Papalotes, Barriletes, Pavas & Cafeteras

Photograph at the Santa Fe Ranch, Texas — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Daniel Halladay, born 1826 in Vermont, was an American engineer, inventor and businessman, best known for his innovative 1854 self-regulating farm wind pump. Versions of this windmill became an iconic part of the rural landscape in the United States, Argentina, New Zealand, and South Africa.

As I watched my older granddaughter, Rebecca do the backstroke at the Santa Fe Ranch pool I could but not think on how she swims so much like my mother did. Both swam without the hint of a ripple on the pool. It seemed effortless as if they were not floating on water but doing so in the air. When I swim I do so with efficiency, no more and no less. As a product of a middle class family in Buenos Aires, only the rich could be members of athletic clubs and thus be able to learn to swim or play tennis which in most of Latin America into recent times were sports of the rich. I learned to swim on my own on a tall circular water tank that part of the Argentine windmills that dot the Pampa landscape. I taught myself the breast stroke and to this day I consider myself a very strong practitioner of that less beautiful but most efficient swimming stroke. For years I admired Johnny Weissmuller’s style in the Tarzan films knowing I would never be able to learn to swim like that. I vicariously remember my mother swimming and now I stare in admiration at Rebecca. Remembering my swimming roots led me to enquire with Mike East why the water windmills on his ranch so resemble the ones from my youth. His answer was a startling one, “Because they are manufactured in Argentina and we import them!” What is strange is that in the modified Spanish of South Texas these windmills are called papalotes. Papalote is the Mexican Spanish word for a child’s kite. In Argentina we call a kite a barrilete ( a cometa in Spain). I was afraid to ask Mike what they call kites in South Texas if a kite is not the toy but the water pump that serves as a lifeline for the sometimes drought stricken area. In one of the forays into the La Mula pastures I lingered by one of the papalotes (Molino or windmill in Spanish Argentine) and I was rewarded by the very particular sound of the mill’s rotors as they turned in the wind gusts. Rebecca had suggested that I pack my father’s mate (the gourd) the bombilla and some yerba (the yerba mate rough mixture that resembles dried cow dung!) The idea was to sip some mate when we arrived to the ranch. We did so next to Mike, and Letty for a few evenings around 6. Letty would relax with her red wine and Mike would smoke his Honduran cigars while having his beer and his El Patrón Tequila. We initially had a problem, a problem in Spanish/Mexican/Argentine semantics: In my country you boil water in a kettle which we call a pava. A pava is normally a female turkey (the male is the pavo, guajolote in Mexico). A kettle is called a pava because the neck of the water heating utensil resembles the neck of a female turkey. Now a device for making old style coffee is called a cafetera. A tetera (in my country) is a teapot. Mexicans, not being traditional tea drinkers, boil their water to make tea in a cafetera and have no distinct word for a pava/teapot so that when I tell them that the idea of boiling water in a cafetera to make tea is silly they just scoff of my perceived Argentine superiority. It is for this reason that I did not pursue with Mike the idea that a papalote could not possibly be a windmill as it was really a child’s kite!

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Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at: