Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Merida- Mexico February 2016

After a 30 hour journey I awoke early and bleary eyed on my first day. My accommodation was the Hotel Reforma just around the corner from the main square. Off I went to explore the area. The cathedral dominates the square though it has a plain interior unlike Spanish churches which would have influenced the churches here. The acoustics are incredible and when the organ was playing it sound rich and grand. I discovered later that during the Mexican Revolution that Salvardo Alvarao Rubio then a soldier and later the governor of Yucatan made many sweeping changes for the betterment of the peasants and Mayans. He believed that religious fanaticism and loyalty to the church was harmful and hampered development of a modern society. He closed the churches and confiscated icons and relics. Which explains the plainness of the cathedral. Casa de Montejo built in 1549 is on the south side of the main square. It originally house soldiers but was soon converted into a mansion for the Montejo family, the conquistador Francisco Montejo came here in 1541. The mansion stayed in the Montejo family until 1970 and now houses a bank and museum. On the façade of this building conquistadors with halberds stand on the heads of ‘generic’ barbarians (though not Mayans) one can’t escape the association.
Façade of Montejo Mansion

Merida was founded on the abandoned Mayan city of T’HO. The stones from the surrounding Mayan pyramids were used to build the cathedral and other public buildings and churches. I returned to the hotel in the afternoon for a siesta as I was still tired from my journey. Met a German woman on the balcony and we decided to have dinner together that night. After dinner we went to the cultural show in the square, a Mayan ball game with the ball on fire. The next day I went on a small group tour to Chichen Itza. I was the only English speaker of the group, though there was a German on board who spoke both Spanish and English which helped. When we arrived I was split off to go with a group who had an English speaking guide. Chichen Itza is well worth a visit and the information provided was fascinating the Mayans had ceremonies that involved blood-letting but human sacrifice started through the Toltec’s influence.
Chichen Itza

We visited a Cenotes which is a pool which is part of an underground river system. I was very inviting and we could swim there unbeknown to me because I didn’t become prepared to do so. We had a meal around 4.00 pm so when we arrived back in Merida at 6.30 I was feeling tired and not hungry. I rested then went out for a coffee and cake. The police band was playing in the Grande Plaza and the infectious Mexican music had my hips swaying. There was a cultural show later but I was very tired and returned to my room. The following day was Sunday and there were market stalls in the main plaza as well as in the other smaller town squares. More catchy, danceable Mexican music was playing with many people listening and dancing.

I walked to the Archeological Museum situated on the magnificent wide boulevard Paseo de Montjo, it is in a magnificent building and housed a fabulous collection of Mayan artefacts, many in excellent condition. I found a nice café for lunch, which served sandwiches, unfortunately all the tables were taken but there was just one guy at one of them and asked if I could share. It turned out to be great as I had a very interesting conversation with him. By the time I started back to my hotel it was the hottest part of the day, so I went back to have a shower and rest. I went out for dinner to the Chaya Maya restaurant that had been recommended to me and it didn’t disappoint. As approached my hotel I heard a Mexican band playing in the square went to have a listen, a great crowd was gathered and dancing and I even managed to have a short dance with four other women, when the band wound up I went back to my hotel.

The next day I was on a trip to see the flamingos in Celestun. There were three of us in the group me, and a young Dutch couple. We saw hundreds of flamingos, which are the oldest species of birds. These beautiful, elegant birds colour comes from the organisms they eat. There were other water-birds, a few pelicans, small, dark grey and black a surprise from the large white ones I’ve seen in Australia, egrets and black kites riding the thermals. We also went the mangroves saw a couple of crocodiles and giant black termite mounds on the trees. We had a tasty fish lunch over talking to the Dutch couple Astrid and Erik it was revealed that Astrid’s parents had been killed in the Malaysian flight MH17 that had been shot down over the Ukraine. Such a tragedy which revealed she was still struggling with, which I could fully understand. We were given time to go for a swim in the ocean, I hadn’t brought my bathers but it wasn’t a problem as the wind was very cold and no one wanted to go for a swim.
Flamingos at Celestun

The evening cultural show back at Merida featured Mexican dancing which was very enjoyable. In Merida every night there is a cultural show and it’s not just for the tourists and there a four theatres around the town, one being a beautiful art-deco building.

There is a free guided city walk everyday even though I had explored the main area of the town I thought it I could learn more about the history. It was well worth doing. In the afternoon after the guided city walk I took a tour for the Light and Sound show at Uxmal another Mayan ruin. It is not as large or as commercial as Chichen Itza but still worth a visit with or without the show. Unfortunately for us for some unknown reason there was no English translation of the show. Our guide gave us the gist of what was being in said in the ‘sound’ part. The lights with the sound was very atmospheric and I could work out what was happening from the earlier explanation. What was amazing was watching the sky. Without the lights a mass of stars were visible but when the light show was on just about all of them ‘disappeared’.

On my last full day in Merida I took a mini bus to Izamal a small town of around 35,000 people about 70kms from Merida. An enormous Franciscan Convent dominates the town. There are also many craft workshops in the town but they were hard to find so gave up looking. There was one Mayan pyramid close by and the small but enjoyable Museum of Arts and Crafts I visited. The Mexicans really love the macabre with sculptures of the skeletons wedding. There are many references in art and souvenirs of skulls and skeletons. After lunch I returned to Merida.
Franciscan Convent Izamal

The mini buses work on the same principal as buses in China, they leave when they are full. On return I went to the Sherberteria de Colon which was recommended and had a very refreshing and fruity strawberry sorbet. My last night after wandering around ended up at dinner at Los 2 Toros restaurant near my hotel. I wasn’t flying out of Merida until late afternoon so had time to catch up on a few places and maybe buy some souvenirs.

I again looked for the City Museum but just found a building which looked abandoned with no information on the door. As it was near the Yucatan Artisans Museum I went there and it was a much larger version of the one in Izamal with very informative information sheets. I met a French woman there and we ended up having a coffee together and chatted for quite a while. I showed her the way to the cathedral, then went to lunch. Then wandered around for ages bought nothing, went back to the hotel, then to the airport and arrived in Mexico City at 7.30 pm.