Drop Lucy at the dog resort. Pick up rental car at airport. Drive home. Drive back to airport. Wait at YYJ for flight to Vancouver. 15-minute flight is 1 hour late. Wait hours at YVR for flight to Mexico City. Five hour flight. Aeromexico serves light meal an hour in, at midnight, but nothing, not even coffee, before landing. Encounter a thousand people ahead of us in line for passport control. Take anti-stress pill. (Hey, I made it through two flights without one.) Wait hours at MEX for flight to Merida. 90-minute flight to Merida. Taxi to house in central town. Struggle with complicated door locks. Survey the colourful house. Take nap. Walk to store to buy drinking water (not needed, later we find the casa has potable water). Walk to restaurant to order pizza. Wait for pizza. Take picture of passing horse-drawn carriage. Carry dinner to house on Calle 54.
¡Finalmente, nosotros comemos pizza en Mexico!
As to the photo, there are lots of horse-drawn carriages on Merida's streets and while I like the clop clop clop soundtrack of the horse hooves on stone I don't know quite what to think about this, the horse-drawn carriage thing. Is it bad for the horse? Does it enjoy pulling a carriage in car traffic, or would it rather be out eating grass? I'd guess the latter so I won't encourage the practice but I will take the occasional picture.
After a good sleep we woke refreshed and spent the day exploring the town and picking up some groceries. We passed through the city's main square, Plaza Grande, where we caught a glimpse of the cathedral. We also saw a lot of colourful buildings along our way.
We looked at a couple of artisan markets featuring colourful items, many with a Dia de Muertos theme. We especially liked the wood and ceramic masks. Then, waiting at a traffic light, a fellow talked us into checking out another market, which seemed fine at first, except he quickly handed us off to another fellow who clearly wanted to see us take home some art by the end of the day. The whole experience soon began to remind me of a Ephesus carpet salesman who used everything from Van cats and flirts to get us into his store in hope of sending us home with a Turkish carpet. In both cases the salesmen were disappointed as we didn't buy anything.
For dinner we went to a neighborhood Mexican restaurant/bar that features botanero, which is like a Mexican version of tapas. In addition to our entrees Paul ordered a beer, and the beer order came with a tableful of small plates of food. When the waitress brought our order we thought she had the wrong table, it was so much food.
This morning we had breakfast at a cafe on the Paseo de Montejo, a wide boulevard which was closed to traffic for bicycles, what they call Bici-Ruta and held every Sunday. There were bicycles (and bicyclists) of all shapes and sizes, tandems, tricycles, chrome cruisers, covered 4-wheelers, even a bathtub-like bike. Lots of families and lots of dogs being walked, too. Accompanying this was very good live jazz music.
Later in the day we were on the main square which was turned into a market. On one side of the square there was more live music with lots of dancing going on. I'm really liking the music.
Like most homes in Merida, our place, which is called Casa Iguana1, is flush to a narrow sidewalk with little street presence, just a door and a window. At least ours has some colour.
But inside is a different story. It's largely stone and polished cement, with tall ceilings, colourful art, attractive though not-very-comfortable furniture, and a swimming pool. In the unlikely event one wants to cook a complex meal, the kitchen is well equipped. There's potable water, laundry, built-in barbeque, three giant flatscreens, and what appears to be every television service on the planet.
The location is convenient though it is noisy late into the morning, especially on weekends and the days before weekends. A morning cappuccino is from a cafe within a minute's walk, and there are four delicious and trendy restaurants (grasshopper guacamole, anyone?) just as close. Merida's central square is about seven blocks walk.
Merida didn't make a great first impression on me. It was like when our bus entered Atacama after crossing the Andes, I looked around and asked myself why am I here? I certainly didn't entertain my usual traveling thought, would I want to live here? But I have learned to give it time, to acknowledge first impressions but not hold them too tight.
It started as the plane appoached. Merida is tabletop flat, its roads ruler straight. Then there's the heat and humidity, it's not Bali but I was soon sweaty, even in my poly pros. And close up it's no better: most blocks look the same, a row of low, disheveled cement buildings punctuated by the occasional gentrified home, the narrow crumbling sidewalks, and the rusty collectivos spewing brown exhaust.
But my attitude is evolving. The Meridians are super friendly, even to gringos like me. The sidewalks may be uneven but there's little trash laying about. The drivers, while lacking Canadians' fervent respect for pedestrian crosswalks, stay in their lanes and stop at red lights. And the colours of the buildings and the details in their facades are helping to win me over.
We were drawn to Merida by a TV show, believe it or not; it introduced us to the local architecture. And it has certainly lived up to expectations. Lots of often-colourful old buildings fronting beautiful interiors with lush inner courtyards. This design language combines street-level privacy with a gradual reveal and then surprise as one enters a building. I like it.
We found our house, which follows this design, via Trip Advisor and we're happy with it. The one hiccup, no propane, was quickly addressed by the property manager. The gas company arrived the next morning and a plumber came soon after to re-light the pilots. You really appreciate hot water when you don't have it.
We are steps from several elegant restaurants, Oliva Enoteca for Italian, 130 Degrees for steak, Micaela Mar for seafood (ate there last night, excellent), Catrin for Mexican, Latte Quatro Setta for lattes and fresh pastry, and La Morena, a high end food court/bar. Wouldn't be surprised if there are more, hiding behind the stone and cement facades.
But there's one unfixable issue with the house and that's noise. It turns out at least two, Catrin and La Morena, have live music until the wee hours. And it's outdoors, in their courtyards. It's great music, but it is loud and some nights, like last night, we decided to close the windows and turn on the a/c just to get some sleep. Yeah, I know, first world problem. Now I understand why a few properties around here have hung signs saying "Basta de ruido. Queremos dormir. Necesitamos solucion hoy." So, it's a great neighborhod for our short visit, maybe not so much for a long term stay.
Walking down the street, just a couple blocks from our house, we bumped into a dance exhibit. The music and face paint was inspired by dia de muertos.
I couldn't step back far enough to get this whole building, Merida's Casa de la Cultura Juridica, into one shot. The street, calle 59, is just too narrow (and I'd left my 12mm at home). So I took three shots to stitch later. Here they are, one stitched using Microsoft's ICE, another with Lightroom.
I love the pink Direccion de Cultura. Compare it to the drab grey building shown in the second photo, that from Google Streetview. Yes, it's the same building. And it gets better. While standing in front of the Direccion just turn around, you find yourself facing the beautiful blue Casa de la Cultura Juridica.
My first stop most mornings in Merida. Just steps away, my only complaint was they opened late, 8am. (I should have appreciated it, in San Miguel it was 9.) The same two ladies greeted me every morning, I usually got a latte for $55 or a cappuccino for $45. Sometimes a biscotti or cookie. Supposedly under same ownership as the excellent Oliva restaurant a few doors down. There's a lot of good eats on calle 47.
Paul, Noema and I had Sunday brunch at a cafe on the Paseo de Montejo and while we ate we were entertained by a jazz ensemble playing classics from the likes of Brubeck and Coltrane.
It didn't surprise me when walking around Merida I felt the desire to buy a fixer upper because the town first caught our eye on one of those house-renovation shows. Sure enough, Merida has many tempting properties, from fixer uppers like this to finished places like our rental, Casa Iguana. And the properties only got more tempting in San Miguel.