#3 Yucatan, Nov. 29, 2013
Merida was great! However, even though I had been there about 35 years ago, none of it looked familiar. The Zocalo Hostel was located right on the Zocalo in an old colonial house very near the pink Municipal Building. The beds were regular single beds, not cots or bunks; they served eight kinds of fruit for breakfast plus the usual stuff AND single made omelets with tomatoes, onions and cheese. And the price? $8.25 a night! Wow!
I took an all day tour to see more flamingoes and other shore birds, which was a little slow going. We did see a young flamingo that was still white—they turn pink from the shrimp that they eat. In the meantime my camera had gone on the fritz, so I have to focus it manually—a drag! Still I got some nice pictures of birds and other wildlife.
We saw cenotes, which are pools of fresh water bubbling up from under ground, and some of our group went swimming in one. The tour guide said that these were caused by the big meteorite that hit here 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs. However, I noticed he was off on some other facts about the area so I’m not sure this cause is accurate. I hadn’t slept well the night before (in the big comfy bed!) and we didn’t eat lunch until late so I was both tired and hungry, which probably colored my judgment about the tour. Two alligators seemed glad to see us—and we, them.
We visited one Mayan site, Xcambo, (pronounced Sh-cam’bo) which, although small, was nice. We saw a coatimundi (aardvark), who stole a sack of cookies from some other visitors. We drove out on a pier at Progresso, the seaport about a half hour north of Merida, where our tour guide fed the gulls. The Mayans extracted salt from some particular beds in the estuary, and this area still produces salt crystals. Our tour guide gathered some up from the bottom, then put them on some peanuts, which we ate. We finally had lunch at 5:00 (!) and then returned to Merida.
Sunday I got the regular bus at the bus station that goes to five Mayan archeological sites, waiting about 45 minutes at each. I saw Labna, Xlapak, Sayil, Kabah and Uxmal. They were all beautiful and well worth seeing. I had seen some of these before, about 35 years ago. When I got to Uxmal, things had really changed. They have excavated so much more than when I was here before, and there were droves of people—a change. This was a great way to see a lot of Mayan sites, which I like to visit.
Sunday night is big in the zocalo in Merida. All day and evening they block off the streets, have bands to entertain and dance to, and many food and souvenir stalls do a brisk business. While there were tourists there, this mainly seemed to be the locals, kicking up their heels.
The city tourist bureau sponsored a small walking tour around the zocalo. We learned a lot of history from our guide, which related to the various buildings that still exist. Now, they’re banks or museums. The 16th century Montejo House was the property of the Spaniard that conquered Yucatan, and was right next door to my hostel.
The next day, Tuesday, I went churching and museuming. I started with the Iglesia de Jesus—nothing terribly outstanding here, but pleasant. The Iglesia de Jesus was big and pretty, with a lovely old organ. The stones were obviously from the old Mayan pyramids. The Iglesia de Santa Lucia was red, warm and inviting—they were either just having or had had a wedding/funeral as there was a plethora of flowers in the chancel.
I walked down the Paseo de Montejo—their version of the Champs-Elysees– with its 1900’s Victorian houses. The twin houses had one for the servants and one for the family!
I grabbed a city bus, which took me near the Museo de Ciudad. Old and new art competed for attention. Then I saw a painting of an elephant on top of a building, which I think I remember from 35 years ago. It listed the address and so I walked a long way to find it. Yes, it was there, but not so pretty as the painting with all the electrical wires in the way—still, a fun thing to remember.
On the way back to my hostel I stopped and bought a small bottle of Bacardi rum and some mango juice to enjoy before my linner. Delicious! Then, for once, I found a wonderful restaurant with good authentic Mexican food. It was a set menu that included great chips (not tough, not scorched) with three kinds of salsa. Next a bean/onion/spaghetti soup was superb. The main course was pollo pibil (chicken cooked in a banana leaf) with beans and rice, all done perfectly. How nice!
In checking out my upcoming trip to Cuba, I discovered that I had booked a room in Havana for the wrong dates! This trip does involve five flights and I mixed up a couple of the dates. Luckily I got it straightened out overnight via email.
My last day in Merida I got a bus and traveled about 40 km to the Hacienda Yaxcopoil, a former henequen hacienda. The buildings have been (sort of) restored to invoke the past when henequen was king in this area. They made sisal—fibers from cactus—into rope and many other things before nylon came on the scene. It made a few families ridiculously wealthy. Coming back, I got a collectivo (shared van) to Uman, and then another to Merida.
I stopped in at the Museo de Arte Contemperaneo Ateneo de Yucatan to see paintings from the best Yucatan artists. Goodness, they sort of assault one—but I suppose if one dwells on the history of this region, the art does come out violent. This mural is by Fernando Castro Pacheco, the same muralist that did the ones in the Government Palace. Those were violent, too!
Today I took a fast, direct, first-class bus from Merida to Cancun, and checked into my Mundo Joven Cancun Hostel, where I had stayed at the beginning of my trip. It took 4 ½ hours, and was pretty boring because there is nothing to see outside except scrub jungle. When I got here I had my ‘Thanksgiving dinner’ of chicken mole poblano, although I think the mole sauce was lacking about 15 of the 27 ingredients. Still, it was passable.
Tomorrow I jet off to Havana, Cuba. You’ll hear from me there, next week (I hope!)