Concrete jungle

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November 2nd 2018
Published: November 2nd 2018
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Las Pozas

Today we are visiting a surrealist garden, Las Pozas. It is a work of art created by Edward James, an English poet who came to live here in 1945. The creation, said to represent the Garden of Eden took 35 years to construct and you may be forgiven for thinking it is still incomplete! The garden of concrete flowers and fairytale castles has steep staircases that end abruptly and go nowhere.

Edward James moved from England to America but then he fell in love with Xilitla on a visit to Mexico. He began buying up parcels of coffee plantation land in which to create his garden and grow his precious orchids. A bad frost killed the plants one year and he decided to replace them with concrete replicas which the weather would have a harder time attacking. So now the living and the concerete rub along together.

It has been hammering with rain all night and the thought of visiting in this weather is not exactly inspiring us but it’s one of the main reasons for visiting this town, so it just has to be done! The thought of leaving without seeing this place is unthinkable. It’s bad enough that we’ve missed some of the Day of the Dead festivities.

We’re up early as Las Pozas is a popular place, especially at this festival time, and they only allow a daily maximum of 800 visitors inside. Our taxi arrives at 8.15am and we are standing in the queue by 8.30am. Fortunately our spot is undercover as we are outside the (closed) tourist information booth which has a roof with an overhang. It is still raining hard and we are fully clad in waterproofs!

The ticket booth opens promptly at 9am and we shuffle through at an excruciatingly slow pace. Once inside we are directed up a paved walkway called the ‘Path of the Seven Deadly Sins’. It is lined with concrete serpents. We pass through the ‘Ring of the Queen’, a circular archway toward the ‘Cinema’. Designed to show films to the local people, James claimed that seeing through the arch was similar to having a permanent screen into the garden.

We also visit the Edward James Cabin - the place where he lived and wrote within his garden. There are other structures all around which were built to house his pets, including a collection of flamingos.

We climb very high to admire the building from different angles and stumble across the old concrete works which affords great views of the jungle. Another place of interest is ‘Saint Peter and St Paul’s Gate’ - so narrow that the workers said only the innocent can pass through. I managed it but Ian did not try!

The ‘Bamboo Palace’ is another large mystical structure. Edward called it the ‘Tower of Hope’, his hope being that one day he would live in it. There is a large bathtub in the shape of an eye. Edward used to bathe in the pupil and there would be coloured fishes swimming in the area around it. Your really wouldn’t want to take a bath in it today!

Finally, the ‘Sarcophagus’ - the place where Edward used to meditate...his body is marked in the concrete!

All the climbing and descending takes us some time and we take a good two hours to explore the garden. This includes a stop at the waterfall which is magnificent. Again, we were told we could swim here but it’s not really the right season and no-one else appears to be giving it a go. We are both tired and not a little damp from the humidity and our trek in full waterproofs. They are supposed to be breathable but I guess everything has its limits!

We stop for a drink in the cafe. They do fresh pineapple juice here which is refreshing. Ian has a coffee - they grow the beans here so it’s all organic and very strong.

We exit the gardens and call our taxi...he is there to collect us within 20 minutes, by which time we have climbed the rough pebble road so that we can meet him at the tarmac. The road is now stuffed with cars and the tour bus car park is full. The queue to get in stretches back some distance so we are glad we came early!

Back at the posada, we take a hot shower - our clothes are very damp so they all go in the washing pile and Ian is despatched with another load. Seriously, the laundry is so cheap here, it’s easier to send it back knowing that it will all arrive back dry and ironed! Ian attempts to dry out the waterproofs!

Eva has warned us that she does not think our bus tickets will get us to our connection on time on Sunday. According to the timetable we should have almost two hours to spare! It’s a terrible bus company, she tells me. There is no choice of bus here, but in Cuidad Valles they have a first class service. Having experienced three of these buses already we tend to agree. So we have decided to hire a driver to take us to Valles and catch the 10am bus from there. Eva has offered to help us to change the tickets.

Eva and I have set off for the bus station. It’s just beyond the town square. It appears to have temporarily stopped raining but the cloud is still low. We stop at a few shops on the way. Eva seems intent on stuffing me with food. She wants me to try the traditional corn cakes. They are spiced with cinnamon and one would have been nice but they come in bags of six...I buy a pack to take back and hope that Eva and her kids are going to help us out. :-)

We arrive at the bus station and a long discussion takes place. Eva is now on the phone to the lady at Valles Bus Station. The guy behind the desk appears to be a bit grumpy but then it has taken quite a long time to sort out. Eva tells me that it’s all fine. Present our tickets at Valles and she is going to write a note in Spanish of what has been agreed. The replacement tickets cannot be purchased here...we must do it in Valles - it’s completely third world here, jokes Eva!

On the way back, Eva asks me if I’d like to visit the church roof! She knows the pastor and can get the keys to the tower. We climb a steep staircase and emerge right on top of the fortified church. We have great views of the valley and the ancient church bells. We can even see as far as the Edward James garden from up here! Eva tells me it’s the only church in Mexico that has been fortified in this manner. On the way down she shows me a locked door. In olden times, some dancers entered the door and never came has been kept locked ever since! Maybe they are still in there then?

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