My friend Lydia Jones organized a tour of Mayan ruins and henequen plantations in the state of Yucatan, east of Merida.
This fibrous plant, of the same family as agave used to make tequila, was “Green Gold” for the owners of huge plantations. Ten leaves were harvested from each plant every 6 months, leaving the stalk standing. The fiber was processed by crushing the soft pulpy outer layer and spinning the fibrous inside to produce strands of sisal which was dried in the sun for 6 hours then twisted into rope that was used in shipping until the 1950’s when nylon arrived.
For the most part owners lived in Merida so the buildings of the haciendas are grand, rather ostentatious with fancy tile floors and high ceilings, but just used for visits – so very few bedrooms and minimal kitchen. Native Mayans worked these farms and were paid in currency of the hacienda which could only be used at the company store. There was eventually a revolt and land was returned to the workers for a few years but without machinery and business connections they soon failed. We visited Hacienda Sotuta de Peon, one of the 13 haciendas owned by Don Felipe Peon in the 19th century. It is German owned now and is still working with old machinery partially maintained so we saw the process.