Mexico has seven main climate regions ranging from arid deserts to tropical humidity. Some months can be extremely uncomfortable because of the heat. In our area May is tthe month where it’s nearly unbearable.
Although there are some residences that have air conditioning throughout the house, for the most part, it’s cost prohibitive. Electricity isn’t cheap by any means. So how can you stay cool on hot, sticky days in rural Mexico?
Ice, Ice Baby
Our family feels like royalty when we splurge on a bag of ice (we don’t have a fridge or freezer to make our own). We drink mostly iced water, but sometimes iced jamaica (hibiscus) or limonada just hits the spot. Not only does it cool us down considerably, but we stay well hydrated on those hot, hot days. In fact, I’m sipping a huge jamaica bien fría (very cold) as I write this article.
Another way to enjoy the cooling refreshment of ice is in the form of popsicles! The local paletería (popsicle shop) will have a variety of scrumptious and natural popsicles flavors for you to choose from including mamey, limon, vanilla, and tamarindo. Or, you can make your own. Check out this recipe for Jamaica and lime popsicles.
You may need to battle it out before you enjoy your iced drinks however. Some of your Mexican friends and family may tell you that drinking cold water will make you ill. There’s not much credence to that belief, although people who have achalasia, a condition that makes it hard to swallow, have more difficulty after drinking cold water. Those who are prone to migraines may get a headache as a result of “brain freeze” after drinking cold water as well. But if you are healthy before you have that iced drink, then you’ll be just as healthy after it.
Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioners and Fans
Both ductless mini-split air conditioners and fans need electricity, so the trick is to use them effectively. A ductless mini-split air conditioner is a single-room cooling device mounted on the wall. Be sure to keep the door to the room closed for maximum coolness and energy efficiency. If you are trying to cool a room without a door, hang a blanket over the doorway.
Fans come in all shapes, sizes and energy consumptions. Ceiling fans work best when they are positioned to cool people, not the room. Longer blades are more efficient than short blades at cooling. Pedestal fans are extremely adjustable. You can change the height and usually have it oscillating or stationary.
Wall fans mount to the wall. I have one next to my bed for stuffy nights. We turn it off before we go to sleep, though. The POWER LORD wouldn’t like it if we used up our stored energy from our solar panels on a mere fan. Table fans are usually about the same size as wall fans and provide the same amount of cooling but they take up valuable surface area (where I like to pile my books).
Growing up, we had big box fans in our windows to cool the house. I haven’t seen this type of fan in Mexico, nor are the windows designed to hold a fan in place, so that’s not an option here. For some heavy duty cooling, you can put a bucket of ice in front of the fan and get an instant air conditioner.
You may get some grief from your Mexican friend and family for using a fan at night. Apparently, cooling the head or feet can cause you to wake up chueca (with a wry neck) or so they say. My sister-in-law turns off her fan at night and moves her mattress to the floor instead of risking it.
Smart Building Construction
If you are building your house in Mexico, keep in mind these passive cooling techniques.
Situate your house so that most of the windows are east/west facing rather than north/south. You’ll get more sunlight and likely be able to take advantage of a cross-breeze. Tinted windows can help keep some of the blaze out while still allowing light in. Closing the windows during the day and opening them at night will flush the house, keeping it cooler during the day.
Build your domicile using thermal mass materials like brick, concrete and stone which absorb heat during the day and dissipate heat at night. Most homes in Mexico use these materials, so this is an easy one to implement.
Laminas (corrugated steel roofing) have a low thermal mass so they reflect heat and light. This type of roof cools rapidly when the sun goes down, making it the perfect choice for a porch covering that you can enjoy in the evenings.
Take a Shower
There’s no need to turn on the boila (hot water heater) on days like this. Jumping in the shower or splashing about in the horse trough can lower your body temperature. The shower shouldn’t be frigid though. Studies have shown that you can lower your core temperature better with a warm shower (about 33 degrees Celsius or 91 degrees Fahrenheit) rather than a shower with water lower than 25 degrees Celsius or 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
You might get some gaff from your Mexican friends and family again here. No matter how hot it is, my husband insists that he must enfriar (cool down) before taking a shower. This process involves him stripping down to his chonis (underwear) and sitting around until he believes he’s reached the appropriate temperature before bathing. Otherwise he might get sick, he says.
Cool Your Sheets
There are two ways you can cool your sheets before hitting the sack.
Take the top sheet and put it in the fridge or freezer during the day. You might want to put it in a plastic zip-lock bag so food odors are transferred along with the temperature. Then, when it’s time for beddy-bye, you can crawl under a nice fresh and cool sheet. It will warm up with your body heat during the night, but it should stay cool enough for you to drift off comfortably.
The second way is to soak your sheet in cold water, then wring it out so that it isn’t dripping wet. Wrap yourself in it at bedtime. The water will evaporate overnight, but you’ll be asleep by then.
You might not want to mention these tricks to your Mexican friends and family. I can just hear the squawking about the hot/cold imbalance and getting sick because of it.
Wear Cotton or Nothing at All
Cotton jammies and cotton sheets will help you sleep cooler. The higher the thread count, the better. Silk will work too since it functions as a thermoregulator, but of course, it’s more expensive than cotton. Bamboo works as a moisture wick, is hypoallergenic, biodegradable and may have antibacterial properties. It’s hard to find bamboo fabric in Mexico though. Sleeping naked is yet another option.
The fabric you choose for clothing should be cotton or a cotton blend too. Lightweight, long sleeves will keep your arms from getting burned. A big floppy hat will also reduce sun exposure and keep you cooler.
Sleep like the Locals
Many Mexicans sleep in a hammock or on straw mats. Although it may seem strange to you, both are ideal for hot, steamy conditions. A hammock suspends your body and allows the air to flow around you. Straw mats do not retain heat, making them cooler sleeping surfaces than a mattress.
Beat the Heat in the Kitchen
Hot days are not the days you want to be cooking up a storm in the kitchen. The heat generated in cooking will raise the temperature in the whole house. Furthermore, heavy meals take more effort to digest. That energy causes your internal core to heat up. In order to cool down, your body starts producing sweat. So eating overeating can cause you to sweat!
Meat digestion requires up to 30 percent more energy than other types of food. Since we aren’t interested in raising that internal core of ours during a heat wave, choose lighter dinner options. Fruit, like watermelon or mango, are excellent alternatives since the water in them will help keep you hydrated, too.
Again, you might hit a wall when your Mexican friends and family tell you that you shouldn’t eat watermelon if you’ve been drinking. My husband knows someone who knew someone who died after eating watermelon after a drinking binge. Apparently this is a common belief found in many parts of Mexico. (It isn’t true by the way).
Hang Out Where It’s Cool
I know in our area, when the temperature goes up, people head to the shopping center, not to buy anything really, but just to sit on the benches and be cool. A local park, shady mesquite, or a big rock on a breezy hill are other places you can relax and chill out.
Make Hay While the Sun Doesn’t Burn you to a Crisp
When the days are long and hot, we restructure our activities so that the outside work gets done in the early morning and early evening. Then we can retreat indoors in the blazing afternoon and maybe take a siesta if time allows.
So there you have it! Some tips on keeping cool even when the temperature is off the charts. So tell me, how do you keep cool?