Mar 16, 2017

Ex-Haciendas, A Look Behind the Scene

Great things never came from comfort zones.

Roy T. Bennett

Repairing the plaster/adobe outside the workshop storage area of Yaxcopoil
Following our pleasant discoveries of some of Colima’s ex-haciendas extensive history in 2013, we visited a tiny fraction (6) of the nearly 200 ex-haciendas in the states of Campeche and Yucatán. 

While ex-haciendas in Colima mostly grew sugar or coffee, the ones here involved cattle and later henequén (sisal).  Colima’s ex-haciendas were high in the Sierra Madres mountains with tall volcanoes as backdrop, compare to the flatter sea level of the peninsula we are currently visiting.  In both cases, they were turned into B&B’s, hotels, museums, restaurants, businesses, art galleries, or simply going to waste, swiftly being engulfed by the rapidly growing jungle.

Ex-Hacienda Yaxcopoil

Left side not cleaned up, right side upgraded – what a difference
Many rooms in a row creating a long hallway. 
Notice amazing pasta tile flooring
Maintaining such large and ancient properties takes a huge amount of time, faith, money and energy.  This is especially true in the peninsula where they encounter very hot humid weather and hurricanes.  Mexican wages are low enough that upkeep can be done without breaking the bank while also offering dying towns a bit of needed work. Back home these types of properties would be prohibitive to keep open. 
Tired of sweeping, time to sit down and play with my watch

At each of the places we visited we saw at least 12+ people working to make that happen: landscapers, painters, electricians, plumbers, cleaners, plasterers, roofers, orchardists, irrigators, machine operators, woodworkers, gardeners, etc.  That number doesn’t include the staff who takes care of the guests: servers, maids, office workers, store keepers, masseuses, guides, cooks, chauffeurs, etc.

Yaxcopoil was built in the 17th century and was a very successful business.  By 1853, it was one of the largest haciendas, covering 22,000 acres.  It is now only 3% of its original size (660 acres) which is still a good chunk of land but a mere shadow of what it used to be.  Even with its much-diminished magnitude, Yaxcopoil still exudes the essence of a grand era gone by. 

The present owner is one of the descendants of the people who made it home in 1864, making it more intimate and real.  The furniture shown in the ex-hacienda belonged to the family that lived there.  It is in a bit of faded but graceful state of deterioration.
Jungle doesn’t take a break.  Possible Alamo tree.
Yax = green (precious color of jade), Copo = Alamo tree, Il = place.  Put that together and you have ‘Place of the green Alamo trees’.  Alamo trees grow in abundance on the estate.  They have long roots hanging from their branches.  In times of slavery, they were used as whips to punish insubordinate workers!  Yes, as beautiful as these places are, we must remember they were built and run with the help of slaves – not a very bright time for many.

Private chapel. 
Picture of San Geronimo on the left but not included here
Simple dining table and chairs, great garden view. 
A woodworker was fixing some other doors to match this one.
The Spaniards bestowed each hacienda its own patron saint.  At Yaxcopoil it was San Geronimo.  His portrait hangs in the small chapel at the back of the main house.  He is still venerated in the nearby village. 

The main house is long and narrow – not sure if it was designed that way to look larger from the road, simply the style of the days, or for maximum ventilation through tall windows and doors.  In comparison, the ex-haciendas in the colder climes of Colima were built around a square courtyard. 

Super simple kitchen for such a large and successful hacienda
We walk through drawing room, office, sitting room, lounge, dining room, with 18’ high ceilings and large windows and doors.  The back of the house is bordered by a very colorful covered veranda where you can sit on benches or relax in hammocks overlooking beautiful gardens.  You can almost smell the scent of the cigars that were smoked while drinking mescal when guests spent their afternoon in the shade.  The ex-hacienda comes with its own small chapel.  Kitchen is in a separate building which also includes a small store, empty swimming pool, and changing rooms. 
Colorful back covered patio/veranda with benches and wall hooks for hammocks

Since haciendas were fairly remote rural ranches, all services such as schools, infirmaries, chapels, and stores needed to be built.  Many of these later evolved into villages around the haciendas.  At its peak, Yaxcopoil probably hired 1,000 people from priests to clerks, and administrators, to foremen.  Most were in bondage to the haciendas that were operated like small city-states. 

Each hacienda created their own scrip money

One can rent the one available room and enjoy the peace of this place for a night or so. Imagine having this immense old plantation to yourself after visiting hours, until breakfast…

Grandiose double ogee arch at entrance of Yaxcopoil

At the entrance, an impressive darkish burnt-orange slowly turning black from mold double ogee arch stands tall and proud, welcoming guests and visitors.  Some say the style is Moorish but it was used more commonly in English Gothic architecture.  I can imagine the awe people felt as they went through the arches in their horse drawn buggies.  Some historians presume the arch represented the 2,000 heads of cattle the ranch once held (not sure how). 

The site which seems to standstill in time, has been used for movies and television broadcastings. 

Colorful bougainvillea against barely renovated but solid walls
Renovation is constant but not to the point of modernizing this ex-hacienda.  It is kept as close as possible to the way it used to be, unlike many other ex-haciendas with televisions, air conditioning, fancy spas, Wi-Fi, tennis courts, etc.  I find it much more interesting this way.  It feels as if we may encounter the original owners around the next corner, ready to share a story.  Feeling less like clients of a hotel and more like friends or relatives stopping for a chat.

Painting 'wallpaper' with stencil

Proud of his work
The high humidity makes it impossible to glue wallpaper around each room so patterns are repetitively painted to create the illusion of such luxury of the time.  We watched a painter in scaffolding use a small template and an even smaller brush to paint a complicated pattern.  He said all colors are made with the original ingredients and that they color matched everything to replicate what it looked like when the home was first built. 

The floors and some partial walls (even in the machinery room) are covered with what they called ‘pasta’ or ‘hydraulic’ tiles.  These tiles first came from Spain as ballast in the sailing vessels heading to the New World.  Eventually Mexicans learned the trade and started making them here.  They are beautiful handmade tiles that can easily take the wear and tear of 100+ years of busy feet.  These tiles can be as simple as a two-color square or as complicated as a multicolored patchwork.  They are still in demand today and we see them even on people’s garage floors. They range in price from $0.80 to $35.00 a square foot!

Pouring colored 'slip' on top of concrete tile – then add regular cement –
then put in hydraulic press, take out of mold and let cure for 4 weeks.
Break room
Neoclassic workshop front with four columns, each representing a season

Renovation supplies
Various layers of colors over time

Called the Maya room, collection of items from AD 250-900
found around property
Side note on pasta tiles:

Example of pasta / hydraulic tiles
The tile maker creates a three-part layered stack in a (usually) square mold. A sectioned pattern die (kind of like a fancy cookie cutter) is placed in the bottom of the open mold. Manufacturers put a color in the various sections first and then back the tile with other layers of cement products, first very fine and then coarser so it sticks better to the mortar when installed.

The liquid color material is composed of ground marble dust, fine white Portland cement, and natural earth pigment. The stacked concrete tile layers are pressed using a hydraulic press and then removed from the mold. Generally, the biscuit-like tiles are placed in a rack and submerged in water to allow the correct moisture needed for the chemical reaction necessary to turn the tile into concrete. The tiles are removed from the water, allowed to dry and then stacked and allowed to age for some time for curing to achieve adequate hardness before shipment (about 4 weeks).

The result is a tile that is usually about 5/8 inch thick (16mm) and quite heavy. One side is plain concrete and another side is colorful.  The top ¼ of the tile is colored, ensuring longevity if it is in a dry place, these tiles are porous and can be damaged by water.  Traditional cement tile is often used as ornamental motifs similar to carpets, bordered rugs, tapestries or mosaics. Pasta tile is flooring with character, great quality, outstanding for its clear, bright finishes (although that part necessitates a lot of elbow grease), excellent ageing process, elegance and nobility.

Temozón - View from the restaurant over to the pool, fountain, hot-tub, and spa areas
Ex-Hacienda Temozón Sur

This other 17th century ex-hacienda has been renovated to match the tastes of foreign travelers and is managed by an international hotel chain.  Even a president or two as well as some celebrities have stayed here.  It is well hidden behind tall fences and well-trimmed hedges.  The landscape is lush and colorful, the buildings are bright and well taken care of.  It contains 28 rooms, conference area, spas, tennis court, swimming pool, restaurant, store, etc.  Cobblestone pathways join every part of the hacienda. 

It too, was a very large hacienda in its days.  Today the rooms’ names are based on their original uses such as pharmacy, play-house, school, stable, library, etc.  You can sleep in a massive iron bed or choose a hammock in the style of the Mayas.  You can have you own courtyard or pool or share common areas. 

Currently 90 per cent of the employees working at Temozón Sur are inhabitants from the village of Temozón Sur or one of the other villages nearby. Most of the employees are descendants or relatives of the people who worked at Temozón Sur during the henequén (sisal) period. 

Many of the products purchased by Temozón Sur for purposes such as turn down gifts, amenities for the bathroom and items sold to guests are made locally. This includes things made with sisal fiber, embroidery, cow horn or wood carvings, sewing of the traditional huipil dresses, etc.

Enjoy these few pictures of Temozón Sur.

Entrance to restaurant and veranda, guest rooms are on the right
Have a massage in a cave near a cenote
Swimming pool looking over to restaurant
Water gargoyles
Ex-Hacienda Santa Rosa

Blue and pinkish front entrance, many bushes in bloom
Red petals in water fountain, another feminine touch
Old and new, spa, rest and relax

Pool goes through arches under building…
Even though Santa Rosa is owned by the same company that owns Temozón Sur, and was renovated carefully, it is now falling into disrepair and is not a place I would probably go back to.  The staff was not very welcoming, not a good sign of their overall treatments in my view.  The nearby village is covered with graffiti, the place needs a serious facelift if it wants to stay in business. 

It is the most ‘feminine’ looking of the ex-haciendas we’ve seen so far, full of soft colors.  Only a painting of a woman was left behind by the looters before renovation of this 11 room ex-hacienda took place.  It also has its own chapel which comes in handy for wedding receptions that often are provided at these historical places.

Ex-Hacienda Ochil 

This ex-hacienda didn’t seem to be open so other than this one picture from the parking lot, we don’t have much to share.

Rock wall invaded by roots
Ex-Hacienda Chunchucmil 

This is an abandoned ex-hacienda where the main grounds are now used to play soccer.  It has seen the ravages of time and people...  It seems the place ran for only 55 years, not very long.  Check it out for yourselves.

To me this looks like an old theater with grand stairways on each side.
 See white soccer goal posts in front of it.
Buckling tile flooring
Few colors left here and there
How ceilings were supported, turning a corner
Layers of arches
Arches and doors

Ex-Hacienda Uayamon

The magic of modern and ancient.  Pillars in a pool surrounded by old rock walls.
Our final stop was at another renovated but remote ex-hacienda.  As with Temozón Sur and Santa Rosa, it is owned by the same billionaire banker, Roberto Hernandez.  We were very disappointed, expecting more of this place after seeing the other two.  It was the most expensive of all the places we visited yet it seemed to have the least to offer.  It seemed without soul or ambiance, its staff unenthusiastic about greeting or serving visitors. 

It cleverly used as many of the old traditional elements while restoring its original designs and adding 21st century luxury items such as Wi-Fi.  It is a good example of resourceful management of decay. It is beautifully anchored by the largest ceiba tree we have ever seen.  It is massive and dwarfs all that is nearby. 

Gigantic ceiba tree - revered by the Mayas

This ex-hacienda also had cattle in addition to wood for die, sugar, corn, and henequén (sisal).  It had the first railway leading to Campeche to move its products to the city.  It was close enough to the sea to be attacked by pirates quite regularly.   

They call it ‘rustic jungle chic’, that way you can’t complain about the bugs skittering around. 

Graceful and interesting decay at each corner – Frozen in time
As I close this post, a thought I read in one of the guest books comes to mind.  ‘There is something that touches your soul when you think about the history of those walls.’  I must agree.  As much as I may think an ex-hacienda is just so-so or extraordinary, there is always a part of me that wonders about what these walls witnessed.  But we will never truly know and that is part of the magic.

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