Monday, August 6, 2012

Las Posas, Edward James' Surrealist Garden

While thrashing about in the  the jungle recently, the following tune interrupted my revelry. The mind is a funny thing. There's no telling what event will trigger a song that drifts into one's consciousness.

A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh.
In the jungle, the mighty jungle , the lion sleeps tonight . In the jungle the quiet jungle, the lion sleeps tonight......(lyrics by Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds, made popular by the musical group the Tokens)


Last weekend, I had the very fortunate pleasure of visiting Las Posas while on an excursion with our local Lion's Club.

This lovely garden is located deep in the Mexican rainforest in the area known as Xilitla. Las Posas, a brilliant and uniquely eccentric garden, was the brainchild of Englishman, Edward James.

James was a millionaire as well as a talented poet, artist, and favored collector of the Surrealist Art Movement. His acquaintances  and collaborators included luminaries such as Dali, Picasso, De Chirico, and Magritte.
As a child, James possessed a lively imagination. He often drifted into a fantasy world as a means of escaping the hard reality of an inattentive and self-centered mother. This proclivity  would come in handy later in life.

The exotic garden, Las Posas, dates back to 1947 when Edward James visited Xilitla, San Luis Potosi, hoping to purchase  a coffee plantation  with the express intention of finding a home for his vast collection of prized orchids. While visiting the area, James discovered a series of welcoming pools of water known as Las Posas, located in the Sierra Gorda Mountains. After taking a dip in the river, he was sunning himself when a swarm of monarch butterflies landed on him and covered his body. He welcomed the phenomenon, seeing it as a good omen.

James bought the property and used the land to plant exotic  flowers and to house his vast collection of wild animals.

 He was driven to build the sculptural structures that now stand after a disaster in 1962, when the orchids he had planted were destroyed by an unusual snow storm that lasted three days.

At this point, James came up with a unique plan for a new, more resilient and fanciful garden that would serve as an homage to the Surrealists. He employed hundreds of native craftsmen, artisans, and stone masons. James designed and constructed a fantasy garden using unique materials with grandiose proportions, spending over 5 million dollars on the project. Many of his contemporaries suggested that James had simply "gone mad." By 1984, thirty-six sculptures made of reinforced concrete had been built.

These magical and extraordinary structures are scattered over 20 acres of  incredibly lush tropical forest. The sculptural forms kindle visions of Alice in Wonderland. The wide-eyed visitor to this unexpected paradise experiences a surprise at every turn.

The designs for these striking edifices are derived from nature.  Organic forms, including flower and leaf shapes, are incorporated into many structures. James experimented with volume, structure, and mass, building obelisks, bridges, spiral staircases, and pavilions. The stairways hover above the forest floor, seemingly  defying  gravity.

As I entered the property along with  intrepid explorer, Marsha V., we caught a glimpse of  the visually striking Gateway of Snakes,

a walkway flanked by giant concrete serpents representing the seven deadly sins. Clearly, this is a fitting reference to James' love of animals, as he traveled the world with a snake in his baggage. Continuing along the path, we encountered huge concrete towers with soaring stairways that seem to touch the sky, blocking out the sun's rays.

Children gleefully ran and played hide and seek as they explored the passages, stairwells, and hidden rooms that comprise the buildings, as if the place were there soley for their amusement.

Endless moss covered paths whispered our names, drawing us  deeper and deeper into the forest where hidden gems awaited around every bend.

 Before long, the enticing sound of falling water and children's laughter could be heard in the distance. Shimmering waterfalls and babbling brooks beckoned, encouraging even someone with aguaphobia to dip their toes into the cool, clear, aquamarine colored water.

Young, carefree boys couldn't resist the lure of the cataract, as they leaped from platforms, head first, into the shallow pools below.

                             Visitors had discarded their shoes all along the trail.

A giant aviary and ocelot cage, inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci's designs, loomed on the horizon. Soon, a grime covered workman stood at the side of the trail, awaiting our passage, while huge drops of perspiration fell like raindrops from his sweaty brow.

As we made our way through the thick foliage, tropical flowers and bromeliads shimmered in the distance.
A  young song bird vocalized in a nearby tree. Marsha asked me to snap a photo of the baby that was now calling plaintively for its mother. Next, an enormous  centipede lumbered across my path, scaring me at first, then sparking my curiosity,  it's many legs rythmically drumming across the well worn stone pavers.

Tarzan vines swayed with the breezes making me pine for my childhood hero, Johnny Weissmuller.

 I've always been a sucker for muscle-bound "he men." In this jungle oasis, I was also painfully aware of my own sweat beading up on my forehead as it trickled down my neck, the result of the ever-present and oppressive humidity, a small price to pay for a once-in-a-life-time experience. And I'm not a girl who sweats easily.
Sadly, after William James' death, Las Posas fell into disrepair as he had exhausted his fortune and made no arrangements for its upkeep.

Las Posas is currently owned by the Pedro and Elena Hernandez Foundation, one of Mexico's charitable organizations with the support of the San Luis Potosi government and the Cemex Corporation. Workers continue to restore and conserve the structures. They require constant attention due to the ravages of time and the high humidity. I highly recommend a visit if you plan a trip to Central Mexico.

Hours of Operation : 9:00am to 6:00pm — Open All Year
No Beverages or Food Allowed (except Water in Plastic Bottles)

No Pets Of Any Kind Are Allowed Inside Las Pozas
"Las Manos" craft and souvenir shop open 9:00am to 6:00pm — Closed Wednesdays
Guided Tours lasting 1hour and 15 minutes are available for $200 pesos (in Spanish)

$250 pesos (in English or French)