The Mexico We Didn’t Know

imageDear Friends: We are in Mérida, Mexico, in the Yucatán Peninsula, where yesterday it was 98 degrees. Today is to be 101. And tomorrow, the temperature will be 104. That’s one-hundred-and-four degrees farenheit! It’s taken us several days to adapt to such a hot climate, or perhaps I should say to learn to survive. The first days we rushed about, stayed out in the mid-day heat like mad dogs, ate too large a lunch at 12:00 sharp, then collapsed in our hotel for several hours in a siesta-stupor. The only thing to revive us was dipping into the grotto-like swimming pool at our small hotel, where M. and I donned swimming suits and swam a few strokes for the first time in about 10 years.image
Now we’ve learned: Like the locals, you go out and about in the early morning, (walking very slow), have lunch between 1:00 and 3:00, stay indoors between 3:00 and 8:00, and venture out for nighttime activities at about 9:00 (when concerts and other cultural activities start). We have a couple of margaritas about 10:30 PM on one of the leafy plazas, and go to bed about midnight. It’s a wild life for us (in Cañar, we’re in bed before 9:30, and the difference in temperature between there and here is about 50 degrees F.)

But we are enjoying ourselves nonetheless, in part because we’ve ended up in this quirky small hotel in the historic center where we are the only guests.
image Casa Mexilio is a colonial townhouse converted into a warren of eight high-ceilinged rooms, narrow twisting stairways, terraces in surprising places, interior balconies with tile awnings (Escher could have been the architect), a small limestone pool at ground level, wrought iron galore, and crammed with Mexican antiques. Oh, and I didn’t mention the mourning cat who has recently lost her three kittens (died soon after birth) and wanders around at night, howling for them. We call her la gata llorona, the crying cat.

(Our room)

The “sala,” or breakfast room, but since no breakfast is offered because we are the only guests, every morning we go around the corner to this lovely place, La Flor de Santiago.
Tripadvisor respondents had many complaints about Casa Mexilio: rude ex-pat owner (“too long in Mexico”), dusty, creepy, Dracula-like. But I had a feeling these might endear us to the place, so I made a reservation for five nights in the Enrique Granados room (a famous Mexican composer). Also, I confess, I like staying in a place where we don’t have to talk to anyone, especially other sun-stunned tourists (like us) that I see out on the streets in large groups, or couples arguing in the market about what Yucatán handcrafts to buy.

Mérida itself has been something of a disappointment. Perhaps because it is so hot, much of life takes place behind tall walls and closed doors. Every house and hotel has a beautiful garden, patio, or terrace inside, but out on the narrow streets traffic thunders by at frightening speeds. The noise level is terrific. Many streets in the historic center are lined with run-down houses, some nothing but facades. Because this is a UNESCO city, these houses cannot be torn down, but neither do the owners want to invest the money to restore them. Many properties are for sale.

And tourism has come full-tilt to Mérida, so streets in tourist areas are teeming with aggressive and insistent vendors and hawkers, haranguing us in broken English to eat at their restaurant or buy their handcrafts or take their tours to Maya sites. In contrast are the quiet and sad-eyed Mayan village women who walk the streets day and night offering their blouses and bags. I finally don’t want to make eye contact with anyone. and that’s no way to travel.

We leave Mérida tomorrow for Campeche, about three hours away by bus, a “colonial gem” on the coast where it’s reported to be even hotter. But a storm is predicted which should bring cooler temperatures. Then we head for the mountains of Chiapas, San Cristobal de las Casas, where hotels have fireplaces and heated floors. Ah, heaven…….
(Finally, a few images of the beautiful floors in every old house, called “baldosas,” tiles made of poured cement with dyed patterns – classic Mexico.)

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12 thoughts on “The Mexico We Didn’t Know

  1. So interesting to hear of your impressions of Merida. I was there 50 years ago and as a young traveler was awe inspired by the clarity of the light, the visual purity that I sought and another world I wanted to understand and know. Perhaps our best intentions of retaining the old creates a facade that doesn’t convey what we really value even though on the surface it looks similar.
    It sounds as if you are acquiring a new understanding of this environment.

  2. How very odd…this is clearly the very same place I stayed several years ago — at that time run by a very gracious older Senora who made us welcome and was kind about my bad Spanish, and yes, it was well-located and very comfortable. The tiny store on a side street with tiny tiny things…like little scenes made up of tiny Dia de Muertos figures…was irrisistable. I’m not a shopper but my skull topped computer teacher scene still makes me laugh. We also went to Chiapas but by car and loved the mountain air there that you’ll clearly welcome.

  3. I, too, remember being in Mérida in 1990 and finding it a great deal more charming. Sounds like it might even have been too hot for you to eat the classic cochinita pibil? Buen viaje y mejor suerte en Chiapas! Please eat some cajeta for me. xo

  4. Merida…where we unknowingly went for our honeymoon in 1986.. December…and perfect temps. Bought hammocks and had fresh squeezed OJ and were taken for a ride In A horse drawn carriage through town with a driver who seemed to want to take us far away …and at that time our Spanish was uncertain, at best.
    Stephen spent a summer in Tuxla some years ago and fell in love with Chiapas and it’s mountains and people…and we have a friend from Portland who mixed to Izamal with his young daughter some years ago…nestled between Merida and Cancun.
    Must return..but the thought of changing the imagine in my head of our honeymoon Merida ($45/night) in an old, lovely hotel….hmmm…maybe not.
    Besos …

  5. July,
    We (myself, my son and his wife and two girls -5 and 3) will arrive in Merida this Friday. We are staying with an old friend who has a lovely place built a few years ago. He is a former Kodak exec like myself married to a girl from Merida. They spend US winters there. Since it is hot, I know the girls, and probably the rest, will spend the time in their pool.
    In my humble opinion, being a UNESCO site has not helped Merida at all. Homes can not be torn down, or renovated, without permission, etc .And time takes its toll in old adobe buildings. I remember the damage caused the year or Katrina, and nothing was repaired for years.
    We are only staying a few days; from there we will take a day trip to Chichen Itza (I have not been there for about ten years) and then head for Cancun to relax..
    The good thing is that we will spend Holy Week and Easter in Mexico,where the celebration is more genuine than in the US.

    Felices pascuas!

  6. If only noises were visual…Merida looks entirely enticing through your lens.
    A room named after someone who wrote lots of music based on Goya paintings must be both haunting and beautiful. Pobrecita mama gata…espero que tenga otro hijos. Ahh, que dolorosa y hermosa ser feminina.

  7. Ah, Judy and Michael, Merida is a lovely town, made more beautiful by your silent photos of the beautiful buildings. Perhaps someone of the town mothers and fathers in Merida will have the good sense to route the obnoxious motor vehicles elsewhere, making the downtown a place for walkers and cyclists. Burlington has done it, and Boulder, too. The terrible heat of climate change and the costs that it is imposing on people, animals and plants around the world has got to make us snap out of it, Business as usual is ruining our green earth.

  8. HI Judy, we did not know that you were in Mexico. And you might be surprised that Verni and I stayed at that same place as you guys in Merida. Verni’s sister and mother were with us as well. We missed the heat that you are experiencing. We did have breakfast. We took a tour of Merida on a horse drawn wagon. It was fun and slow. Saw a lot of things. Found some great food.

  9. Great to hear from you! Amazing that we all stayed at Casa Mexilio in Merida. What year and which room did you have? We’re in Campeche now – much better climate these two days – and on to Chiapas tomorrow. We’ve taken three weeks, first visit to Mexico in many years. Regards to you both@

  10. We’re in Campeche now – with cooler climate and pedestrian streets, so much happier as travelers. But now Michael can’t find a liquor store. Mexico with all its contradictions…

  11. Thank you Grace. We’re almost crossing paths in Mérida. We’ll be spending pascuas in San Cristobal de las Casas, which should be very interesting…

  12. Interesting that you came to Mérida “unknowingly” for your honeymoon. Which hotel for $45? Forget it now! We took that carriage ride one extremely hot day when we couldn’t face walking. Lovely.

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