January 2005 — Las Pozas is a place in our minds as much as it is a surreal unfinished architectural fantasy created by Edward James in the jungle of Mexico near the town of Xilitla, San Luis Potosi.

As we wandered around Las Pozas a few days ago, I was more fascinated than delighted, giving myself over to the total weirdness rather than trying to make sense of it. It doesn’t make sense. It is not supposed to, not on any rational level. Surrealism is enigmatic by its very nature, and Las Pozas could not be more enigmatic.

The place calls out for photography, and Kelly and I kept passing our digital camera back and forth. Here’s a  a photocollage where I played with a few of the images. There is a whole page of photos of Las Pozas of Edward James here.

Who was Edward James?

Born in 1907 to an aristocratic and extremely wealthy British family, James grew up in a time when the world was falling apart. The First World War killed the men of the generation before his. His adolescence was described as being spent in a continous state of distress. He became closely allied with surrealists, and helped Salvador Dali and others to create by helping them financially. He married a ballerina but they were soon divorced, with no children, and he never remarried. He left Europe in 1940, going to the United States and then to Cuernavaca, Mexico, in 1944. There he met Plutarco Gastelum Esquer, who worked with him for many years. Plutarco married in 1956… he, his wife, and their four children were like family to James. Edward James lived until 1984.

I would love to read a good biography of James and Las Pozas… the best I found was this article on James.

The Creation of Las Pozas

In 1945, Edward James first came to Xilitla, and two years later he bought land there and began building. He cultivated thousands of orchids but after an unusual severe freeze, he put his attention on the architectural fantasies. He often left Xilitla to gad about the world.

Construction went on for decades, supporting as many as 65 families at a time and ultimately costing something around five million dollars. Things didn’t get finished before others were begun. Edward James lived in one of the buildings at times, and at other times, lived in nearby Xilitla, at El Castillo, built by Plutarco. (You can stay at El Castillo as a guest now, as it is a bed and breakfast.) See my blog entry on Xilitla, just before this one.

We bought a very nicely done magazine/book in English and Spanish, called Las Pozas de Edward James, Xilitla, San Luis Potosi (only 40 pesos, about $3.70 at present, with color photos… contact information for the publishers is revistahuasteca@hotmail.com, I don’t know if they read English.) From it, we learned many more details.

One interesting fact is that in 1952 in Xilitla, Edward James met Carmelo Munoz Camacho, a local builder, who became his architect and creator of many of the forms and methods used at Las Pozas. I got the impression that he was essential to the creation of this place, which might otherwise have been little more than a surreal fantasy in the notebooks of James.

Our Explorations at Las Pozas

After paying a small entrance fee, we followed what seemed to be the only way to go, though I did notice a small walkway going uphill that I remembered later. We walked along past a small river, more of a creek on this January day, and came to one of the many pools for which Las Pozas (“the pools”) is named.

Then began my own encounter with surrealism. For as long as I can remember, I have had dreams of having to climb strange and impossible flights of stairs, never with railings, always dangerous. In some dreams I have succeeded, in many others I have not and have awakened in a sweat. Now, wide awake at Las Pozas and wearing my comfortable sandals instead of my better-gripping walking shoes, I had to climb a series of steps that were straight out of my dreams, like some form of Jungian initiation.

I did it.

Later, I was relieved to discover I would not have to go back down that way. There were several other ways to enter the maze that is Las Pozas, ways that were much easier walking. But my having done it turned out to be a kind of Jungian ritual that put me into a deeper connection with the mystery of the place. The steps in my photo-collage above are not the ones I climbed… but they are a striking part of Las Pozas, and they capture my dream feeling.

There are maps of the layout of Las Pozas, and much as I adore maps, I was glad we didn’t discover that fact until we had been there a couple of hours. Not having a map put me more into a surreal frame of mind!

I loved being in the jungle, where many plants we know as houseplants were running wild. I loved hearing a Mexican woman singing from atop one of the multi-storied structures that I wouldn’t climb. (Jungian initiation or no, I still made a lot of choices about where I would go.) I enjoyed sitting with Kelly in the restaurant there, eating a meal and talking about houses we could design inspired by Edward James. Kelly is working on one now, which will eventually find its way onto his site of ecological house plans.

I thought how much fun it would be to have a flying dream over Las Pozas. On a more realistic level, there are cabins you can stay in at Las Pozas itself, and that would be great fun too, I’m sure. Maybe at full moon! For practicalities of getting there, see my blog entry on Xilitla.

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This article attracted a lot of comments on the old blog, so I am going to see if they will survive cutting and pasting. I was thrilled to hear from the family of Carmelo Munoz Camacho!

11 Comments:

  • At January 10, 2005 1:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Rosana,

    Thank you so much for that wonderful story on Las Pozas. It has always been on my ‘want to see’ list but now it has moved up to the ‘must see’ list! Great pictures and descriptions and I very much appreciate the RV info on getting there and parking.

    Great work!

    Jonna

  • At May 17, 2005 10:30 PM, Anonymous Daniel Rogelio Muñoz Castro said…

    Great story about Las Pozas.
    I feel honored that you like it and that you told your advententure to the world.

    Daniel R. Muñoz Castro
    (Carmelo Muñoz Grandson)

  • At May 18, 2005 8:36 AM, Blogger Rosana Hart said…

    Thank you for your comment, Daniel. Your grandfather must have been a remarkable man. Do you share his interest in architecture?

  • At May 31, 2005 3:47 PM, Anonymous Horacio Flores Muñoz said…

    well, Im another of the many grandsons of carmelo… we all are really glad to read about him in your blog.

    When I was a child (Im 28 now) Carmelo used to talk to me about Mister James, And we used to spend a lot of time seeing a lot of pictures about las pozas in the old 50,s when all of that was just a really weird project from a really weird British man… Pictures of james and Carmelo and the workers and plutarco, etc… It was really cool to me, being there at my grandmother little store, talking with Carmelo. By now, Otilia, his wife and our grandmother, used to tell a lot of stories about James, Carmelo, Xilitla and las pozas… my favorite is when Otilia, Carmelo and Don Eduardo met each other…and belive me, it is really great.

    Well I used to go to Xilitla every year, just because I like it so much.

    Thanx rosana

    H.

  • At June 06, 2005 9:14 AM, Blogger Rosana Hart said…

    Hi Horacio — I’m so pleased that both you and Daniel enjoyed my blog entry. When we were at Las Pozas, I kept thinking that many people have wild and amazing imaginations… but how many people can then follow through and make their visions happen? That’s why I wrote about your grandfather. Without him, would Las Pozas be anything but some sketches in a notebook?

    I am back in the US right now for a few months, taking care of business here, but we will be back as soon as we can, to the house we’ve rented in Bernal, near Queretaro. If you or any of your family are ever near there, or if we travel to wherever you live, I would love to meet you and hear some of your family stories. If you would like this too, please email me directly at rosana at mexico-with-heart dot com. (I put my email this way so spammers won’t get it from the webpage.)

    Thanks again,
    Rosana

  • At February 16, 2007 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Feb 15, 2007 I just saw a program on HGTV that showed Las Pozas and its owner(?) who fixed up the house and has lived there for the past three years ??? what gives? I thought it was open to the public? I was there sometime in the early 90’s when there was only ruins.

  • At February 16, 2007 8:54 PM, Blogger Rosana Hart said…

    I would have enjoyed that program. When we were there, we noticed an area that was fenced off. I asked about it and was told that it was a private residence, so that must be where the owners are living.

  • At May 18, 2007 5:52 PM, Anonymous monymoon said…

    hello, i’m from xilitla, and the owner of LAS POZAS doesn’t live there,but he does live in xilitla, and EL CASTILLO now is a hotel, which is located in the town, las pozas it’s open to the public, in general. it is a wonderful place to go. he owner’s name is KAKO…

  • At November 25, 2007 5:25 PM, Blogger lyle said…

    Hi Rosana, I was reading through your blog and came across your article about Edward James and his architectural fantasy near San Luis Potosi.

    I was greatly interested because I had known Edward James in North Malibu, Ca. in about 1954. We were near neighbors. I lived with some Dianetics people about 4 miles up above Zuma beach .

    Edward lived on the beach near us and we visited back and forth. He told us that he had a banana ranch in Mexico and left it with his caretaker who was very responsible and trustworthy. He was a very nice guy, slight of build and very companionable but said little about his earlier life.

    He employed a houseman, a friend of ours, a black UCLA student named Curt Von Williams who drove down with me to my bullfighter’s house in Guadalajara in my Jeepster on my second trip to Mexico.

    I stayed to live and work in Mexico and had never heard any more of Edward until I read your fascinating article.

    Ken Edwards

  • At November 25, 2007 8:58 PM, Blogger Rosana Hart said…

    Interesting, Ken, and all the more so since I was going to mention this blog entry to you yesterday when we were emailing. Just another surreal touch!

  • At November 26, 2007 10:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Just came back from Xilitla, I visited “Las Pozas”, and talked with one of the new owners, he told me that the bigger part of las pozas has a new owner Roberto Hernandez former Banamex shareholder. They are planning attract more visitors to the place.
    At the end of this place there is a beutiful water fall, bring swimming suits and enjoy the place.
    If you have kids, they never will forget this experience.
    The place looks like a scene from a Tarzan movie.
    I recommend to stay in Taninul Hotel (15 min from Ciudad Valles)
    and drive from there, is about one hour driving, this a hotel has a thermal water swimming pool.
    From there there are some other beutiful water falls (Micos, Tamasopo, Tamul)among Las Pozas in Xilitla.
    rodriguezjf at webxcreen.com