Just outside of Izamal is the glorious Hacienda Sacnicté, a beautifully restored 18th Century henequen (agave fibre or sisal) plantation that’s been converted into a small boutique hotel. We’re here for Ants’ birthday treat – and what a treat. The Hacienda has 10 luxurious (but astonishingly affordable) suites all with cathedral ceilings, original colonial features, four-poster beds with white linen mosquito nets, large whirring fans, and thick adobe limewashed walls, some of the exposed stones clearly Mayan. The house is set over 79 acres, a good deal of which is given over to lush tropical gardens, whilst the rest is still a working plantation and ranch.
On arrival, mid-afternoon, we dared to dream that we’d have the Hacienda to ourselves, but alas no. Gradually, over the afternoon and early evening ‘others’ arrived, taking 7 of the 10 rooms (we asked). But they largely kept themselves to themselves – dining super early (gone before we ate), retiring early and checking out early morning.
Would you believe the only other people at breakfast (when we had breakfast) turned out to be Australian (of course they were). A family from Melbourne. Mexican dad, Aussie mum, two girls, the father hadn’t been back in the country for quite some time, so a definite home-coming for him. Though he does own and run a well-known Mexican tortilla business back home in Australia, providing tortillas to the exploding Mexican restaurant scene, including a new restaurant Primo Sanchez just around the corner from our house in Paddington which we’ve been hearing great things about! Small world… (actually we just googled him and his company – Gerardo Lopez, La Tortilleria – pretty impressive….)
The area surrounding Mérida is packed with Haciendas from the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries, some of them still working henequen plantations whilst others are private homes and boutique hotels of differing levels of luxury. Here’s a website where you could, if inclined, while away some time checking out Haciendas currently for sale, including our one, Sacnicté – asking a cool US$2.5M. Looking at them, I reckon you’d need deep pockets and a hell of a lot of patience and vision, but wow, what an opportunity to gain a slice of heaven! https://www.tierrayucatan.com/listings/en/7
After the ‘conquest of Mexico’ in the mid 1500’s, the Spanish crown carved up the land, awarding large parcels to Spanish noblemen, known as the ‘Divine Caste’, with the land largely turned over to cattle ranches and later henequen once the boom hit the Yucatan in the 18th and 19th Century. Production of henequen proved to be so lucrative that it was nicknamed ‘green gold’, with workers brought in not only from local indigenous populations but from far and wide. Whilst not officially ‘slaves’, these poor workers were bonded to the land, so had no chance of escape or any quality of life. You can only imagine how intense work was under the hot sun with little food or water, with workers regularly whipped and imprisoned in small cells for not working harder. Sounds like slavery to me.
Naturally, the rich got richer on skyrocketing profits as the world demand for henequen went ballistic, with the obscene wealth funding lavish homes on the land and, when they tired of living in the remote countryside, luxurious mansions in Mérida, outdoing each other in grandeur along the Paseo de Montejo – many of which still stand today.
It’s a sad and tragic story, particularly for the workers. But the boom was relatively short-lived and by the early 20thCentury global demand had dwindled, all but ending the industry and dramatically reducing the wealth of the so called ‘Divine Caste’. The Haciendas were abandoned for city mansions and many of them left to decay and be consumed by the jungle. A process which continued right up till the 1990’s and the turn of the 21st Century, when interest turned to renovation and restoration and a boom in a different industry: tourism.
It’s sobering to reflect on the history of these places but I’m glad many have been restored to their former glory rather than disappear into the jungle forever. It’s super tranquil here at Hacienda Sacnicté, with just the wind in the trees and the sentinel buzzards soaring in the clear blue sky. The gorgeous pink stone pool is super inviting in the baking Yucatan heat so all you can really do is revel in this other-worldly dreamscape and thank your lucky stars for being here. Plus the stars at night are pretty amazing too.
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What distillation of gorgeousness those photos suggest. I hope your fellow guest offered a discount at the Mexican eatery around the corner from Dingley Dell. I must say, until now, The Divine Caste was, for me, we gays. Interesting, but disturbing to read the history of that divine caste’s behaviour.
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