Tomorrow, we head for Mérida, the capital of the state of Yucatan in Mexico. Located in the northwestern part of Yucatan, it is about a four-hour drive to Cancun, which we will not be visiting. We choose Mérida because it is a good base for exploring Mayan ruins, cenotes (underground rivers), feasting on Yucatecan cuisine (perhaps my favorite of all the regions in Mexico), celebrating Carnival this week – which means plenty of people watching — exploring the town and looking for a cool hammock for the backyard. (Mérida is known for their hammocks.)
Mérida has a population of almost a million, so this isn’t a sleepy little village. The people are largely indigenous persons: about 60% are Maya ethnicity. The city was founded in 1542 by two Spanish dudes, both with the first name of Francisco. Because the city was built on the site of a Mayan city, Merida is considered the oldest continually-occupied city in the Americas.
I’ve just told you in a nutshell what the tour books initially say about Mérida. I went there back in the 70’s and I only remember that I felt freakishly tall among these short people. White clothing seemed popular, probably because it was summer and hotter than hell. (Air conditioning was as common as Eskimos in Florida.) Skillfully sown embroidery in every color imaginable adorned almost everything I saw. That’s about all I remember beyond a plaza with trees and lots of couples, families, and friends enjoying a time-out in the middle of the day.
Other than a few shows I have seen about Merida on House Hunters International, which showed star-struck Americans buying 100 year old houses that had been abandoned after the “Sisal Crash” (I’ll get to that in another posting), and actually believing their architect when he said construction would only be three to four months, (when it ended up being nine to twelve), I am going back to Merida pretty much like a first-time visitor.
Probably one of the reasons we choose Mérida for a vacation really can be attributed to a book we both read a couple of years ago: “1491 – New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” by Charles C. Mann. Now, this is a thick book, and I could have easily come up with a million excuses not to read it, like I could break a fingernail reading it, but when you can’t go to sleep at night because your husband keeps reading excerpts from a book he is reading, which are so fascinating that after a while you can’t wait to get your hands on it. (Hey, the Mayans were out there, man. They understood the concept of zero, something the Egyptians didn’t know. Yet they didn’t have the wheel, which would have been nice since they didn’t have any beasts of burden like horses and mules.) Anyway, I got the book, and by the time I finished it, Dean had found the sequel, “1493 Uncovering the New World Columbus Created” by the same author. Now this book was even more mind blowing: What was life in the New World like AFTER the Old World spent one year in it.
I’ve just glanced at the clock. I still have a few more things to pack. Bringing my dancing shoes, because it turns out the people of Mérida love music and dancing. (My husband, Dean will wince when he reads about the dancing. I don’t think he owns dancing shoes, just like I know he doesn’t watch “dancing shows”.) Anyway, every night there is something going on in one or more of the plazas. I’ve got dinner reservations at a couple of restaurants, hired a tour guide for Chichen Itza, and have a list of suggested restaurants and things to do from someone who used to live in Merida. However, I’m hoping for the unexpected (and unresearched) to become what will become the most memorable on this trip to Mérida in 2016.