Rope Making at Hacienda Sotuta de Peon

Ever wonder how ropes are made? Well, I didn't. This is another of those times when we learn about something that we didn't know we didn't know. After reading several great Trip Advisor reviews about Hacienda Sotuta de Peon, we set out to learn. (BTW, this counts as a homeschooling day!) We spent 40 minutes on less traveled roads searching for this former 19th Century plantation turned museum. 

Hacienda Sotuta de Peon is a restoration project focused on preserving the history of how a native plant was farmed for its fibers and made into rope. It all starts with this:

 Sisal Agave plants

Sisal Agave plants

These plants are relatives of the Blue Agave plants that make tequila. They are Sisal Agave plants. Like their Blue Agave cousins they can be used to make alcohol but that was not part of this tour. 

The sisal is grown as any farmed crop is, in planned rows and bunches. When plants are mature the leaves are harvested and gathered for processing. 

 Fresh cut sisal ready to be processed.

Fresh cut sisal ready to be processed.

Using a large and LOUD machine the sisal is first lifted up from the street onto a conveyor belt where it is arranged by hand for maximum efficiency.

 Sisal leaves being placed and spaced for processing. 

Sisal leaves being placed and spaced for processing. 

The conveyor belt then pulls the sisal into a mechanism that cracks the leaves open, removes the outer shell and outputs the inner fibers.

 The inner guts of the sisal leaves.

The inner guts of the sisal leaves.

These fibers are the basis for ropes but first they have to dry.

 Sisal fibers are dried using modern solar power.

Sisal fibers are dried using modern solar power.

Once dried, the fibers are soft to the touch but tangled. Knots within the strands must be removed before you can proceed. They can be removed by hand with what is essentially a big sisal brush. 

 Tag using the brush. He had to pull really hard initially but it loosened up quickly.

Tag using the brush. He had to pull really hard initially but it loosened up quickly.

Bunches of brushed fibers are then laid out end to end and lightly twisted together so that they become entwined, but not visibly knotted. The end result is a long strand of interconnected sisal fibers. Once you make two of those strands you are ready for the braiding machine. All you have to do is tie up two strands to this hand cranked machine, make a few passes and you've got a rope! 

It was a simple and ingenious process that was used for hundreds of years. Over time the machines evolved and the process became more industrialized. 

 Ela examining the machines used for mass producing ropes.

Ela examining the machines used for mass producing ropes.

Eventually nylon and other synthetic materials were created and they changed the economics of the industry. Places like this hacienda could no longer compete and ultimately shut down. Hacienda Sotuta de Peon exists today as a living and working museum. They even transport visitors around they way workers were transported over a century ago (by horse).

 This horse pulled our entire tour group around the plantation via a cart attached to a rail system.

This horse pulled our entire tour group around the plantation via a cart attached to a rail system.

 Obligatory family picture while sitting on a horse drawn cart

Obligatory family picture while sitting on a horse drawn cart

The horse drawn tour ended with a stop at one of the plantation's four cenotes. A cenote is a naturally formed collection of filtered rainwater. The water is generally very clear and like the one we swam in that day, they are often underground and in caves. It was quite a site and refreshing. 

 The inside of the cenote at Hacienda Sotuta de Peon

The inside of the cenote at Hacienda Sotuta de Peon

Are we glad we did this? Absolutely. Would we do it again? No, once is enough. We do recommend it for anyone in the area that's interested.

For those of you looking for the cliff notes on rope making, here's our entire tour condensed into 30 seconds. Enjoy!