Tag Archives: haciendas

Hacienda Cacao – A Little Slice of History

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On my forays into the Yucatan as part of the work I do with my touring company Lawson’s Original Yucatan Excursions, I try to poke my head into whatever mysterious or interesting site I can find, including the many haciendas both restored and abandoned that are so liberally sprinkled across the peninsula. This is a little bit of history of one of those haciendas.

On the way to San Antonio Mulix, home to several cenotes including ones used in scenes for the famous Mexican telenovela Abismo de Pasión, one must necessarily drive through another village, a former hacienda simply called Cacao.

Cacao is a strange name for a Yucatecan hacienda, since cacao was not really a product produced in any significant commercial form on the haciendas, which originally started as farms for livestock and some grew cotton, sugar cane and other products, before all turning to henequen (sisal) production in the early, mid and late 1800’s in an effort to cash in on the boom that made the Yucatan home to more millionaires per capita than anywhere in the world at that time.

On one such drive-by, with the enthusiastic approval of similarly curious guests, I stopped to explore the chapel, which is still intact (as opposed to the rest of the hacienda which is completely and utterly in ruins) to admire and photograph the original stain glass windows and high ceilings. The chapel is still used by the catholics in the village to this day, with a visiting priest performing the corresponding duties. On the floor, I photographed the plaques commemorating the people from the hacienda that had died over the years.

As I was reviewing the photos, I noticed that one of the plaques indicated that the deceased person had been ‘assassinated at the hacienda Cacao’ in August of 1924 (see photo below)

Assassinated! Really...

Assassinated! Really…

Now this is highly unusual. Normally, these plaques give us a name and date of death and not much else and so I immediately wanted to learn more.

It turns out that this hacienda, was the property of the Ponce de Leon family, the surname I associate with Florida, having seen it in Miami many times. This branch, here in the Yucatan, at one point dropped the ‘de Leon’ suffix and became simply the Ponce family, whose members to this day are movers and shakers in the Yucatan economy. The owner of the hacienda, one Jose Luis Ponce Solis, was part of the ruling elite in the 1920’s and in addition to the usual henequen production common to all haciendas at the time, was the founder of  Yucatan’s first brewery, Cerveceria Yucateca, for which he brought a German beer expert over from Deutschland to get it right. He also founded a chocolate factory and another company dedicated to the manufacture of ice.

A little more digging and I found the information I was looking for. In 1924, when tensions were running high between Felipe Carrillo’s socialists and liberal conservatives, a group of outlaws under the command of famous ‘bandit’ and personal friend of then-governor Iturralde Traconis, Braulio Euán, entered the hacienda and killed the caretaker, his wife and 20 workers as well. I suspect that the Francisco Yam on the plaque was either the caretaker or one of those 20 people killed on that fateful day in August, 1924.

We often find ourselves driving through half-forgotten villages, past crumbling buildings or under giant trees; unaware that these are all silent witnesses to a slowly disappearing history that is, as so often is the case in human history, tragic.

The Glorious Hacienda Days

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Two publications lay side by side on a battered wooden table among vintage postcards, old election campaign buttons and various odds and ends; all covered by a layer of dust that hadn’t stirred since 1967.

“The haciendas,” proclaimed the gaudy tourism brochure breathlessly “are a living example of our glorious past!”

The history book; serious, dark and its pages turned far too infrequently, looked over, skeptical.

“You’re kidding, right?” it asked.

“The pseudo-French classic and baroque architecture; the grand arches!!” insisted the brochure. “The elegant soirees that the distinguished Yucatecan landowners had in gardens perfumed by citric  limonaria shrubs and gingerbread allspice trees.”

“You’re delusional,” muttered the history book, returning it’s gaze tiredly to the spiderweb-infested ceiling of the tienda de antiguedades in Merida’s overcooked and overcrowded centro.

“Ever hear of ’12 Years a Slave’ – the movie?” The history book seriously doubted that the tourism brochure had done much of anything that wasn’t of a superficial nature.

“The furniture was brought from Europe and was the epitome of refined culture and taste!” replied the tourism brochure, giddy with excitement. “You too can experience this marvellous lifestyle in many newly restored former henequen haciendas that have been turned into five-star hotels!!”

The history book declined to comment further as it would have been a fruitless undertaking to try and convince the tourism brochure that it’s spiel was not only ridiculous but also myopic as it completely glossed over all the human misery that hacienda life entailed. But, it couldn’t resist one last remark. “Glorious, indeed,” the history book snorted derisively, “unless you were brown.”

“Oh shush,” the tourism brochure whispered, “why are you always so negative?”

“Not sure,” answered the history book, “perhaps I’ve got a lot on my mind.”

“The immaculately restored-to-its-former-magnificence machine room with its high ceilings is now a culinary destination worthy of Adriá!” the tourism brochure continued.

The history book sighed a tired sigh.

 

 

Casual Restaurant Critic visits the Santa Rosa Hacienda

On a recent trip to Maxcanú, the Critic along for the ride noticed signs for the hacienda Santa Rosa (a Starwood-run luxury hotel) and decided that a stop might be in order, to both see the hotel and if possible, have something to eat there.

Familiar with the strict entry procedure at Temozon, another Starwood hacienda, the Critic was surprised that the gardeners out front just said “adelante” when asked if he could pop in for a look. It turns out that all the guests had left and the Critic was the only non-staff person in the hotel.

In spite of this, the outdoor restaurant was set up with fresh flower arrangements and cutlery on each table, ready in case someone (like the Critic) showed up hungry. A friendly receptionist ushered the Critic to the table and a very friendly and deferential waiter proceeded to take the order. If you, dear reader, have been to the Temozón hacienda for a meal, you know that the waiters are not at all at the same luxe level as the place they are in and the food they are serving. Here at Santa Rosa, the service definitely and happily is.

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Homemade bread and butter (two kinds) were brought out and the bread, lo and behold was warm. Delicious.

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A pasta dish was ordered – spaghetti in a chaya pesto sauce with fresh cherry tomatoes and some parmesan cheese. Simple, pretty and very tasty.

Spaghetti w Chaya Pesto

Spaghetti w Chaya Pesto

The bill came to $215 pesos, which was the pasta and a glass of refreshing jamaica.

The thing that made the meal exceptional was the service and the fact that they were perfectly happy to serve just one person when they could easily have closed the place while they awaited more guests. It is a very civilized place to have a meal if you are in the area exploring and the receptionist said that meals are always available, but to check first, in case the hotel is full or there is a special event like a wedding.

More info on the hacienda Santa Rosa on the Starwood website here.

 

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Hacienda Xcanatun

OK, it’s been a while. In fact, the Critic hasn’t written a review of Xcanatun since way back in 2008 when the food was delicious but the service was not up to the standards of the kitchen.

Things have changed. For the better.

Fresh Menu

The Better Half and the Critic had lunch at Xcanatun a few weeks ago and oh boy was it good.  A new chef in the kitchen; a talented young woman who came by later to say hello, has created some remarkable new menu items that will delight your tastebuds and leave you wanting to try them all.

As appetizers, the Critic and Better Half over-ordered once again and had a splendid selection of oysters, half Rockefeller and half Mayan. The Critic preferred the fresh, raw and zesty Mayan oysters over the semi raw Rockefeller version but both were great. Also, steamed mussels in a savory broth – the kind you have to sop up with toasty fresh bread. Waiter, get your hands off that bowl, we’re not quite done with it. The Better Half, a fan of all things raw, ordered Steak Tartare which is definitely not on the Critics bucket list but what the heck, he tried it and liked it. A lot. Ate half the plate in fact.

Mussels

 

Oysters Rockefeller

 

Steak Tartare Presentation

Steak Tartare Texture

With three appetizers down the main courses arrived. A pork barbeque dish for Better Half which she loved, proclaiming it “perfect” (the Critic loves more sauce on his ribs) while the Critic had the steak stuffed with cochinita pibil and smothered in cochinita pibil gravy. Yes, it sounds decadent and thoroughly artery-clogging, and it may have been, but it was also perfectly cooked and outrageously delicious.Finally, the Critic can never resist a lemon or lime pie, and Xcanatun did not disappoint. Fresh, tangy, light and a perfect end to a perfect meal.

Pork BBQ Ribs

Steak with Cochinita Pibil

Pay de Limon

By this time, dear reader, you are probably saying “yes, Mr. Critic, but what about that service you so bitterly complained about last time?” Well the Critic is happy to report that you will feel like you are experiencing a production that has been polished and polished again until each edge is absolutely smooth. From the moment the parking lot attendant opens your car door with a flourish and a smile to the welcome you receive from the security man in front of the restaurant to the open door and welcome  you get once at the restaurant, you will experience the comforting feeling that you are in good hands and can relax and enjoy a truly superb dining experience.

Highly recommended and one of Merida’s – if not the – best.