Bill Edsell on the Beauty and Usefulness of Palapas in Baja California
From an interview by Jet Metier with Bill Edsell, of Ventana Bay Resort in July, 2016.
Jet: We're speaking with Bill Edsell, owner of Ventana Bay Resort, in a large, palapa-covered room the resort uses as a restaurant. It is very comfortable; you don’t notice how hot it is outside. One side of the room is open to the Sea of Cortez and on the other side, a sliding glass door in the back is only half open. You can’t tell its 95 degrees with moderate humidity.
Billl, how do you keep this area so nice and cool? Please help us to understand why palapa thatched roofs keep a room cooler than a regular roof.
Bill: Palapas stay cool because they don’t absorb any heat. You can place your hand next to a palapa and not feel the heat, whereas if you place your hand near a concrete roof, you will feel the heat. You don’t even have to put your hand on a concrete roof to feel it. You can be 5 feet away and you’ll feel the heat radiating.
Jet: What are palapas made of? I’ve been under some palapas that are really dark and stuffy.
Bill: There are different species used, such as red palm and black palm. The best palm to build a palapa is black palm, which grows at high altitude in the mountains behind us. It’s expensive and it’s hard to get. You won’t find too many black palms.
Jet: How long do palapas last?
Bill: This one’s about 12 years old.
Jet: Had you have to re-weave it?
Bill: We changed a couple of posts for termites, but it hasn’t been re-done.
Jet: What maintenance does it need?
Bill: Fumigating. That’s really it. I’m sure you do get some critters in palapas; we see it after the fumigation. You don’t see too many dead spiders or anything. But yes, sure, they’ll go in there. Lizards will go in there, too
Jet: Do you have lizards fall into your guests’ soup?
Bill: It hasn’t happened yet.
Jet: What about the way the palapas are constructed? You have yours like a traditional peaked roof. I saw two types at Playa del Sol, in Barriles, Baja California Sur, south of here, the one in the lobby was round, and the ones by the pool peaked or gabled like yours. Is there a difference on how long they will last or keep cool?
Bill: The engineers are very specialized and really know what they’re doing. Not everybody can do these. They’ll tell you the exact pitch you have to have for water drainage. The design depends on the room. If you had more of a square room you might go with a round palapa. In the mainland you’ll see a lot of palapas that have a peak on the top like a chimney to let the air ventilate.
Jet: Is it wise to construct a house with a palapa roof?
Jet: Then why aren’t more houses built with palapa roofs?
Bill: I think a lot of people are afraid of them because it’s not typical construction from where they’re from. You don’t see a lot of palapas in LA, for example. So it’s an unknown for people and maybe they worry about bugs or they worry that it’s going to blow off or things like that.
Jet: What about theft? Can you jump on top and cut a hole in the roof and jump down?
Bill: Yes, you could. But you can knock the window out, too.
Jet: Yes, that’s true.
Bill: I really like them. I like anything that’s handmade.
Jet: Yes, it’s so beautiful.
Bill: And they’re very functional. I just love them. Maybe they’re not for everyone. I’ve got a palapa in the living room but the kitchen and the bedrooms have a dome ceiling. I probably wouldn’t put a palapa in my bedroom because you do get some bugs. And I probably wouldn’t put one it in the kitchen because of the possibility of fire. However, sitting here under the palapa is just so cool.
Jet: I just realized, this must be the same palapa roof that made it through Hurricane Odile in 2014. Those nets you threw over the top really held well.
Bill: Yes, they did.
Bill: The beams are matapalo. They come from the mainland. That’s a killer vine you see that grows around them. I like them because each one’s different. In the middle is like fig tree or a date tree. And then there is a vine that grows around it and actually kills the tree. That’s why they call it matapalo. It means, “kill.” They grow in really swampy areas or in a lagoon.
Jet: I’ve seen a guest house that you’ve built with a palapa roof. It looks beautiful, like a work of art. You really know you are in Baja when your roof is made of palm leaves. Just like your palapa restaurant, while we were inside that bungalow, I could not tell that it was as hot as blazes outside. And to think, this craft and method has been around for ages and you use it here in your sportive resort.
You do everything so well, Bill. Thank-you.
Bill: You’re welcome, Jet.