So the tale begins in Merida, Yucatan….
As I grow older and face the inevitable reality of mortality, I find the most compelling motivation to stick around is a growing love of learning and understanding the world I live in. History has become a favorite subject. We have seized the opportunity to visit the Yucatan and immerse ourselves in history and culture, present and past. To say “it is about time” rings true on every level.
I have no experience in this country. On the recommendation of a friend, I have chosen the city of Merida, capital of the state of Yucatan, as our base for a six-day visit. The best way to become familiar with an area is to get our boots on the ground and see where the road leads. We are on the road to find out.
Seven hours of flying Aeromexico with a stop-over in Mexico City lands us at the aeropuerto in Merida. Flying over the state of Yucatan I am impressed with the magnitude of expanse of empty country. This contrasts with the expanse of urban development around Mexico City. The endless countryside is often punctuated by large complexes of what I assume to be warehouses or more likely greenhouses. As we approach the city the expansive development switches over to homogenized accumulations of cookie-cutter condos.
Emerging from the airport terminal I am immediately assaulted by the heat and humidity and realize I may have over packed. We have rented a Budget car through Expedia to aid us in our forays. The first adventure is finding Budget. I will make a long story short and just sum up by saying next time we will use Avis, thank you. (Hint: I have never been given a rental car with an empty tank and told to return it empty.)
Had it not been for Google Maps and Garmin over the course of the next week, we would have been in a terrible quandary and quagmire of entombed calle’s. Merida is a culturally historic city. It has also become a modern sprawl. While classically Mexican in many regards, it is becoming quite Americanized. Along the way we found Walmarts and a Costco, Burger Kings, Subways, and even a Texas Steakhouse. Our goal at the moment is a local hotel by the name of: La Mision de Fray Diego . To quote Trip Advisor: La Mision de Fray Diego is an old house of the century XVII, restored and converted into a charming and tasteful boutique first class just 1 block and a half from Main Square. It is indeed a charming and calming oasis nestled into an otherwise run down and somewhat noisy (traffic) neighborhood. I would not hesitate to give this little hotel my full recommendation.
We made regular evening jaunts up to the historic plaza and always felt safe and secure. We have come to the Yucatan to visit Mayan ruins. I am impressed with the number of modern Mexican ruins that are interspersed throughout the tightly packed neighborhoods. Great buildings of a grand era that have been abandoned and fallen into disuse and disrepair. At the same time there are any number of great and grand structures ranging from cathedrals to historic homes to government buildings located on any number of plazas that are regularly spaced throughout the city. Plenty of shops with everything you might need and lots of schlock I could not imagine anyone needing, each vying for your attention by blasting music louder than the next fellow. Single lane sidewalks carrying their capacity of pedestrian traffic. Paver stone streets that are also too narrow carrying their capacity of vehicle and bus traffic hell bent on making the next light. Americans should not be overly cavalier in assuming that pedestrians have the right of way.
Let’s take a tour around Merida:
Walking up to the main plaza, we were immediately taken with the Catedral de San Ildefonso . I made this photo with an iPhone, which became an increasingly common tool along my trails. The cathedral was open and we enjoyed a moment of peace within the sanctuary. Out of respect, I refrained from making photos of the interior. I would highly recommend if you visit to make time to appreciate this historic church. The vaults will put you in heaven.
Just around the corner is Palacio de Gobierno, which houses government offices. We are in the courtyard and I regret we did not take time subsequently to admire the abundant art displayed throughout the hallways. Manana.
Palacio Municipal is located on the west side of the Plaza. The most interesting aspect of this building was just the architecture from the outside. We looked around the interior and just found what appeared to be pretty standard offices occupying an otherwise historic building.
I was quite struck by the facades around the entry and windows of La Casa de Montejo. The elder Montejo was the man responsible for “conquering” the Yucatan. (He named the Yucatan apparently, after asking the local folks: “Where am I?” and they replied: “We don’t understand you” which in Mayan was essentially the phrase: Yucatan). I felt the facade on the entry gave a pretty good impression of what the conquistadors and Spaniards did to the Mayans. Exploring that entry revealed to us that we could tour a fair bit of Montejo’s home at no cost. DEAL. A most eclectic collection of furnishings that had more to do with displaying wealth than showing good taste.
Every Wednesday night at 8:30 there is a public presentation on the plaza which includes video mapping of the mansion as well as a reenactment of a “discussion” between a Mayan on the street and Montejo on the balcony above the entry. There is also a presentation of traditional Mexican dancers. On Friday nights at 8:30 there is a rather incredible video mapping show on the Cathedral. Do NOT miss these events if you are in town. This was a great reason to be staying near the Plaza Grande.
Car and bus traffic are not the only hazards on the streets around the Plaza Grande. You can also get run over by a horse, or you can choose the safe option of riding in the carriage.
Merida was a city whose early fortune was made upon the manufacturing of rope. Hemp was a major crop and rope was in high demand. Many great haciendas were built, and some have recently been resurrected from their disuse.
During the course of our stay, I was impressed at how economical commodities and dining appeared. Fuel, not so much. Carolyn found a great article on The Cost of Living in Merida which you might find of interest.
Tomorrow we will make our first excursion out of town to Dzibilchaltun. Come visit “The place where there is writing on the stones” – Dzibilchaltun
More full resolution photos from Merida are here on our local Merida Gallery.