Merida Weekend

On the weekends in Merida there is quite a bit to do. First, though, we had to walk for a few kilometers in the heat to see a doctor about my swollen hand, received when some malicious insect stung me at the Labna ruin site; it had hurt like hell on that day, and, when we got home and I put on my glasses, I realised that a stinger had been left behind in my palm. Then my palm started to swell and, as the next day progressed, the swelling started to extend down my arm – time to get a remedy! The doctor, a kindly pediatrician who drove down to the clinic to see me, gave me a prescription for some topical and oral steroids and assured me that nothing in the Yucatan is poisonous … good to know. Today, three days later, my hand is back to normal.

Since we were near the Centennial Park, and its zoo, we decided to visit the animals. Although neither Ty nor I like zoos, this one had received some good reviews on the net.

Unfortunately, these reviews weren’t really justified, since most of the animals are in small pens or tiny metal cages that are, in the case of the large cats and hippos certainly, way too small for them.

I was surprised to see so many big cats here; the zoo has lions (with two new small cubs), leopards, tigers, panthers, and some other small cat species, as well as a couple of hippos, and lots of varieties of deer.

Two of the younger cats, a black panther and a leopard, were playing with one another, while many of the other big cats were pacing neurotically up and down in their tiny spaces, or lying listlessly on the ground in the heat.

The zoo also has a snake display, a couple of crocodiles, quite a lot of turtles, monkeys, baboons, two chimps, and a fairly large aviary, with several peacocks.

All the food stands are designed in the shape of architectural structures from around the world – tee-pees, igloos, a castle, a Greek temple, and a mosque, among them.

We were the only tourists there; the place was busy with local families and their kids, all out enjoying the park.

From Thursday to Sunday downtown Merida is closed to cars,

and hosts music and dancing in the squares and on the streets.

At night, the colonial buildings gracing the downtown main square are lit up beautifully.

This past weekend we saw three descendants of the ancient Maya protesting Mayan treatment by the Catholic church in front of the Cathedral of San Idelfonso. While I was busy photographing the buildings, a hard looking working girl sidled up to Ty and tried to get his attention without any success.

On Sunday, from some local antique dealers whose wares were set up in the Santa Lucia Park, I purchased a tin ex-voto painting from 1951 illustrating a promise to St. Teresa to quit smoking from a selection of several such works on sale. Although there are lots of souvenirs and “mayan” handicrafts for sale here, it’s not that easy to get something authentic. My painting is the middle one in the picture below.

We’ve got two more days in Merida and then we’re off on the big bus to Playa del Carmen on the Riviera Maya; both of us are looking forward to being back on the beach!

See more pics here and here.

Colonial jewel Merida, Yucatan, Mexico

After having found out, one day before we were due to leave, that our flight from Mexico City to Merida had been cancelled, we decided to reroute ourselves through the Puerto Escondido airport rather than drive all the way back down to Huatulco. Twelve hours and two flights later, we rolled up to the Casa de Cielo Grande in the Merida Centro neighbourhood of Santiago. Here we have a one bedroom casita (small house) at the back of a compound owned by two Canadians originally from Kelowna who enjoy their cervesas and make a mean bean dip.

The compound has a very nice kidney shaped pool and a lovely garden area, as well as five Chihuahua dogs, all of whom came racing and barking out to greet us (and do so every morning when we sit outside for our coffee). The little guy in the picture below next to my feet is very cute and very friendly; he loves his pats.

Who knew that May was the hottest month of the very hot year in Merida? May is just before the rainy season begins, when the temperature can soar upwards to 45 most days.

Afternoons here are blazing hot; about the only sensible thing to do is swim in the pool and lie inside under the air conditioner.

Since arriving Thursday night, we’ve walked down to the Main Plaza a couple of times, visited the Governor’s Palace there to see the wonderful Pacheco murals depicting the results of the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish, the Main Cathedral, and today, the Lucas de Galvez market, the so-called “old market”.

Lo Zocalo, the main plaza, is surrounded on all four sides by beautifully painted colonial buildings and arched arcades. Inside the square locals and the few tourists still about compete for shaded iron benches beneath the Indian Laurel trees, the ones in full sun being way too hot to serve as seats. Shoe shine guys ply their trade and tourist touts driven from Cancun by the lack of tourists try to get people to visit the many shops selling Mayan crafts and souvenirs.

One guy took us to the Mundo Maya, one of the more elaborate set-ups, where upstairs the gallery was illuminated especially for us so that we could see all the jewellery, carvings, and sculptures at their best.

One of the saleswomen showed us “live brooches”, small wood bugs with fake jewels attached to their backs; these are collected as pets.

We managed to escape without buying any of their pricey stock, beautiful though it was. Walking back to the ranch, we stopped in at the small gallery/studio of Juan Pablo Bavio and purchased a signed reproduction of one of his Mayan-motif paintings. I felt a bit bad for him sitting in a screaming hot space with the sound of busy traffic constantly rumbling past his door. Unfortunately, his location is just a bit too far off the square to attract more than a few visitors a day.

The old market is enormous, with many acres of stalls and a dizzying array of stuff for sale,

from thousands of cheap shoes, to baby animals in tiny cages, to fresh fruits and vegetables, to fish, to meat, to you-name-it … We wandered around there for a couple of hours while I looked for some plastic flowers and paper products.

Compared with Puerto Escondido, Merida is an enormous city with the crowded busyness to match. The plaza has changed in feel since we were last here seven years ago; it’s been cleaned up and the buses and combis are no longer allowed in its vicinity, with the result that fewer people are patronising its businesses. But a few blocks away from the zocalo, Mexican life hustles and bustles. Pounding music emanates from every second shop, competing with the jack hammers of construction projects, the traffic, and the shouting of merchants. After a few hours the noise was just too much for me, and, having decided to take the bus back, Ty and I made the mistake of jumping on one heading in the wrong direction, ending up paying our fare to go just three blocks before running to catch one headed the right way.

See more pics here.


Colonial Day Trip: Dolores Hidalgo, Atotonilco and San Miguel de Allende

On the patio of our colonial house, we have a tree; as a result of Guanajuato’s water shortage, in which we only have water 4 days out of 7, this poor tree isn’t really getting enough water to do more than barely survive. Since we’ve been here, I’ve been giving it the gray water from washing dishes and this treatment has enabled it to generate more leaves and a few tiny buds. Perhaps it will flower before we leave. I decided to decorate it with ribbons and colourful paper cut-outs as a substitute for the flowers that it lacks.

In addition to ex-haciendas converted in museums, Guanajuato also has ex-convents; the one pictured below is the Ex-Convento de la Societad de la Compania de Jesus (the Jesuits), and is now part of the University of Guanajuato.

Inside the Jesuit Church (next door to the University), we encounter another of the tortured Jesus effigies (these all look as if they’re crafted from the same model).

See more pics around Guanajuato here.

Although we’d decided to stay in Guanajuato during our time in the mountains of Mexico, we also wanted to investigate some of the other colonial cities in the neighbourhood. While walking around downtown, we came upon a sign advertising day tours and decided to get on the microbus visit to Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel de Allende.

Our departure was scheduled for 10:30 am but, naturally, after waiting for several people to arrive, 12 of us rolled out of town about half an hour late on the green magic bus. On our way out of town we passed the Valenciana mine and temple (built between 1765 and 1786), the mine once upon a time the most productive silver mine in the world and the temple erected for the workers’ spiritual edification.

Our first stop was the small colonial city of Dolores Hidalgo, made famous in the War for Mexican Independence:

“On the night of September 15, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costillo, the 57-year-old parish priest of Dolores, and Ignacio Allende learned that their plans for insurrection against Spain had been discovered. They decided to act immediately and soon after dawn the next morning, September 16, Padre Hidalgo delivered his now famous Grito (Cry for Freedom) from the Parroquia of Dolores. This was the beginning of Mexico’s struggle for freedom from Spanish rule which was to drag on until 1824 and take some 600,000 lives.

Dolores of that time was a poor, largely Indian village, but the ragged army of Hidalgo and Allende marched from here to San Miguel, then to Celaya and Salamanca until finally, having grown to a force of some 20,000 men, they had their first real confrontation with royalist troops in Guanajuato.

Hidalgo was captured after a final defeat in Guadalajara, then executed and beheaded on July 30, 1811. His head, along with those of Allende, Aldama and Jimenez, hung from one of the corners of the building in Guanajuato where that first battle had taken place”.  (

All the others on our bus were Spanish speakers (from other parts of Mexico, as well as Spain and Colombia) and the tour was conducted entirely in Spanish. I’m sorry to say that my Spanish was not up to the details of the fight for Mexican Independence and Mexican history so, after trying mightily to follow the guide’s talk for a while, I just let the words wash over me and enjoyed the visual experience. We visited the museum-house of Dolores Hidalgo’s second most famous son, the 50s musician Alfredo Jiminez, a guy I’d never heard of before,

the parochial church of Our Lady of Dolores Hidalgo, another museum (which Ty and I didn’t enter) and wandered around the main square trying to find a café.

Strangely, unlike Guanajuato and Merida (another colonial city we’ve visted), this city has no cafes or outdoor restaurants around its main square, only ice cream vendors on every corner vying to sell us the most outrageous flavours of helado:

“Aside from the usual and more mundane flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and pecan, how about something a bit less common, like avocado ice cream? No? Then try some corn ice cream. And if that doesn’t appeal to you, how does fried pork skin ice cream strike you? Still no? Oh, maybe you’re in the mood to imbibe at the same time as you eat your ice cream, then perhaps some tequila ice cream or, another popular fermented drink, pulque appeals to you. But the final word in unusual flavors, it would seem, must be shrimp ice cream. That’s right, shrimp ice cream”.

We did find a restaurant nearby, the El Delfin, to tomar un café, but, when we asked for café con leche, were brought warm water, a jar of Nescafe, and a giant container of Coffee-Mate …

On our way out of town, after what seemed to me like too much time in DH, we stopped briefly at a ceramics warehouse to view the talavera products for which this area is known, and then rolled along to the Sanctuary of Atotonilco, just outside San Miguel de Allende. Although I wasn’t familiar with it, apparently this complex is known as the Sistine Chapel of Mexico:

“The Sanctuary of Atotonilco (Santuario de Atotonilco) is a church complex and a World Heritage Site, designated along with nearby San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. The complex was built in the 18th century by Father Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro who, according to tradition, was called upon by a vision of Jesus with a crown of thorns on his head and carrying a cross. The main feature of the complex is the rich Mexican Baroque mural work that adorns the main nave and chapels. This was chiefly the work of Antonio Martinez de Pocasangre over a period of thirty years. The mural work has led the complex to be dubbed the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico.” The complex remains a place of worship and penance to this day, attracting as many as 5,000 visitors every week”. (Wikipedia)

While we were there, we were the only visitors. The frescos are beautiful and the atmosphere of the interior called for quiet contemplation.

Outside the main door were several beggars, mostly old people but also a woman with her son; other than these folks, the place was bereft of people. On the white-washed exterior of the church, burnt siena coloured sinopia under-drawings of saints and Christ can be seen emerging from the paint.

We arrived in mid-afternoon at San Miguel de Allende, stopped first for something to eat, and then wandered around the historical centre for a couple of hours before rolling back again. Ty and I had been interested in seeing how San Miguel compared with Guanajuato, since originally we were going to make it our base. After exploring the city this day, both of us agreed that we preferred Guanajuato. San Miguel, while lovely, has a much more wealthy-North-American vibe and is about three times as expensive as Guanajuato and not nearly as beautiful (IMHO).

See more pics here.