May 10, 2010
New Converse.com contributor Spencer Young has traveled all over the world. Today, he profiles a little-known Surrealist sculpture garden buried deep in the Mexican jungle.
In Xilita, Mexico a real, concrete fantasy exists. It’s called Las Pozas, and it’s just a six-to-eight hour, bleary-eyed bus ride from either Monterrey or Mexico City. The juxtaposition of entering the small jungle village from greater Mexico is jarring because Xilita radiates this ethereal, light-headed feeling that stems from its buoyant citizens and surrounding pristine green hills and valleys. It can be sickening, not unlike altitude sickness, if you’re not expecting extreme elation. The cause all this jubilance is, of course, Las Pozas.
I knew little of the place other than what a friend described as “these crazy Surrealist sculpture gardens built in the 60’s in the middle of the jungle!” And, since my Spanish is only capable of getting me confused, lost, and visibly distraught, I wasn’t able to glean much prior to entering Xilita. I had a faint idea of what to expect, but no real understanding beyond a few vague descriptions. This naïveté isn’t altogether bad when experiencing Las Pozas, except that you could miss something truly profound. Thankfully for you, I’m writing this. And thankfully for me, my little gang of four with whom I was traveling Mexico was privy to an introductory special most Las Pozas’ visitors are not—a charming labyrinth tucked neatly and discreetly some 100 yards before the official entrance.
Despite being simple in design, and thus easy to conquer, this quaint white maze provided the perfect template with which to think and navigate through Las Pozas’ 80 acres of non-linear, jungle-web terrain. There are many routes with dead ends and stairs that lead to nowhere.
But there are just as many hidden passages and secret rooms which, when discovered, give way to new, heightened levels of experience. And when traveled successfully, Las Pozas should, like any proper labyrinth or maze, shoot you out where you began—albeit via a convoluted whirlwind in transit that leaves you forever changed and suffering from a hangover that oscillates somewhere between anesthesia and amnesia. But let me back up, lest I lose readers who suspect hyperbole.
At the entrance—a little neon plastic-flagged kiosk not unlike a churro stand you’d expect to find in a theme park—you pay a mere 30 pesos to gain entry. You are offered a tour guide like you’d expect at most tourist destinations, but it’s simply as a courtesy. The real difference between Las Pozas and, say, most tourist attractions the world over, is that the overwhelming industry and bureaucracy that goes along with most tourist spectacles doesn’t exist here. Compared to Machu Picchu—a place that feels like an American theme park due to the hordes of daily visitors, relentless picture taking, and kitsch souvenirs—Las Pozas is a nymphet whose beauty has yet to be understood and spoiled. As a result, you don’t actually feel like a tourist when there—there’s no map to follow and no security trailing you—so you can gallivant about as you would in the privacy of your own bedroom.
Essentially, Las Pozas is one mammoth, mythical outdoor bedroom. Its creator was a wealthy English Surrealist art-collecting eccentric who, as a child, built forts in his backyard to facilitate fantasy. As an adult, having never outgrown his pre-pubescent penchant for an imaginative play place, he turned this secret world into reality so he could traipse around in a white robe with lions and Surrealism’s finest practitioners. Wandering around Las Pozas, you get lost in this fruitcake’s vision: the further you go, the less you’re able to distinguish fantasy from reality.
The full experience can be both physically and mentally dangerous. Physically so because the terrain can get as dangerous and dramatic as you can imagine—ascending and descending mountainsides with little to no trail and booby traps of loose rocks and thorns if you venture wrong—and mentally so because, well, you might never want to leave. But the full experience is crucial. It entails breathtaking views, swimming naked in waterfalls, and completing the entire maze the wacko envisioned. And very few people, we later learned, ever go through all the way. So if you make it to Xilita and its dream-world ruby, Las Pozas: first, make sure to check out the labyrinth at the outset to acclimatize yourself to the type of thinking that is required to move through its mother’s womb; second, ask the man—the one that looks like a cool uncle or rad dad—selling handmade jewelry about Casa de las Nubes (House of the Clouds), from which you can see everything; third, enjoy.
All Photos by James Cromwell Holden III