The old notion that you should “believe only half of what you see and none of what you hear” has been worded a number of different ways, but they all mean the same. Personal experience is often far removed from expectations based on the words of others. To be sure, Mexico has some serious problems and some areas of the country are dangerous to visit. But this does not hold true for the entire country and does not represent an honest view of the vast majority of its people who are warm, inviting, and a heck of a lot of fun.
Here is a glimpse (from my latest trip) of the Mexico I know…
Mérida, the capital city of Yucatan, offers free cultural activities every night of the week. The streets are closed and the Jarana Dancers perform in front of the Palacio Municipal on Monday night. This dance (above) was the most colorful; the next required the most skill. Dancers balanced a tray with a beer bottle and four glasses of beer on their heads, swirling around quickly at the end to make the beer fly out of the glasses without turning over a bottle or a single glass.
On Sunday afternoon at Santa Lucia Plaza the whole neighborhood comes out to dance to a live band, and you can have a late lunch/early dinner afterwards at one of the sidewalk cafes on the plaza. At dusk, after the music has stopped, parrots come to roost in the surrounding trees.
Young people get in on the dancing, too — practicing for a performance.
Every Sunday morning the main boulevard is closed to traffic and open to walkers and bicyclists…
The Plaza de la Independencia (Plaza Grande) is a gathering place day and night, especially on the weekends. From Friday night through Sunday night vendors set up around the plaza, selling everything from local food specialties to trinkets, textiles to sweet treats. And the kids feed the pigeons.
When Yucatan is mentioned most people think of Cancun. Although Cancun is located on the Yucatan Peninsula, the resort area is actually in the state of Quintana Roo. Mérida, however, is the capital city of the state of Yucatan, and it is the repository for much of the area’s history. Mexican tourists and other travelers interested in the history and culture of the area are drawn to this city. A good place to begin is the Palacio de Gobierno or Governor’s Palace with its huge murals by the artist Fernando Castro Pacheco. The paintings cover the walls, depicting the violent history of Yucatan and the struggles of the Mayan people.
People work hard and things get started very early in the morning — millions of tortillas every day…hot off the press.
The market is general chaos in the aisles, but the vendors are organized and efficient. The Lucas de Galvez mercado, Mérida’s main market, has more than 2,000 vendors and close to 100,000 customers every day.
People carry huge trays and bundles on their heads…
After dark one night we were standing between streetlights on Calle 55 when a motorbike went speeding by and we turned to see the rider with both hands on the handlebars and a large tray of breads balanced perfectly on his head. I was too surprised and too slow to take a picture.
And there is art. In the city’s many galleries it can be pretty, strange, or interesting — sometimes all three.
The Catedral de San Ildefonso is more than 400 years old. It is considered the oldest church on the mainland in the Americas, second only to one built on Hispaniola island. The wooden Christ on the cross is known as the Christ of Unity. It was carved from birch on a mahogany cross by the Spanish sculpture José Ramón Lapayese del Río and is believed to be the largest cross made of wood in the Americas. It is almost 40 feet tall.
Mass is held at the cathedral four or five times a day. In Mexican cities and towns it seems the church bells are always ringing somewhere.
The Yucatan is hot, but winter is a fine time to be in Mérida as the nights are cool and pleasant. We didn’t need air conditioning and could sleep with windows open and be awakened by the mourning doves. And outside my window…
More to come — Chichen Itza, Progreso, Izamal, Celestun, Dzibilchaltun, Acanceh, Tecoh, and other places across the peninsula.