On my last day with Vera, my favorite conversation partner, she took me to an old hacienda in Merida. At first I didn’t think there were any haciendas in the city at all and didn’t fully believe her when she said we could walk there. There are no more “working” haciendas of the old henequen industry and most of the haciendas are either in ruins or have been converted to hotels or restaurants for tourists. I’d seen advertisements for expensive tours to restored haciendas outside of Merida and was somewhat skeptical of visiting an hacienda without paying a hefty price. But of course Vera knew what she was talking about and I was absolutely thrilled to have been wrong.
Instead of meeting at my school as we usually do, we chose to meet at Plaza Altabrisa and a short while later (~25 minutes on foot) we found ourselves in a quiet cul-de-sac, facing a large arch that led us to a different world. There was no one guarding the place and I wasn’t sure whether we were allowed to be there at all. Just a few blocks behind us were obvious signs of modern civilization with strip malls, cars, and dust but just beyond the front gates it was eerily quiet and peaceful. I felt as if we had traveled back in time. There was a small stone aqueduct in front of the property and off to the side we found an abandoned well with what appeared to be pulleys made out wood that were used to bring up water from below. Above the front door of the main house a stone marker noted that the corridor was constructed in 1795 but the hacienda itself is older, dating back to 1626. The house was not very large but kept in good condition, furnished with heavy and dark wooden tables and leather chairs. There were old portraits on the walls in one room that looked like a study and the dining room had a table large enough to seat a dozen guests, with a gorgeous wrought iron chandeliers hanging overhead.
We finally saw a few groundskeepers when we walked to the back of the house but they all just said hello to us and let us explore the grounds as we wanted. In the old days, there would have been dormitories where the workers were housed and a separate area for henequen machines. We did see a tall chimney that would have been used for distilling alcohol and/or other heneque based products. There was also a small chapel to the back of the house that made me wonder whether there was any need to leave the grounds at all… On the other hand, Vera told me that the working conditions for the henequen workers were terrible and some haciendas were heavily guarded to prevent anyone from leaving/escaping.
I googled this hacienda when I got home and was able to find their website (see below). And when I mentioned the place to Doña Gloria, she said she had a baptism party there many years ago. I actually liked going to Hacienda San Antonio Cucul without having any previous knowledge of its history or how it’s being used now. It allowed me to feel as if I was making a small discovery all on my own. My heartfelt thanks goes to Vera for being so considerate and for being such a wonderful guide to me for two weeks. I truly doubt that I would have found this place on my own… So off the beaten path and far from a typical tourist’s agenda. It was really special and precious. Gracias Vera!
Hacienda San Antonio Cucul: www.sanantoniocucul.com.mx