Monday, June 29, 2015

Historic Haciendas of Zapopan Part 1: La Venta del Astillero & La Primavera

Entrance to the casa grande of the historic Hacienda La Venta del Astillero.  Several years ago, I began recruiting a group of fellow expats to help me search for old haciendas. We go out into the state of Jalisco's back country once a month and spend a full day locating these historic old sites. Generally we can find three or four sites during one of these jaunts. After a while, Carole began calling us the "Hacienda Hunters" and it stuck. Recently we created an embroidered logo to sew on our shirts, hats, or backpacks. We haven't yet invented a secret handshake, but who knows? Our hard-core group is 4-6 people, with another half a dozen or so who come and go according to the season. I do all the background research on the sites, and attempt to pin down their exact locations in advance of the adventure. This is not an easy task and, in the process, I have assembled a considerable library about Mexican haciendas. Even with all that information, it can still be challenging, because few sources specify precise locations. Many of the old ruins can only be found at the end of some remote, nameless, dirt road. As my father used to say, places like this are "out beyond where God buried his bicycle." Some sites I will show in this series will be close to the bicycle. However, the two I will show in this posting are not quite that remote. They can be found very close to the Bosque de la Primavera, one of my favorite hiking sites located just west of Guadalajara.

Hacienda La Venta de Astillero 

This arched gate is one of the oldest portions of the hacienda. The casa grande (main house) is the long building on the left. Hacienda La Venta del Astillero is located in the pueblo of the same name about 7 km (4.3 mi) west of Guadalajara along Federal Highway 15. The area around the hacienda used to be completely agricultural, but has now been swallowed up by light industrial sprawl. The casa grande used to stretch along the whole block, but part of it is now used as a tequila factory. The remaining historical parts are owned by a company that rents the site out for events such as weddings.  Getting hitched in an old hacienda is apparently very popular in Mexico, because we have found quite a number of sites devoted to this purpose. For those wishing to find Hacienda La Venta, follow Highway 15 to the town of La Venta del Astillero. Near the east end of town, turn right just past the Pemex gas station and go two blocks before turning left. Then drive five blocks until you come to the arched gate. When we visited, no one was available to let us in, but we were able to photograph many interesting features of the exterior. Maybe you will be luckier and gain entrance.

A carved stone monolith shaped like a crown sits on top of the center of the arched gate. This is one of the most interesting aspects of the whole site because of the words "Carlos V," inscribed on the surface. Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire (1500-1558) was also the King of Spain during the conquest and early settlement of Nueva España (Mexico). During his rule, Cristóbal de Oñate founded the nearby City of Guadalajara in 1542. The monolith indicates that this hacienda was one of the earliest established in the area to support Guadalajara.

A view through the gate's wall to the front of the casa grande. When searching for these old sites, there are a number of clues which help us. The nature of the construction is one. Rough stone walls, like the one in the foreground, indicate an origin in at least the 18th Century, and possibly as early as the late 16th. The early construction of this one is betrayed by the irregular chunks of stone, which are fitted together using pebbles to fill the spaces between the large rocks. The arched portales, seen beyond the stone wall, are typical of old haciendas, although they are still a very popular architectural feature in Mexico. Often the buildings will be equipped with cylindrical bastions slotted for guns, an indication of the perilous isolation of the typical hacienda. Out-buildings, and the interior walls of older casas grandes, will often be made with bricks of dried mud held together with straw, called adobe, sometimes covered with layers of plaster. This is a very ancient method of construction. Sometimes the plaster covering falls away, picturesquely revealing the old adobe underneath.

The campanario over the entrance contains two spires. The bells of a hacienda's campanario (bell tower) served several functions. They summoned the residents to religious services, often twice a day in the morning and evening. In addition, the bells were rung to signal the beginning of the work day and the time for the mid-day meal. They could also be used to alert everyone to the approach of strangers, particularly bandits or rebel armies.

The front wall over the entrance contains a niche with a small statue of San Miguel de Belén.  In the late 18th Century, the hacienda was owned by Fray Antonio Alcalde, Bishop of Guadalajara. In 1788, he founded Hospital San Miguel de Belén, which was to be operated by the Orden de los Hermanos de Nuestra Señora de Bethlehem, also known as the Betlemitas. The Betlemitas, founded in Guatemala in 1656, were the first Catholic religious order created in the New World. They dedicated themselves to providing assistance to the poor. The Bishop donated Hacienda La Venta del Astillero as a means of funding the hospital, hence the statue in the niche. In his words "the health of the people is the supreme law." It was common during colonial times for convents, religious orders, and even individual priests and friars to own haciendas, despite their vows of poverty and Spanish laws forbidding such ownership. The Betlemitas owned the hacienda for 100 years, until 1888, and during this time it was known as Hacienda Belén. Although no longer associated with the hacienda, or the Betlemitas, the hospital is still in operation and is now known as the Hospital Civil de Guadalajara.

The entrances to both the casa grande and the capilla are on the left end of the row of portales. The arched door of the casa grande is on the right, while the capilla's door is on the left. This close association between the hacienda's main house and a chapel is quite typical. Hacendados (hacienda owners) were intensely religious, even when the property was not associated with a religious order like the Betlemites. The hacendado expected everyone to attend religious services, including his family, peons living on the property, and even the slaves he might own. A hacendado who could afford his own resident vicar possessed high status. Others had to settle for periodic visits by a circuit priest. In 1901, a visiting parish priest noted that the capilla was in a good state of repair, with decorations and sacred vases that allowed the proper celebration of mass. That same year, the little chapel was dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

An unidentified piece of farm equipment stands near the casa grande's entrance.  In 1888, the Betlemites sold the hacienda to Ricardo Lancaster-Jones (1831-1922), a British-Mexican banker and entrepreneur who later became Mayor of Guadalajara and Treasurer of the State of Jalisco. The Lancaster-Jones family were some of the most prominent hacendados during the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. When he purchased the property, the hacienda was completely inventoried, giving us a snapshot of a La Venta del Astillero at that moment. It possessed 39,036 acres of pasture land for cattle and horses, as well as "good lands for the cultivation of corn, beans, barley, wheat, and maguey." There was also a small factory for distilling the maguey into tequila. Nearby were "springs of thermal water for relief of sick persons." In 1897, the City of Zapopan set up a police station at the hacienda, an indication of its political importance. At that point in time, the hacienda had 447 inhabitants, making it quite a sizable operation. In 1910, Mexican Revolution erupted, leading to the exile of Porfirio Diaz. Over the years that followed, the hacienda was broken up into parcels which were distributed to landless peons.

*A Vision of the Haciendas of Zapopan, Municipal Archives, Zapopan, Jalisco, 2003

Hacienda La Primavera

A high adobe wall, with stout buttresses and a rough stone foundation, surrounds the old casco. Ironically, I had passed by this wall a number of times on my way to hike in Bosque de la Primavera. It was only when I read that Hacienda La Primvera was situated in this area that I remembered this structure. We stopped at a local tienda (small family-run store) and, sure enough, they pointed to a gate in a wall across the street. This turned out to be the entrance to the casco. The Spanish word "casco" means helmet or shell.  In the context of a hacienda, the casco is the nerve center of the operation, typically including the casa grande, capilla, the stables for the hacendado's personal mounts, a garden/orchard to provide food for the owner's table, and the administrative offices of the operation. Surrounding it all will be a high wall like the one above. Such walls are sometimes crenelated like a fortress, with gun slits and defensive bastions at the corners.

Entrance to the capilla, still strung with decorations from a previous fiesta. The capilla entrance is located just inside the main gate. Hanging above the capilla's door is an old, hand-carved wooden plow, with no metal parts. While the arches on either side of the capilla door are brick, probably dating from the 19th Century, the area around the door itself is adobe. This indicates that it is part of a much older structure. Unfortunately, the capilla door was locked, so we couldn't get a look inside. The property's caretaker is woman who works for the U.S. owners. She let us look around the courtyard a bit, but she was very reluctant to allow any other access. Since it is her job to protect the owner's property, we respected her position. We weren't too disappointed, because the rest of the complex looked to be of modern construction. We decided to move on to the ruins of the hacienda's old fabrica (factory). The fabrica property has different owners than the casa grande and is located a couple of hundred meters down the road leading to the Bosque de la Primavera.

Chuck and Efren pass through an old arched doorway to the interior of the fabrica. Efren rents the property and farms the area immediately around the ruins. He was happy to show us around and tell us what he knew about the place. Efren is one of those "salt of the earth" folk we run into so often in our back-country explorations. He was hospitable and generous with his time. I suspect that we provided him with some free entertainment and that he later regaled his neighbors with tales of our visit.

The long rectangular building is divided lengthwise by this set of supporting arches. Chuck can be seen in the distance wearing a yellow shirt. He is a good photographer and one of our core group of Hacienda Hunters. The quality of his photography is such that I sometimes use his shots in my blogs. My information about the history of Hacienda La Primavera is limited. I do know that during the last part of the 19th Century, it was owned by a man named Pantaleón Orozco Camarena, who willed it to his son, Pantaleón Orozco. In 1917, it passed into the hands of Ricardo Lancaster-Jones, the British-Mexican owner of nearby Hacienda La Venta del Astillero. It is not at all unusual for a family, or even a single individual, to own several haciendas. Land in Mexico, prior to the Revolution, was highly concentrated into a few hands.

These old buildings are massively built, with thick walls and supporting buttresses. One of the buttresses can be seen on the left. The corner of the building (foreground) was supported by a four-sided tower made of brick covered with a thick layer of plaster. Other parts are constructed with adobe. The casco of the hacienda, which would have included both the casa grande and this fabrica, encompassed an area of 135 hectares (333.45 acres). The overall property was composed of three sitios de ganado mayor (land for large livestock) spread over 13,000 acres, and 238 fanegas (2116 acres) of cropland devoted to maiz, wheat, and maguey.

A narrow window cuts through thick  walls. The narrowness of the window indicates that it may have been a defensive position for riflemen. Raiding bandits or plundering armies were threats through most of Mexico's history. The real wealth of a hacienda was its grain and casks of tequila stored in a building like this. In addition, horses, cattle, pigs and sheep could be brought inside in times of danger. Hungry raiders were often as much or more interested in these than the money or silverware hidden by the hacendado in his casa grande

Allan photographs the interior of the fabrica while Efren's grandson looks on. Allan and his wife Catherine are newcomers to Mexico, but they have taken to hacienda hunting like ducks to water. The little boy tagged along with us, fascinated by all these strange foreigners. The ruined walls are draped with vines and trees grow up in rooms once bustling with activity. The impact of the Revolution can be seen in official government population figures. In 1910, the year the Revolution started, Hacienda La Primavera's population was 652. By 1920, this had dropped to 290, and ten years later it had further declined to 202. By 1940 there were only 173 people in residence in and around the old property. However, over the following 60 years, the population recovered and in 2000 there were 1,745 people living in the pueblo of La Primavera that grew up around the ruins of the old hacienda.

The long rooms separated by the row of portales once had arched ceilings. Covering both rooms was a peaked roof. A nopal cactus now grows at the peak of one end of the roof, symbolic of the ultimate triumph of nature over man's boastful creations. The hacienda passed into the hands of Óscar Casillas Cabrini in 1937, but by that time land reform had reduced it to a fragment of its old size. Many of the buildings had already begun to deteriorate and without the land, there was little money to repair them. Some of the structures were no doubt cannibalized by local people for materials to build their own homes or stores. 

Jim B. and his wife Brenda chuckle about a remark by Efren, in the background. Jim and Brenda are two of the most stalwart of the Hacienda Hunters. Jim speaks passable Spanish and is always willing to drive his high clearance vehicle, making him a key figure in these adventures. He and Brenda have become true aficionados of hacienda exploration.

As we prepared to leave the area, we encountered this lone horseman. I snapped a quick shot and only later noticed the interesting juxtaposition of the rider, the car, and the advertisement for high-tech bicycles. These three different forms of Mexican transportation, all in one photo, range from the most ancient to the modern.

This concludes Part 1 of my series on the haciendas of Zapopan. I hope you have enjoyed it and, if so, that you will leave your thoughts in the Comments section or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Panamá Part 9: The Gamboa Rainforest Resort and its Orchid Nursery and Butterfly Sanctuary

Orchids at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort Orchid Nursery. The flower above is called Ascocenda Brighton Fuchsia. It likes warm climates and blooms in summer and fall. Gamboa Rainforest resort was one of the high points during our trip to Panamá. While there we stayed at a luxury hotel situated in central Panama's Gamboa rainforest. In this, the last of my Panamá series, we'll take a look at the 5-star hotel, the surrounding rainforest, and the resort's Orchid Nursery and Butterfly Sanctuary. For a Google map of this area, click here.

The Gamboa Rainforest Resort Hotel

The hotel sits on a hillside above the Rio Chagres near its confluence with the Panamá Canal. The 164 rooms have balconies to provide a panoramic view of the rainforest and the river flowing through it. We stayed in one of the upper rooms seen on the right side of the photo. The rainforest is part of the Soberania Nation Forest and the resort is the only one of its kind in the area.

Our balcony was equipped with a comfy hammock to help enjoy the serenity of the scene. Through the trees, you can glimpse the Rio Chagres. The Chagres, although short, is one of the most important rivers in the world because of its essential relationship to the Panamá Canal. It is also the only river in the world that empties into two oceans. The hotel grounds include 340 lush acres of lawns, pastures, and forest. The Rainforest Resort is located almost exactly in the middle of the narrowest section of the Panamanian isthmus. From here you are less than an hour's drive from either Panamá City on the Pacific or Colón on the Caribbean. The roads are excellent, so this would be an ideal base for exploring the country.

A terrace containing a swimming pool, jacuzzi, and massage tables lies below the hotel. In addition to the many tours available, one can just hang out here and enjoy the amenities of the hotel itself. If I were to return to Panamá, I would seriously consider staying here for the full visit. This place is truly a paradise.

Rental canoes are available at a dock on the river. The thick jungle grows right down to the banks of the river. The rainforest canopy is filled with birds, monkeys, and other wildlife. Among the other creatures inhabiting the river are large crocodiles. It is always good to remember that you are a visitor in a true wilderness. You don't want to become someone else's lunch. Even paradise has its dangers.

Much of the jungle is almost impenetrable. In the early 16th Century, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa struggled through jungle just like this on his way to "discover" the Pacific Ocean. Aside from crocodiles and deadly snakes, Europeans (and later American '49ers) encountered ferocious insects and deadly diseases like Chagres fever, yellow fever, and malaria. Thousands who attempted the crossing died in the effort. Many thousands more perished while building the cross-isthmus railroad in the 1850's and working on the abortive French canal project and the successful American one.

An agouti explores the hotel lawns in search of edible seeds. The agouti is a rodent about the size of a large house cat or a small dog. There were several that roamed the grounds and they seemed unfazed by hotel guests taking their photos.

The Orchid Nursery

Schombergkia lueddemannii is a rather startling member of the orchid family. It grows in tropical forests located from sea level to about 600 m (1,960 ft). It is named after a 19th Century German botanist who explored British Guiana. I don't recall seeing anyone at my high school prom wearing one of these. The Schombergkia was the only orchid I photographed with an identifying sign. I have tried to be as accurate as possible in naming the plants shown below, but I am sure to have mistaken some. If you are an authority on orchids, please feel free to correct any errors.

Phalaenopsis. This is also called Golden Leopard Orchid. Orchids are one of the two largest families of flowering plants. There are between 21,950 and 26,049 accepted species in the orchid family found within 880 genera. The number of orchid species nearly equals that of bony fishes, is double that of birds, and four times that of mammals. Between 6-11% of all seeding plants are orchids.

In the 19th Century, horticulturist began to cultivate wild orchid species. Since then more than 100,000 hybrids and cultivars have been created. Orchis is the genus and the name comes from the ancient Greek word for testicle. It refers to the shape of some orchid tubers. As to the orchid shown above, I have been unable to identify it. If anyone can supply the name, I would appreciate it.

White Dendrobium. Orchids have often been associated with virility. The Aztecs drank a mixture of vanilla orchids and chocolate to give them strength. On the other hand, the Chinese used orchids to cure coughs and lung problems.

Cosmos sulphureus, also known as the Sulpher Cosmos. In addition to orchids, the nursery contains a number of other flowers, such as this Cosmos. The Sulpher Cosmos is native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. The plant can grow as tall as 2.13 m (7 ft) and is considered an invasive exotic pest in the Southeastern US.

Some Bromeliads are epiphytes. This means that although they may grow on other plants, or on the trunks or branches of trees, but they are not parasitic. The roots serve only to anchor them to their host. They gather food and moisture from rain and mist. Epiphytic bromeliads are very common in tropical forests.

Epidendrum nocturnum are autogamous, or self-pollinating. Nocturnal Epidendrums are members of the Orchid Family range from Florida in the US to the Bahamas, West Indies, and northern Brazil and the Guianas.

Purple Dendrobium. Purple orchids, because of their royal color, are often called the "true queen of the flower kingdom." The Chinese consider orchids to be a symbol of refinement and childlike innocence.

The Butterfly Sanctuary

The Rainforest Resort employs nature guides like the young woman above. Our guide, whose name is Marta, gently grasped a Giant Owl Butterfly (Caligo eurilochus) to display its remarkable wing features. She was very knowledgable and seemed to enjoy showing us around. There are a very large number of butterflies in the sanctuary, many of which I couldn't photograph because of technical difficulties. Of the ones I did shoot, I could include only a small number here.

Larva of the Giant Owl Butterfly. This guy is about 7.6 cm (3 in) long and has spines sticking out of his back. The face is striped vertically and has a fringe on either side. Because he appears to have feelers on either end, at first I couldn't tell the tail from the head.

The Giant Owl Butterfly gets its name from the large "eyes" on the lower part of each wing. When the wings are opened, they bear a striking resemblance to the face of an owl, hence the name. The eye spots may be a defense mechanism to fool predators into thinking the butterfly is another predator. The creatures can grow as large as 20 cm (7.9 in).

Marta also showed us a Morpho helenor achilleana with brilliant blue wings. This one appears to have gotten chomped once or twice on the lower part of its wings. This species has a very wide range in the tropical areas of Central and South America.

Cypriote stelenese biplagiata, with its wings fully spread. This is also known as the Malachite Butterfly because of its coloring. It is the most common butterfly species in Central and Southern America.

Morpho helenor helenor is related to the Morpho helenor achilliana. There is some disagreement among butterfly specialists about Morpho helenor. Currently these butterflies are classified into a number of subspecies, but some of these may be entirely separate species. Certainly this one and the one with the beautiful blue wings seem very different. The Butterfly Sanctuary is a part of the Rainforest Resort that is definitely worth a visit.

This concludes Part 9 of my Panamá series, and also concludes the series itself. Panamá is wonderful and we encourage anyone interested to visit if you can. I hope you enjoyed this posting. If you did, I encourage you to put any thoughts in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim