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Xilitla San Luis Potosi

Xilitla & Las Pozas de James

Lost in the exuberant jungles of San Luis Potosí’s La Huasteca region, Las Pozas de James are a worthwhile destination for lovers of the surreal. You don’t need to consume the state’s famous peyote to trip out at this former coffee plantation turned cement dreamscape. Seeming to spring from the tropical forest are three dozen monumental sculptures and structures. Giant cement snakes line rock paths, oversized mushrooms and flowers tower overhead, spiral staircases lead to nothing but thin air.

This fabulous sculpture garden is the labor of love of Edward James, the eccentric son of an American industrialist father and the Scottish aristocrat Evelyn Forbes, who herself was the illegitimate offspring of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII of England). A passionate Surrealist poet, James befriended and sponsored artists like Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso. In his thirties he traveled to Taos, New Mexico and to Los Angeles; he was wealthy and owned homes in Malibu and Hollywood.

Traveling in Mexico, James attended a party thrown by Leonora Carrington, fellow Surrealist and Brit. There he met Plutarco Gastelum, a Yaqui indian from Sonora. The two formed a lifelong friendship and partnership that resulted in the unique sculpture garden at Las Pozas.

Exploring the jungles of the Huasteca region in the search for a place to grow exotic plants, James purchased more than 30 hectares (74 acres) of fertile land and began to grow orchids. He selected this property because he saw a large group of colorful butterflies and considered it a sign. The eccentric poet wore his hair and fingernails long and rambled about his forest property in a long cotton tunic in the company of his pet parrots, macaws, and other animals.

When an unusual frost killed most of his plants, James commissioned local artisans to create cement plants that would be impervious to the cold. They were built of giant handmade wooden forms. Over three decades the eccentric artist added to his vision, using no engineers or architects but employing hundreds of local people and spending eventually millions of dollars.

In order to create a colorful palate, the transplanted Scot imbued the cement of some of the sculptures with blue, green, yellow, and red dyes. In other cases he left the material natural but encouraged the growth of lichens and other plant life to make the sculptures blend in with the exuberant forest.

Like others of the Surrealist movement, Edward James used his art to shake us from our sleepy acceptance of traditional thinking. On the property are Gothic structures without ceilings and stairs leading nowhere. Biblical, Masonic, and archetypical images prevail, including the gates of heaven and Noah’s arc; snakes near the entrance represent the seven deadly sins. You can traipse around on your own or hire a guide (200 pesos in Spanish, 250 pesos in English) to explain the structures’ symbolism. Children love this wonderful outdoor wonderland, but it is imperative to keep a close eye on them as there are no guard rails or other safety features. It is truly a magnificent and otherworldly expression of a unique individual’s vision.

For more things to do as well as hotels and restaurants, check out our Xilitla Travel Guide.

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