The reason we had to rush a little to get to Mérida comes down to a slip-up in our usually very organized lives (haha).
Leanne and Calvin had emailed us to tell us that we’d left our spare set of keys at their place in Tule. They passed them on to another couple who were traveling to the Yucatán peninsula and we’d scheduled to meet them in a few days.
In our opinion, Mérida really is one of the most elegant cities in Mexico.
First, you have the architecture. Most buildings are one story high, so the population and traffic is distributed in a way that makes walking pleasant. Edd also pointed out that the lack of tall buildings means that you can see most of the sky. And the sunsets are outstanding.
The old Spanish colonial buildings may have narrow facades, but when you wander past the huge windows, the Tardis effect is delightful. The bright ceilings are 20 feet tall, and if you look beyond the front rooms you can see into foilage-filled courtyards. Beyond those are more arch-lined corridors.
Second of all, after being in the rest of Mexico, we’ve realized Meridians are pretty chilled out. And the city is super safe. In fact, when we lived there, it’s official nickname was “The City of Peace”. Mérida has since changed it to “The White City”. What that means, we don’t know, but my theory is that the federal government didn’t like the former slogan’s implications for the rest of Mexico!
Anyway, we were excited to return to the city that had been our home for a year in 2011. When we got there, we immediately went out in search of our favorite old bars.
1. The Pompidou gallery, where we used to dance to DJs in an open-air courtyard, was closed for the foreseeable future.
2. Las Vigas, an upstairs joint where we used to get cheap beer and nachos. The tables were a little stickier than we remembered.
3. The Mayan Pub, another bar with a palm tree patio, still had its run-down charm despite it’s takeover by a French owner (there are many French expats in Mérida, and it so happens they have a knack for turning charming, run-down buildings into trendy bars).
4. Hennessy’s, an Irish pub on busy Paseo Montejo with a huge menu of potato and meat dishes, was busier than we had ever seen it, packed with blonde and blue-eyed expats and young well-to-do Mexicans. The economy is good now, maybe.
5. For old times’ sake, we also attended Noche Mexicana, a weekly outdoor event where musicians and dancers perform Yucatecan dances and traditional Mexican ballads, and if you’re lucky you might see a big mariachi band. You can also expect many elderly Mexicans in the audience, singing along to the songs of their youth.
You can also get some Yucatecan snacks that are difficult to find elsewhere, like tamales, distinct from northern tamales because they are cooked in banana leaves instead of corn husks. Then you can find the couple selling Mexican coffee with cinnamon. The Noche Mexicana is a very tame but pleasant affair.
6. We ended the night in La Casa de Todos, a still unmarked bar a few blocks north of the zócalo, where the alternative local crowds smoke hash and drink beers from 1-liter bottles. They also serve homemade pulque now, which they served us out of gallon-sized water jugs into terra cotta mugs.
But Mérida night life isn’t limited to the heavily frequented areas. Sometimes you’ll be walking along a dark street which looks nearly abandoned when you a stumble upon a low-lit bar with old sofas and cheap beer.
Sometimes, “underground” parties materialize in the big courtyards of abandoned houses. It happens right in the city, but you might have to get in-the-know locals to fill you in. These are the secrets of Mérida we really missed.
Despite our one-night drinking binge, we participated in the weekly Sunday morning bici-ruta, which starts on the cobblestone roads south of the center and leads you north, down the huge mansion-lined avenue of Paseo Montejo, called the “Champs d’Elysses of Mérida”.
We cycled all the way to Auto Zone. We finally commited to getting a second transmission cooler, in anticipation of the roads getting more mountainous in South America.
Later we took a bus to the Galerías Mall. I went to H&M, Edd had a drink in Chili’s (can you believe they have TexMex in Mexico) and then we saw The Shape of Water in the VIP theater! We got an Uber back to the hostal. This is Mexico!
The neighborhoods in the south are poorer. On Monday, on the way back from the laundromat, Edd noticed a small dog who had gotten his head stuck in the bars of a patio gate. The tiny patio was piled with old paint buckets, beer cans and boxes, all overgrown with weeds. Nobody was home.
The nextdoor neighbor said she had already freed the dog the day before by rubbing oil all over the dog’s head! She said the owner didn’t actually live at the house. The dog had some bad mange too.
I called animal control (CEMCA) but they transferred me to the police. The police sent an actual animal protection unit to the house. The officers told me it was their only one, and it was formed in 2015. In a country overrun with corruption and criminals, the allocation of resources towards animals is proof of the type of place that Yucatán is.
But it’s still not perfect. The nextdoor neighbor had already freed the dog’s head again, so the situation didn’t look dire anymore. And though the officers were very sympathetic, they couldn’t do anything because, technically, the dog had an owner.
Then a woman appeared out of nowhere and came to the owner’s defense, saying she was a good friend of hers and that the owner took good care of the dog. Blech. Then she one-upped me, but for a good reason:
“We neighbors don’t want to make trouble, but the house across the street hosts clandestine dog fights every Wednesday and Friday night. We hear it and it’s horrible. We’ve called the police but they never do anything. During the day we hear the chains of the dogs that they’re training”.
The police said that she had to call while the fights were happening. They wrote down these numbers:
I was saddened by all of the animal neglect and abuse. But I hope that all of the neighbors, who were peeking out from the doorways, let the little dog’s owner know that I was so disgusted that I called the police. And I hope they also get the courage to stop the dog fights.
While all this was going on, Edd was amazingly productive and installed the new transmission cooler in the van. This should eliminate some of “cool-down” stops we have to make on the mountain roads. Stay tuned to see how it works!
On Tuesday and Wednesday we spent two days at the brake shop Frenos López because our brakes were still making bad noises. This was the fourth time having then looked at in six weeks. Something wasn’t working, and all of it had its roots in our axle replacement in Baja.
These mechanics at put thinner brake shoes on (the other ones were scraping the inside of the drums and a couple were completely pulverized). They changed out the springs which had been pinched again (third set in three weeks). Then for they changed the wheel drums for brand-spanking new ones that fit the axle properly. Hopefully that will do the trick!
While we were waiting at the mechanic’s both days, we bought flights to Cuba for Friday and travel insurance.
The last great thing was meeting up with Axel and Mikena, an Ohian couple who were responsible for bringing our keys all the way from Oaxaca. We put together a smorgasboard dinner when they arrived. We also made them some cookies to say thanks (my favorite now are icebox half chocolate chips, half cacao nibs).
Thursday, we headed for Cancún to prepare for our flight to Cuba! We bought a duffel bag from Walmart and packed a week’s worth of clothes. We parked the van in the hopefully secure parking lot near Terminal 2.
We plan to return to Mérida before we leave Mexico to see friends and some sights that we missed. Maybe we are hanging on to the past. Maybe we are hanging on to Mexico. Maybe it’s just because the weather is gentle this time of the year.
Whatever the reason, a few days in Mérida just wasn’t enough.