Monday, 21st – Wednesday, 23rd July
We arrived in the Yucatan city of Merida around 11am after our 14/15 hour bus ride. Mérida was founded in 1542 and was built on the site of the Maya city T’ho that had been a centre of Mayan culture and activity for centuries, some historians consider Mérida the oldest continually occupied city in the Americas. Carved Maya stones from ancient T’ho were widely used to build the Spanish colonial buildings and are visible in the walls of the cathedral. The city was very wealthy and for a brief period, around the turn of the 20th century, Mérida was said to house more millionaires than any other city in the world due to the production of henequén, an agave plant used in the production of rope. That was an abridged history of Merida from Wikipedia. Merida, or centre at least is a very nice looking colonial city with cobbled streets, pastel-coloured buildings, bustling streets and plenty of history.
We checked into our hostel, situated on the main square (zocalo) where there are many historic buildings including the city’s cathedral (reputedly the oldest in the Americas) and the Government Palace. Our hostel is called ‘Hostal Zocalo’ and is the former home of Jose Peon Contreras, a physician, playwright, poet and Mexican novelist, born in Mérida. It’s an impressive building, very open to the elements inside with an open balcony; the weather in the Yucatan is quite tropical so that makes sense. Once we had dropped our bags and got our room key we checked out the main square and got some lunch. Kirsty had some tacos and I some cochinita pibil. Pibil is a cooking technique that involves wrapping pork (or another meat) in banana leaves, marinating it in sour orange and achiote (a sweet, slightly peppery red sauce made from annatto seed, a plant found in the tropics) and baking it in a hand-dug barbecue pit in the ground for several hours. The meat becomes tender and flaky, with a subtly smoky flavor, and is generally served piled into soft tortillas. This is a Yucutan speciality, you could think of it as Mexican pulled pork because that’s kind of what it is. We then had a rest back at the hostel, booking some accomodation for the next couple of stops on our trip before dinner. We ate dinner at a small restaurant that specialises in Yucatan food, ‘La Casa de Frida’. I had chiles en nogades, a poblano chili stuffed with minced pork, nuts, plantain, apples and pears, covered with a cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. Very nice.
It was towards the end of the day that I gained first hand experience of what ‘Montezuma’s revenge’ meant. You’ll be glad I won’t go into the details but needless to say the rest of our time in Merida was spent at the hostel making sure I was never too far away from a toilet! Fairly certain it wasn’t food related, just one of the perks of travelling through Central America. I also made another trip to the doctors, this time at a private hospital where they would be able to speak English to get my elbow checked out again after feeling a bit unsure about my last visit to a doctor in San Cristobal de las Casas. After a blood test and finding somebody to translate the doctor (a hospital porter), I discovered it’s a case of gout(!), and has since gone back to normal. Quite strange. Looking into it I note that this is the ‘disease of the kings’. I got some advice and medication and was sent on my way quite content that I had found out the cause of my swollen elbow. Feeling up to light dinner, we went out to a nearby Yucatan restaurant called ‘La Chaya Maya’. We both had turkey soup for dinner, in different forms. It seems that the Yucatan food is quite different to what we have had in Mexico so far.
The next day was another spent at or close to our hostel as we didn’t feel up to anything considering the past couple of days. On a trip this long we were expected a few days like this. We were quite happy to move on to the next place by now and had a bus booked the next morning for Vallalodid from where we would explore Chichen Itza and some cenotes (sinkholes filled with water) whilst also taking in the sights of this colonial city. All in all an eventful few days and a range of emotions experienced but feeling ten times better as I write this. You’ll notice the photo gallery for Merida is a bit light in photos for obvious reasons, the ones I did take were just around about our hostel.