Ghosts, Booze and Sex at the Biggest Hacienda
About an hour and a half outside of town is the haciendea Jaral de Berrio, founded in 1774 by the Marquis of Jaral that was once Mexico’s largest hacienda. Today you can explore buckling floors and crumbling walls to step inside an estate rich in history and a bit of fun if you go with other Scooby Doo loving explorer pals!
I’ll admit my interest in hacienda lifestyle spawned from watching one of the worse zombie movies ever made. A recent Mexican horror movie featured what happened when all the zombie mine workers escaped the Guanajuato mines during the 1910 revolution. Neither it, nor the setting of a falling down hacienda, were pretty but it got me thinking about Jaral de Berrio.
Once home to generations of the Berrio lineage its owner in the 1830s was considered the richest man in Mexico. During the mid-1800s the hacienda housed 6500 people (1700 were servants, today the hacienda employs one guard) complete with its own railway station, post office, two schools and a church (Our Lady of Mercy built in 1813). Huge conic stone ovens stand atop what was once family burial grounds. Remnants of imported French wallpaper still line the walls of massive rooms and grand staircases for what is now the Jaral de Berrio mezcal factory.
You can explore the old home where walls, ceilings and floors are collapsing now housing all sorts of vermin and birds enjoying the fantastical blend of Moorish, Classical and Baroque architecture. The sheer volume and variety of scat lets you know the home is a hot spot for creatures of the night though, I’m assuming, not unemployed zombie miners.
Vandalized over the years, no windows, doors or fixtures remain. It is blatantly obvious where copper wiring was once forcibly removed. However the wanton destruction just entices photographers and paranormal investigators alike. The internet is littered with images from both groups.
The only abnormal experience I had was one former bedroom wreaked of the smell of chocolate. Being from Hershey, PA I know my chocolate smells and can only assume a former resident quite enjoyed bon-bons.
The estate of the Berrio family once extended from Durango, Texas to Mexico City. For the newly-arrived Spanish nobles it was a time of great wealth that began with their arrival in Mexico in 1524, until the slow demise of the grand estates following the Mexican Revolution of 1910. This land, christened New Spain by the invaders, was obtained by Spanish nobles through grants from the Crown.
The haciendas flourished as autonomous, self-governing worlds unto themselves much like plantations did in the southern part of the US.
The Hacienda de Berrio included thousands of crop acres for wheat, sugar, fruit, and vegetables, plus livestock. The Hacienda became known for manufacturing both gunpowder and mezcal.
Many of the old haciendas across Mexico have been refurbished and restored, particularly ones in the Yucatan, and operate now as luxurious hotels, conference centers and spas for the well-heeled traveller. Hacienda Jaral de Berrio is not one of these. Hacienda Jaral de Berrio stands as only a distant memory of those halcyon days, but its forsaken beauty is still reminiscent of another more resplendent time in rural Mexico’s history.
When life in the countryside became dull, the Berrio family came into San Miguel to enjoy their home on Correo, now home to a yummy bakery, Cumpanio. Attracting stimulating company into such an isolated area must have been as difficult then as it is now and San Miguel living provided stimulation.
Today, little stimulates the hacienda beyond the production of booze and the grounds are littered with mills, vats and variety of alcohol related machinery from over the centuries. Well, it used to be stimulating as one Marquis was known to have fathered 99 children (like 99 bottles of beer on the wall or 99 luft balloons) with many a local gal.
At one point we were exploring the conical ovens and I entered one featuring a giant image of a graffiti penis. I told the women in our group not to go in because it was too vulgar. That prompted follow on questions and when I mentioned a giant-sized penis a virtual stampede was formed to rush in.
That reminded me to play the game I usually do when in art museums with middle school aged boys called “Find the Penis”. Whoever is first to locate the most penises in art wins and this game keeps lads interested in art for hours. I won at the hacienda for spotting five penises but in all fairness, I’ve played this game a lot and know where to look.
The nearby village is sleepy, at best, and few come to visit. However, in an effort to populate the area free land is being offered. Most local work centers around agriculture, in particular the largest chilies I have ever seen. And yes, I know chilies are a euphemism for penis, but I stand by my statement of the local ones being absolutely huge. So big, we stopped the van at one point so my pals could raid a field. Never stand between a woman and her access to a giant sized chili which is a lesson I learned earlier in the day at the ovens.
Some folks take the free land and obtain jobs reached by bus in San Felipe or San Luis de la Paz factories. Closer to the hacienda is the small factory for both St. Francis and Villa SuSo mezcals which was interesting to tour and see ancient mills like I saw in Jaral still in use.
So whether your interests lie in interior design, mezcal, ghosts, photography, penises or hacienda living bring along your explorer pals and lose yourself for hours touring the Hacienda Jaral de Berrio.