Merida appeared to me to be similar Antigua (see 5.2) in that it is a colourful colonial city, crammed with culture.
My hostel was in an excellent spot; looking onto the main old square, and for my four days there it served as a solid base, always offering something to do. 7.2.1 and 7.2.2 describe in more detail the away days, however here I shall run through a bit of what the town was like.
It served as a colonial capital after the Spanish conquered the area in the mid 1500s. The grand cathedral was built on top of a Mayan temple. There are many museums open displaying murials that depict the natives’ struggle with the Spanish. The artwork is truly impressive there, as are the buildings that house them.
On the circumference of the old square were innumerate (well there were probably 25) food stands, serving either sweet or savoury. Sweet: masqueritzas (crepe with nutella and melted cheese), pots of sweetcorn, and churros (essentially deep fried sugar). The savoury guys were selling meat and relish packaged in different forms of tortilla.
At the epicentre was a platform and a flagpole, and space for market stalls on its outskirts. There were regular benches, but also these quaint types of two-man seats that meant people found it easy to talk to each other. The “S chairs” were dotted all over the square.
At the hostel, there was a mix up with my reservation meaning it was almost an outside sofa for Night One. As it happens, something became free meaning thankfully, that bridge didn’t have to be crossed.
I was hoping for culture (classic) and can say that Merida didn’t disappoint. Beyond the buildings there were a number of events/ occurences that were particularly interesting.
Las Noches Mexicana (Mexican Night)
The town came together in another of the public squares to watch traditionally-dressed actors perform traditional dance routines to traditional music. The regular powercuts only added to the authenticity.
Dancing in the Old Park
Arriving back from the cenotes, heard music on the other side of the square. Along one of the sides were two stages, one at each corner, each with a band on stage.
They took it in turns to perform Latin songs, while a corridor of locals casually salsa-ed with each other throughout, slowly migrating to the louder speaker.
Most getting involved were of an elder generation, yet had no issue with the hip gyrations required. Not sure if this is hereditary, or something the NHS should look to promote…
Music under the central flagpole
Walking back one evening, there were a bunch of guys who set up some instruments and conducted a sort of ad hoc open-mic performance. A number of people hopped up and played to whoever would listen.
Meeting Dr Jamie Awe
Admittedly not a regular feature in the Merida guidebooks, but by chance, passed the Head Belizean archaeologist in the street as he was there on vacation. Thanked him for his talk at Caracol (see 6.5) and wished a Happy New Year. Felt it necessary to stipulate Gregorian after his through briefing on calendars in the previous week.
Food affair continues
The multitude of food stalls was excellent. Sharpening up my Spanish skills, I had a go at haggling some sort of deal with tacos and “pasceranos” (sort of fried, crimped taco). It required a few hand gestures and confused nods, but I received a discount, so imagine I’m improving. That, or they were destined for the dog bowl and he took pity…
After coming back from Uxmal (see 7.2.1) had a couple of hours before 2013. Spent it sharing some beers with other guys in the hostel and then heading the nearest bar we could find (it was all a bit last minute). In truth, it was all a bit cringreworthy.
The majority of the crowd at the place were in their early thirties periodically “wooo”-ing, wearing platic hats, spilling cups of icy margarita and letting off firecrackers. The locals on the other side of the street sent their kids over the divide so they could take a photo, as if at a penguin sanctuary.
One custom that passed us by was to eat 12 grapes (one for each bong of the New Year). The discarded bags were eaten at leisure on the walk back to the hostel.
My morning bus on the 1st cut short the end-of-year festivities, and soon enough I taking in the last of the historical centre before moving on to the bright lights of Cancun, a 4 and a half hour bus journey away.
A very enjoyable few days, and my last ‘proper stop’ of Central America.