It started as a sunny day, as Valerie and Beryl departed from the Pickled Onion, in Santa Elena, Valerie’s restaurant. We were off to investigate the rumors of a cultish settlement said to be in a remote area near the village of Xul.
We had heard that a group of wealthy Italian doomsdayers had built a group of above-ground bunker-like buildings, hoping to survive Armageddon, which they believe is coming on December 21, 2012 with the ending of the current long count of the Maya calendar.
We stopped at a few places along the way. The area was lush, green and hilly. There were tall trees with drooping vines and mile after mile of wilderness. it was hard not to turn down every side road. It looked almost like Chiapas or the Guatemala highlands.
We had a delightful drive through the rolling Puuc hills and eventually arrived in Xul, a Maya village of about 1000. Just before Xul, there is a colonial ruin that struck both of us as absolutely lovely.
The town was bigger than we had expected, with lots of people walking around and chatting on a Thursday morning. We had no idea where to go from there and needed to ask directions. We had been told that the villagers thought the Italians were a bunch of lunatics with a strange religion. We pulled the car up to two older men in the zocalo. One averted his face, but the other one looked moderatly receptive. Trying to break the ice, we told him we were looking for the Italianos locos who lived in the area.
The averted face turned toward us with a mild smile and they told us exactly how to get to “the sign with the eagle.”
We drove and drove without encountering any eagle signs, so we stopped a man on his bike who told us it was two kilometers further. On we went…and suddenly – there it was! A sign worthy of a new housing development on Long Island or north Merida or any vanilla upper-class suburb in the world. Las Aguilas. A bizarre icon in the middle of nowhere.
“Why do you think they choose to build their city in such a remote place?” asked BG. “Because,” replied Valerie, “in Mayan, the word Xul means The End.” Oh.
We stared at this unlikely apparition for several minutes and then our eyes rolled toward the gate, which was padlocked and surrounded by barbed wire. Lots of signs told us to go away.
As we stood there, defeated, a car approached us from inside the property. Two women drove up to the gate, unlocked the padlock, and drove through. They had to re-lock the doors which gave us a few minutes to pounce. They were not glad to see us.
The women were Italians, in their 40s, wearing matching blue Life Is Good t-shirts. Amusing. Of course they refused to let us in. We asked them questions about the place but got nowhere. They weren’t exactly rude, but they plainly didn’t want to be bothered, which didn’t stop us. They finally drove off. Turns out, they don’t live there, but are considering it and had come for a visit. If we had been in their position, we probably wouldn’t have been friendly either.
Although the Las Aguilas group has publicized that they are ecologically sound, live off the grid and generate their own solar power, we saw a large new transformer next to the power pole on the road and electrical power lines stretching back into the property.
We looked around a bit more. BG saw a possible way to trespass, but Valerie, the wiser, said no. After making snarky remarks about the place for a few minutes more, we drove back to Xul and went into a tienda to get cold drinks. The genial proprietor told us he thought about 60 people lived at Las Aguilas. He said no one knew much about the construction because the people who did the work had an agreement with the landowners not to discuss the project. The owner of the tienda said that more people are coming in regularly and that they aren’t all Italian – there are other Europeans and some Americans. We suspected he knew more, but that was all we were going to get.
So we sat on a wall outside the tienda having chats with people and admiring cute children.
In Xul, what was quite interesting to Valerie were the old ruins of large houses, a church and a chapel made in the construction method of mompostaria. This is the old way of building with stones and cement before cement blocks came along. The mompostaria method usually has a very pretty pattern of small stones set into the concrete. It occurred to us that there may have been a hacienda of some type close by. For sure it wouldn’t have been a henequen hacienda because of the terrain, but possibly a cattle ranch hacienda. BG strolled into the tienda again and politely asked if there was a hacienda in the area but the proprietor said no, that it was long gone. He was sweet, but we weren’t convinced.
The sky turned dark and the rain started. By the time we’d driven just beyond Xul, it was full-force tropical rain, which felt wonderful. The late afternoon, the rain, the amazingly green rolling hills – it was all enchanting.
We didn’t get into the enclave, but we had a great trip. We returned to the Pickled Onion for lunch.
Reading on the web, we see that the group has been building on about 2000 acres for two years. They bought the land outright from a rancher.
The walls are said to be 60 cm thick, with two sets of concrete block and heavy rubber in between them. Sixteen buildings have the wide walls as of this date, and the buildings are designed to remain cool at temperatures up to 50 degrees celsius and to withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters. Supposedly, the structures can even protect the occupants from radiation. We are reading that most of the buildings have 24 bedrooms.
Some say it is luxurious, some say it is institutional.
Various articles say that the residents have created a large natural lake on the property. They have food storage warehouses and a number of wells. People who have worked there as laborers say that the Italians have planted a botanical garden.
El Universal, a Mexico City publication, did a fly-by over Las Aguilas and took photos in August 2010.
Originally, the residents of Las Aguilas told people they were preparing for the end of the world in 2012, but that generated a negative and frightened response from local residents and the Mexican authorities. Aguilas has now amended their statements and claim that they are simply preparing for “climactic difficulties” in the next few years.
There is said to be another group of people building a colony for the same reasons near Ek Balaam, Yucatan and there are a number of bunker colonies in the USA. They seem to be springing up all over the world. If you enter “bunkers” and “2012″ on Google, you will see 162,000 results.
The Mexican immigration authorities say all the Aguilas residents are in the country legally and have the appropriate visas. Some have become or are in the process of becoming Mexican citizens.
What we don’t understand is where INAH (Mexico’s national agency that protects historic sites and buildings) is on all this. Las Aguilas is building on top of a Maya ceremonial area called Kiuic. In fact, this entire area is dotted with Maya ruins and you can see pyramid-shaped mounds as you drive down the highway. INAH is known for being aggressive and vigorous in their defense of the national patrimony.
Generally, when anyone wants to build structures in an area like this, INAH is strict about what and how things are built. From what we have heard, the Italians started construction virtually immediately when they purchased the property two years ago. An INAH survey usually takes at least a year.
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