Thursday, February 27 and Friday, February 28, 1975 are the commemorative dates for the marriage of Sofia Angelina Gutierrez Otero and Manuel Ceballos de Novelo, who at the time were administrators of the Hotel Hacienda Uxmal, in whose suites 40 and 41 on the second floor, at where Queen Elizabeth II of England and her husband, Felipe, Duke of Edinburgh, stayed during the monarchs’ visit to the Uxmal archaeological site for the occasion.
The death of the monarch, last Thursday, brought to the marriage the memories of this visit, and immediately out of the drawers and filing cabinets came clippings, photographs, letters, documents, to recall some of the details of such a momentous event.
Although for nearly 70 years the Hotel Hacienda Uxmal has welcomed famous world leaders and political figures from different parts of the world and our country, this visit of the King and Queen of England will be recorded with the grand opening of the light and sound show at a local archaeological site Ushmal, the torrential rain that broke out that night and a brief but special meeting with the distinguished guests in their apartment shortly before their departure.
From the warmth of their living room, Sofia and Manuel share with the newspaper some details that emerge from these memories scattered on the table.
The Hacienda Uxmal Hotel, owned by Fernando Barbachano Peon, dates back to 1955. Its appearance parallels the boom that acquired the archaeological site of the Puuc route.
It was conceived as an accommodation ahead of its time, comfortable, very complete and of unique beauty in a horseshoe shape, with more than 90 rooms on two floors overlooking the central garden and pool and surrounded by jungle.
For 30 years, Sofia and Manuel were administrators of the place, where they met and later married.
As a hotel of recognized prestige, it was not uncommon for various personalities from politics, art, culture and religion to stay there.
Queen Elizabeth II visits Yucatan
Practically at the end of 1974, it was announced that Queen Elizabeth II of England and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, would visit Mexico and the Yucatan was included in the itinerary, specifically the archaeological site of Uxmal.
The hotel he was in charge of was chosen by the Mexican government to house the royal couple and their entourage.
For two months, both hotel administrators and their staff focused on receiving intensive training on the protocol and etiquette to follow around the monarchs.
Although the hotel is always in excellent condition, no effort or budget has been spared to keep it looking immaculate.
“Apartments 40 and 41 were adjacent and the best in the hotel, they were located on the top floor and were interconnected, they had balconies, living rooms, a main room with two double beds, furniture, a bathroom with hot water, a shower and a bathtub.. The monarchs spent the night each in their apartment,” recalls Sofia.
An advance group of monarchs arrived in advance to arrange appropriate security measures at all accommodation for the Queen and her husband.
“There were no great requirements, only that the place was comfortable, functional, safe, quiet. The only thing Queen Elizabeth asked for was a mirror with three moons, which she was immediately given,” Manuel said.
“The Queen and her entourage arrived by bus and settled in, the monarchs were guests of honor for the opening of the new sound and light show at the Uxmal archaeological site, an event marked by the torrential rain that fell and although the only available umbrella was offered to Isabel II , she turned it down on the grounds that if there weren’t enough umbrellas to cover them all, she wouldn’t take it,” Sofia said.
“I’m sorry about the rain, they told the Queen, but she replied that rain was something that was almost always present in London and that she was used to it,” Manuel said.
Other details that came to light during the conversation: the hotel distributed gifts in the rooms of its distinguished guests, a suit for her and a guayabera for him, a garment he used the day they left the hotel. Breakfast basically consisted of fruit, coffee and bread; for lunch the menu was stuffed cheese.
The monarchs’ rooms were fitted with linen sheets and had fans but no air conditioning, they had mosquito nets on the balcony doors so that leaving them open allowed for natural access to fresh air without mosquito problems.
Curiously it turns out that it was a very English tradition to have tea at five in the afternoon, the hosts had to ask friends who were members of prominent families of Yucatecan society for their best silver tea sets to offer this service to Elizabeth II.
The long-awaited private farewell meeting of the monarchs with their hosts finally took place, held in the Queen’s suite.
Prior to this, the hotel administrators were instructed how they were to conduct this meeting, never to turn their backs on the dignitaries, never to shake their hands unless the kings did it first. As they left, they had to take a few steps back before turning around.
The Queen presented Sofia with a box containing several photographs of the royal couple.
“It was a very special and memorable visit, the Queen was beautiful, she had a very beautiful blue dress and her necklaces were exquisite, her complexion smooth and her eyes blue and expressive; The duke was tall and handsome, a real gentleman,” recalls Sofia.
On March 1 of that year, just after the visit to Uxmal, on behalf of the Queen, an authority from the royal household sent a letter to the administrators and staff of the Hacienda Uxmal Hotel.
In the letter, the Queen and her husband expressed their complete satisfaction with the care and service provided by the hotel during the days they stayed and sent the hotel administrators a photograph signed by them and sent from the Queen’s royal yacht anchored in the port of Veracruz.
For Sofia and Manuel, the death of Queen Elizabeth II and that of her husband last year was something very sad, but it also revived the memory of this visit they enjoyed so much.—Emanuel Rincón