Suitcase and World: Mérida.

Monday, July 25, 2011


We arrived in to Mérida in the late afternoon, after our visit to Uxmal.

It was pouring cats and dogs when we drove into town.  Some of the streets were flooded, turning them into small creeks.   Juan Jose took his time and care driving; we were in capable hands.


We were driving along Paseo de Montejo which is one of the main avenues in Mérida. The street is lined with some very fancy homes and estates built back in the 19th century and the early 20th centuries, a reflection of the weatlh of the city back then. Today, few of the homes are occupied today by individual families. Many of these homes have been restored and now serve as office buildings for banks and insurance companies.

At one point, we hit a roundabout.  Juan Jose drove slowly around and we actually did two passes so we could get a good look at the landmark known as the "Monument to the Motherland" which was designed by Colombian sculptor Romulo Rozo in1956. The front central figure is a mestiza in Mayan garb holding an eternal flame. The upper walls contain sculptures of key figures in history, the lower sections contain engravings of the coat-of-arms of all 31 states.

On the inside of the monument is a representation of the Ceiba Tree, the sacred tree of the Maya.

Cathedral is the heart of town.  Because it was raining so hard and Juan Jose was taking it slow, it took us a while to make to the historic center.

We drove past the Cathedral which anchors one end of the zócalo.

Mérida is home to the second oldest cathedral in the New World, Catedral de San Ildefonso.  The Cathedral is  built on top of the Mayan city of T’ho. Many of the stones used in the construction of the cathedral and other old structures in Mérida were taken from the Mayan temples of this ancient city.

A palace fit for a conquistador. We also drove past the Palacio Montejo.  Mérida was founded by Francisco de Montejo, and this was the home of his family for generations until it was sold to a bank in 1980.

Around the doorway are depictions of conquistadors standing on the heads of Indians. Some of the stones used in the construction of his home were taken by Montejo from the temples he destroyed in the area.

The zócalo.  Juan Jose dropped us off just around the corner from the Cathedral.  As we were entering the historic center, Francisco told us that the center of Mérida is full of horse drawn carriages.

Just as I was getting out of the van, I heard the familiar clip clop of a horse's hooves nearby. I looked up to see a white carriage making its way past us.  So cool!

We were standing in front of the zócalo. To our right was the Cathedral and straight ahead of us was the Palacio Municipal.  Only in a Spanish colonial city in Mexico can you paint the central administration building of the city, pink and white!

Behind was the arched, covered walkway that is typical of Spanish colonial architecture. In Mérida, the arches are painted lime green.  All the mish mash of colored buildings in and around the zócalo make me feel happy.  Such a refreshing change from the drab colors we have at home.

It was late afternoon on a Monday and it was a bit dreary so the zócalo wasn't crowded at all. As we walked, two young Mayan girls walked past us - a wonderful reminder of the diverse mix of cultures that exist in this country.  Francisco also pointed out the white benches "for two" that Mérida is famous for.  You do see them everywhere.

Palacio del Gobernador. Francisco took us to see the Governors Palace. At first, I was wondering where we were going because there were guards everywhere.  Oddly enough, we didn't have to go through security checks of any sort.  Thinking back on our visit to the Palacio Municipal in Puebla, there were guards everywhere there as well but also no security check.

We entered in the Palace.  There were two young girls, dressed in ball gowns, getting their photos taken.  I don't know if they were modeling or if they were just getting beauty shots done of some sort.  Looking around the courtyard, I can see why they chose to use it as a backdrop. It was a very charming, inviting sort of place.

Scattered throughout the building are beautiful murals painted by Fernando Castro Pacheco who was born in Mérida.  Collectively, the murals depict his artistic expression of the Popol Vuh, the Mayan history of creation and of the universe.  There was also a large mural of Salvador Alvarado, former governor of Yucatan, painted by Pacheco.

Back outside, we walked pass the Cathedral but didn't go inside.  I would have loved to have popped my head in at least but the front doors were closed so I don't think I could have.

Strolling down the calle. From the zócalo, we moseyed down the street, soaking in the city sights and sounds as we went along.   Juan Jose picked us and deposited us, could not have been but a handful of blocks later, outside our hotel.

After checking in and getting settled, my brother and I decided that we needed to go to a corner convenience store to buy some bottled water.  We were trying to use the lobby phone to call Ayşe to see if she wanted to join us and just then, she walked in the front door.  The 3 Musketeers were back together again so we all headed out together.  After checking out a couple of convenience stores, for their bottled water options, we headed towards the zócalo.  We would buy the water on our way back to the hotel - no point lugging water along.

Following Francisco's directions, we ended up on street lined with souvenir and gift shops.  This would be our last opportunity to buy stuff so we decided to check things out.  Most of it was the usual kitschy stuff that we had seen for sale in other towns.  I wasn't really interested in buying anything so it was window shopping for me.

We never did make it to the zócalo :-(   We were just about a store's distance away when we had to turn around to go back to the hotel - we had two hungry guys (Francisco and Juan Jose) to meet up with for dinner.  On the way back, we quickly darted into the convenience store and bought our bottles of water.

Five hungry travelers. Back at the hotel, we dumped our stuff in our rooms and headed back down to the lobby where we soon met up with the guys.

As with every dinner we've had on this trip, we wanted to have local cuisine. Juan Jose knew exactly where to go to get Yucatecan food.  So we followed him out the door instead of Francisco :-)  The place he picked was definitely popular with the locals.  We arrived around 8:30 and it was packed.  When we asked how long the wait was, the waitress replied back, "Those who know how to eat, know how to wait."  While we stood in line, Juan Jose decided to smooze it up with the lady making the tortillas.  He's ever so friendly.

And so we waited.....patiently.....for nearly 40 minutes.   And the food was worth every minute of the wait.  I had the sopa de lima and torta de cochinita pibil which are both classic Yucatecan dishes though cochinita pibil is not ordinarily served torta style.  The food was so flavorful - hearty food.  I've since become obsessed with sopa de lima but I can't get it to taste the same as what I had that night.  I either have to keep practicing....or better yet, attend a cooking class the next time I'm in Mérida :-)

Next morning, it was an early departure for us so we didn't get to see any more of Mérida.  I really think we could have spent another day here.  What little I saw of Mérida, I really loved.  Just can't wait to come back and see more