We headed out westerly in the mid-morning towards the border of our neighbor state Campeche, armed only with a map, a picnic lunch and a full tank of gas. According to the map we were headed into hacienda country which we felt should afford us some good photo ops as well as a look into a very important part of the Yucatan's past.
The haciendas, or ranches or plantations, were basically land grants given by the Spanish monarchy to wealthy patrons. These huge plantations were worked by native Mexicans under a feudal system (basically slavery) whereby the workers, or peones were born, worked and died serving the owner's interests. The plantations in the Yucatan were processing one thing: henequen.
The fibers of this cactus were (and still are) extracted through a process of shredding, drying and weaving to make rope which, for the better part of a century and a half, was a very lucrative business. The plantation owners in the Yucatan were, at the time, some of the wealthiest people on earth and their henequen plants were called "green gold".
These haciendas were small cities unto themselves with churches, living quarters for the owner and his family and for the workers and their families. Of course, the workers bought all their food and goods from the plantation-owned store using plantation printed money.
Hacienda Santa Rosa
It was the Peon family that owned most of the land we were traveling through and they owned it for several generations until 1937 when the newly formed democratic government redistributed all the land to the peasants.
This is Hacienda Santa Rosa outside of Chunchucmil. Once abandoned and in a state of decay, a group of investors spent the better part of three years reconstructing and restoring the main plantation mansion. It's now part of the Starwood Hotel group of "luxury resorts". The work was done by the local descendants of the original peones, and when the work was done they were also trained to work as staff members in the resort.
The old church...
We're not sure about this building. It was huge and looked like there were many concrete cubicles inside.
Although the rope is no longer produced, the henequen fibers are still processed on a small scale in the area and we were fortunate to run across some local artisans using their skills to make wonderful items.
The bundled fibers look something like sheep's wool...
Articles are woven by hand in a process handed down from each generation to the next...
Next door, the artists were busy making silver filigree jewelry working with torches, hammers, pliers and...rocks.
All items were for sale and we did purchase some of the henequen woven items which were surprisingly heavier than they looked.
Then it was off to Kochol where we found another hacienda. This one was not, nor will it most likely ever be, restored. But at one time, it was very impressive...
I tried and could not find any information about this hacienda on the internet. But by looking at it, it had been an impressive operation in it's day.
These are the smoke stacks indicating the drying kilns with a work house behind them..
The main mansion. It appears that there were servant quarters under the main house. We had to be cautious walking around in this structure as there were collapsed floors testifying to its decaying condition.
And in the back courtyard of the mansion, a swimming pool. We could only imagine the parties that were held here...
Change of plans...
Our next stop was to be Chunchucmil, an archeological site we hadn't heard of, but wanted to check-out. When we got to the town of Chunchucmil, the road came to a "T" and we had no signage to indicate which direction to turn. So we went north. It soon became apparent that we were headed in the wrong direction, so we made one of those on-the-road decisions: Since we were headed in the direction of Celestun, why not go up and see the flamingos? Good idea! And, according to the map, it was a straight shot, 25 kilometer, piece-o-cake drive to get to the highway that would take us there.
O.K. Think of what most North Americans imagine all Mexican roads are like. This is what we were on.
One-lane. And this picture was one of the better stretches. I am not exaggerating when I report that we had to dodge hundreds of potholes, downed trees, road apples, you name it, rarely getting out of first gear. And I kid you not, we were being tracked by vultures in the trees above. And little indication of civilization anywhere within eyesight.
So this little 20 or 30 minute jaunt up to the main highway ended up taking about an hour and a half of some of the most nerve wracking driving I've ever done. Avoid this so-called road at all costs.
But we made it, and in Part 2 of Road Trip, we'll show you those flamingos. They were magnificent.