High in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico, hidden in a subtropical jungle, there exists a surreal sculptural fantasyland called Las Pozas. It was created by English eccentric and visionary, Edward James between the years 1949 and 1984. This incredible place is well off the beaten track, but a rewarding pilgrimage for the few travelers who are persistent enough to make the journey.
I first heard about Las Pozas many years ago when it was featured on a TV show about extraordinary gardens of the world. At the time, it captured my imagination and I knew then that it was my destiny to someday visit the alluring and somewhat obscure destination.
It was on my fourth trip to Mexico that I was eventually able to transform my dream of visiting this enthralling jungle into a reality. It wasn’t however, straightforward. Having flown into the country’s second largest metropolis, Guadalajara, I took a bus to San Luis Potosi. After perusing the plazas and museums of the city and spending a night in a budget hotel, I was back on the early morning bus heading for Xilitla, the nearest village to Las Pozas.
A Bus Ride through the Mountains
Almost as soon as we left the city, we found ourselves winding our way through the mountains, passing through tiny villages and larger towns. There were no first class buses to Xilitla, so every few minutes of the eight-hour journey, we stopped to pick up and drop off passengers at random spots along the road. It was a chilly November morning and locals boarded the bus wrapped up in scarves and wooly hats.
The Quirky World of El Castillo
We finally arrived in Xilitla and I gratefully climbed off the bus. The accommodation I had pre-booked was no ordinary hotel. I was staying at Posada El Castillo, where Edward James, himself, had resided for many years — a unique and whimsical creation in its own right. El Castillo was designed and constructed by Plutarco Gastelum, a friend of Edward James, who was also his construction manager at Las Pozas. The building is now run as a guesthouse by the Gastelum family.
I asked a friendly local policeman to point me in the right direction and he shook my hand before I set off to my abode for the next couple of nights. The ‘village’ was actually quite sizeable. The shopping area was full of activity and the aroma of freshly cooked food emanated from the many street stalls.
On arrival, I was greeted by Luisa, the granddaughter of Plutarco. Naturally proud of the fascinating history surrounding her family home, she proceeded to give me a tour. A few of Plutarco’s paintings still adorn the walls and the library contained books that had belonged to Edward. Nooks and crannies, touches of surrealism and eclectic décor combined to make it a fascinating place to wander around. Luna, the cat, lounged in one of the corridors and three parrots chattered away — all adding to the homey atmosphere.
My room was nothing short of stunning. High ceilinged and decorated in vibrant colors, the light fittings were in the shape of wasps and the mist-shrouded mountain views from the double-aspect windows were spectacular. The shower was in a huge plunge pool. Aspects of it could be described as shabby and not so chic, but the wear and tear were part of its charm.
A Rainy Day at Las Pozas
The next day was my one and only chance to explore Las Pozas. As I feared — having checked out the weather forecast the previous day — it was pouring rain with no sign of letting up. I was determined not to let the detrimental weather spoil my long-awaited Las Pozas experience. Suitably attired in wet weather gear, I took a taxi to Las Pozas a couple of kilometers down the road.
I had arrived early in order to beat the crowds (if indeed, anybody else was planning to brave the jungle in a subtropical downpour). I paid the equivalent of a few US dollars to enter and made my way along the pathway and past the column of concrete serpents representing the seven deadly sins and into the jungle. Wandering along by the river, I noticed the nine pools, which Las Pozas had been named after, connected by waterfalls.
Natural rock formations blended with ambiguous manmade shapes that trees and vines had wound their way around over the years. Eventually, I came to an eighty-foot waterfall spilling into the clear pool at its base. The waterfall was set off by a pagoda. The scene could have been from a fantasy movie constructed by Hollywood set designers, but this was real life.
Uneven steps led me to secret hideaways, perfect meditation spots, from which I emerged to come face to face with a gigantic concrete flower. Rusted, creaking gates opened onto paths leading to further bizarre sculptures. I felt as though I was lost in a psychedelic dream, never knowing what to expect next. Although relatively new, the sculptures appeared ancient, swallowed up by the jungle in some lost world.
The Eccentric Edward James
Edward James was a rich aristocrat who sold his surrealist art collection to fund the building of Las Pozas, and clearly indulged himself in his self-proclaimed Xanadu with no constraint. Employing hundreds of artisans and masons from Xilitla, he even had power lines constructed so that he could light his beloved creation up like a Christmas tree every night.
The rain persisted, but I continued on my way through this extraordinary jungle. In addition to the sculptures, I came across a number of curious dwelling places. Turrets, arches, spiral staircases and Daliesque inspired images in concrete and iron merged to produce nonsensical and incredible visions.
Despite being soaked to the skin, I had to tear myself away from Las Pozas. It was as if I had become addicted to its strange surprises and I didn’t want to return to the real world. I sat in the café reflecting on my visit. I felt grateful for the eccentrics of the world; for people like Edward James, who had left a little magic for others to revel in.
Author’s Favorite Travel Gear
Kindle Fire: Believe it or not, a Kindle is useful for a whole lot more than just reading. I use my Kindle for to listen to music, read books, take photographs and to surf the net.
Northwest Territory Hiking Boots: I own these boots in red and they have trekked all over the world and been replaced three times.
Osprey Farpoint 40 litre Backpack: This pack is perfectly designed for travel. I never check bags because I can get everything I need to in this backpack and take it as carry on. Whether I am traveling for a weekend or six months, this is my luggage of choice.