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.

 

From Koh Samui to Siem Reap, Cambodia

Friends Barb and Christine arrived this week, fresh from an 8 day tour of Northern Thailand, to spend a couple of days with us at our house in Bang Po, located on Moo 6 in a lovely local community just one hundred meters across the road from our previous chalet. We spent three days exploring the beaches of Chaweng, Lamai and Bang Po, as well as the town of Nathon and the Hin Lad waterfall and temple.

The day we spent on Chaweng, the longest and most upscale beach on Koh Samui, was a bit overcast at first and the waves were fabulous crashing rollers. We spent the afternoon on brightly coloured loungers for which we paid a pretty penny in food and drink from an indifferent restaurant staff. Later, after a Thai massage, we had a tasty Thai supper at the Infinity Restaurant on one of Chaweng’s side streets. The next morning, after negotiating a price for our own song thaew taxi, we hit the sights on the west coast.

After spending some time at the forested Hin Lad temple, and examining the elephants at the riverside trekking station, one of whom looked blind, Lamai Beach called to us and we enjoyed watching the beautiful red retriever dog fetch water bottles thrown in the waves from the sand in front of the Bikini Bar.

Thursday morning Ty and I were up early for our transfer to the airport, courtesy of Dave, and, rather than spend the night in Bangkok as we had originally planned, we decided just to keep on trucking, flying in to Siem Reap, Cambodia, after changing our airline ticket at the Bangkok Air counter in the Suvarnabhumi Airport. After a short forty minute flight, a line-up at the visa on arrival counter where a fleet of uniformed personnel passed our passports from hand to hand down the line, and a taxi ride of twenty minutes, we were ensconced at the Pool and Palm Villa just outside the downtown area of Siem Reap.

The hotel grounds have suffered from the recent floods, having lost much of their grass, trees and flowers to the waters that inundated Cambodia in the fall, but the place is very nice. Two wooden Kmer-style buildings, with very high ceilings and beautiful wooden furniture and fittings, accommodate guests, with a large pool and poolside restaurant on the back part of the property. Also a victim of the floods, the roadway into Siem Reap is badly chewn up, with enormous potholes that crews are in the middle of trying to repair. Some low-lying areas in the countryside here are still a bit flooded and only now starting to dry out.

The area around Siem Reap is very flat, with lots of cabbage palms and other deciduous trees interspersed with flat patches of yellow grazing land and brilliant green rice fields. Very bony cattle, lots of dogs and puppies, pigs, and chickens abound here.

The commercial buildings in this area are vibrantly coloured, with the newer hotels and villas reminding me of the ones I saw in Turkey. Downtown Siem Reap (the name meaning “Siam [Thailand] Defeated”) is lovely, with blocks of French Colonial architecture in multi-coloured hues, an Old Market, complete with chicken carcasses, fish, fruit, and multitudes of shoes, and a Pub Street, packed out at night with revelers and beautifully lit up, full of restaurants and bars. After a mediocre dinner at the Khmer Family Restaurant, we headed down the street to a bar with a nice outdoor seating area and met Dennis, a guy from Montana who’s here working on a project with a local school.

Our second day saw us up and out the door on a tuk-tuk bound for Beng Mealea, a jungle Hindu temple 60 kilometers east of Siem Reap. The tuk-tuks here have a different style than those in Thailand; here they look like 19th century horse carriages, with padded seats and sometimes luxurious fabrics, except instead of the horse, a guy on a moped pulls the carriage. Along the way we passed more road crews trying to fix things up post-flood, guys on mopeds with two live hogs tied to the back of their seats, houses on stilts (both shacks and fancy new digs), schoolgirls with long black hair and floppy wide-brimmed hats on old-fashioned one speed bikes, and tiny tractors with huge loads of logs. Two hours later we bounced in to the temple compound, paid our $5 US each for the entry tickets, tried to avoid the crowds of children scampering around our feet, and were swept into the orbit of a blue-suited, white-hatted one-legged land mine victim who became our guide through the ruin site (see next post for Beng Mealea). See more pics of Koh Samui and Siem Reap here and here.