Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ahoy! Dead ahead be pirates!

The story of Isla's most famous islander - pirate Mundaca - could have been taken straight from a bodice-ripper romance novel, complete with the love triangle between a sixteen-year-old beauty, her childhood sweetheart, and a fifty-three year old pirate who yearned to make the young woman his wife.

Garden area of Hacienda Mundaca
The small fishing village on Isla Mujeres in the late 1800's must have been one of the most romantic settings imaginable for the melodrama of these ill-fated lovers.  Imagine: torch-lit nights, hammocks hanging in palapa-roofed houses, and whimsical paths winding between coconut palms to the gentle bay were the fishing canoes were pulled up on the sand-swept beaches.

The pirate Fermín Antonio Mundaca de Marecheaga was born October 11th,1825 in the village Bermeo of Santa Maria, Spain.  When he finished his education he shipped out to sea and eventually became a famous and wealthy slave trader in the Caribbean, selling Mayan slaves to Cuban plantation owners.  In 1860 when the British campaigned against slavery, Mundaca rented out his ships to the Yucatan Government which continued to capture rebel Mayans and sell them to Cuba, nearly decimating the population of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Pirate Mundaca's home on Isla Mujeres
Mundaca then set about building a large hacienda on Isla Mujeres that he named "Vista Alegre" (Happy View).  It eventually covered over 40% of the island.  There were areas for livestock, birds, vegetables gardens, fruit orchards and exotic plants that were brought from all over the world.  Fermin Mundaca is said to have built the Vista Alegre using stone taken from the abandoned Mayan structures on Isla Mujeres.
While building his hacienda and expanding his giant estate, he fell in love with a young local girl, 37 years his junior, named Priscilla (some sources say Martiniana) Gomez Pantoja.  Born in 1862 on Isla Mujeres, Priscilla's is described as a slender sensual woman with long wavy hair, deep green eyes and light skin tanned bronze by the Caribbean sun.

Isla statue honoring La Trigueña

He built her a beautiful garden with great stone arches where he carved her nick-name, La Trigueña, above the apex.  But the dark-haired beauty married her childhood sweetheart and Mundaca became isolated, lonely, slowly going insane - reportedly due to syphilis.  Even though he was still wealthy he abandoned his estate allowing it to fall into disrepair preferring instead to live in various other locations on the island. 

Vegetables and fruits ripened and rotted, cattle wandered everywhere, destroying other people's gardens.  The locals feared Mundaca. 

Garden area of hacienda Mundaca
 When he passed along the beach at sunset, the friendly chatter would suddenly die, as someone muttered in a frightened whisper.

"There goes Mundaca!"

He died at age 55 in Merida still in love with La Trigueña.  Before he moved to Merida he built a tomb to be closer to his lost love which remains empty and can be found the colourful, crowded downtown cemetery.  Etched on his headstone are the symbols of the pirate - skull and crossbones with the words he carved as his epitaph,   "As you are, I was. As I am, you will be."

Empty grave of Pirate Mundaca
 I wonder if there are any remaining descendants of La Trigueña on the island – cousins, or great-great-grand kids? 

A visit to the remains of the Hacienda Mundaca in the centre of the island costs about $2.00 dollars per person.   It is well worth the time to see some of the amazing structures in the abandoned garden.  Wear lots of bug repellent!

His empty tomb is in the original cemetary at the north end of the island.

Source of details: Alice D. Le Plongeon book written in 1880's


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