¡¡ Nice kitty !! photo work of Cherie Pittillo

Copyrighted photo by Cherie Pittillo

Having spent much of my career in the photographic industry, I’m truly in awe of the work of this woman.  If readers of this blog are not familiar with Cherie’s work I invite you to visit her column at Yucatan Times. 

For your further enjoyment, here are two well-told nonfiction books which might enhance your appreciation of wild nature, both in the collection at Merida English Library:

Secrets of the Talking Jaguar   Memoirs from the Living Heart of a Mayan Village, by Martin Prectel

Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice   An Ethnobotanist Searches for New Medicines in the Rain Forest, by Mark J. Plotkin





SOLAR ENERGY : The Sun Shines in Merida

Engineers Larry and David of Boltzman Solar on our roof.

We’ve recently become a solar home, and I’ll now share this very positive experience with you.  With abundant sunshine, and the ability to export power to the utility grid, thus bypassing the storage problem of batteries which presently do not recover the cost of investment, it now makes moral and economic sense to reduce participation in the carbon economy.  The return-on-investment is probably about four to five years, as long as a hurricane doesn’t smash the panels.

We are generating about 20 kwh per day, which is more than we use.  As we’ve never run the air conditioners in the past, we can now do so without breaking into the high-rate bracket — while enjoying some cooler air in the bedroom at night, if we wish.  (We’ve only done this once so far, but had to sleep with a quilt to fend off the chill.)

Production chart kept by the inverter’s communication package. The blank day is       when we were shut down, awaiting our new bi-directional meter from CFE.  The lowest days where very cloudy — one being tropical storm Franklin.

The inverter we selected is a German device made by Siemens (SMA).  Many folks are going with micro-inverters which are built into each panel, and reside on the roof.  I decided against this approach, as inverting (modifying the current from DC to AC, prior to delivery to the utility) is a substantial portion of the investment.  I’m not comfortable with having the entire investment outdoors.  And an additional benefit of our chosen  inverter is that it is the first of its class to allow homeowners to draw some power for the home, if the grid is down — like after a storm.  (Micro-inverters can’t do this, to my knowledge.) Of course, this is only possible during daylight hours. (It can’t run a fridge overnight, of course.) And the amount of power available would depend upon the amount of sunshine — enough to run some fans, charge phones and laptops; but probably not enough to start pumps.

Here’s what a bright shiny day looks like. Our system is roughly 4000w. And here are some additional details saved by the monitor:


I can access the communications package from anywhere by phone to monitor the system.  Our chosen brand and size of solar panels, Trina 320w, were on hand here in Merida at Excel Solar, which is a supplier to the trade, not to residential customers. (I’m grateful to Alejandro Cauich of Excel for his explanations, and kind assistance.)   These are tier one panels, meaning they are rated for commercial installation by a utility.  (There are plenty of less efficient panels on the market.)  Ratings for various panels can be compared and studied online.

I interviewed three solar firms before selecting Juan Pablo Lopez’ team at Boltzmann Solar.  I really enjoyed working with them.  I already speak the dialect known as alternative energy, having installed a wind generator at our farm up north, as well as speaking some Spanish.  And their team speaks English.  It was a good fit.  And I’m very confident that the panels are well-anchored and will not blow off the roof.  (The big concern is flying trash during high wind — not sure what to do yet on this topic.)

Juan Pablo Lopez and David at work.


Querétaro City, and points north

Recently a good friend Marc, who blogs at An Alaskan in Yucatan, helped facilitate my presentation for  doing some volunteer work in Mexico’s altiplano (highlands).  It was a refreshing change from the heat and humidity of Merida. The visit opened my eyes to other charms of this dynamic country.  I hope to return with my wife during the hottest part of Yucatan’s season, next year.  This blogpost will share some of the sights I encountered.

The city is a walker’s paradise, which is deeply appreciated, when compared to Merida.    Driver’s here have a deep respect for pedestrians, and patience;  sidewalks are level and wide;  overhanging meters, air conditioners, and awnings are at an elevation that does not endanger tall people’s heads.  Shade trees abound.  The historic center is wisely and fairly restricted to traffic so that pedestrians also have accommodation. (Merida, I do still love your many fine qualities!)   ¶   I flew to Mexico City and took a three-hour bus ride to get here.

Being a country boy, it was fun to get a close-up look at Mexico’s dairyland.  Corn and cows were  everywhere. And the landscape was dramatic, with deep ravines, volcanoes and waterfalls amply distributed.  Below, basalt oozed from upwelling hot lava to cool, forming a natural dam and waterfall.

We took a hike into a deep ravine behind the house, and visited an ancient-but-still-functioning pottery facility carved into the cliff face.  The studio specializes in producing comals which are large griddles for toasting tortillas.  Nobody was working the day we dropped by.  I wish I could have watched these thin, flat ceramic pans being formed.  We saw them for sale in the village, but I doubted that a 24-inch pan would have survived the journey back to Merida.

Below we see the staging area for drying the clay pan, before baking it in the kiln, foot for scale:

“Me, all thumbs:” of Marc, peering into the kiln, which is fired with scrub oak harvested from the ravine.

Interior of a kiln, showing shards of broken comal pottery.

The ravine reveals much about the underlying stratigraphy of the rocks, which are an important construction-materials resource in the region.

Here we see rock blocks (instead of concrete blocks) being sawed from a quarry.

Rock blocks for sale, roadside.

And more quarry stone from which they were cut.







Foto by Andrew Butko, Wikimedia

It’s up to me.  It’s up to you.  It’s not up to Donald Trump!  We can save the planet without help from government.  Who knew resistance could be so easy?  We don’t even need to get arrested! And you don’t have to become a vegetarian!

Simply stop eating beef. Yes, this is a radical approach, but not so harsh that it is a major lifestyle change.  This story from The Atlantic is compelling.  You and I can do it!  (Actually, I’ve got a headstart on you, as I’ve been avoiding beef for about forty years, as I don’t like the industry’s feedlot practices; but I still eat other meats.)  So let’s do this.  When the followers lead, the leaders will follow!


NurPhoto/via Getty Images from story in The Guardian (“fair use”)




Book review : In the Yucatan, by Earl Shorris

This is a book about the power of community using the leverage of love to challenge injustice.  The writing is elegant without being showy.  The story is grim, taking place mostly in a filthy and brutal jail cell in a pueblo in Yucatan, over more than a month.  It depicts a union struggle against all the usual power players in league with each other:  police, politicians, union bosses, owners, the elite.  Yet the message is uplifting, tender, and especially revealing of the mechanical advantage of resolve, and of love, to overcome the structural greed which often victimizes the poor.

The author demonstrates exceptional insight into the culture and history of the Maya in Yucatan, while also shedding light on certain protections and flaws in the Mexican Constitution.  A young union leader and his American lawyer (married to a Mayan woman) are both imprisoned in the same cell, along with 21 union members held separately in the same jail, for attempting to form a rogue union. Anyone who wants to understand how oppressed people retain their dignity in the face of economic victimization will be edified by reading this exquisitely rendered story.  (The Maya remain unconquered, in spirit.)  The book is shelved in the special collection room at Merida English Library.


wikimedia traffic light


[No joke]:  A bus and a pedestrian, moving parallel to each other, in the same direction, both approach an intersection with a green light.  The pedestrian looks back at the bus, steps off the curb and onto the yellow stripes of a cross walk.  The bus suddenly, without even signaling, turns the corner and blasts his horn at the pedestrian.  ¡Only in Merida!

I’ve traveled the globe, and only had this happen here. Repeatedly.  Clearly, the driver “knew” I was wrong.  ¿How dare you slow me down? he intones with his horn. (Bus drivers are not the only offenders ; beware of any driver, as turn signals are rarely used here.)

Yes, I’m a small, weak peatón – a pedestrian.  But, we are all pedestrians.  Some of us also drive.  If we don’t respect our universal condition, there is grave danger to all.  Yet asserting a right can leave us dead right.  Apparently there is no respect for pedestrians here.  Only size matters.  Aside from those walking on elevated crossings, where there are stiff fines for drivers — yellow stripes and green lights mean nothing in Merida.  Driver education, and enforcement, are seriously lacking.  Yucatecos are mostly lovely, courteous people, until they get behind the wheel of a vehicle.  

Until this enlightenment arrives, that pedestrians walking in the direction of the green light have the right of way on the yellow stripes, maybe the city should save money by removing all  traffic lights and posting signs at each intersection saying CROSS AT YOUR OWN RISK.  This is such a friendly, peaceful city.  Walking here should be more fun, and safer.  We could call it civilization.


¡¡ NAFTA IS DEAD !! (and the buying public is bleeding)


King of the castle surveys the kingdom

Hear ye, Oye, Hear ye, the great commercial treaty is no more


While NAFTA may still exist on paper, in practice it appears to be quite dead.  Let me illustrate:  we recently bought a laser-printer at Office Depot in Merida, made by Hewlett-Packard.  Weeks later we went back to buy toner.  Not in stock. So we went to the HP store nearby.  Nope.  That package not available in Mexico.  So I looked online at Office Depot for Mexico.  The package is listed as toner negro #30a, but not available at any of our branches in Mexico.  So I went to Amazon Mexico.  No.  But Amazon US has plenty that CANNOT BE SHIPPED TO MEXICO.  

This is not an isolated instance.  I’ve put much effort into searching for items that can’t cross this so-called FREE TRADE boundary.  (This is the second copier – first was an Epson – that has been rendered useless due to “protected” supplies.)  And it isn’t just Amazon.  I’ve seen similar situations regarding cross-border provisions with WW Grainger.

So, what gives?  Is the buying public being gouged by commercial interests?  In November, friends booked seats on a new route from Miami to Merida with American Airlines, but they were greatly inconvenienced when the entire route was cancelled without notice.  It certainly appears that “market forces” are favoring BIG CAPITAL over consumers somewhere in this picture, rather than honoring a treaty between the people of  three nations. (OK, I just checked Amazon Canada, and they won’t ship this item to Mexico, either.)

UPDATE: Solved!  Although the firm’s website said there wasn’t a single package of toner for this machine in any of its branches in Mexico, a store employee found one for me at the main branch right here in Merida.  It was the only one on hand, so of course we drove there immediately.  Sometimes information can be stranger than fiction.  (I asked the branch staff to replace the one I bought, so there is hope I can get another in the future!)