After the Christmas holiday, the capital of Yucatan state comes back to life quickly. Merida is, by travel accounts and our limited experience, a sweet town enjoyed by tourists and Mexicans alike. it’s busy with cars and crowds but we heard little car honking, never feel jostled and have enjoyed polite, professional service at restaurants and stores.
The town has deep musical and artistic traditions, with multiple functioning theaters, a good modern art museum and many, many street musicians. Merida is the place to buy Yucatan wares like hammocks, guayaberas and ubiquitous pottery. It has great night life (so we are told) and is relatively inexpensive.
The breakfast at the Merida Dolores Alba is not as good as the one near Chichen Itza, but it’s adequate and we eat slowly. It’s nice to spend an extra hour relaxing, eating and catching-up on email before we depart on our day trip. The weather is cool. We all wear jackets to start the day, although it warms up later in the afternoon. It never gets warm enough to want to swim. (Although the girls say they do, we know they’ll be blue-lipped and shivering in minutes.)
We catch a break! Trisha asks the hotel clerk to suggest a camera or electronincs store that might have a battery charger for our Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3. (It’s a fantastic wide-angle, low-light camera. We love it.) Not only does the woman have knowledgeable suggestions, she has the exact same camera and let’s us borrow her full battery for the day.
Encouraged, we head out to the main square for some sightseeing and a visit to the camera store. The main square in Merida contains the original mansion of the conquering spaniards, the Montejo family and the oldest church in North America. Both date to the 1650’s and were built primarily from the stones of Mayan buildings. Neither are remarkable aside from their age, although the Montejo mansion has a hilariously crude facade of surprised-looking conquistadors stepping on the heads of vanquished Mayans. (pictured above) It was presumably meant to be imposing and fearsome, but it looks clumsy and awkward. Bad art is bad.
The camera store has a universal charger that fits our battery, and we are very relieved. It even comes with a car charger we can use on the days we are without power in the jungle. We walk north to the Posada de Montejo, the tree-lined boulevard in the wealthy area. A modern looking cafe serves us a pretty good lunch and we hit the local anthropological museum. Inside there are good examples of Mayan carvings and art, as well as a fossilized mastodon tusk and a a creepy exhibit of the skulls of babies that had their heads flattened in a vice for beauty.
It’s 3pm and everyone is exhausted. We hire a horse carriage for a quick return to the hotel (about $15) and all climb in bed for a long siesta. At 6pm we think about dinner but restaurants don’t begin serving much until after 8pm. We find a touristy place that serves good food, but we have to make a hasty exit when the rotund lounge singer with a squeaky voice and a tiny synthesizer begins his performance. Before bed we sample some local sorbet and it’s very light, but not tasty enough for the girls.