The story of the pirate Mundaca and his hacienda on Isla Mujeres has fascinated us since we moved here in 2008.
Fermín Antonio Mundaca de Marecheaga was born in October 1825 in the village Bermejo de Santa María, Spain. When he completed his education he shipped out to sea, eventually becoming captain of his own ship and a wealthy slave-trader in the Caribbean, selling Mexican Mayan slaves to Cuban plantation owners.
In 1860 when the British campaigned against slavery, Mundaca rented out his ships to the Spanish government in the Yucatán peninsula. The officials continued to capture Mayans and sell them to Cuba, decimating the rebellious population.
Mundaca then set about building a large hacienda on Isla Mujeres that he named Vista Alegre (Happy View), eventually covering over 40% of the island. There were areas for livestock, birds, vegetable gardens, fruit orchards and exotic plants that were brought from all over the world.
While building his home and expanding his giant estate, he fell in love with a 16-year-old Mayan girl named Martiniana Gómez Pantoja. She was described as having “deep green eyes like the surf and bronze skin that shone like the sun.”
He built her a beautiful garden with great stone arches where he carved her name, La Trigueña, or The Brunette, above the apex.
But the dark-haired beauty, 37 years his junior, married her childhood sweetheart and Mundaca grew isolated and lonely. The islanders described his as mad. Wanting to be near La Trigueña when he died, he built a tomb in 1879 in the flamboyant, crowded cemetery in centro.
Mundaca died at age 55 in Mérida from complications related to syphilis and was buried in that city. Etched on the tombstone covering his empty crypt on Isla Mujeres 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.”
But wait, there’s more to the story. The Hacienda Mundaca is a rustic park controlled jointly by municipal and federal authorities. In the park lake is at least one crocodile.
Across the street from the main entrance is a swampy pond that was a favorite weekend getaway for the mama crocodile. Several times a year municipal workers were tasked with removing mama from the natural pond that happened to be strategically close to a supply of cats and dogs, and across the street from the brand new hospital.
Recently, when city workers returned her to the lake, there were six babies complicating the procedure. The obvious conclusion would be that somewhere mama met up with a handsome crocodile dude and they had a bit of adult fun. Then during a particularly rainy October one of the adult crocodiles made a break for freedom, scooting down the road past the big church, right on by the new cemetery, and into the ocean.
A surprised passerby reported the breakout and the Great Crocodile Hunt was on. Soon there was a gaggle of curious people, the police, the marines toting big guns, and a boat load of fishermen chasing the reptile while it swam towards Playa Norte.
It swam so quickly past our house we couldn’t get a decent photo, so we hopped into the golf cart and drove ahead of the swarm of onlookers. Eventually the crocodile was netted by the fishermen in the bay near centro, and returned unharmed to the lake at the hacienda.
You can see why we are so fascinated by the mystique surrounding the Hacienda Mundaca Park, and Pirate Fermín Mundaca.
The entrance fee is an inexpensive 30 pesos, and you can wander through the modest home and explore the remnants of the beautiful garden — but watch out for the crocodiles in the lake. Muhhhhuh!
The writers are Canadians who have been full-time residents of Isla Mujeres for nearly 10 years. You can read their blog here.
For more pirate fun join the hunt for buried treasure. Treasure Isla is a humorous Caribbean adventure set on Isla Mujeres and written by Lynda Lock. Two 20-something women find themselves in possession of a seemingly authentic treasure map, which leads them on a chaotic search for buried treasure while navigating the dangers of too much tequila, disreputable men and a killer. And there is a dog, a lovable rescue-mutt. Kindle edition available for US $2.99 at MND Marketplace.