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April cover


Out of this World

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Las Pozas is in the state of San Luis Potosí, 340 miles south of Brownsville. Constructed mostly in the sixties and seventies by the floridly eccentric English millionaire Edward James, it might be called a wilderness sculpture garden. All told, it comprises some eighty semitropical acres on the side of a mountain dotted with nine spring-fed pools -- pozas -- that flow into a small river. Thirty-six significant structures are concentrated on a dozen of those acres. Since 1987 the property has been owned by a 36-year-old Mexican lawyer, cattleman, and coffee grower named Plutarco "Kaco" Gastelum, who keeps it open to the public. He doesn't do this for the money, because the place has never made a profit, but for something that's more complicated and definitely closer to love. After all, Las Pozas' creator -- crazy, endearing, exasperating Edward James -- was for nearly four decades the benefactor and de facto godfather of Gastelum's family. "He was an incredible person," said Kaco, sitting beside one of the interconnected pozas while local youngsters splashed and dived. "My father was his manager, and although he and my mother complained all the time about how aggravating Uncle Edward was, to me and my three sisters, he was our magical uncle, our private Santa." Kaco's father, Plutarco Senior, was James's alter ego and, indeed, the person who helped translate the Englishman's moonstruck dreams into reality. And though James has now been dead for fourteen years, those who knew him strive daily to keep his spirit alive amid the shifting shadows and the clouds of mist that rise above Las Pozas.

Open-air room near Edward's house.
photo by Robert Ziebell

By all rights, the place should be a Mexican national monument. And if it were near a major city or better publicized, no doubt it would have long ago attracted the attention of some wealthy foundation or person. But it is located in the middle of nowhere, and except for occasional articles in magazines and newspapers, it is all but unknown. Beyond that, something about it thwarts organization and order. The whole time I was there, I found it exceedingly difficult to stay on track. On the second day, for example, I started out to see the spectacular waterfall above the Captain's Pool. Along the way, however, I metaphorically but definitely lost my way. Wandering among elephant ears, I made the mistake of pausing to examine the House With a Roof Like a Whale. Intrigued, I walked around it, then ducked through a small door and was surprised to find that the house's smooth, pleasing exterior harbored a dank, cavelike interior. After that I detoured along a scary elevated walkway to the fat concrete obelisk called the Stegosaurus Column. And so it went, one digression following another for more than two hours. When a village boy and two dogs sent by my friends found me at noon, I had never reached my destination, even though it was only ten minutes away. I had the feeling that somewhere, Edward James was laughing.

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