Sadly, it’s time to leave glorious Mérida. We’ve had the most wonderful time here over the past few months, but we feel it’s more ‘see you later’ than goodbye, as we’re sure we’ll be back someday – who knows, could be sooner rather than later…
Living here in Mérida was always going to be a lifestyle experiment (as Ants has often said) – as in not being a transitory tourist, but trying to live as a local – shopping in the local grocery stores for daily staples, rummaging in the mercado for fresh produce, cooking at home and eating out occasionally at the local hangs rather than the glitzy restaurants around Santa Lucia and Santa Ana. After a while you begin to nod at familiar faces and, in turn, they get a measure of you too, flashing a smile and a buenos dias as they bundle up the freshly-made tortillas (11 pesos for half a kilo); the ladies that gleefully pack your shopping bag at the local Super Aki, rattling away in their rapid-fire Yucatecan Spanish; the cheery cabbies that whizz you around town for a song (A$3), blasting their techno vibes; the eager street touts that attempt to lure you inside their Guayabera (traditional costume) shops and the many friendly waiters and waitresses – with a special mention to our favourite local, Chaya Maya, home of our go-to Yucatan dishes, the mouth-wateringly delicious Cochinita Pibil and Poc Chuc – not to mention their wonderful breakfasts such as the Huevos Revueltos con Longaniza (scrambled eggs with local sausage), part of their Paquete de Desayuno La Chaya Maya (eggs any style with tortillas, fruit plate, juice and coffee – all for A$10). We’ll miss this too!
We’ve loved living in our casa in Santa Lucia with its unusually large pool and arched terrace, where we spent a great deal of our time. It’s been incredibly hot here with daily temperatures often hitting 37+, so the pool has been invaluable. I honestly don’t think you could live here without one… I know, how bourgeois does that sound! And, given it’s a close to the centre of town as is possible here, the garden has been a true oasis with the sound of birds – noisy green parrots in the morning though – and even the occasional Yucatan Opossum as a night visitor.
The Méridianos are always smiling, super friendly and helpful. No wonder then that Mérida is not only the safest city in Mexico but the 2nd safest city in all the Americas! I know I’ve mentioned this fun fact several times before but really, it’s true. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as safe in a city as here. In the almost 3 months we’ve been here we’ve not heard one raised voice, not seen any trouble of any kind, very few beggars, no-one sleeping rough, no drunks or druggies (seen elsewhere in Mexico), and not for a moment felt unsafe – and we’ve roamed far and wide, including through some of the more down-at-heel barrios. All of which speaks I guess to the prosperity of a rapidly growing state capital, that and the obvious presence of police – tourist police in their tiny little buggies, state police, police police and federal police. On the other side of the Yucatan in the tourist centres of Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, it’s a different story altogether, where rival drug cartels regularly battle it out in the streets, often with foreign tourists in the firing line. Nope, Mérida, as the largest city in the Yucatan at just over 1 million inhabitants, is as safe and friendly a city as you’ll find anywhere.
And, of course, we’ll miss the incredibly vibrant tropical colours of Mérida – it’s a veritable paintbox on every single street, where locals wear their vivid traditional embroidered colours as a badge of honour (or a dare perhaps?). I love the clash of colours against the intense blue skies and, as mentioned before, the glimpse of a shimmering pool in a green oasis through an open door. The idea of renovating or even buying one of these casas is an increasingly common reality for many an expat moving to Mérida, especially as the local government make it relatively easy to buy – and the prices for homes here compared to say Sydney or London make the idea even more appealing!
We’ve had some incredible adventures along the way, made so much easier and more comfortable by finding our trusty cabbie José Luis at the Santa Lucia cab rank, who’s cheerfully driven us around the Yucatan and patiently waited for us to wander these wonders then return us safely to our casa.
We’ll never forget swimming in the other-worldly cenotes of Mucuyché with its stunningly clear waters and wonderfully atmospheric abandoned haciendas. If you ever find yourself in the Yucatan we’d strongly recommend you head to Mucuyché – and get here as early as you can as you’ll have the place to yourselves and that includes swimming in probably the best cenotes around – one with only a narrow shaft of light from above to illuminate it.
We’ll miss regularly heading to the beach at Progreso on a swelteringly hot day on the supercheap AutoProgreso for a swim in the gulf and a lazy lunch at our favourite spot, La Antigua.
Mooching around the Mercado Lucas de Gálvez through the heaving stalls of tropical fruits; the huge mounds of green, red and yellow habanero chillis – now known to us (through trial and, mostly, error) as being incredibly hot (and the basis of almost every salsa picante served in restaurants)! All you need is a couple of snips and you’re set, but truly, not for the faint-hearted!
We’ve loved our regular ambles down the majestic Paseo de Montejo (on our way to Walmart for our weekly shop – I know, Walmart, but look, it’s the only major supermarket in Centro and does stock local staples and even has its own Tortilleria); passing the elegant henequen boom mansions, the bustling street cafes and, on Sundays, La Bici Ruta, when the streets are closed to traffic and turned over to bicycles, with just the sound of the grackle birds whistling in the trees.
We loved Celestún and its incredibly clean gulf beaches, but it was the adjacent Ría Celestún Biosphere and our journey out into the lagoon that was so special. We were hoping for flamingos but weren’t exactly expecting dozens of them, a flamboyance, flying in a low ribbon formation over our boat, honking loudly as they passed overhead. Magical!
One of our favourite ‘escape from the city’ adventures with José Luis was out to the ancient Mayan pyramid complex of Uxmal, lying deep in the Yucatan jungle. It really was a case of ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out In the Midday Sun’ – as the three of us, our friend Richard joining us for a week, explored the site in 38-degree heat. Uxmal is truly amazing, one of the most intact and impressive Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, if not in all of Mexico!
Izamal, La Ciudad Amarilla was a revelation in yellow – an impossibly beautiful ancient town with not just one Mayan pyramid, K’inich K’áak Mo’ – the Fire Macaw with Sun Face – but at least five other pyramids in and around the town, with the impressive Spanish colonial El Convento San Antonio de Padua at its heart. If you’re into yellow then this is the place for you! It certainly wowed us!
And further afield, to the romantic city of Campeche with its impossibly cute laneways, pocket-sized cathedral and baroque buildings all surrounded by an imposing 17th Century rampart. All so incredibly evocative of the Pirates of the Caribbean (although it’s actually round the corner on the Gulf of Mexico).
And finally, the delights of wandering the many barrios of Mérida – Parque Santa Lucia and its restaurant filled colonnaded square; nearby Santa Ana and its many restaurants and late night bars; Santiago with its bustling mercado (home of the best fresh tortillas you’ll find anywhere) and its thousands of coloured casas, street after street of them – a source of many of my photos; the busy downtown streets surrounding the zocolo and the Catedral de San Ildefonso, with the barrios of San Juan, San Sebastian and La Ermita sprawling away to the very edge of the Centro Histórico District and the Circuito Colonias that fringes this compact, colourful, lively, interesting and yes liveable city.
Adios Mérida. Estaremos de vuelta!