I arrived in beautiful colonial Merida Mexico, the capital of the Yucatan in the mid afternoon after a two hour drive from the ruins of Chichen Itza. Upon arrival at the bus station I grabbed a cab with a cute elderly couple from Bath UK as their hotel was a few doors down from my accommodation. The best hostel in Merida hands down is Nomadas which features a friendly staff, large outdoor pool with hanging hammocks and Iguana garden and evening salsa lessons and guitar soloist. After having a quick shower I strapped on my walking shows and marched to the Mercado Municipl Lucas de Galvez (the city market).
The market was full of street side vendors, flower shops, butchers and fish mongers as well as large outdoor seating areas with simple plastic chairs. This outdoor dining area was full of hungry locals so I sat myself down (as the only white guy in the market I got a few awkward stares and some pleasant friendly waves). I ordered the cheapest meal I would ever eat in Mexico: tacos al pastor (stuffed with roast pork which is rubbed with adobo seasoning and roasted on a shwarma spigot). Each taco was 3 pesos (25 cents) and served with guacamole and salsa. I also ordered a large glass bottle or bubbly orange Fanta and a large plate of tacos (which were served with roast pork, cheese, refried beans and a black gravy). Each taco vendor had a large tv playing overhead. As everyone gobbled their food they stared glued to a daytime talk show that seemed very similar to Jerry Springer. Mexican drama to the max!
After dinner I walked through the market in the dark watching the city lights glow through the many winding side streets. I stopped on the corner and bought a bag of deep fried churros tossed in sugar for dessert.I sat on a bench in the cities main square and stared up at the Merida Cathedral while a busker sang on his mandolin across the street. After spending several hours walking through Merida’s beautiful colonial streets I soon realized I had become obsessed with taking pictures of the cities many beautiful doorways, window shutters and balconies.
In the morning I stopped by Cafe Chocolat in their beautiful patio garden where I enjoyed their famous hot chocolate and left over churros from the night before. After breakfast I walked over to the Museuo Regional De Antropologia E Historia located inside the Palacio Canton, a stunning Beaux Art mansion. This museum is the best in the Yucatan and has many artifacts from Chichen Itza. I found the Mayan head flattening devices, jade tooth inserts and sacrificial offerings found in the Chichen Itza cenote to be of great interest.
After wandering through the lovely air conditioned museum I bolted into the mid day sun and window shopped for a few hours through a street dotted with antique stores. I also stopped in to visit the University de Yucatan which has a beautiful open concept grass filled square.
My stomach was rumbling and I was desperate for my first restaurant experience in Merida. I headed straight to El Nuevo Tucho, a classic Mexican venue with live band on stage entertaining diners as they drank their beers and nibbled on their nachos. At institutions such as this, the price of you beverage is inflated and free food is served at the table. I ordered one Corona for 3 USD and minutes later four complimentary plates of food arrived table side: tamales with black beans, beets with cilantro and onion, fried tortilla and pumpkin stew and sausage with marinara. I ordered another Corona and an order of Cochinita Pibil (the regions most famous dish of slow roasted pigglet) and Queso Rieno (Edam cheese ball stuffed with minced pork and served in a vegetable stew). I washed it all down with a Modelo Negra beer. I was so stuffed and drunk and it was only 2pm in the afternoon.
I staggered back to my hostel with a busted gut walking down the street as if I were 7 months pregnant. I immediately threw on my swimsuit and hopped in the pool. I met a lovely couple from Auckland New Zealand. I introduced myself by announcing that I was hammered and had just eaten a ridiculous amount of food for lunch. We instantly hit it off and spent the remained of the afternoon tanning in the sun.
In the evening we walked to Parque de Santiago. Every Tuesday since Valentines Day in 1984 there has been a Big Band dance festival played by the Jaranara Orchestra. The whole event was a hoot. Hundreds of local couples (mostly the elderly) rushed to the square and danced with their lover. Salsa shakes and adorable latino love. My favorite couple looked about 60 years old. The man shuffled his feet while his wife bobbed up and down with her hands in the air as she shook her breasts from side to side. She strut like a peacock and wore a large blue bow in her hair which matched her shoes and dress. It was clear that people come out to show off and enjoy themselves. One of my friends joked that it was really a Geriatric Mating Ritual as many elderly man would just walk around all four sides of the square asking grannies for a dance. I grabbed a gelato and licked it as it melted down my cone and across my fingers.
We walked to the Casa Pompidou which is an amazing art gallery, boutique, bar and pizzeria. The entire place was decked out in inspirational graffiti and pizza menu was written on a slice of cardboard.
In the morning I started my day off right at Cafe Panta de Cielo with a doppio espresso (made with local beans from Oaxaca). I treated myself to a rather decadent slice of Snickers Cheesecake. With a sufficient wake-me-up buzz running through my veins I arrived at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo. The gallery was filled with works from the top artists in the region.
My final meal in Merida was at El Trapiche (a stones throw from the main square). Over the course of this amazing meal I ordered two bottles of Sol, panuchos salbutes o cochinta (deep fried tortilla with roasted pork and marinated onions) and the largest plate of nachos the world has ever seen (heaping piles of guacamole, BBQ pork, refried beans, cheese and chilis). I could barely finish half of my nachos I had to wrap them up and take them home for a late night snack.
My final excursion in Merida was at Hotel Hacienda on Calle 62 between 49 and 53. This gorgeous boutique hotel took my breath away. The pool outside was lined by a tiled hallway decked with rustic tiles. I was escorted down the hall to a small courtyard surrounded by guest room balconies. In the middle of the square sat wooden open concept building with walls made simply of hanging white linens. I had a one hour massage and was treated to an exfoliation with cocoa, rose flower emulsion and mint and citrus fruit scrub. As I lay on my bed face down covered in sweet smelling massage oil I could hear love birds tweeting above and saw the sun setting through the curtain. Crimson red across the cobble stone floor.