Our taxi driver has no appreciation for the elegant entrée I’d had planned for the Hacienda Uayamon. Creating clouds of dust behind us, he roars down the drive with loud European techno music blaring from the window. As we emerge from the backseat cringing, two gardeners with wheelbarrows stop and look up, curious of these brazen strangers. The dust begins to settle, and a manicured lawn leading to a grand colonial house becomes visible, and a smiling member of staff is on their way down to greet us.
As our luggage is whisked away on a cute yellow rickshaw, we observe how the jungle imposes on our surroundings, the ruinous buildings fighting with vines and tree roots. We have come 30 minutes inland from the walled city of Campeche with its pastel-lined streets and bustling plazas. We could be in another world – a lost city. We head towards a larger building, the huge entrance houses a doorway with a dramatic stone arch, with fronds creeping over faded paintwork.
A tasselled key opens the large wooden doors to our suite. The room is enormous and cool, with high beamed ceilings and the confident sound of fans whirring above. It is smartly furnished with deep yellow walls, and white and black tiled flooring. Heavy shuttered windows keep the midday sun at bay and huge ornate mirrors with dark wood frames hang on the walls. The carved-headboarded king-size bed is placed in front of a dividing wall that conceals the ensuite. I wonder at all the flowers and palm leaves that have been placed on every conceivable surface.
‘Did you know that this room was once a hospital?’ Mr Smith calls from the bedroom, his nose already in the hotel’s literature. ‘If this is convalescing, then I’m all for it,’ he murmurs. I pick up the oatmeal soap from the sink to smell its ginger fragrance. Outside, I spy a sunken tub, and furthermore a padded daybed in a wooden pavilion.
Joining me on our tropical lounger, I can just make out Mr Smith mumbling, ‘…and nearby are the Mayan ruins of Edzna.’ But the sounds of the jungle have taken me on my own primeval fantasy. Hidden by foliage, the wildlife hoots and chatters. The trees seem to shift and shimmer in the heat and I half expect a wild beast to come rampaging through the undergrowth. Looking to Mr Smith for safety, I remember our age-old dilemma when holidaying. Being an architect and sensible type Mr Smith likes to be purposeful – he has even been known to remove leaves from a hotel pool – while I am the romantic daydreamer happy to wander without agenda.
‘These Edzna ruins have an incredible water system with 29 channels, 27 cisterns and 70 wells – not bad going for a pre-Hispanic structure,’ he continues. Recognising the warning signs, I persuade Mr Smith to accompany me to the pool. ‘Did you know that the pool is housed in the ruin of a centuries-old building and is sealed using the ancient Mayan technique called Chu-Kum?’ I counter.
The pool area is a stunning scene. The tumbling walls, renovated but keeping their original ruinous charm, contain the shimmering water. Between two corners, a hammock is strung over the pool. Mr Smith stares in wonderment at the Ionic pillars placed enchantingly in the centre of the water – I can tell this illogistical feat is now occupying his mental synapses.
A rustling behind us reveals a large prehistoric-looking iguana sitting at the base of a tree, bobbing its head frenetically. Camera in hand, we quietly approach. ‘Do you think he might be in some sort of distress?’ I ask. Mr Smith snorts, ‘Darling, I think you’ll find he’s having some afternoon delight.’ Sure enough, Mrs Iguana lay hidden underneath his scaly reptilian body, eyes closed. Urged on by Mr Smith’s encouragement, the reptiles scuttle around the dusty courtyard. Perturbed by our presence the female scarpers, earning us a dirty look from Mr Iguana, his pink tongue darting distastefully. Back on our loungers, therapists from the spa await to offer complimentary foot massages and a chance for Mr Smith to view his video footage of the copulating Iguanas.
Dusk approaches and we head for an amble around the grounds. Mr Smith fills me in on the Hacienda’s history. In the 17th Century, it was awarded to a commander from the white army who earned the Hacienda through courageous fighting. In the 19th Century it became a factory and developed into a little working town with its own machine house, cemetery, chapel, hospital and railway station. Today, 12 renovated rooms from the original hacienda buildings lend faded colonial charm, while housing modern facilities along with quirky touches such as huge bedroom-width hammocks.
Night falls and we admire the ruins of the chapel, spooky and rather exciting. The starred sky makes a bewitching new ceiling, and the altar, by now a tangle of roots, vines and blocks of stone, all produces a startling effect. Stumbling on a rock I clutch Mr Smith’s hand who is equally enchanted by the atmosphere.
Sixties music and chirpy waiters slightly break the spell, but we’re hungry for dinner and happy to sit on the breezy terrace of the main house overlooking the majestic cieba. This tree is over a hundred years old and an important symbol of the afterlife for the Mayans. Lingering by the trunk of the tree after a dinner of local specialities (zesty sopa de lima and a steamy banana leaf parcel with fresh fish, octopus and mussels), and we admire the vast branches reaching out over the candlelit ruins – it is a fantastic fusion of history and nature, and it epitomises the special charm of Hacienda Uayamon.
Anonymously reviewed by Harriet Whiting (Circumnavigating scribe)
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