Thursday, October 14, 2010

Grandpa's Farm in the Hills – Part 3 – The Homes

This is the third part of a series describing some of the great experiences I had visiting my wife's grandpa's farm. Part 1 was about the trip out to the hills (click here to read), Part 2 was about the food (click here to read.)

Grandpa's Adobe house
 In the valley where my wife's grandpa's farm is located, and the nearby village, virtually all homes are made of adobe. If you don't know what that is, it's a type of brick made of mud, stones some other ingredients. I'm sure a large book could be written about the variations of adobe homes. I've come across at least a complete magazine, and personally seen a dozen variations through various parts of central Mexico.

In the cities, adobe is a luxury for the rich, who pay double or more than the cost of a concrete construction to have the few craftsmen who still know the technique make the bricks and build their home.

In the isolated hills, its the building material for the poor who can't afford to have the luxury of concrete imported from the city.

It's this latter type that is important for Grandpa's farm. His two houses down in the valley that I mentioned in Part 1 were originally small but well-built adobe homes with dirt floors and red clay tile roofs. Arriving to grandpa's home, where he lives alone, we went through a tall, narrow wooden gate, and along a walkway whichh led to his patio, which was a long rectangle of about 2 meters by 10. On one side of the patio was a cistern (the one luxury item he had built out of concrete!) and on the other side were two doors, entering to the bedrooms. At the end was the kitchen.

Visitors are received on the patio, where there are a few wooden chairs, and a short wall wide enough to sit on. Meals are eaten in the kitchen, where in one corner is a table for grinding corn, and also the stove, which has a space for fire below it (the gas stove you see in the picture here is not connected and doesn't work.)

In the Kitchen (the gas stove is just ornamental)

Time has take its toll on the two homes, and now some of the bricks are cracked, and most of them have become quite worn down. Usually a clear sort of varnish is used to protect them, but since the only two men living on the farm are my wife's grandpa and great uncle, who are both getting up there in years, maintenance becomes ever more difficult.

The clay tiles on the roof are held up by a wooden framework. Some of the tiles were also in need of repair. In some parts of the house, paper or other materials are used to section of the living area from "attic." If not, you can see straight up to the clay tiles. Dry corn is also stored in this area. Sometimes roosters stay up there; I remember on my second visit that a rooster woke us up at about 5 am crowing directly above our heads!

Washrooms are any of the fields around the house – whichever one you feel most comfortable going to.

Adobe is comfortable, keeping a house cool during the heat of the day, and warm during the chilly nights. During the day, small, high windows let in some light, and at night candles and gas lamps were the main source of light. (He also had a flashlight which he lent us at night.)

I felt very relaxed in Grandpa's home; the only difficult part for me was at night when he took some blankets out of storage for us; since they hadn't been used in a long time, he shook the dust out – in the bedroom! Since I have allergies, I didn't react too well to this, but I knew his intentions were the best, so I did my best to block the sneezes.

My wife's great aunt, who we visited both times I went to the famr, lives nearby in a house higher up on the hill, closer to the road. Her home had been renovated by a grandson who works in the U.S. It was also adobe, but with pained, plastered walls, nice wooden window frames with shutters (no glass) and a well kept-up roof, fully closed off. This home had electricity, connected from the road, and electric lights. The basic structure was the same, but it had a larger line of bedrooms. One of the bedrooms had a large T.V. The kitchen pictured in Part 2 is in this house.

Up on the hillside next to the town's access road, those who have the money are now building concrete homes with glass windows – as I said above, this is a luxury. The grandson mentioned in the last paragraph, who renovated and paid for the renovation of the great aunt's home, worked in construction in the U.S. and spoke English OK. He complained that he would rather have a concrete home, or even better, one like they build in Texas. This, however, would have cost a fortune in that village, bringing all the materials from a city hours away; even in the city those kinds of materials are not common.

My wife and I have considered building a home in Cuernavaca (1 hr south of Mexico City) with the first floor constructed with stone, and the second out of adobe – we had seen one built this way in a nearby town. When we told her grandpa, uncles and cousins about the plan, they couldn't, for the life of them, understand why someone would pay to have a house made of adobe and stone; you only use these materials when you have no money for something better (according to them.)

We dream of living in an adobe home someday, or even out on her grandpa's farm. I don't think modern life will present an excuse to do this. It's one of those things where we'll just have to make up our mind and do it.

More to come ...
(Pictures will come later tonight)

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