Merida

Merida is an hour and half flight from Mexico City – its a colonial town in the centre of the Yucatan province – also one of the hottest spots of Mexico as its central. we stayed in a boutique hotel, housed in an historic building just steps away from Palacio Canton, Yucatan’s anthropology museum. it was hacienda style with a lap pool in the centre of the garden, and although it did breakfast, it didn’t have a restaurant. It took us a while to warm to Merida, it’s not as obviously pretty as San Miguel de Allende, or Oaxaca – a blend of provincial and cosmopolitan, heritage and modern, its charm reveals itself with its peoples who are full of warmth and happiness, enjoying the cities squares and many events that the town puts on for the locals – dancing, music – at first you see a mix of colonial buildings, 1950’s interspersed with tumble down unused buildings…. parts of which remind me of Havana. the streets are named by numbers and are in a grid . The Main Street being Calle 60, with numerous boutiques, restaurants and a lot of squares radiating from the street. walk down to the Cathedral in Plaza de Independecia and there always seems to be some entertainment going on in the square. strangely its the least touristy of the squares, the others filled with restaurants and bars and locals selling hammocks and embroidered tops. there are a lot of shops selling guayaba shirts, the traditional shirts for men with embroidery ; you need to check that they are not cheap copies, but there are a few good co operative shops around and a few artisan selling more finer handiwork. my favourite was Kukul Boutique, which was a bit more pricey than the usual stuff, but very lovely individual pieces, especially the cute children’s embroidered clothes. I always buy myself a handicraft item to remind me of the places.

Avenue de Montejo is a long wide Main Street, sometimes known as the Champs Elysees de Mexico. its lined with restaurants and shops and lots of live performing musicians, street buskers and artisan sellers; at first I thought it felt like LA, but in fact it was visited by lots of locals and Mexican tourists too. As its hot by the day, average 35C, its much more comfortable to walk around as the sun is going down. Plaza Montejo is where they set up a stage and host traditional folklore dance and music and singing – its where the locals all congregate and is really fun to see. it was actually very nice to be amongst all the locals enjoying these outdoor events once the heat of the day has gone by. Apparently every Thursday in Plaza Santa Lucia, there is singing, which has been an tradition for more than 50 years – la serenata. On a sunday morning the long Avenue de Montejo is closed for cars and locals cycle up and down with their kids enjoying a car free zone

there are a lot of restaurants to choose from, but we ate lunch at Chaya Maya, which is alongside the Parque Santa Lucia, housed in a pink building, there is a lovely central courtyard full of tropical plants, a collonade filled with tables – a lofty colonial style, which is very atmospheric – you can watch the ladies making the lovely tortillas as you come into the restaurant. Food is typically Mexican traditional. Note that breakfast is as big a meal as lunch, but we mostly ate a big lunch followed by a lighter meal of tacos, panuchas, Salbutes which are lightly fried tortillas . These are simply filled with chicken or beef, spinach, onions, so are both nutritious and tasty and light. There are also lots of choices for vegetarians and vegans. Tamales are soft corn tortillas wrapped up. another good place for lunch or dinner is Hacienda Teya – more modern in style, but very clean and tasty food. There are a lot of modern designed restaurants in Mexico, so you can do a mix of traditional or contemporary.

There are also many hidden inner courtyards which are little markets – some selling art, some just food and drink – this whole concept of food stalls all in one place where you choose what you fancy and then sit down seems to be a worldwide thing now.

Another interesting shop is Ensemble Artisan – a collaboration of design and crafts, supporting local artisan and making sure that they are paid fairly. There were so many beautiful items from wooden stools, woven textiles, stone bowls and embroidered cushions, and it ensures that the craftsperson is being paid fairly.

Walk down calle 47 – a street full of trendy bars and restaurants – apparently they are trying to revive this street, and so you will see beautiful restored Casas with courtyards laid out for dinner alongside derelict properties. we ate in Mikaela’s, a modern Mexican restaurant, which would not look out of place in London or Barcelona. Lunch at Oliva – an Italian is very good Italian food if you would like a change from Mexican. Monday did seem a day when a lot of the restaurants are closed. The food was pretty good and the prices cheaper than London, though higher than when I was there previously a few years ago. Covid seems to have really hiked up hotel and restaurants prices throughout the world. we strolled back via Ave Montejo and had a drink in Bar Impala – a 1950’s style diner that plays a lot of Elvis. A lot of Mexico seems to have had a boom in the 50’s and hence there are a lot of these buildings alongside the colonial style. Merida is definitely a mish mash of architecture, waning towards Havana derelict but there is definitely a charm to the city; the locals have a quiet melancholy about them and everywhere they serve you with respect and kindness and warmth.

take a walk down to the market – Lucas de Galvert, just a few blocks from the main square. it was just what we expected, bustling, full of locals, selling everything from fish, fruit, baskets, hammocks. we wondered where the locals bought their fresh food, as there are very few supermarkets.

one of the main reasons Merida is popular is because its relatively close to much of the Mayan ruins, the coastline with its fishing villages, and the Cenotes, natural phenomena pools of water. we decided to do one trip out from Merida, to the Cenotes, of which there are many to go to in the surrounding area. These natural pools of water, some hidden underground in caves are a big attraction, but the water to swim in is so amazing. we went to Santa Barbara, which was about a 45 minute drive away as there are 3 together that you can visit. one you have to climb through a hole in the rock and then they have built wooden steps down, but it really is worth the visit. Swimming in the open air ones are so magical – they are basically sink holes, which in Mayan days were seen as very spiritual places, and also a big water source, which is why many of the Mayan ruins are around the Cenotes. we actually booked a private taxi who took us there, but then on the way back we stopped in the local towns.

we absolutely fell in love with Homun, which was just holding their annual fiesta. There was a makeshift bullring with metal structure faced with hay to create the walls – access was by steep ladders on the outside. Apparently there were rodeo shows and bulls, with their horns sawed off, which we saw being delivered in a truck. it was such a colourful event, watching the young boys in their rodeo outfits, the religious processions, and the locals dressing up for their celebrations.

I found driving through those villages with their many pastel painted houses, their interesting colourful churches as pleasurable as the big tourists sights.

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