Off the Tourist Trail

Trip Start Sep 07, 2011
Trip End Dec 22, 2011

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Flag of Mexico  , Yucatan Peninsula,
Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Don't go buying a plane ticket to see Merida on its own, but if you find yourself along La Ruta Maya it's a decent enough place to spend an afternoon.   With a million people, this is the largest of the three Meridas in the world...the other two being in Venezuela and Spain.  The Centro Historico has some colonial buildings in various states of decay and plenty of people watching.  With some imagination I can see what this place looked like 200 years ago.

My four hour ride over to Merida from Cancun was aboard a first class bus complete with movies, big seats, and a bathroom.   The chicken bus is usually more my style but they don't seem to exist in these parts of Mexico.  Only a couple of dollars separates the second class buses for the great unwashed versus the one I took this morning so why not?   I even splurged for a taxi to the hostel because it's a fixed zone rate (no ripoffs) and I hadn't made heads or tails of the street system yet.   Every street on the grid is called "Calle" whether north-south or east-west and they are all numbered.  I finally figured out that evens go one way and odds the other.   This would have been a hot walk anyway across the downtown.  See...we can justify anything in life.  Sometimes ponying up the cash is the only way to go.

One of the enroute movies on the bus was very randomly My Life in Ruins which I halfway watched.  About all that hit me from the flick is that most tourists are comfortable flocking to that which is familiar even though they travel thousands of miles to seek out something new.   I am not even sure if this is the message of the movie or not, but this concept seems to hold true for many that I see.   Even the backpackers with their holier than thou attitudes and illusions of street cred congregate in the places that cater to the gringos.  This holds true not only in Mexico but also in other places I visit.

Part of coming to Merida was to get off this tourist trail merry go round and observe life in a real Yucatan city far removed from Cancunīs Zona Hotelera and $10 buckets of beer that attract gringos like flies on a pile of fresh cow dung.   About the only people sharing my bland pigment in Merida were some mennonites in a department store, and I presume they are from Belize on a shopping trip.   Getting off the tourist trail puts me right into my element, and about five gallons of sweat fueled me around the Centro Historico this afternoon. 

The more I dig into Mexico the more I see some faint similarities with Vietnam.   The newer buildings are concrete slabs straight out of some Vietnamese streetscape.   I suppose piles of concrete and buckets of bright paint can only create so much distinct grandeur that most countries at these latitudes share.  As in Vietnam, different streets have different trades here, too.   I passed down casket street and made my way up copy street and then over to flower selling street.   People also sell slices of fruit from stands and I wish I knew enough Spanish to tell them to mix a dipping sauce of cayenne pepper and salt like I discovered in Hanoi. Tasty, tasty way to eat mango or pineapple.

For those afraid to cut the cord to the motherland, Merida offers McDonalds and Burger King, and I of course proudly passed them by to bring you somewhere better. I mentally shot Ronald McDonald the bird and instead went local.   A place called El Trapiche off the main plaza offered very cheap very authentic Yucatan food and the crowds inside even at 3pm told me this would be good. Crowds don't usually lie when it comes to finding the best local foods and $4 later my stomach wasn't disappointed.   And I can say with a fair amount of confidence that my tacos oinked in a former life.   Ah, the joys of identifiable meat products.   

Having never been a real fan of Mexican food and also afraid that at any time Montezuma could rear his ugly revenge, I arrived in Mexico a bit skeptical as to the cuisine.  I can happily report that all sits well the past few days, and the grub is mucho delicioso and el cheapo. Be gone crappy #1 Speedy Gonzales lunch combination plate at El Azteca. You arenīt even worthy to share he word Mexican with your cousins down here.  I can also probably thank Vietnam for giving me an iron stomach since Hanoi provides standards that are shall we say less than lacking.  18 months of dining out in Hanoi have so lowered my standards that were I some food inspector, Iīd hand out Aīs across the board here in Mexico.  And that is saying something.

A belly fat with food inspired me to find a cooking class here in Merida and lo and behold a place does exist near the Centro.   With great anticipation of creating my own guacamoles and empenadas and all else that goes down so well with a beer, I knocked on the imposing wooden door of the school to hopefully register for anything requiring chopping and dicing.    Damn, no answer. I tried ringing the bell several times but the place was dead. Oh well. I will definitely try again later on down the road.   For now the crowds will just have to lead me to the best dishes these cities have to offer. 

How I got here:

5 minute walk from Hostel Quetzal to bus terminal
ADO bus from Cancun to Merida - 1000 departure 268 pesos ($20.00) 4 hours
5 minute taxi from terminal to Hostel La Casa del Tio Dach - 30 pesos ($2.25)

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