm trees and all that remained was straight poles sticking out of the ground.