It began with a vow

In a hilly patch of dense jungle in East-Central Mexico, steps zigzag up to a ten-foot cement totem-pole shaped like an orchid carpel. Below the totem, a stand of bamboo is, upon closer inspection, a cluster of cement wands. A mortar leaf balances delicately on its stem inside a clover arch like a giant ornament for a cake, or a crown. Buttresses trace butterfly wings.

Image:Roberto Salvador

A stand of cement bamboo James called "El Baño", after his employees' custom of relieving themselves behind the concealing plants.

Descend any of the stairways that thread through this forest and discover more elaborate constructions: an enormous cement lotus blooms in a courtyard between two wall-less houses; columns cluster beneath floors like underwater plants. Ropes of cement strung between giant cacti mimic vines; rooftop arches are bowing stalks. Spiral staircases end in ceilings. Doors give passage to nowhere. Bridges bridge nothing.

Is this an Eden, an artistic masterpiece, or a colossal, 30-acre joke? Is it art or architecture? Is it unfinished, a ruin, or just bizarre? These forms must mean something, but what? Visitors follow paths by the waterfall, their mouths agape, their questions fading to reverence as “Las Pozas” (named for the nine pools that collect the pristine river water that tumbles and rushes down the slopes) works its spell.

At the base of the hillside, the creations concentrate in a soaring jungle-gym of skeletal castles with seed-pod columns and blossoms for turrets. Tucked like the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse into these mad branches is a little box of a home, with a sad verse scrawled on an inside wall: “My house grows like a chamber’d nautilus after a storm… The deluge comes; and it is after me … This house is all assieged and wailing for its lords … My house has wings, and somehow in the dead of night, she sings…”