After lunch and a browse through the market hall we headed for Merida’s town square. Jerome spotted a piñata shop on the way. A piñata is a decorated container normally made of papier-mache in the shape of animals, cartoon characters or shapes like stars. It is then filled with sweets or small toys and broken apart as part of a celebration, like someone’s birthday. Jerome immediately wanted to get one, as he had never seen one before for real. They are not yet a tradition in Europe. There were piñatas in the form of Sponge Bob, pirates, pink horses, superheroes, colourful pointed stars and many more. Jerome in the end decided to get an orange dog piñata. At 20 pesos a real bargain, except we still need to get some things to go inside!
We walked on, past other shops, mainly selling cheap basic clothes before we got to the Plaza Grande. Merida’s town square apparently is one of the nicest one’s in Mexico. It is surrounded on all four sides by grand palacios and the Cathedral de San Idelfonso. Laurel trees give it some well needed shade. We sat down on one of the benches near the Mexican flag, which is raised and lowered every day accompanied by a ceremony. It was a busy afternoon at the square, plenty of locals, old and young, all enjoying a break from the hectic city roads. There were lots of children chasing the pigeons away and some street hawkers selling balloons and other toys.
When it was time for us to move on we spotted an ice cream parlour where we got some fruity slushes and Jerome a juice ice-lolly. After we finished our cooling treat we went on to visit the Casa de Montejo, a beautiful mansion that dates back to 1549 and was owned by the Montejo family until 1970. Nowadays the building houses a bank and a museum. The museum was free to enter and a treat to see. All the rooms were beautifully decorated, with flowery wallpapers, religious artefacts and paintings and an amazing wooden ceiling in the dining room with flowery frescos. It gave us a great insight into how the few very rich people used to live here in Mexico. The façade of the house facing the plaza was also worth looking at. There where statues of conquistadors who stood on the screaming heads of barbarians – quite a morbid wall to have on the front of your house.
We strolled on to the Cathedral of San Idelfonso, which was built on the former site of a Mayan temple in 1561. Many of the stones from the temple were used to build the cathedral’s walls. The interior was rather plain, as we found with most other churches on the peninsular, apart from perhaps the church in Uayma. In this case there was a reason, as the rich decorations from the original church were stolen by angry peasants at the height of the Mexican Revolution and never replaced. The painted walls and ceilings were still a delight to see and there was a massive crucifix behind the altar.
By now we had enough of waking through the busy streets of Merida and fancied a swim in the pool and a laze on the terrace at the house. Jerome absolutely fell in love with hammocks during our stay at the house. Whenever we were at home he would curl up in the hammock, either next to the pool or in our bedroom, with his kindle and read. We enjoyed the peace and the rays of the setting sun.
For dinner that evening we went around the corner from our Airbnb house to a local restaurant called “Sope Huach”. They served a local version of taquos, with a selection of different fillings for a tiny price.
After dinner we walked into town again as we had really wanted to see the Dia de Los Muertos parade, which we believed is normally held on the evening of the 31st October. I had tried to find out more details about it online but even on the local websites there was little about anything to do with the Day of the Dead. We had found out from a sign on one of the hotel notice boards in the town centre that if anything would be happening it would be at the Parque de Santa Ana or at the bottom of the Paseo de Montejo. When we arrived at the Parque de Santa Ana we found a Oaxacan festival, with lots of stalls selling local produce of Oaxaca and a stage in its midst where they were performing dances and playing local music. Not really what we had in mind for Day of the Dead celebrations! Hence we moved two blocks east to the bottom of Paseo de Montejo.
Here we found some stalls selling all kinds of handmade local food products and another stage. On the stage we saw a several groups of dancers with painted skull faces and pretty dresses or black suits. Perhaps this was it? If not the parade the party, at least something connected to the Dia de los Muertos. Here in Merida it is not called Dia de los Muertos but Hanal Pixán. No wonder I could not find out anything about it, maybe I was searching for the wrong keywords. Anyway we watched the show from the back. Jerome and Chris got some cake from one of the stall and we could see women painting other people’s faces to make them look like a skeleton. However, the show finished mid evening with a dance from La Caterina who is a female image of a skeleton with a showy hat that comes from envy of the upper classes in the 1800’s and is now a Day of the Dead symbol. We thought it was a shame we had not been there earlier to watch more of the shows and were surprised the festival was so short.
As it was still early we went back to Parque de Santa Ana for the Oaxacan festival. We almost enjoyed this a lot more than the Hanal Pixan show. There were a lot more people watching the entertainment here, it seemed the locals seemed to be more interested in what else their own country has on offer than the other celebrations. I really liked the dancers, the girls dresses were beautifully embroidered and they had amazing hair styles to go with their outfits. Jerome seemed quite taken by the music and was sad when the shows had finished.
On our walk back we noticed an altar, made up of wood and decorated with flowers and candles at Parque de Santa Lucia. This is what I had imagined we would see everywhere. We decided to come back the following morning as one of the local’s told us there might be more of them then.
Read more about the Day of the Dead in Merida in my following posts.