The “highway” to La Estancia climbs over 4000 feet up the mountains. Winding and very narrow at times, I am glad I am not driving. The bus makes various stops along the way, not only to pick-up and discharge passengers, but also to act as rural package delivery transport and school bus. When I do get off, La Estancia is a very small town on the highway to Mascota and Talpa.
Joe Thompson [Manager of the hacienda] picked me up and off to San Sebastian we went. We climbed a bit more and finally arrived at Hacienda Jalisco, San Sebastian del Oeste. The house sits in a valley surrounded high peaks with remains of its history everywhere. The hacienda was built in the 1700’s by the Spanish to be the headquarters for its mining operations [in this region]; specifically Lead, Pyrite, Gold and Silver.
In the mine’s heyday, over 180 people lived and worked here along with many others who were responsible for the transportation and operation of the estate. At the height of the mines operation, over ten tons of silver a day were produced. Today, Maguey Cactus and Coffee are the crops of choice.
Stepping into the house, the sense of its history is palpable. The original art de’ toile is still on the walls along with much of the original flooring and beams. Additionally you notice the three foot thick walls, the large table piled with impressive ledgers and several rooms containing a variety of artifacts from the Hacienda’s almost 300 year history. Joe led me through the house, pointing out both its long past and more recent Hollywood connection. [John Houston spent quite a bit of time here] The quietness of the surroundings allows you to sit undisturbed on the chairs of the house’s wrap around veranda. The house does not have electricity, but relies on oil lamps for evening light, along with fireplaces to take the high altitude chill off.
We continued outside to look over the remains of the foundries, stables and workers quarters. Then it was on to the reason for the trip – Coffee! There in the shade of oak and pine trees are the coffee plants. When I went almost all the berries were green; we did find a few turning red and I sampled them. The pods popped open under pressure and yielded a couple of beans each; I chewed on the pods and found them sweet and slightly flowery. The coffee from this region is mostly all organically produced and when roasted becomes richly flavoured, but with a low acidity. Roasting was to occur later in the day [approximately 15 kilos for the farmers market the next day], but I had to leave and catch the bus back to Vallarta.
The trip up to Hacienda Jalisco, San Sebastian del Oeste illuminated an almost forgotten Mexico, which influenced my photography choices. I felt I just had to capture much of the house in Monochrome; from the chairs that came centuries ago from Spain, and the containers that held the mercury [brought from Europe] for the refining of silver, to the death mask of a forgotten worker. It was a side excursion I will not soon forget.