Making Merry in Merida
Trip Start Mar 11, 2011
217Trip End Ongoing
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We arrived on a Sunday afternoon during the monthlong celebration of their 370th anniversary. Perfect timing! The pretty zocalo (main plaza) was abuzz with activity until late - drummers drumming, mimes miming, cooks cooking, dancers dancing, vendors vending, buyers buying, and a partridge in a pear tree? We sat down to try some local cuisine at a street stall and met a lovely Venezuelan architect called Jose Angel and would you believe it? We were staying at the same hostel!
Every Sunday morning from 9am to midday the main thoroughfare through the city is cordoned off and dotted with students in reflective jackets. Telcel mobile network offers free bikes to borrow (at what real cost, I'm not sure?) or you can hire them for 40 pesos per hour. But Jose Angel kindly offered his bike to me on our second Sunday in town. Mario opted to hang at the pool with his book. He missed out because it was loadsa fun! It was great to be back on a bike. It was still a novelty since I only learned how to ride in 2010 (I was a sickly child). It seems some kids were getting lessons in the middle of the road, probably not the best place learn! Good thing I took those Road Safety lessons in London. Constant caution was required.
My butt didn't enjoy the cobblestones and frequent stops in the historic centre but the stretch along Paseo de Montejo was smooth-sailing. This is also where the community activities were. Local families took full advantage by participating in dad-and-son obstacle courses, arts-and-crafts for the kids, and there was even roadside Twister! Free purified water and public toilets were very welcome as this was the day after the day of my mammoth hangover (see below). A great way to spend a Sunday morning!
The cuisine in the Yucatan was nothing to write home about (or even to write much about in a blog). At first we thought perhaps it was just the cheap street food but one night we splashed out the hostel and Lonely Planet recommended La Chaya Maya. After all, they always had a queue full of gringos. But those meals too were decidedly average. Perhaps our tastebuds have been spoilt by the rich and spicy flavours across the rest of the country? Perhaps the Yucatan flavours are tailored towards North American palates? That's what I told the hostess who quizzed me on my comments and ratings on their feedback form
One saving grace for the face of Yucatan cuisine was a small taco stand in Plaza Santiago market. They served possibly the best gringas ever! This is what we spent our days hunting for... the perfect taco. If we haven't it before, a gringa is a flour tortilla filled with shavings of marinated pork (straight off the skewer kebab-shop stylee), melted cheese and grilled pineapple. Yummmmeeee!!
The usual Mexican and Mayan touristy stuff is for sale in Merida but hammocks are the great must-have around here. Apparently they are "the best in the world". One day I joined Sheri (Canadian) on a hunt for the perfect hammock but things took an unexpected turn. Enroute we stopped at a cashpoint and the convenience store next door. A random guy started chatting to me, asking where I'm from. Apparently he'd seen me pass his restaurant a few times (stalk much?).
Sheri joined the conversation just as the flavour turned philosophical. Juan (two, three?) explained the significance of 2012 in the Mayan calendar. That it's a time for renewal, a time to focus our attention to ourselves, and prepare for the new cycle (did you know that the cycle ending consists of at least 5126 years?) Turns out that Juan is a shaman! He recommended that Sheri go to see another shaman at Mundo Maya, a hammock shop...so she did. Why the heck not?! Meanwhile I made herself comfy in the display hammock. That day Sheri got more than she bargained for! Only time will tell if the shaman's healing actions and stones make a difference, but nonetheless this was an unexpected intro to Latino American shamanism
More merry buddies were made at Nomadas Hostel. The set-up is conducive - outdoor communal area and kitchen, the hammocks and tables around the swimming pool. Week-nightly free salsa lessons (we did 3 out of 5) with a charismatic teacher and live trova music created further opportunity for low-pressure mingling. But for most of that week my mood was less than sociable so Mario did all the social legwork while I often retreated to the room for me-time. I guess constantly making new friends, and having the same conversations eventually takes its toll - absolutely no reflection on the wonderful people present at the time! It was with buddies made at the hostel that we ventured to our daytrip locations (see next entries on Celestun and Cuzama).
Plans to show off our newly acquired moves at the local salsa club that Friday evening fell by the wayside. Instead we opted to hang out at the hostel and polish off a bottle of El Mirador between 6 of us - The Lees, Sheri (Canada), Lars (Swiss), Olivia (Oz) and a random San Franciscan travelling with his mum. We got through most of the tequila before Jesus appeared, confiscated the bottle and sent us to our rooms! Sure, enough tequila can make you see things (or make you go blind?) but I swear he was really there! Jesus is the name of the poor sod with the uneviable duty of enforcing the hostel rules. "No hard liquor allowed." What do you mean we can't drink tequila in Mexico? That's blasphemy!
Tails between our legs we eased ourselves out of the hammock having proven that it can hold 4 people
at Mayan bar where a Mexican band was belting out rock classics. We found a spot between the tweenies and ordered the first jug of cerveza. The rest was a blur...
The next day was a right-off for Dee. It must've been something she ate! *blush* Her body had declared a mutiny, expelling anything vaguely resembling food or drink from it. Enough is enough, she (the body) said! No more delaying those new year's resolutions! One benefit of hiding out in the room that day was avoiding getting told off again. Olivia bore the worst of the brunt. Being a long-term hostel-dweller (while finding an apartment) the implicit expectation was that she keeps the delinquents in check! hehe! Sorry for getting you into trouble, Olivia! All the best your new teaching jobs!
We were running low on Bio-oil bought in Fort Lauderdale and didn't expect to find any in Latin America. But lo and behold! It's available at the local Soriana, Mexico's answer to Walmart. Even more surprising was the price for a 60ml bottle - 70 pesos! (3.50 pounds, 42 rands, 5.50
dollars) You can't even get that price online
imperfect Spanish I challenged the supervisor and then the manager. After much silence and back-and-forthing, they finally honoured the price as displayed! So I'm happy to report that retail best practice is alive and well in Mexico! Made me wish I'd bought more..
Aside - if you haven't yet discovered the joy that is Bio-oil, you really should give it a try. It's available at Walmart and CVS in the US and Boots, Tesco's and Sainsbury's in the UK, and just about everywhere in South Africa. Along with Charlize Theron and Amarula liqueur (also available in Mexico!), Bio-oil is one of South Africa's biggest exports!