House sitting has given us the opportunity to stay in, and take care of, some pretty amazing homes. Big homes. Homes with pools and gardens and beachfront access and tons of acreage and lots and lots of rooms. Much nicer homes than we could ever expect to own. But those homes all pale in size and scope compared to some others that we recently visited. I think I may have found our next desired house sitting gig.

But first, my friends, a little history lesson. Don’t worry, I’m not Jason so we’ll make it as quick and painless as possible.

The haciendas of the Yucatan, and all of Mexico really, have a complicated and, oftentimes, dark past. The majority of these massive homesteads were developed by wealthy Spaniards in the late 1500’s who had conquered and subjugated the native peoples. Land was claimed and enterprises and businesses were built based on the surrounding environment, existing resources and populations. Similar to a European feudal system or plantations in the Southern United States, haciendas operated as a caste system based on race. A Hacienda typically “employed” all of the indigenous people from the surrounding area. Sometimes these people got paid a minimal salary but many, many, many times they did not.

Haciendas operated in the Yucatan until the 1900’s when the Mayans revolted against the wealthy foreigners in the Caste War of the Yucatan. After that, much of the land was redistributed and many of the haciendas themselves sat empty and crumbling for quite awhile. In recent decades individuals and corporations have worked to renovate and restore many of them. Some are now luxury hotels, some are private homes, some are still in crumbling states of total disrepair, and others have been made into museums that are open to the public.

Whew, the history lesson is over and now we can get on with the cool stuff.

While it can be a painful history to read and understand, ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. In fact we wanted to tour some haciendas  to better understand and appreciate the area’s unique past so we recently toured a couple of haciendas that are open to the public and in vastly different stages of repair. First we stopped at Hacienda Yaxcopoil which translates to “the place of the green Alamo trees” in Mayan. Yaxcopoil is a bit of a mouthful and is roughly pronounced “yash-ko-po-eel” (X’s in Mayan are pronounced with an “ish” sound).

 

Entry to Yaxcopoil Hacienda
The Spaniards brought a lot of things with them to Mexico, including Moorish architecture. The entry at Yaxcopoil is a traditional Moorish double arch and, um, makes me realize how boring all past doorways and entries I ever owned were.

 

Sitting Area at Yaxcopoil Hacienda
At one time there was the owners family as well as his six descendents and their family all residing here. There was room after room after room of sitting areas. I mean, I guess you could stand too, but they seemed to encourage sitting. I wholeheartedly support this.

 

Kitchen at Hacienda Yaxcopoil
Imagining himself as the Anthony Bourdain of the 16th century.

 

Dining room at Hacienda Yaxcopoil
Dinner is served.

 

Bathroom at Hacienda Yaxcopoil
A room with a view. But, um, why? I feel like this is one place that a little privacy is okay.

 

Pool at Yaxcopoil
I kept looking for a better picture of the pool and those changing rooms, then I realized that the pool has definitely seen better days and this is as good as it gets. But – they had a pool!

 

Machine House at Hacienda Yaxcopoil
In other parts of Mexico Haciendas produced sugar, lumber and tequila. Here in the Yucatan, the Hacienda economy was primarily based on cattle and sisal – a plant that is harvested and used to make all kinds of things including paper, cloth and hammocks. This was the machine shop where that happened.

So somehow we picked up a tour guide along the way. I really am not exactly sure how it happened. I’m serious, I still really don’t know. But this guy who was, I think, supposed to be helping to build some guest rooms this place is adding in joined us as we walked around and gave us a running commentary and also a demonstration on sisal making. It was awesome. Until his other coworkers asked when he was planning to get back to work.

Hacienda Yaxcopoil Tour Guide
He handed us the sisal to keep. I appreciate it, but am wondering why the Yucatan couldn’t have been the place that produced tequila or sugar. A couple of samples of that would have made us a little happier.

 

Courtyard at Hacienda Yaxcopoil
I mean, just stunning, right? And massive. Speaking of massive, this hacienda was originally on 43 square miles of land. That’s 43. That number to me, as a homestead, is just mind boggling.

 

Chapel at Hacienda Yaxcopoil
Haciendas were typically self-sufficient and had their own chapels, stores, hospitals and even a jail.

 

Hacienda Yaxcopoil
Mayan plates, tools, even some carved stones and pillars from the pre-Spanish era. These items have all been found around different parts of the property.

 

 

Original owner of Hacienda Yaxcopoil
Don Donaciano Garcia Rejon (say that three times fast) acquired the hacienda in 1864. The place has since been passed down through generations and is currently owned by a descendent of Don Donaciano. As a side note, how come no one gets their portrait painted anymore? This is awesome and how I would like to be remembered.

After leaving Hacienda Yaxcopoil we headed up the road a bit to Hacienda San Pedro Ochil. Hacienda Ochil has been renovated and updated to a little bit of a fancier state. There was a restaurant, a museum, gift shop and even a pool.

Entry to Hacienda San Pedro Ochil
Seriously, American entryways could step up their game a bit.

 

San Pedro Ochil Machine Shop
At 5’10” I typically don’t have an “I’m feeling short day” but the massive size of the doorways of the haciendas had me rethinking that.

 

Theater at Hacienda San Pedro Ochil
Obviously a more recent addition to Hacienda Ochil, this nifty amphitheater is built into a cenote.

 

Hacienda San Pedro Ochil
I hope you’re starting to pick up that I’m trying to say that these haciendas are some kind of stunning.

We only visited a couple of haciendas, but I was instantly fascinated and intrigued by them and want to see more. Thankfully there are hundreds more in the Yucatan and spread across Mexico. While some parts of each hacienda are similar, they all have different and unique architecture, design and purposes and are worth a visit to learn and see more. I guess my only question now is do you think any of them are looking for a really great house or pet sitting couple?