This article originally appeared on VICE Mexico
A yellow light trickles in from the end of a corridor, along with the soft but constant sound of the waves. The rest is darkness. I'm on the second floor of a deserted hospital that stands on the Ciudad Madero beach in Tampico, a city in the Mexican state Tamaulipas. I've heard that the view of the Gulf of Mexico from the top of this building is otherworldly, but I can't seem to get there. Ever since I was little, I've heard stories about this building and they all come flooding back to me now – on my way to the roof. Fear fixes my feet to the second floor and won't let me move forwards or backwards. It's not the ghost that many Tampico residents swear they've seen lurking around the estate that worries me the most, but the dead body that some kids found just over a year ago in this concrete labyrinth.
In a city protected by extraterrestrials, it's curious that the strangest local legends are based on these ruins. To the northeast of Tampico, driving for about five minutes up the Luis Donaldo Colosio urban corridor, a small gap on the right side of the road acts as an entrance to one of the most mysterious buildings in the city: the Juan Álvarez Díaz Rehabilitation Centre, known locally as the Hospital Naturista. Built by and for the Union of Oil Workers of the Mexican Republic, the former hospital represents Tampico's recent history in a nutshell.
At the main entrance of this three-storey corpse is an enormous concrete trade union plaque, which has been there since 1984. During the union's short period of activity, the rooms of the Hospital Naturista were dedicated to nutrition and eye problems, but also offered rehabilitation services such as magnetotherapy and hydromassage to any union member. According to journalist Marco Antonio Flores, in its time the hospital boasted "the most advanced technology in all of Latin America." However, five years after opening its doors, the hospital closed abruptly in 1989. That same year saw the arrest of Joaquín Hernández Galicia – known as la Quina (quinine) – the then Secretary-General of the trade union.
But the rapid end to the hospital's operation was barely the beginning of its story. From 1989 until 1994 – when it was finally completely abandoned – a private security team was put in charge of looking after the place. It was in these years that the supernatural legend of the building was born. Like so many abandoned hospitals, its corridors are said to be primarily haunted by the ghost of a deranged nurse – in this case, the ghost is La planchada (which in Spanish means 'smartly-dressed woman').
As the story goes, while the rehabilitation centre was still in operation, it employed a very stylish nurse, who fell in love with a young doctor. The doctor broke her heart, and the heartbreak made La planchada (which also means "sad woman") treat her patients cruelly – to the point that she somehow became responsible for the death of a nine-year old. To avenge the death of his child, the father allegedly cut the nurse's throat with a scalpel. Although many maintain to have seen the ghost, sceptics argue that this story is unlikely to be true because terminal patients were never treated and high-risk operations were never carried out in Hospital Naturista.
Situated 200 metres from the sea, Naturista boasts the remains of two swimming pools (one outdoor pool and one indoor pool that looks like it could be a jacuzzi), rooms with balconies and sea-views, palm trees and a terrace with scenery that not even the French impressionists could have imagined. If it weren't for the three floors of darkness and its remote location, this would be an ideal place to hang out and chat on a November afternoon. Or, to party.
Which is exactly what the youth of Tampico thought in the 1990s and, excited rather than anxious about the La planchada legend, they frequently used the venue as a place for raves. Although during this period, stories from ravers who swore they had seen apparitions reinforced the ghostly myth, it wasn't until real horror struck that the hospital took on a malevolent character in the minds of locals.
The ground floor area, opening up to the swimming pools is right in front of the sea. The tiles there are streaked with marker pen and varnish, and at the end of the room, an enormous heart painted on the wall reveals access to another series of bedrooms.
It's in one of these bedrooms that I find my first pentagram – drawn between two windows and under the words 'Where is your love now? Welcome to your hell.' It's difficult to prove that satanic rituals were carried out in this hospital, but animal remains and blood have been found on the premises, while a bunch of testimonies from people who claim to have attended a ritual can be found online.
I am looking to move to the next floor and there are two ways of going up: a scary-looking but walkable ramp and a flight of stairs the end of which disappears into darkness. Seeing as I want to live to tell the tale of my visit to this inter-dimensional wormhole, I opt for the ramp. But first, another pentagram catches my eye. It's accompanied by an upside-down cross and the word Lusbel (Lucifer) and it marks the entrance to a series of orange rooms that seem to have once functioned as changing rooms.
Some of these changing rooms are covered in old shoes – high heels are hanging from the ceiling with yellow tape and trainers have been stuck to the wall, as if invisible people are walking up and down. That's probably the part of my visit that freaks me out the most.
Fearing that I'm about to shit myself, I run up the final flight of stairs towards the roof in seconds. Reaching the top feels like coming out of the water after a deep dive. The trip was totally worth it though: This roof is enormous. To the East, you can see the horizon, the beach and some tiny people walking on it. To the West, the sun is hiding behind the outline of Tampico and Ciudad Madero. The flames coming from the oil refinery compete with the rays of the sun.
For more than 20 years now, the Hospital Naturista has been watching all this, evening after evening – accompanied by doctors, ravers, criminals, ghosts and more recently, kids who come to play paintball. A true witness to everything that takes place in the heart of Tamaulipas – and often, a victim too.
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