Twenty Year in the Yucatan

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January 20th 2015
Published: January 21st 2015
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This year, for our twenty year anniversary, Chuck and I returned to the Yucatan. We like to begin and end our trip on the beach and close to the airport, spending the duration in Merida. So, we found, loved, and chose Playa del Carmen as our spot. It has been 6 years since we’ve been to the Yucatan. Guess what? Things change in 6 years, lots of things.

Why did we fall in love with Playa del Carmen? It was a swanky and charming beach town. Large enough, but still had a vibe we liked and a character we appreciated. But, each time we returned there were changes. The town became increasingly commercialized, but still held its charm. Over the course of six years much became unrecognizable. Huge resorts are moving in and starting to take over. The uniquely charming little Calle Corazon is gone. Now there is a 4-story shopping mall full of overpriced everything. Playa del Carmen is becoming Cancun, which I’m sure is making business owners very happy, but not these two traveling gringos. Fortunately there is still plenty of beach access. And, if you like you can admire a Mayan pyramid while having fish nibble on your feet for exfoliation and maybe a tickle or two.

Playa del Carmen logistics: Rented a one bedroom apartment from Mirko through Air B and B online. $100 per night included private parking, wifi, rooftop terrace with soaking pool, on Fifth Avenue. Actually a great deal, especially this time of year. The place was great.

From Playa del Carmen we drove inland to Merida, proclaimed in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo. Prior to Spanish colonization, Merida was the Maya city of T’ho (the place of five hills). Montejo conquered the city after his second attempt with the help of his son and nephew. Where the zocalo is now situated, was where the main temples of the Maya had been located. The Spaniards tore down the pyramids and re-used the stones to construct the Cathedral of San Ildefonso, now the oldest cathedral in North America. The city of Merida was the constructed on a grid with the cathedral, the government building, and the house of Montejo situated on the Main Square and serving as the city center.

Within Merida’s main square, or
la quinta avenidala quinta avenidala quinta avenida

feliz navidad
zocalo, one can pass much of the day away admiring the colonial architecture, strolling the park, enjoying Yucatecan snacks, viewing artwork in the municipal building or the MACAY museum, feeding the pigeons, and having a chat in one of the conversation chairs. On Sundays roads are blocked off, music is played, dancers perform, and vendors sell their goods. In fact, one thing we appreciate about Merida is that the city has arranged free weekly events like this in various parks throughout the city and throughout each week. Mucha gracias Merida!

Merida logistics: We stayd at Suites del Sol, located one block from the southern end of Paseo Montejo. Suites del Sol offers one and two bedroom apartments as well as studio rooms with nightly and monthly rates available. They have their own website and can be found on the Air B and B website. Rates are reasonable and Thelmy in the office is personable and helpful to guests. And, private parking and wifi is also available, gratis.

Chuck and I arrived to Merida, got settled in, and met our good friends Martin and Maria and their girls, Ana and Elizabeth. We planned to visit over appetizers and drinks somewhere nearby our apartment. We walked first to La Negrita. About La Negrita: First, it is a Mexican cantina complete with closed partial swinging doors (more about this in a bit). Then, it was packed full (of men and women). So, we walked to another place (also packed) and then another place, the Chocolate Café that was out of chocolate (that’s funny). As I shared that night, I was always of the understanding that cantinas in Mexico with closed doors were for drunken men, period. Martin and Maria said that was how they always knew it as well, until their girls informed them of the change that had occurred sometime between now and whenever. Cheers to the girls!

The next day we spent with Martin and his family. We went to the new Maya World Museum. The museum was a very impressive place with many original ancient Mayan pieces. I learned that green crosses were one way that the Maya blended their beliefs and traditions with those of Christianity. Painting crosses green symbolized the Ceiba, the Maya world tree. Speaking of trees, the museum had a language tree on display that showed English as having originated from Germanic. What!?!? My understanding has always been that English was a romance language stemming from Latin. I asked a museum employee who shrugged and proceeded to explain the Mayan language history. Thanks, but my question remains.

That same afternoon we went to Progresso for dinner and to see the new malecon (boardwalk). We had dinner at a place called Pulperos, that’s not the actual name of the place, it’s just how it is known. The actual name of the restaurant is the Mayan word for puffer fish, which I can’t remember, but apropos of whatever we saw a puffer fish on the boardwalk after dinner. The restaurant is about 8 blocks west of the main road that comes into town. It is upstairs and there is usually a line stretching down the stairway and well out of the building. The wait is about half an hour and well worth it. We had a shrimp platter that was outstanding, 4 whole fish (snapper and grouper) that were delicious, a mixed seafood ceviche that was absolutely perfect, and all was wonderful with the world.

pulperos pulperos pulperos

with the Echeverria family

The next couple of days we spent enjoying our time together in the warm weather while fighting Murphey in Merida. You know Murphey? Murphey’s Law, that one guy who says what can go wrong will. Well, whatever could go wrong did. In spite of that, we enjoyed the days strolling the historic streets of Merida’s historic center. And then, New Years Eve.

We were invited to bring in the New Year with la familia Echeverria. New Years is quite an event in Merida. The celebration with Martin and his family did not start until 10:30 that night; oh dear! We figured we’d get a snack about 7pm. After three restaurants told us they did not open until 8pm and that at that time there was only a select menu and that it was by reservation only, we took what Murphey handed to us and settled for ham and cheese sandwiches at Starbucks. Then, rested a bit and waited for our ride. These two gringos brought in the New Year Merida style. Toasts were made, 12 grapes eaten, and globos luminarias sent up at midnight. We had a wonderful time! There was endless food, drinks, conversation, music, and dancing. Well, until the power went out. Then, we still had a wonderful time and without music and dancing the only option was to enjoy each others company under the stars – que romantico. It was an honor to have spent the evening with the Echeverrias. It will remain as a very special and memorable New Years to the two of us.

New Years Eve, well really New Years Day, we got back to our apartment at around 5 in the morning. Took a long nap, ate leftovers from the night before, and headed for the Plaza de Torros; it was time for a bullfight. We realize many people are against bullfights, but we are not. We appreciate the tradition, the history, the bravery, the skill, well the all of it. This bullfight was the same as the other we attended a number of years ago. There were three bullfighters, each fought two bulls, and each bullfight had three parts. The one thing that was different this time was the forcadores. Not sure how to say that in English, but I can describe it. The forcadores line up behind the bull, then taunt him to charge them, then take the force of the bulls charge with some ending up on top of the bulls head and the others surrounding it in a huddle until the bull has become still. Then, when ready, they all let go, the bull runs amok with one last forcador holding on to the bulls tail for the running amok ride. Seriously insane!

The next few days were spent at the beach in Progresso, at the Centenario Park and Zoo, and wandering around Merida while we awaited the arrival of our friends Chris and Sarah.

Chris and Sarah arrived to Cancun the 6th of January and we were to the airport plenty early. The problem was that the only place for everyday people to now meet arrivals is outside of the airport, around the corner from the entrance, and through a small corridor that absolutely nobody looks through with all of the authorized meters and greeters straight ahead calling your attention and distracting you from the hidden corridor where your friends and family are required to await your arrival. We waited, we saw our friends, we hollered their names, and we all left the airport together; great success!

We made our way back to Merida and went for a horse and buggy ride through town in the evening. The next morning we went on the House & Garden Tour. We toured three historic homes. The first was still under construction, which provided an interesting vantage to compare the original style to the newly crafted design. The second was a flamboyantly eclectic blend of styles; a bit too much for this girl. Last was a more traditionally refurbished home with a peaceful garden area. The thing with homes in Merida, as with many other places throughout Spanish America and the world, is that they are all a mystery to what is inside. All you see from the street is the front façade; sometimes elaborate and sometimes plain and dull, and this really may or may not serve as an indication to what is hiding inside.

Over the course of the next several days we spent visiting museums, ruins, city parks, Progresso, and friends. It was great to have time to spend with our friends in Merida and to
turn off the tvturn off the tvturn off the tv

and turn on your mind
introduce them to our friends from Wisconsin!

As has become tradition, we spent the end of our trip in Playa del Carmen. Sadly, we came to decide that Playa del Carmen will no longer be on our list of destinations. There are just too many people, too many vendors chasing after you, lacking beach spots, climbing prices, and diminishing character and charm. So now what? No idea; time will tell.

Additional photos below
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piña colada

at Buddy's on the beach

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