MERIDA in the YUCATAN
Day 10 - Monday, February 12, 2018. The ADO bus leaves Valladolid at 9:20 am. We are up at 6 am to complete packing and enjoy Susi’s Airbnb breakfast at 8 am. We missed this breakfast yesterday because we left so early for Chichen Itza, so we were blown away when we sat down to Mexican scrambled eggs with a black bean sauce and a spicy Picante all wrapped in several warm tortillas, hot cafe au lait, freshly squeezed fruit juice, breads, and jam. We gave Susi a big hug and promised to leave a well-earned great review on the Airbnb web site.
The modern 1st class ADO bus to Merida cost $239 Pesos each ($12.50 USD). The 9:30 am bus left at 9:45 am. The Spanish dubbed movie shown on the bus was The Great Wall with Matt Damon fighting off hoards of green slimy monsters with a bunch of
Chinese good guys. I remember the movie received terrible reviews when it was released, but it was an absolute riot dubbed in Spanish.
I also noticed a couple of military style checkpoints on the expressway to Merida. The black-clothed police officers set up their checkpoints in the shade of underpasses. With orange cones, traffic was funneled down to one lane. The police, with their menacing looking assault rifles, picked out vehicles, seemingly at random, to inspect. I noticed that many of these vehicles were packed to the gills with personal stuff and all of it was being removed and searched. I guessed that they were looking for signs of drugs and/or drug activity.
We arrived in Merida at 11:45 am. We knew that Lilliana's Airbnb was about 5 miles away from the bus station, so we grabbed a taxi for
$90 Pesos ($5 USD). Many Yucatan city streets are arranged in a grid with east-west streets being odd numbered and north-south streets being even numbered. We were looking for Calle 31, which should have been pretty easy to find.
It turned out that there are three or four Calle 31s in Merida because when the street numbers reach zero, they just start over. So, you have to know the name of the city district as well as the street name. I had known this, so I told the taxi driver that we wanted Calle 31 in the Jesus Carranza district. What we didn’t know, and neither did the taxi driver, that in Jesus Carranza there is a Calle 31A, a Calle 31B, and a Calle 31. We buzzed around and around Jesus Carranza but just couldn’t find the house number, which was 482D. Wanda came to the rescue by plugging in the address into Google Maps to see we were only 2 blocks away from the Airbnb. Relieved, the taxi driver dropped us off.
After experiencing two great Airbnbs on our vacation, we were flabbergasted by how perfect-for-us this Airbnb was. It was huge, modern, clean, lots of closet and shelf space, and had a terrific bathroom with large walkin shower and plenty of hot water. We quickly unpacked, gooped up with our favorite sun protection, and went out to learn the lay of the land.
Paseo de Montejo Blvd in Merida Mexico
The Airbnb was ideally located in a nice neighborhood just a couple of blocks away from Paseo de Montejo, an ultra-wide boulevard lined with beautiful historical buildings, shade trees, tall palms, and fascinating historical monuments standing in the center of all of its traffic circles. It also feeds into the historic downtown city center. Well, sort of, because the boulevard abruptly ends a few blocks north of the city center. You then detour over to Calle 60, a nice commercial-business street lined with small plazas and churches. Later, we found a Wal-Mart just 3 blocks away from our Airbnb and a tamale street vendor nearby. Although I’m not a big fan of shopping at Wal-Mart while in other countries, we were able to purchase a few items that we couldn’t find anywhere else like; razor blades to fit our razor and Neutrogena 70 sunscreen. Wal-Mart also sold inexpensive bottled water, which we bought every evening on our way back to the Airbnb. We learned early on that you must stay hydrated in the Yucatan heat.
Plaza Grande in Merida Mexico
On our first walk down Paseo de Montejo, we made a mad dash to the Plaza Grande, the very center of Merida. Plaza Grande is a green, spacious square surrounded by gorgeous ancient buildings including the Cathedral de San Idelfonso, the oldest cathedral on the western hemisphere mainland (the only cathedral that is older is located on the Caribbean Island of the Dominican Republic), and a bunch of historical municipal buildings. We read that Merida is slow and laid back. Whoever wrote that bit of tourist info never went downtown. Surrounding Plaza Grande for about a mile radius was one of the most bustling-hustling city hubs we have experienced.
At the very center of this bustling hub, Plaza Grande is also a cultural center. We saw political rallies, Police flag rituals, incredible street musicians, street dances, vendor markets, and throngs of people just hanging out charging cell phones and using the free wifi. Yep, there were charging stations all around the plaza and free wifi.
The Market in Merida Mexico
About four or five blocks away from Plaza Grande is a gigantic Market. This people-packed area is easily four giant city blocks of roofed and outdoor vendors from fruits and veggies to shoes and shoe repair, to animal feeds, to restaurants and food carts, to rows and rows of bus and colectivo stands, to butcher and meat shops, to Panama hat vendors, flowers, and just about everything else imaginable. There are shops, stands, carts, and roving vendors of all ages 8 years to 80 years. Every second or third vendor had a thumping speaker blaring out Latin beats all competing in a cacophony of vibes to get your attention. The insane chaos of it all left us speechless – the power of the chaos also left us awed. We’ve experienced many city markets, especially in Europe, but nothing like this.
Jipijapa Panama Hats in Merida Mexico
On one street corner, a talented street hustler approached us. He casually inquired where we were from and
He handed us over to an equally talented hustler in the building. This new guy claimed to have inherited a vast ranch that grew sisal, a type of agave plant that produced a traditional fiber that was made into a strong sisal rope and when further processed, made into Jipijapa (Panama) hats. He went on to explain that his hats are handmade by elderly Mayan ladies in caves on his ranch and that he is responsible for their wellbeing, and if we bought a hat from him his lady craftswomen would be forever grateful. The hats were expensive, he claimed, because it took a woman three weeks in a damp, humid cave to make (The dampness of the cave being necessary to soften up the sisal fibers).
The hat he picked out for me was very nice but $1400 pesos? When I balked, he quickly wrapped a red ribbon around the brim and put it on Wanda’s head. Wanda really liked it, and the guy zeroed in for the kill. He’d reluctantly accept $1200 Pesos ($60 USD), and he had a Visa machine. I knew I was cooked and bought it. I didn’t buy the story, but Wanda did look snappy in the hat, so it was worth it. Later, we went to the city tourist information center at Plaza Grande and saw a poster warning tourists that there isn’t a Mayan workers’ cooperative and that women aren’t making sisal hats in caves. Oh well, it was a lovely hat and, as I stated, Wanda did look snappy in it.
what we have seen in Mexico. He claimed to be a genuine Mayan and tried to teach us a couple of Mayan words. He went on to tell us about a workers’ cooperative where Mayan artisans made arts and crafts and proceeded to show us the building displaying these wares, which just happened to be a half a block away. Of course, we knew that this was a hustle but thought it wouldn’t hurt to see if these items were authentic Mayan crafts or just Chinese imports.
In the evening, after hearing a guy squawking an impassioned political gripe through an unintelligible speakerphone, a young Korean kid started playing intricate Wes Montgomery-like jazz. It turns out that he wanders the world and plays in various parks and plazas wowing passersby with his jazz licks. His handle is joje0731 and is captured on facebook and youtube. He plays a Gibson 335 electric guitar through a battery-powered amp and uses a looper pedal to lay down a rhythm then performs jazz solos over the rhythm loop. He is a true phenom.
After devouring a delicious strawberry cream paleta, we walked back to the Airbnb. It was a great day.
Public Transportation in Merida Mexico
Day 11 - Tuesday, February 13, 2018. The metro bus route map is so complicated and difficult to decipher. The problem is there are tons of routes and all of them overlapping that it was impossible to depict an individual route on a map. They literally just meld together in one big route blob. What did turn out to be useful was the Merida Metro Bus website.
There are three kinds of routes: 1) South Bound. These start near the city center and wander south. 2) North Bound. These also start near the city center and wander north. 3) Circuitous. These wander around the city.
On the website, you could put in the name of a neighborhood, and see the buses that service that neighborhood. Then you look up each bus route separately, and it would show you a map of just that route. Of course, that would be way too simple. Each direction had a route number and a bus number. Neither number meant anything because neither number was ever placed on any of the metro buses. Fortunately, the website showed a picture of each bus' windshield, which did list the neighborhoods that it serviced. Now just write down (or take a cell-photo) of the names on the windshield to identify that bus-route when you see it on the street. Just as easy as that. After a few days we could identify the Carranza bus, the San Lucia bus, the Grand Plaza bus (which serviced the Grand Plaza Mall way up north NOT the Plaza Grande in downtown centro), and few more.
Five Bus Stations
in Merida Mexico
It turns out that Merida has five main bus stations - and a few smaller ones:
CAME. The first-class ADO buses serve this terminal and the station where we arrived from Valladolid. These routes are mainly for the ADO express buses that go to the main cities throughout the Yucatan and Mexico in general.
TAME. This station is for several of the more prominent second-class bus services like Oriente, Mayab, ATS, and TRT buses which mostly go to smaller towns and cities in the Yucatan. They are not express routes. These routes make a zillion stops along the way.
NORESTE STATION. This station serves many more tiny towns and villages with buses from the Noreste Line, Lineas Unidas del Sur, and the Luz Line; all sedond-class bus companies.
TERMINAL ORIENTE. For some reason, Oriente utilizes both this station and TAME.
TERMINAL AUTO PROGRESO. This bus line serves the route from Merida to Progreso, the popular beach town about 30 kilometers to the north.
The colectivo stands, and there are tons of them, are spread out everywhere around the downtown area, the market area, and several of the smaller plazas. Finding the right colectivo, going to the town you are looking for, takes some patience, luck, shoe leather, and a few Spanish words like “Donde es colectivo para (wherever).” But we eventually found them all.
Airbnb Breakfast in Merida Mexico
While I was figuring all of this stuff out, one of the brothers of Liliana, our Airbnb host in Merida, delivered a knockout breakfast. It started with a fruit plate of sliced papaya, watermelon, and honeydew melon plus cafe au lait, a plate full of scrambled eggs, and sweet fresh squeezed orange juice, toast and jam, yogurt and oatmeal and ENOUGH! We waddled out the door to start our new venture at 11:30 am.
We flagged down our first bus. The street corner, just one block away from the Airbnb, funnels about 20 bus routes to converge at that particular intersection. We quickly learned that any bus with Centro written on the windshield would get us downtown. $8 Pesos each ($.42 USD) and we were downtown.
Although yesterday we already walked the historic Paseo de Montejo, enjoyed Plaza Grande, and marveled at the insane market area, we planned to take a lot of day trips outside of the city of Merida. This meant we had to find all the colectivo stands and all the bus stations as this was going to be our only form of transportation. Many of these day trips required an early morning departure, so today we would map out all of these stations and stands.
The colectivo stands, and there are tons of them, are spread out everywhere around the downtown area, the market area, and several of the smaller plazas. Finding the right colectivo, going to the town you are looking for, takes some patience, luck, shoe leather, and a few Spanish words like “Donde es colectivo para (wherever).” But we eventually found the colectivos we needed.
I had read reviews on a bunch of highly rated but inexpensive restaurants, so we also mapped them out for later. The tourist info place that we visited yesterday gave us a decent city map, so I was able to mark all these places down. This map became my lifeline as we explored more and more of the city and surrounding area.
Another errand we needed to do was find a place to exchange dollars to pesos. On this day the rate was good; $18.83 Pesos per USD. Most shops and banks were giving $17.50 Pesos per USD, but I found one exchange that was $17.70. I gave the young lady $200 USD, and after she scrutinized my bills, she returned a $5 USD bill because it had a tiny tear on one corner. She also didn’t like a couple of $20 USD bills for various marks on them. After digging around my wallet, I was able to find $195 USD of bills that she accepted.
Today is Fat Tuesday. That means it is the height of Carnival. We expected to see some celebrations, parades, and music. When we found the Progreso Bus Station, there was a line around the block to ride the bus to Progreso for a Carnival celebration going on there. But where was Merida’s festival? Around 3 pm we returned to the tourist info center only to find out that we missed it. There were a designated festival grounds south of the city, and the town ran free buses down to the festival grounds all day long. Unfortunately, the festival was already winding down, and by the time we would get there it would be time to clean up the trash. This was a big disappointment. For someone that lived in New Orleans (Wanda's hometown and where I graduated high school), it was unheard of to finish up Fat Tuesday in the afternoon. Oh well, it is what it is.
Mayan Archaeological Museum in Merida Mexico
All this running around had long worn off our breakfast, and the mango slices from a local vendor were ripe and delicious. Wanda also got a coconut paleta, also delicious, and I got a bunch of different Mexican chocolates. The chocolate was terrific, but I sure didn’t need the sugar.
Back on Paseo de Montejo, there is a Mayan Archaeological Museum that we kept reading about. The museum was housed in the most beautiful ornate building on the street full of beautiful ornate buildings. Although the museum turned out to be smaller than expected, just three or four rooms on the first floor, the artifacts on display were in excellent shape. We were getting used to seeing extremely weathered art forms at the ruins, so these preserved specimens were a treat.
On the way back to the Airbnb we stumbled across the Wal-Mart that's close to the Airbnb and picked up some toiletries. After overdosing on the Mexican chocolate and gagging on the Wal-Mart pastry, it was a delight to run across a street cart vendor with fresh hot tamales right next to Wal-Mart. They were scrumptious, only $15 Pesos each ($.78 USD) and perfect.
Dead Computer, New Shoes and Rock and Roll at Mercado60
For Days 11-19 see the menu for day trips to Progresso, Cuzama, and Homun.
Day 20 - Thursday, February 22, 2018. Wanda’s laptop screen was dead, although it would occasionally come back to life for a few minutes and fizzle out again. With the smartphone in hand, a quick Google search using the Airbnb's much-appreciated WIFI located an Apple Genius Bar at the Gran Plaza Mall. An appointment for later in the afternoon was made online. I found a bus route to the mall that required almost no walking. Yea, technology is great when it works.
At the Apple Genius Bar, a young local nerd declared Wanda's laptop screen DOA and informed us that Apple no longer had replacement screens for the 10-year-old macbookPro laptop. However, he could show us how to use a TV screen as a replacement display by placing the display settings to “2 screens” until we get home to purchase a replacement. For some reason, we could only do this through the original screen, which was only intermittently working and definitely not working at that moment. The plan was to take it back to the Airbnb, turn it on, and if the screen ever came back on we’d quickly go into settings and make the change. If that happened, we’d return to the store and buy an HDMI cable to hook it up to the big flat screen TV in the Airbnb.
Puma Tsugi Apex Solid Sneakers
Along with a stopover at the Genius Bar, it was time to visit a pharmacy and restock on blister-control ointments and bandages. My feet were a mess. Wanda doctored them up as best as she could using up the last miracle Hydro-Gel Band Aide. However, by now, I had many areas that were starting to turn an ominous shade of purple.
New shoes were needed. I was programmed to think sturdy hikers were necessary but cringed at the thought of breaking-them-in. Fortunately, just before this trip, Wanda had purchased a pair of high tech sneakers made of super lightweight mesh fabric. She was pleased with how comfortable they were and urged me to check out something similar.
I tried several brands, and my feet most definitely chose the Puma Tsugi Apex Solid Sneakers which sold at $110 US (in Mexico), but the relief due to the soft comfort was unmistakable. Although my feet are still a mess, they won't get any worse. Until now, I have been lucky enough never to have experienced hiker-blisters of this magnitude and can't say enough how these new shoes will save the rest of this trip.
Pharmacies in Mexico are found on every corner, but they are small and limited. There was a large pharmacy located at the other end of the Gran Plaza mall. Unfortunately, we discovered that at least in Merida, the Band-Aid brand is not sold in Mexico nor is Neosporin cream. Instead, we returned with gauze pads, tape and a Microdacyn60 spray Wound Care recommended by the Pharmacist as "muy-muy-muy bien."
It was time to return to the Airbnb. The soft upper and light-weight feel of the new shoes were wonderful. After Googling Microdacyn60 for information and directions, my feet were scrubbed clean, drenched with Microdacyn 60 as per instructions and taped up for the day.
NOTE: The Microdacyn60 is impressive stuff. The healing process is almost visible. OK not quite visible but in just an afternoon, the pain was eliminated, and the color returned. Together with the Hydro-Gel Band-Aids saved for hiking, the last few days of this trip were enjoyable. The downside of Microdacyn60 is the short shelf life of 60 days. https://www.microdacyn.com.au/microdacyn-consumer
Uber Taxi and Rock at Mercado 60 at Merida Mexico
Thursday nights are rock’n’roll nights at the Mercado 60 with live music starting at 9:30 pm. It is Thursday, and we wanted to spend the evening at the free concert at Parque Santa Lucia at 8 pm then go to the local hip-bar-scene called Mercado 60 on Calle 60 a few blocks away. Mercado 60 is a collection of small restaurant-bars surrounding a large patio with a stage for bands all under one roof.
Wanda figured out that Uber taxi operated in Merida and downloaded the Uber app to order a Uber taxi to the Parque. It worked great, and the cost was only $30 Pesos ($1.60 USD). Payment is prepaid with a credit card, so the best exchange rate is a given without the price-haggling. I don’t know if Uber is good or bad. It is about half the cost of a regular taxi in Merida. So, is it putting hard-working cabbies out of business? That would suck, but it does give other people a chance to make some money, albeit without any benefits. Do Mexican cabbies get any benefits? And there is that goofy co-founder of Uber, Travis Kalanick. What I do know, is that the Uber system utilizes technology-to-the-max to provide a modern, insanely efficient, inexpensive public transportation system. And my feet appreciated this.
The concert in the Parque was awesome. There was the big Mexican swing band with the same costumed dancers we saw last Thursday. Tonight featured a Mexican nylon string guitar quartet. They were also terrific with intricate Latin rhythms, great solos, and tight vocal harmonies. As good as this lead guitar player was, and he was outstanding, last week’s musician was still crazy-great.
So far, we had heard nothing but extraordinary musicians in the Yucatan. We weren’t prepared for how horrible the rock’n’roll band was at Mercado 60 on this night. They started about 45 minutes late, which turned out to be a good thing. Curiously, they pointed their vocal speakers at themselves, like stage monitors. Consequently, the audience could barely hear the vocals. The guitar player was awful. The drummer and bass players were OK at best. The keyboard player was the best player and knew it as he dominated the band, hogging all the vocals and his loud keyboard style. They had an adorable girl singer that should have been out front singing lead vocals. From the little I could hear of her vocals, she was actually a good singer. So why did they have her tucked in behind the drummer only singing occasional backup?
With the band being a disappointment and the drinks expensive, we left early. Wanda conjured up another Uber to bring us back to the Airbnb and call it a night.
Pamper Feet; Do an Airport Dry Run; Laser-Light Show
Day 21 - February 23, 2018. Still pampering tender feet. The Microdacyn60 seemed to be working wonders. Unfortunately, the laptop issue wasn't resolved. The screen did come alive, but we were unable to locate the second-screen setting. Now what?
Uber taxi in Merida Mexico is excellent! We called for a Uber taxi to the mall to consult with the Apple Genius kid. He found out the HDMI cable needed to be plugged into the second screen for the second-screen option to appear and offered to hook up the second screen for us. Somehow, he figured out how to go blindly through the menus without the screen displayed and set the menu to “2 screens”. Just like that, the second screen popped on. Unbelievable! We bought the HDMI cable and thanked him profusely.
A Uber taxi drive back to the Airbnb to hook up the laptop and it popped up on the big flat screen TV. Wanda could now work on the travel journal while I was laid up for one more day.
Utterly bored by mid-afternoon, we decided to plan and time our return trip to the airport on the departure date. I hobbled, with Wanda in tow, to the bus stop two blocks away to catch the Circuitous metro bus to the airport. The Merida International airport is small but very modern with easy access to the ticket desk, the security checks, and the gates. It wouldn’t be necessary to get there too early. The $8 Pesos ($.42 USD) for the bus trip was worth the ride through the different neighborhoods and peace of mind for departure day.
We took the bus back to Paseo de Montejo and summoned another Uber taxi for Nachos at Café Pop, and it was as good as Yucatan Today promised. The magazine also mentioned that Friday evenings at 8 pm there is a laser light show for the reenactment of the Mayan Ball Game held in front of the cathedral in Plaza Grande. We were only a short two-block walk away, and my new shoes and ailing feet were holding up surprisingly well.
At 8 pm, the Cathedral was blocked off, chairs were set up, vendors were serving the crowd, but the laser light show using the Cathedral as a huge screen was not presenting the ball court re-enactment. It was mostly an impressive psychedelic light show. As cool as that was, I had my heart set on the ball game reenactment.
After the light show, we walked up to Mercado 60 to check out the Friday band. Late again, the Friday band was just starting to set up. We didn’t want to wait for the group to start playing so Uber taxi'd our way back to the Airbnb.
Day 22 - Saturday, February 24, 2018. We stayed indoors until 1 pm before complete boredom drove us crazy. My feet were continuing to improve, and Wanda kept dreaming of finding those magic Hydro-Gel Band-Aides. She reasoned that if she could just find a big enough pharmacy like a CVS and Walgreens back home, she would score. Yesterday, on our bus trip to the airport she spotted what she thought was a large pharmacy near another Wal-Mart.
Skeptical, we took the Circuitous metro bus to the noted pharmacy. Yes, it had excellent prominent signage, but that turned out to be deceptive. The store itself was dinky and with no Hydro-Gel Band-Aides. We walked a block or so to Wal-Mart next door to see how it compared to the Wal-Mart near our Airbnb. It was newer and had a few different items in its pharmacy section, including some larger "bandaids," but still no Hydro-Gel Band-Aides.
Tomorrow we planned to visit The Golden City of Izamal. So today we scouted the public transportation route, cost and time for planned Izamal day-trip tomorrow. Two metro buses bring us to the Centro (city center) colectivo stands to find the specific colectivo leaving to Izamal then find a Chixulub colectivo.
Chixulub, a small town next to Progresso beach, has the distinction of being the point-of-impact where the dinosaur-killer asteroid hit some 65 million years ago. We were hoping to find a swimming beach at Chixulub, to experience one more ocean-beach day before heading back to a Wisconsin winter. We have seen Chixulub colectivos driving on the streets, and know they exist. After checking everywhere; the colectivo areas around the Noreste bus station to the area around the Market to the area around the Parque San Juan going in every different direction to a variety of different towns and villages, but none to Chixulub.
It was getting late and colectivos thin out around 4 and 5 pm. Plus, we were getting hungry, so we gave up the colectivo search. A short walk to the Los Trompos restaurant recommended by Yucatan Today to order steak tacos, a pile of steak carved from a rotating rotisserie, with melted cheese, mushrooms and a stack of hot flour and hot corn tortillas accompanied with several wonderful sauces. The meal hit the spot.
Across the street from Los Trompos is a tiny plaza with a bench where we sat while Wanda ordered up a Uber taxi back to the Airbnb. The Uber driver quickly sized us up and put on some Beatles music. I have noticed that the Uber drivers in Merida listen to great music.
Across the street from Los Trompos is a tiny plaza with a bench where we sat while Wanda ordered up a Uber taxi back to the Airbnb. The Uber driver quickly sized us up and put on some Beatles music. I have noticed that the Uber drivers in Merida listen to great music.
The Uber app gives out lots of interesting info on the drivers. It tells you their name, the color, make and model of their car, where the vehicle currently is and how long it will take to reach you (it even has a map showing the car’s progress to you), and how many rides the driver has accumulated. Many of these drivers have given thousands of trips.
When we reached the Airbnb, Wanda discovered that she left her daypack on the plaza bench. Somehow, we communicated this to the non-English speaking driver. He took us back, and YES the daypack was still on the bench. We were so thankful that we slipped the driver a $100 Pesos for his customer service.
It was apparent my feet were improving, and time to eagerly plan the rest of the 3-days left of our vacation starting with a visit to The Golden City of Izamal tomorrow.
One More Day of Uber Taxi Day Trips