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Hugging curves along jungle highways and plowing through the plantation back-roads of the Yucatan Peninsula, we find ourselves ahead of schedule, if not exactly sure where we are. I ask Sarah, “What about that guidebook?” She thumbs through the index. “There’s a preserved hacienda nearby…” Soon we pass a decrepit billboard for Yaxcopoil and take the exit, laughing as we try to pronounce the name.
We somehow miss the towering double arch signaling the entrance to the Hacienda. Dust kicks up as we drive down the lonely village road to its anti-climactic dead end. There is nothing here. Dismayed, crushed, convinced of our terrible mistake, we turn around to return to the highway when the gates appear suddenly before us, looming ahead like magic.
Is it a mirage, a vision? We roll across the gravel and the grass to the peeling, crumbling steps. A washed out sign welcomes us to Yaxcopoil as the slam of the car doors echoes and bounces off the collapsing façade. The ancient gatekeeper takes our pesos, returns the change and stretches his arm as if to say, go inside. At last, a tour that requires no bribe; but we have just fifteen minutes.
We separate, somehow. I lose and find myself again in the stained mirrors and gilded trappings of an incomprehensibly enormous and formerly wealthy compound: preserved, un-restored, old. Dim sunlight filters through open doors and windows, splashes oil portraits and grey photos with dancing light and shadows. Upholstered chairs encourage invisible guests to sit around the tables set for coffee. A light film of dust on the porcelain saucers reminds me that no one else is coming.
I wander into the courtyard. A silver horse hoping for an apple or some other treat gallops toward me across a grassy corral fenced in by stone and iron. The other inhabitants of the grounds, a family of kittens, gaze at me from their perches on the walls as I float from room to room across the patio. In the workshops nearby, spirits of trabajadores from centuries past stand beside their rusted hanging tools, bowing to me as I enter their sacred realm.
I am suddenly aware of the time. How long have I been here? The sun is disappearing. The cats are yawning, stretching their faces at me, warning me to leave before the gates are locked. Sarah. Sarah, where are you?
She appears and tells me about the secret gardens and abandoned factories along the route she’d taken; a lush world of industry consumed by the creeping estate of a disappeared family with no one left to keep the rare flowers and tropical ferns at bay. I show her the horse and the kittens and the mirrors. We marvel at the hand laid tile floors, mosaics of patience and fortune.
We could have spent hours exploring the grounds and hope one day to return. We find out later that we might have spent the night in the bed and breakfast on the rear grounds. Hacienda Yaxcopoil is one of the finest examples of preserved Yucatec, Mayan, Spanish, and Mexican history; a haunting legacy of colonialism and industrialization; a maintained deterioration. It is a fading, haunted image of legendary opulence in decline.