by Nia Thomas
All we knew was based on the recommendation of a fellow cyclist, one we hadn’t even met. As we climbed the long winding hill to Xilitla, the sun falling quickly behind the mountains ahead, it crossed my mind ‘I hope this is all going to be worth it’. It had been a long day and climbing ten miles out of the way was becoming less and less appealing with every pedal stroke. Finally as the dusk was settling in we caught a glimpse of Xilitla, nestled in the hills, our destination for the night and the home of Edward James’ ‘Las Posas’.
Edward James was an English aristocrat, and a passionate, early supporter of surrealism. After being left fortunes by both his father and uncle, he used the money to support the arts widely – from funding the publishing of books and magazines to sponsoring Salvador Dalí. His greatest contribution though was through Las Posas, a surrealist sculpture garden in the Mexican rain forest.
The next morning we packed some water and snacks and set off to find it. After a 30 minute walk downhill on a rocky road from town, our legs felt like jelly. We paid the 50 pesos ($3.80/£2.50) entrance fee and start exploring. Exploring is exactly what we did, because you don’t simply visit Las Posas, you explore them.
First we headed to the posas, a number of pools in the river (named las posas as well). Here crystal blue water flows out of the mountains and cascades, pool by pool, down the valley. In each pool swim hundreds of tadpoles and a magnitude less of local people and tourists alike. Edward had added bits of concrete sculpture and form here and there to enhance the experience of the bathers. We scrambled excitedly, sometimes up stairs and other times picking our way across dry-ish rocks, eager to discover what was around the next corner.
The work invited exploration, and with no barriers to keep people in place (health and safety has not reached this part of Mexico yet) it allowed the freedom for a personal adventure into the artwork. This was how Edward wanted it. In Xilitla he'd found his 'Eden' and even back in the 50's he realised that this was the only place he'd be able to realise his sculpture forest dream.
It wasn’t just the sculptures, or the raw natural beauty of the forest, but the space in between where they mingled that made the it so special. Edward was inspired by nature; the orchids and birds of this forest, the sculptures are a salute to them. As mosses creep to cover the concrete surfaces and epiphytes grow in cracks, the sculptures become part of the world they were created to celebrate.
I have seen such beauty as one man has seldom seen; therefore will I be grateful to die in this little room, surrounded by the forests, the great green gloom of trees my only gloom - and the sound, the sound of green. Here amid the warmth of the rain, what might have been is resolved into the tenderness of a tall doom who says: 'You did your best, rest' - and after you the bloom of what you loved and planted still will whisper what you mean. And the ghosts of the birds I loved, will attend me each a friend; like them shall I have flown beyond the realm of words. You, through the trees, shall hear them, long after the end calling me beyond the river. For the cries of birds continue, as - defended by the cortege of their wings - my soul among strange silences yet sings.
—Edward James, 1907 - 1984