My husband and I often remarked to each other how the pictures on the El Refugio’s website somehow did not seem to do it justice. This is not because they are bad pictures but because there are qualities and features to El Refugio mere photography can not capture. And I am afraid mere words might have the same limitations but here goes.
I hardly know where to began when talking about El Refugio. When you approach the house the simple sturdy walls give little clue as to the treasures that lay behind them. But from the moment you pass through the gates you feel you are some place very very special. Behind those stone walls is a world of creative inspiration and freedom. It is a house most appreciated by those who love art, music, books, food, a beautiful garden, and warm wonderful people.
Just the the way the grounds are planted creates a private and very intimate set of spaces. The total effect makes you feel as if El Refugio is the only house for miles around. But the rushing water of the stream and the plaintive sounds of roosters and donkeys connect you to your neighbors in the most wonderful of ways.
And the varieties of plants on the property grown both for beauty and utility. That there is so much useful and productive planting is one of those unexpected bonuses the place is full of. To pick ones own limones, to drink coffee made from beans grown on the property, or to snack at will on sweet nisperos that grow everywhere, or just to wait patiently as the bananas ripen, the pleasures are many.
Of course this wonderful plant life leads to even more wonderful birds and butterflies. Every morning begins with a cascade of hummingbirds, cardinals, mockingbirds, sturdy potoo, flycatchers and most impressive blackbirds. As the days goes on the sky often shows hawks and eagles riding the warm air. Sitting on one of the many terraces you get a real feeling of being connected to the gardens and thus to the land.
(But our absolute favorite animal on the property is Betty. To me El Refugio would be incomplete and a less friendly place without the dutiful and charming antics of sweet Betty, the dog.)
All this and I haven’t even begun to write about what I love about the house itself. First off, as a book lover, the thrill of the main entrance lies mostly in the seven bookcases that line the walls, all stocked with the most wonderful treasures, accumulated over many years. A quick right off of the entrance reveals the colorfully tiled kitchen, a kitchen that is so conducive to warm and friendly cooking, as the house is conducive to warm and friendly entertaining. Straight on down the entrance hall leads you to the huge and open living room. Towards the dining area is an outside wall completely of glass widows, which affords a view of the property and the surrounding mountains. But one of the amazing features of the house is that every room affords a magnificent and inspiring view. The main bedroom for instance has its view through glass doors that open onto one of the terraces. The mountains you see from there stay with you. I picture them in my memory often.
Probably the thing I love most about the house is the separation of the guest space from the main house. There is a wonderful terrace and guest rooms and a bath up on the roof. The view from here is quite breathtaking. And even better a second building on the property that houses an artist studio and two more bedrooms and a bath above. Most of my fondest memories are from the terrace of this building, from which every aspect of El Refugio can be viewed. The pool, the main house, the surrounding lands and again those haunting mountains. Many a serene hour was spent here.
To add to all of this, El Refugio’s location in the town of Huayapam itself is one of the best features of the house. I grew to love walking to the markets and little stores in town, where I could find everything I needed. Meeting the neighborhood children and discovering what lay up that road or behind that bend was a genuine pleasure.
Finally the staff that was assembled for my mother’s stay at the house will be held warmly and quite fondly in my heart. It’s hard to describe the kindness and caring these people showed us. A list would be too long. Words really fail to describe how deeply they touched us. They made our stay so peaceful and cared for us so well, I will be grateful for having met them the rest of my life.
I know this was supposed to be a brief letter. After having written all this, I still feel like I am holding back something. My experience of Oaxaca and Huayapam was so intensely changed by staying at El Refugio, I really don’t have the words to say precisely how. I feel changed by my stay and inspired to return.