Xilitla: the jungle where tradition and surrealism meets
January 1, 1970
by Jocelyn Leyva
It is usual that in our dreams we are able to go to strange places where nothing makes any sense, something like a big garden where flowers of concrete grow between trees and stairs that go nowhere. Well, a place like this, that sounds to be taken from a dream, really exists, and it is located -hidden, more like- in the Huasteca rainforest of San Luis Potosí, Mexico; nearby the town of Xilitla.
The town of Xilitla
Known as one of Mexico’s magic town for its touristic and cultural attractions, Xilitla is one of the highest and rainiest places in the state since it is in the middle of the Sierra Madre Oriental. Such location allows the growth of coffee, orange, and sugar cane, which is used to make “piloncillo”, a type of brown sugar elaborated in an artisan way. Here we can also find indigenous mexican groups, like the náhuatl and teenek people who have preserved their cultural traditions.
There are numerous things to do in town, like visiting the traditional markets where you can buy jewelry made out of seeds and taste the zacahuil, a big tamale with pork meat and chili. You can also visit the ex-convent of San Agustín, the oldest colonial construction in the state.
In this context full of richness and tradition, a man called Edward James found the perfect place to build his own ‘Garden of Eden’, a sanctuary dedicated to art, flowers and all the things that he loved, that now has become the main attraction of Xilitla. But now you might be wondering, who was this man and why is he so important to understand the history of this place I’m telling you about?
Edward James and Xilitla
First of all, this ‘castle’, as it is commonly known by tourists and people of the region, it’s really called “Edward James sculpture garden, Las Pozas” –which means ‘ponds’ in English-, and by knowing more about his builder is that we get to know it better.
Edward James was born in Scotland, in 1907, son of a wealthy family who held a very close relationship with the royalty of that age (just for saying a little, he was named after the king Edward VII, who was also his baptismal godfather). Very young he started to write poetry and then he studied literature at Oxford University, where he began to get involved with the artistic movements of that time; particularly with surrealism. In 1928 he received a large heritage from his father and uncle, which allowed him to travel around the world and promote arts.
That’s how Edward James became a friend of important painters like René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, and writers like André Breton, who clearly influenced his own work as an artist. He arrived in Mexico in 1944 and started his project of building a place dedicated to arts, poetry, and orchids, his passion. He found the perfect spot in Xilitla, and helped with his friend Plutarco Gastélum and hundreds of Mexican workers, began to build his own dream place.
Surrealist architecture at Las Pozas
At Edward James’ garden, we can recognize over 30 different constructions made from wooden molds and reinforced concrete, where some are more representative than others. For example, there is a construction called La casa de 3 pisos que podrían ser 5 (The three-story house that might have five), with beautiful terraces where you can admire the view of the jungle and other important structures of the garden, like La Plaza San Eduardo (Saint Edward’s Square), El Puente Roto (The broken bridge) y El Palacio de Bambú (The Bamboo palace). This last one it’s some kind of tower surrounded by beautiful bamboo sculptures.
We can also visit La cabaña de don Eduardo (Don Eduardo’s cabin), a construction full of concrete orchids and open windows where Edward James had his personal room and a wooden furniture for his boa snakes. There is also La casa del venado (The house of the stag), La casa de los flamingos (The house of the flamingoes), La casa del ocelote (The house of the ocelot) and La casa de los pericos (The house of the parakeets), which once were habited by all the animals that Edward James used to bring from his safaris around the world: turtles, guacamayas, deers and spider monkeys.
And last but not least, we can admire the Camino de los 7 pecados capitales (Road of the seventh deadly sins), where the sins are represented by seven snake sculptures. This road is inspired in the ballet “The seventh deadly sins”, that James composed for his wife Tilly Losch, who used to be a dancer. Walking around the roads of the garden, there is also a pillar with a mural painting of the famous surrealist painter Leonora Carrington.
As well as the sculptures, the garden has several ponds –some of them are natural and other ones are artificial–, where you can have a little swim and refresh yourself from the heat of the jungle.
As you can see, Edward James Sculpture Garden is not of this world, so the route to get there had to be as extraordinary as the place itself. If you are visiting San Luis Potosí and staying in the capital, you can arrive from there traveling by bus or car. For the first option, you must take a bus to Ciudad Valles, the biggest city in the Huasteca zone of San Luis Potosí, and from there you can get another bus –or even a smaller transport like a wagon, which is cheaper– to the town of Xilitla. The total cost by bus is around the $700 MXN ($35 USD). If you are traveling by car, you must take the highway San Luis Potosí-Matehuala and after approximately 62 km you should be arriving at the Río Verde’s turnoff (highway 70). Drive until the San Ciro de Acosta exit and take the highway 120 towards Xilitla.
On the road to Xilitla you will be able to watch the Sierra landscapes, which includes the high views of the fog forests that get greener and greener as you descend to the jungle. Once you get to the town, you’ll start watching the people who come from all around the world to appreciate James’ dreamy creation.
The cost of the admission ticket to Edward’s sculpture garden is about $70 MXN ($3.50 USD) for adults and $35 MXN ($2 USD) for kids and elderly people. The garden is open from 9 am to 6 pm the 365 years of the day.
So, if you are a big fan of art and a nature enthusiast, this has to be your next stop when visiting Mexico!