This was something I wrote a while back after taking an amazing caving trip to Xilitla in San Luis Potosi. Original post appears here.
My traveling companions and I take our first steps onto a mossy, grey cobblestoned pathway in the midst of an impossibly green rainforest. Flashy red, yellow and orange tropical flowers demand our attention amid the sea of green surrounding us. Straight ahead is a ring-shaped entranceway and just beyond that, I catch a glimpse of massive concrete structures, standing strong against the pervasive jungle determined to overtake them. For now they seem to be holding their ground. I breathe in the warm heavy air and can’t help but smile. In a few brief moments, I’ll pass through the “Queen’s Ring” (as the entranceway is called) and enter Las Pozas: a dream-like world created by a wealthy British gentleman artist who followed the beat of a different drum and found inspiration in the middle of a Mexican jungle.
Edward James first came to this place from West Sussex in 1947 while scouting for a spot to create his own personal escape from the privileged, highbrow society he was born into; a place where his love of art, orchids and exotic animals could thrive. He found his Shangri-La near the small village of Xilitla in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi. Named after the surrounding spring-fed pools and waterfalls (one as high as 80 feet), Las Pozas became the escape James so longed for. Already a generous patron of the Surrealist art movement, James began construction on what would ultimately become a Surrealist’s dream: a sculpture garden where M.C. Escher’s mathematical aesthetics meet a Seussian architectural design straight out of Whoville.
In all, there are thirty-six unique structures made of concrete and whimsy to discover here. Most have quirky names like “House With A Roof Like A Whale” and “Temple Of The Ducks.” Others are simply “Parrot House” or “Ocelot House”, which I assume is where Mr. James must have kept some of his favorite exotic animals. According to the locals, he was known to walk around the grounds with his favorite red and blue Macaw companion riding atop his shoulder. I almost expect to bump into them at any moment.
As we continue walking along elevated pathways and climb up corkscrew staircases leading nowhere but to a state of heightened vertigo, I begin to feel what I call the “travel giddiness”; that state of mind you enter when you are completely immersed in the present moment. Suddenly you feel an overwhelming sense of love and wonder. Writer David James Duncan referred to this feeling as “melting into the Eternal Now.” As Duncan points out, “Sometimes it happens in pristine wilds, but sometimes it happens in airports or city streets. And who cares which?”
Perhaps Las Pozas, with its secret rooms inside massive towers and giant concrete flowers in perpetual bloom, is here to remind us of that very thing. Perhaps Edward James hoped that those who visited this beautiful place would find themselves reawakened to those feelings and take a bit of its magic back home with them as they returned to their daily lives.
As we start our journey back to the “Queen’s Ring”, one of the smaller sculptures of Las Pozas catches my eye. I look around and see two strong and oversized concrete hands. I can’t help but stare at them for a while, perhaps in an attempt to memorize every detailed line etched upon them. They are beautiful in their humanness and I begin to wish photos captured more than just two dimensions of an image.
But today was a good day. We unraveled a few of the secrets of Las Pozas, we stood bravely atop a jungle fortress and we mingled with the Eternal Now. I think Mr. James would be pleased.