When I was younger, I spent a lot of time travelling in Mexico, since I lived there for about a decade. I always associate the country now, with my youth, and as such, there’s something of a magical aura that surrounds the place. The specific place that stands out in my memory like a towering inferno of the strange and surreal is a place called Las Pozas in the mountain village of Xilitla. It’s referred to as a surrealist sculpture garden, but in my mind, it’s so much more than that. It is 80 acres of the most fascinating juxtaposition of tropical forest and concrete structures I’ve ever seen. And hardly anyone, at least outside of Mexico, has even heard about it.
The history of Las Pozas is actually quite strange. It began with an English poet-artist’s single ambition. The man was named Edward James, born to a wealthy family, and it was rumored that James was the bastard child of Prince Edward, who would later become King of England. Having inherited money at a very young age, James, who was interested in art, used much of his funds to patronize up-and-coming artists, like Salvador Dali and Renee Magritte.
Eventually, James had a vision, in which he wanted to construct a real-life “Garden of Eden.” He traveled to many different places to find the perfect spot to lay out his dream. His original plan was southern California, but when he traveled through Mexico, he changed his mind. He declared his location in a remote area in central Mexico known for its lush tropical forests, strange flora and fauna, and, of course, its delicious home-grown coffee. James hired an indigenous Mexican, Plutarco Gastelum, a young manager of a telegraph office at the time, to help him with the actual construction. And the rest, as they say, is history.
I visited Las Pozas when I was quite young, maybe fifteen or sixteen, but the experience was absolutely life-changing. My family and I actually stayed at Edward James’ former residence, built by Plutarco, which has now been converted into a bed and breakfast style guest house run by Plutarco’s descendants. It is difficult to explain Las Pozas, without resorting to photographs. The most obvious thing about the structures is the Surrealist influence. There are stairs that lead to nowhere, there’s an eerie pet cemetery where James buried his parrots and other exotic pets, and there’s even a hollowed cement resting spot, created from James’ impressed body, which oddly resembles an angel with its wings spread out. Here, James would lie down and look up at the jungle’s canopy, among the misted trees, waterfalls, and his beloved pets–and simply think.
Although now Las Pozas has become an increasingly popular tourist attraction for Mexicans, it is still a mostly obscure place, considering that it takes a measured amount of courage and willingness to travel to such a remote location, especially in the Mexico of our current time. In any case, for those who love art and strange architecture, for those looking for an adventure, Las Pozas is the place to be.
Aside from the pictures, for a more intimate glimpse of what the Las Pozas experience can entail, the following is a poem written by Edward James, while he was living in Mexico:
I have seen such beauty as one man has seldom seen;
therefore will I be grateful to die in this little room,
surrounded by the forests, the great green gloom
of trees my only gloom – and the sound, the sound of green.
Here amid the warmth of the rain, what might have been
is resolved into the tenderness of a tall doom
who says: ‘You did your best, rest – and after you the bloom
of what you loved and planted still will whisper what you mean.
And the ghosts of the birds I loved, will attend me each a friend;
like them shall I have flown beyond the realm of words.
You, through the trees, shall hear them, long after the end
calling me beyond the river. For the cries of birds
continue, as – defended by the cortege of their wings –
my soul among strange silences yet sings.
**Photo via eyeconart.net