Sunday, September 28, 2008

Guanajuato Part 5 of 5 - Marfil's old haciendas

Casa de Espiritus Alegres. The Spanish name of our bed and breakfast means House of Happy Spirits. The Spanish built this beautiful old 17th Century colonial hacienda beside the Marfil River on the outskirts of Guanjuato, along with a number of other haciendas. The word "hacienda" derives from the Spanish verb hacer: to make or do. A hacienda, therefore, is a place where something of value is created. In some areas, this meant a ranch or a farm. In the Marfil area, it mean processing silver dug from the mines of Guanajuato.

The 1906 Marfil River flood devastated many of the old haciendas and they stood in ruins for decades. In the 1950's an Italian sculptor named Georgio Belloli began to restore these beautiful old structures. In 1979, Joan and Carol Summers, California artists, bought some of these restored buildings and created a lovely space to work and collect arts and crafts from around Mexico. Later, they decided to operate the Casa de Espiritus Alegres as a B&B.

Carole and I stayed here for four days in August of 2008. We chose the House of the Happy Spirits because it looked wonderful on the internet and because it was one of the few B&Bs or hotels in Guanajuato that provides free, secure parking.

Former hacienda chapel. Now an elementary school, this was formerly the front entrance of the chapel serving the hacienda. Many colonial haciendas and mansions contained their own chapels and other religious structures.

Thick old stone walls protect a former hacienda outbuilding. Now a private home, this 17th Century stone building was once part of the original hacienda structures. Notice the arched stone entrance, wide enough for a carriage of the times.

Wooden gate and high walls provided protection from Chichimecas. The wooden gate was a carriage entrance to the courtyard which now forms the lower patio area. It would be many decades before the Spanish subdued the nomadic Chichimeca Indios. One of their favorite sports was emasculating unlucky Spaniards who fell into their hands. Of course, the Spanish invaders did much worse all over Mexico.

Entrance to an older world. I stumbled across this tunnel entrance in an obscure part of the patio garden. Upon inquiry, I discovered that this was part of the original 17th Century silver processing operation, for which the original hacienda was built.

Our casita overlooked the lower patio. We entered through the arched stone door up the wrought-iron stairs. The glass door gave us a wonderful view of the lower patio garden and provided a feeling of connection to the nature around us.

Casa Azul. We originally reserved Casa Azul (blue house), but repairs were needed due to the heavy rains. The Casa de Espiritus Alegres staff kindly upgraded us to our much larger casita without additional charge. This photo was taken from the porch just outside our door looking down at the patio garden. Casa Azul instantly struck me as a home a Hobbit would appreciate.

Home in the jungle. While wandering through the extensive gardens, which often took the appearance of wild jungle, I suddenly discovered the entrance of one of the other casitas. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to peek inside. Perhaps another time.

A dining room with a view. The glass walls and ceiling of the dining porch gave a feeling of openness and connection to the gardens around and below it. Every morning the Casa staff delivered tasty, filling breakfasts from the huge kitchen nearby. As we were the only guests at that time, one of the artist-owners, Carol, joined us. An interesting, cultured man, he has traveled throughout Mexico collecting the many dolls, toys, and other artifacts which fill and decorate every room of the Casa de Espiritus Alegres.

Sitting area in upper-level patio. Just behind and above the patio outside our casita was another, larger patio. At the back of this patio stood a covered leisure area filled with comfortable chairs and sofas and many odd and interesting objects to intrigue the visitor.

An Arabian setting in the Mexican highlands. The interior of the patio leisure area gave the feeling of a Bedouin tent. Because we were away in the El Centro area of Guanajuato during the day, and it often rained heavily during the August evenings and nights, we didn't use this open-air sitting area. On a clear, warm evening, it would be a delightful gathering place for guests.

Our kitchen and dining area. Our casita contained a richly decorated open-plan kitchen-dining room-living room area. We didn't find a lot of use for the kitchen, other than making coffee. We were only there for three nights, and delicious breakfasts were provided in the main dining room of the Casa. Out of sight to the right are a couch and corner fireplace for those chilly winter evenings at 7,000 feet.

A stairway to nowhere. Our bedroom was roomy and full of colorful artifacts from the owners' many years traveling in Mexico. Just beyond the bed are french doors through which you can see a narrow stairway. True to the owners' quirky form, the stairway goes nowhere, ending abruptly in the ceiling.

Colorful tiles typify many Mexican bathrooms. The owners of Casa de Espiritus Alegres spared no detail in creating a colorful, artistic environment for their guests. One unusual feature (for Mexico) in this picture is the tub. Mexicans tend to prefer showers, as do I, but Carole loves her leisurely baths and she was delighted to find one in our room. The square shape was a little odd, but in the end a bath is a bath.

This concludes our series on Guanajuato ("finally" I can just hear someone say). I hope we have given you a feel for this wonderful, historic, quirky place. I have many more pictures of Guanajuato than I am able to show, and there is much more to see than we had time to visit in four days. If you get to Mexico's Western Highlands, make it a point to visit Guanajuato. You won't regret it. Hasta luego! Jim


  1. Hi Jim & Carole-Just wanted to say that your pictures are exquisite. I found your blog by accident when I was trying to find "expats living in Mexico" and looking up Ajijic, Mexico. Your photos & comments gave me the feeling of almost being at the places you presented. Looking forward to more of your travels.
    Cat WhiteWolf

  2. What a trip you had, these pictures are so inspiring. Please tell me where you stayed to be able to have the casita room?

  3. Now that I have read it all I see Casa de Espiritus Alegres, : )

  4. Oh my Goodness! I stayed in "La Casita" I returned to Marfil in 2008, 45 years or so after having lived there with my mother. We lived in the Caracol, and my mother was a good friend of Georgio Belolli's.

    It was such a lovely visit and we enjoyed so much staying at your little hotel. The breakfasts were extraordinary.

    I hope the cat is well :-)

  5. It was nice to read your post. Thank you for sharing such a nice information about Guanajuato.Pictures that you have posted are very nice.I am sure other readers will also like it.


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