Monday in the Mérida Mercado
Today is dedicated to Mérida, with Stewart showing me around his city. Remember, Stewart is either shady or an international man of mystery (IMM) – there’s a fine line and, as it could be guilt by association, we’ll call him an IMM). He’s lived in England, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the U.S., yet he’s chosen to settle in Mérida. There must be something he loves about this place and I look forward to him showing me around. I’m driving, but it’s much easier this time with a navigator who knows his way around.
We begin by driving over to The Yucatan Times where Stewart introduces me to Alex, our editor. Stewart is a regular reporter for The Yucatan Times and I’ve written a couple of things for them. We end up sitting in on an editorial board meeting. They seem very interested in meeting me and ask me to be a regular contributor with Drop Me Anywhere articles. I let them know I may be interested but play hard to get, and tell them I’ll think about it and let them know (don’t want them to think I’m a loose woman).
After leaving the office we stop at Galerias el Triunfo, a store Stewart has told me about in the past. You’ve heard the expression, “Everything but the kitchen sink?” Well, this store is where that expression came from. They pretty much sell everything that you can’t find anywhere else. Need a statue of Elvis? How about Jake and Elwood from the Blues Brothers? Got it. Perhaps a Buddha statue is more your style.
You can find about twenty-five different styles and sizes. Maybe you need some throwback chrome and crushed velvet kitchen chairs seemingly imported from the 1970’s. You can find them here. Christmas is coming and you may be searching for the elusive Elf on a Shelf. He’s here; in about twenty spectacular colors. Chandeliers as big as a merry-go-round at the amusement park? They’re here and they’ll light up an entire neighborhood. Want to buy a really ugly black and white checked lamp in the shape of a head? You can do so and, while you’re at it, grab the blue jean covered chair with pockets-and-all to keep track of those remote controls. Finally, before you leave, grab that giant zebra standing out front as the black and white is sure to go with everything in your house. And if it all catches fire, be sure to pick up one of their twenty-or-so fire extinguishers for sale.
Next, we head to breakfast as it’s noon and we’ve yet to eat. The place the IMM wants to take me is now seemingly permanently closed – this happens a lot in Mérida – so we settle on a place on the corner as it’s clean, close and air conditioned. I order up some Huevos Motuleños (a dish from the town of Motul made with eggs, corn tortillas, plantains, a sauce, peas and a bunch of other yummy stuff).
Tummies full, bodies cooled from the air conditioning we ditch the car (not wanting to get stuck in the traffic chaos) and head out on foot head out to explore this city of a million people. Mérida was founded in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo y León (“el Mozo”) and is the capital city of the state of Yucatán (we left the state of Quintana Roo when we departed Akumal). It’s about 331 square miles and has the highest percentage of indigenous persons of any large city in Mexico, with approximately 60% of all inhabitants being of the Maya ethnicity.
The IMM takes me to various well known landmarks in the city including the main square, which is surrounded by the Governor’s Palace (not where he lives, but where his administrative offices are), a Cathedral, the former house of Francisco de Montejo y León, (now a bank) and city hall. We pop in the Governor’s Palace to say hello and, apparently, he’s a little busy, but the building is beautiful. As with many buildings here, it’s built surrounding a courtyard and, if you pop upstairs you’ll find beautiful artwork and great views of the city.
We stop by the University Autonoma de Yucatan, one of a number of universities in the city, also built in a courtyard style which, while small, seems to have a very up-to-date curriculum. We also visit the Peon Contreras Theatre. Dedicated on December 21, 1908, this theatre seats over 800 people and is one of the many, and most impressive of the theatres in the city. Here, you can attend the opera, hear the symphony, watch a ballet or see live shows (there’s quite a bit of live theatre here in Mérida).
We only plan to explore the lobby area as there is no show going on in the middle of the afternoon, and, even if there were, well, we don’t have tickets. But we do have nice smiles and that gets the policeman who is guarding the base of the stairs to invite us upstairs for a quick private tour. He tells us about the portraits of famous Mexican actors, directors, playwrights and such which decorate the walls and then he opens the doors to the balcony of the theatre to allow us to look inside. Inspired by neoclassic French-style theatres, its European style makes for a grand theatre with boxed sections of seats throughout.
Next, it’s time for a different kind of culture – the Mercado. We actually have the pleasure of visiting two markets – Lucas de Gálvez and San Benito markets – as they’re right next door to each other. One is old and one is a new one built about twenty years ago to replace the old one. As the vendors were quite happy staying where they were, they didn’t leave, so both are now in operation and filled with vendors. The markets are actually organized chaos in that they’re divided into sections pertaining to what each vendor is selling. We enter through the seafood section. As it’s later in the day, the fish mongers are just cleaning up but the scent of the morning is unmistakable. There’s definitely something fishy in Mérida. We quickly escape “Sea World” and head past the spice section, through the fruit and vegetable section and into the religion section where we see lots of statues of lots of virgins. We pass the shoe section as well as the bag section, where I stop to admire some purses (too concerned about the airline’s weight limit, I control myself). We then pass through the animal section, where I close my eyes in order not to be tempted to bring them all home (really, if Spirit Airlines won’t allow me to bring an extra half-pound, I imagine they won’t allow me to bring a live chicken or a small pig). The scent of this section rivals that of the seafood section (it’s different, yet just as offensive). We exit that area, pass by the taco stand that has the added scent of sewage, which the IMM assures me actually sells the best tacos in town (it’s not the tacos that smell, but the sewers in front of them. There’s no extra charge for the added fragrance), and step into the new market. Here, the floors are even, the aisles are slightly wider and the offensive smells are less apparent (I really shouldn’t talk as I’m sure, in this heat and humidity, I don’t smell like a flower). We stop at IMM’s favorite juice stand where I order a mix of fruits named a Tropicale (without ice as IMM says it could be a bit dodgy here although, as a resident, he drinks his with ice) and IMM orders a Jugo Verde. We both had the option of ordering a mixture called the Viagra, but I’m not sure how safe it is for women and IMM insists he needs no such thing. In the end, the Mercado reminds me of a mix between Reading Terminal in Philadelphia, and the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, with a little of the fish throwers from Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle thrown in (and maybe a few public health rules broken).
We head out to pick up a few items at the grocery store as Chucho is making us beef Carpaccio for dinner and we need a few ingredients. We have a wonderful evening with good food and good company – Chucho and IMM’s friend Leslie joins us – before ending a fantastic day in Mérida.
Tomorrow – Through rain and floods and swine. The road to Akumal.