We finally arrived at Merida after a long day of sightseeing in Chichen Itza and a swim in the cenotes. After some initial difficulties we found our Airbnb house in the maze of roads in Merida (it is worth being aware that in many Mexican cities there maybe more than one street with the same number in more than one district), and immediately fell in love with it. We knew we would enjoy our stay here no matter what as the house was beautifully decorated, with plenty of space for the three of us. Jerome even had his own bedroom with a private bathroom. And then there was the pool outside…
Merida has been the cultural capital of the Yucatan peninsular since the Spanish conquest. It is famous for its colonial building, narrow streets, spacious plazas and museums. Some say it is one of the most beautiful towns in Mexico and we were there to find out if we would form this opinion as well.
We were rather hungry though and followed a recommendation for dinner at Restaurante Los Almendros, which proved to be a disappointment for us. We found the food was mediocre and nothing special at all. The restaurant also lacked charm, it felt a bit like sitting in a Mexican cantina. We could not understand the raving reviews online. To compensate our 15 minutes walk into town was enjoyable though and we got the feeling that Merida was very different to Valladolid. The roads were much busier and it felt dirtier as well. However, we did not feel unsafe, even though we walked in the dark. We were looking for a supermarket after dinner to get some breakfast for the next morning. This proved to be surprisingly difficult and the one we finally found did not have a great selection.
After a relaxing breakfast outside on the terrace at our Airbnb we strolled back into town, this time in daylight. Most of the buildings we passed were residential and single story. The houses were colourfully painted, some in desperate need of renovations or even beyond repair collapsing in piles of rubble and weeds, others were more colourfully decorated but mainly modern in style. None of them seemed to be like the promised colonial mansions we expected from the pictures in the guidebooks. We could see though that even here most people were not very wealthy or perhaps did not seem to care much about their living conditions. I read online that a lot of Americans come to Merida and buy a house for their retirement. I assumed that our Airbnb serves the same purpose.
We got back to Parque de la Mejorada with its heroic statue, next to the restaurant where we had dinner the night before. From here we went south along Calle 50, past the Arco de Dragones (Archway), which proved to be simpler than anticipated. Our goal was to get to the Mercado Lucas de Galvez. There we wanted to have lunch at a lonchería, a simple restaurant only open for lunch serving local dishes.
The closer we got to the market the busier it got on the roads and the pavements. There were people selling their goods off a wheelbarrow, or plainly just out of some bags and boxes. We passed the flower market, where we saw beautiful arrangements for the graves and altars for the Day of the Dead due that weekend. In general the town was much much more hectic and busy than Valladolid. I loved watching the locals go by their daily duties and to take photos of them. Many of the woman dressed in their gorgeous huipiles (traditional dresses). Chris and Jerome though were starting to get annoyed by the masses of people and I guess being hungry did not help with our mood.
We got a table at the lonchería, which had been recommended in our Airbnb guide book. They served a speciality of kebab like spiced grilled meat with tacos, a dish called “Taquos al Pastor” and vegetables. The lonchería seemed popular with locals, who sat, like us, on foldable chairs. It felt like a very authentic experience compared to the previous night restaurant visit. Chris and I found the meat to be very tasty but Jerome only ate the tacos with some of the vegetables.
After lunch we strolled into the market hall behind the loncherias. I have always loved visiting markets all over the word. It is amazing some of the things you can find in the stalls and much more interesting than going to a mall where you find the usual high street shops you can get anywhere. After filling their tummies the boys even seemed to enjoy browsing the goods on display. Here we found an array of stalls, divided over two floors. They sold everything from meat, fruit and vegetables to souvenirs and clothes. I found a Mexican top as a gift for my mum and a dress with Otomi (Mexican embroidery from Oaxaca area) style embroidery for myself. Both at a really good price, but not too cheap which would make me feel guilty towards the women who sit all day long doing the embroidery by hand. Jerome liked the slot and games machines and watched a guy lose a few pesos.
We then wandered on to the Plaza Grande at the center of town, which I will write about in my next post.