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Xilitla And Las Pozas

Christina Nealson

The final three days of our journey raise me above the lather of crowds and traffic. Muse returns, to the swish swish of the Mexico broom. Sweep sidewalks. Sweep streets and and home. Brooms in blue and neon pink. Brooms of straw. Grass and plastico.
Journal, June 15


We almost miss Xilitla. I just happen to glance at a sign on a car repair garage, and we turn around. Figure out our way. Heat-soaked jungle air drapes hill and town. It weighs and pulls at everything. Body. Buildings. Psyche. Is this why Edward James was obsessed to construct upwards? To reach the freedom of height? James loved the creatures of the air, after all. Birds. Monkeys.

We stay at El Castillo, home of builder Don Eduardo and the hangout of Edward James when they created the surrealist Las Pozas. It is a steep walk to the entrance of the inn. The car must be parked in a lot down the hill and across the street. Once inside, a tight winding staircase leads up to our room. Nothing is easy. Convenient. Nothing straightforward.

The perfect setting for surrealist works. Now I understand. This part of the journey began last night, with our high mountain forest camp.

It is late afternoon. We decide to hike to a cave that is home to thousands of parrots. We get directions that sound easy, and start off with the knowledge that Mexican directions are never what they seem. Years of hiking trail-less backcountry of the Rocky Mountains mean nothing in Mexico. In the mountains outside of Pátzcuaro the 'public' trail to a waterfall was suddenly blocked by families we suspected as 'growers' and dealers. They assigned us to children, watched every move, and only allowed us to go so far. Not deep into the mountain near the cascade.

We begin down a path that leads past a hut and find ourselves next to an open fresh sewage pit filled with liquid and solid, red and brown. We turn around; escape the putrid scene. Stop and settle. Breathe deep fresh air.

Start over. We find a little girl, Angelica, to take us to the cave. A half hour walk brings us to a monstrous mouth in the side of a hill. A swirling sea of parrots squawks and flies and dives about. Angelica points out a honeybee hive the size of a barrel built upon the cave wall. We are mesmerized. She is not. Bored after twenty minutes, she wants to return. We thank her with smiles and payment of coin and bubbles. She leaves us to the birds - dances away blowing bubbles into the sky.

I fall asleep the first night watching a family of lizards on the towering ceiling above our bed. Babies from one inch to adults that are several inches long. One two-incher noses ever so slowly towards a black wasp. Snap! Devoured. Within a couple of minutes the lizard is back to ceiling bug hunting. Flies. Moths. Mosquitoes. I hope for suction cup feet -- fall asleep remembering Isla Holbox in Mexico last year, and the shrieking scream from a near by cabana when a large lizard dropped dead off the thatched ceiling into a woman's suitcase.

We rise early to catch dawn's cool. Destination: Las Pozas. The pools. Edward James' surrealistic creation deep in the jungle of Xilitla. A labyrinth of trails and concrete structures. Feral playground of the muse. Bridges stop in mid air. Arches, steps, platforms reach up and up. Waterfalls, pools and jungle join human spirit in a glorifying example of infinite possibility. Of what can happen when imagination weds unlimited money. I kept wishing I had known about this place when my daughter was small. This place is a child's imagination gone wild. It demands I take leave of adult predictability.

We stop many times to soak in the images and sound. The melding of jungle and human-made form. A Tropical Peewee springs from low canopy branches in familiar looped-flight Peewee fashion. Hefty orchids hang over the trail. The magnificent Montezuma Oropendola crashes about the forest ceiling. Black head, red brown wings, yellow tail. Twenty inches of winged splendor.

We depart Las Pozas mid-day. To eat. Siesta. Intent to return at waning light. Rested and ready to greet the world, we head for downtown in search of ice for our cooler. We find none in the stores on the streets, and head into the mercado. Mexican markets always an adventure, I step my way inside. We see nothing that resembles ice. The further inside we go, the darker it becomes and the more I am overwhelmed by, oh my God, what IS that smell? Rotten animals? Death? How could this be, me of strong stomach, once more on the verge of heave. Tom grabs my arm and guides us outside, where the heavy air is clear of stench.

A tremendous thunderstorm devours the late afternoon. Lightning bolts to the jungle hills. Breakneck thunder. Raging rain. Magnificent cleanse. We cannot wait to climb the steps of El Castillo's lookout tower. To breathe the rain soaked air.

Xilitla. Extraordinary place, and I am ready to depart. Several weeks on the road. The poignant contradictions of the last two days. It is great. It is gory. This farm girl is used to knee-deep cow shit and the smell of butchered animals, of deer left to hang and bleed in the barn, but even this history can't help me to handle raw rot.

We enter the parking lot the next morning, suitcases, cooler, on-the-road paraphernalia. The familiar brown cow that has been stalled in a horse trailer next to our vehicle is gone. A vast pool of red blood stands between our car and us. A cow head and hooves lie at the edge of the lot, commonplace as rocks.

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2004 by Christina Nealson © 2008
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