Anyone interested in the history of the Yucatán should consider taking a day trip from the city of Mérida to nearby Hacienda Yaxcopoil (YASH-coh-poh-EEL). This former henequén (sisal) hacienda, which dates back to the 17th century, offers rare glimpses of life among the Yucatán's wealthy hacendados during Spanish colonial days and the henequén boom of the late 1900's that made Yucatán one of the richest states in Mexico.
What is truly special about Yaxcopoil is that unlike most other Yucatecan haciendas, it has been preserved in its original state. Ghosts of the past still haunt the main building's dimly lit rooms filled with worn but elegant European-style furniture, kerosene lamps, and other fixtures from days gone by. High wooden doors bearing the marks of time open into a traditional Spanish courtyard flanked by sweeping stone arches and brimming with greenery.
Hacienda Yaxcopoil gets its name from a Maya archaeological site located on the plantation's extensive land holdings, which once encompassed some 22,000 acres. Fittingly, a room off the hacienda's inner courtyard has been turned into a small museum housing artifacts from the Yaxcopoil ruins. Ceramic plates and pots adorn the walls, and ancient limestone carvings stand silently in corners illuminated by natural light streaming through open windows with weathered green and white shutters.
In the hacienda's factory area or planta desfribradora languishes machinery once used to shred the henequén fiber. Mysterious contraptions with rusty iron cogs and wheels that haven't turned for decades stand next to an impressive-looking diesel engine that was used to power them with belts and pulleys. This huge motor was built in Germany in 1913 and is still in working order.
Behind the machine room stretch warehouses and packing houses that, with their handsome neoclassical facades and columns, look more like stately colonial mansions than plantation buildings. The hacienda also boasts extensive gardens and an orchard where water tanks and functioning pumps installed during the early 20th century promise to keep Yaxcopoil blooming for years -- perhaps even centuries -- to come.
Hacienda Yaxcopoil is situated 33 km (20 miles) southwest of Mérida and can be reached by rental car, public bus, or on organized tours offered by companies in Mérida. The hacienda is open Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is 75 Mexican pesos (about $6.00 US).
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Hacienda Yaxcopoil, Yucatan, Mexico - Images by John Mitchell