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Old 06-24-2016   #1 (permalink)
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Mansion Mérida on the Park

OK, I'm forcing myself to get this trip report rolling; I've procrastinated so long I'm just going to wing it and hope this turns out OK.

Perhaps you recall GaryD's excellent trip report of his sojourns through parts of the Yucatan that most of us at best will only fly over. Well this ain't that kind of trip report, in fact it is the "George Costanza" of trip reports to that one, being largely the exact opposite in spirit.

But no matter. This is what we did and this is what we saw.

This year Westjet started a direct flight from Toronto to Mérida, and having always wanted to go but never prepared to stop over for hours in Houston or to get on one of those apparently nice ADO buses from Cancun, this was a godsend.

So with Expedia screaming at me that there were only 7 seats left!! on the plane and only 1 room left!! in the hotel I pulled the trigger and booked . . . well neither of the hotels I had been considering: with a boatload of points on my credit card I selected a more, ahem, upscale establishment, Mansion Mérida on the Park, with the "park" being Parque Hidalgo in the Centro of old Mérida.

And wouldn't you know it, at the airport when we embarked the plane was only half full - I see you've got your shocked face on there - and half of those onboard were Mennonites, not that there's anything wrong with that, except that I only usually see them in St. Jacob's country.

So we land in Mérida, we get in a taxi and I tell the driver in my best Spanglish "Mansion Mérida, por favor." We soon are in the Centro and there it is off to the right (dang pre-trip planning and Google this-and-that: nothing's a surprise anymore). The driver signals to turn right but there's a cop with pylons blocking the way. Our driver exchanges glances with the cop, hesitates, and then pulls away. No matter, he's obviously circling to try again. Except the drive goes on longer than it should and just as I clue in he makes a left into a drive and announces "Mission Mérida!"

I reply that my accent is to blame - and in retrospect it probably is - and I confer with him on where we truly want to go. And we finally get there. It's just weird though how he really seemed to be going to the right place at first - I would have bet money on him understanding me perfectly - and then almost seemed to decide to drop us anywhere he could.

But in the end this is what we pulled up to:

The two balconies to the left of the entrance were part of our room, the leftmost actually being inaccessible behind the bathroom vanity.

However this was the view from the balcony we could use:

The staircase leading to the second floor:

That balcony on the right was actually the third one in our room, but I don't wish to brag.

Open air courtyard:

Left to right: the door to our room and the door to our bathroom:

We found out by accident that a bit of pressure on the bathroom door would pop it open from the outside. Good if we'd lost our key, not so good otherwise.

Views down the halls:

Bed, obviously:

The bedroom may have been a perfect cube: 20 ft wide by 20 ft long by 20 ft high - never seen a ceiling as high as this one, designed, I believe, to allow hot air to rise as far as possible from the still suffering 18th century inhabitant. We on the other hand had air conditioning.

Just when I was about to amaze the young'uns with my ability to use a rotary phone - wot dat? - I noticed it actually had push buttons. Dang!

The tranquil pool area with Yucatecan Trova music piped in:

Pre-trip my wife Helen asked if I was bringing a bathing suit; I thought that a weird idea given that this wasn't a beach holiday, however in the 100 degree heat I would have melted if I hadn't. Each day we were there by about 2 pm.

39C = approximately 100F = freakin' hot!

Petit fours (I only count three):

Mansion Mérida was at one time a well-to-do family's home that has since been converted into a 14 room luxury hotel.

And Expedia's exclamations to the contrary, we were its only guests that week.
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Old 06-24-2016   #2 (permalink)
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I am getting a good feeling about this trip report. So you are saying there were only THREE petit fours? Please carry on.
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Old 06-25-2016   #3 (permalink)
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Looks wonderful. More,please
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Old 06-26-2016   #4 (permalink)
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Holy cow, what a gorgeous hotel! I am excited to read your report as I have always wanted to check out Merida.
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Old 06-26-2016   #5 (permalink)
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Around town

One thing I really like about the Mansion Mérida on the Park is its location. One block south is the Plaza Grande, where you can hang out in the shade, get your shoes shined, use the free wifi, people watch, or do whatever you want:

The Cathedral

The Palacio Municipal:

Wouldn't you know it, Casa de Montejo on the south of the plaza was having repair work done, so much of the detail was hidden from view.

I take the figure to be that of Montejo as conquistador, and the scaffolding obscures the fact that he is standing of the heads of two adversaries.

Lower down is a man condemned to eternally carry the weight of a multitude of screaming children, or that's how I interpret it:

John Stephens described the whole thing this way in Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Vol. 1 (1843):

In the centre of the city stands the plaza major, a square of about six hundred feet. The whole of the east side is occupied by the cathedral and the bishop's palace. On the west stand the house of the municipality and that of the Doña Joaquina Peon. On the north is the palace of the government, and on the south a building which on our first visit arrested our attention the moment we entered the plaza. It is distinguished by a rich sculptured façade of curious design and workmanship. In it is a stone with this inscription: Esta obra mando hacerla el Adelantado D. Francisco de Montejo Año de MDXLIX. The Adelantado Don Francisco Montejo caused this to be made in the year 1549. The subject represents two knights in armour, with visors, breastplates, and helmets, standing upon the shoulders of crushed naked figures, probably intended to represent the conquering Spaniard trampling upon the Indian. Mr. Catherwood attempted to make a drawing of it, and, to avoid the heat of the sun, went into the plaza at daylight for that purpose; but he was so annoyed by the crowd that he was obliged to give it up. There is reason to believe that it is a combination of Spanish and Indian art. The design is certainly Spanish, but as, at that early period of the conquest, but five years after the foundation of Merida, Spaniards were but few, and each man considered himself a conqueror, probably there were none who practised the mechanic arts. The execution was no doubt the work of Indians, and perhaps the carving was done with their own instruments, and not those furnished them by the Spaniards.

Well let's leave the plaza, go back to the hotel, and head north.

It's too hot to walk - let's go in calesa:

One block north of the hotel is the University of Yucatan:

Its courtyard:

Across the street, the pretty courtyard in the Casa del Balam, which was in the running as a place to stay and will be in the running for our next visit:

One block further north to Parque de Santa Lucia (in this part of Mérida you can't swing a dead cat and not hit a park/plaza or church).

The Hotel Casa Lucia was also in the running and a potential stay next time:

A couple of blocks further north gets us to Santa Ana, but unfortunately I don't have any good pics.

A couple of blocks to the east gets us to the remate or southern terminus of the grand Paseo de Montejo, where many stately mansions are located.

Please make sure you remain in the shade of these trees - it's hot out there!

You may wish to put in a bid or two on these potential flip opportunities:

We've expended so much sweat getting this far, no sense stopping now without going further north to the Monumento a la Patria:

Along the sides are important figures and events from Mexico's past.

That pool at Mansion Mérida on the Park is now 3 kilometres away. Yikes!
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Old 06-26-2016   #6 (permalink)
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Awesome photos! I feel like I am there.
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Old 06-28-2016   #7 (permalink)
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I generally don't eat breakfast - each day it's up at 6 and out the door by 6:30 - so I think I ate more eggs in one week in Mérida than I normally do in a year. Not that I'm complaining.

In fact I have acquired a taste for fried eggs with runny yolks served up on a crispy tortilla or two, mainly because breakfast was included at the hotel and the selections that caught my eye were the eggs: divorciados, Mexicanos, Moltulenos, etc. Oh sure there was some fruit - I actually enjoyed that one day - but every other day it was some kind of fried egg with runny yolk and yummy sauce. Equally nice was the fact that it was all served up as we sat at tables outside in the park, watching as people went about their daily business:

Huevos divorciados:

Huevos moltulenos:

I know that it looks sloppy but it was good.

Breakfast fruit plate, obviously:

The first night in Merida we went to Amaro for dinner, a Trova bar/restaurant not even a block from the hotel. Trova I'm sure is a cognate of the English word troubadour, which isn't even English but French in origin.

And apparently the Yucatan imported its love of Trova from Cuba for reasons with which I'm not familiar, however I have been in Cuba, I do have a couple of CDs with Cuban Trova songs, and the sample size is too small for me to compare properly. But they are different.

Amaro is one of those places where you can't see much of it from the sidewalk (Amaro, third from the left)

But when you enter the premises the space opens up to a pretty open-air courtyard.

I think we were there on a quiet night: there was a Venezuelan musician on stage, several tables with diners, but the vibe of the place never really took off.

This is one of the dishes we had: aguacate Neptune. An Italian place makes a variation of the same dish back home so trying Amaro's version was never in doubt. And it was good.

La Chaya Maya:

This is my very first lunch in Merida, enjoyed at La Chaya Maya, a place I'm not supposed to like because it's "touristy," however being a tourist, sorry, I liked it. I suppose there's something more "authentic" out there worth chasing down but I just wasn't up to it. Getting too old I suppose.

This plate consisted of (clockwise from 9 o'clock): a relleno negro taco - a first for me and something I really enjoyed - a vaporcito tamale, the only item that brought out the "meh," a chochinita taco, and a panucho.

Speaking of panuchos, one of the local tourist mags had quite possibly the worst "explanation" as to how the panucho got its name: a local hotelier was feeding some passing workers, didn't have much in the larder and so he served up tacos slathered with leftover refried beans. And the hotelier's name, amazingly enough, was "Ucho."

You see where this is headed, no?

Well apparently the workers enjoyed the meal so much they cried out "¡mas pan, Ucho!" Geddit?

Quite why they were referring to the taco & bean thingy as "pan" is beyond me but credulity is required for all this to work, so just nod your head and say "sure."

Later in the week we went back for dinner and I had an order of queso relleno, the story of its creation I'm more willing to believe: apparently Edam cheese was popular with the upper class in Mérida, but not so the rind. So they'd have the servants trim that off and throw it away.

Except the servants being hungry thought it madness to waste good food, so they held onto it, stuffed it with meat and vegetables, and created a signature dish.

The whole thing may be apocryphal, but I like it better than the panucho story.

Queso Relleno:

But hands down the best meals were at Dulceria y Sorbeteria Colon - both locations- where they specialize in fruit-flavoured sorbets and champolas (floats).

Check out this list:

Hey look, there's elote! Imagine that: corn on the cob ice cream . . . with actual kernels. Gross, huh?

Well believe it or don't, it was deelish!

Sorbeteria y dulceria Colon menu:
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Old 06-28-2016   #8 (permalink)
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Old 06-28-2016   #9 (permalink)
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Ooh, loving this so far. We really enjoyed our short visit to Merida a few years ago and I'd love to go back...but will definitely pick a cooler month for sure! Can't wait to read more...
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Old 06-30-2016   #10 (permalink)
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So excited to see this trip report. Thanks for posting! Love Merida although find it really hot even in the winter months. Your pictures are amazing and love all the food pictures especially. Can't wait for more!
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Old 06-30-2016   #11 (permalink)
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And then along came José: Uxmal

One of things that concierge Daniel said to us when we checked in was that if we wanted to go to any of the ruins to let him know and he'd arrange a ride. So when it came time to visit Uxmal we took him up on his offer. He told us that he had a regular contact that the hotel knew and trusted with their guests, so we told him to go ahead and make the arrangements.

He got on the phone and started talking to his contact, and when it came down to price I knew from the Internet what the usual price was. And of course the price started off higher than that but eventually we got it down to where it should be. Normally I'm a "can I iron and fold your clothes?" kind of negotiator, but for whatever reason this time I decided to push it. "Lower," I said cockily. So Daniel transmitted that to the person on the other end of the line. The response was "no." So I said "no." The end result was that we rang off with no deal struck.

And then after about 20 seconds I told Daniel to call the guy back and book it.

The next morning after enjoying an earlier breakfast in the shade of the park, a white taxi pulls up into the taxi stand and out pops José, our new best friend for the next few days. José is all bubbly. He speaks perfect English, telling us he drove cab for a few years in Manhattan. José's cab is new and he's very proud of it.

We load up and off we start, wending our way south through the city where the homes get more humble but interesting at the same time. We pass through the small town of Uman, which is now pretty much an extension of Mérida, and then after that its all modern well-maintained highway from there to the Puuc hills and then into Uxmal.

At Uxmal José tells us that he's going to hang out at the parking lot while we're viewing the ruins. We pay the entrance fee. Plus the extranjero or gringo top-up fee over and above that. Plus the "going to be filming" fee on top of that. I look to my right and there's a couple of women wearing what I would describe as the black robes of the Jesuits; I'm not sure what that was all about but a worse outfit for the 100 degree heat I can't imagine - maybe if they were wearing a real hair shirt too.

We enter the site proper and there majestically before us is the Pyramid of the Magician/Temple of the Dwarf, and it's everything I thought it would be and more. Snap, snap, snap go the cameras. I'm taking the same shot multiple times but I can't help it.

We skirt around its right flank and there is an annex between it and the Nunnery Quadrangle. "What the heck is this?", I wonder, never having seen this part in photos or heard mention of it. It's crammed with Chac masks and there's a long wall that looks like the remnants of one side of a Mayan arch: it curves in as it goes up but the other side is completely missing.

On the subject of Chac masks at Uxmal:

This projecting stone appears with this combination all over the façade and at the corners; and throughout all the buildings it is met with, sometimes in a reversed position, oftener than any other design in Uxmal. It is a singular fact, that though entirely out of reach, the ends of nearly all of them have been broken off; and among the many remains in every part of the walls throughout the whole ruins, there are but three that now exist entire. Perhaps they were wantonly broken by the Spaniards; though at this day the Indians believe these old buildings are haunted, and that all the monefatos or ornaments are animated, and walk at night In the daytime, it is believed, they can do no harm, and for ages the Indians have been in the habit of breaking and disfiguring them with the machete, believing that by so doing they quiet their wandering spirits.

- Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Vol. I. (John L. Stephens)
Then it's on into the Nunnery Quadrangle and quite frankly it's mostly a blur from there on out. What I do remember are swallows slicing and powering through the air like jets in an air show, I am scanning the buildings for items of interest, probably missing at least 10 for every 1 I do find.

The tail of one serpent is held up nearly over the head of the other, and has an ornament upon it like a turban, with a plume of feathers. The marks on the extremity of the tail are probably intended to indicate a rattlesnake, with which species of serpent the country abounds. The lower serpent has its monstrous jaws wide open, and within them is a human head, the face of which is distinctly visible on the stone, and appears faintly in the drawing. From the ruin to which all was hurrying, Don Simon cared only to preserve this serpent's head. He said that we might tear and out carry away every other ornament, but this he intended to build into the wall of a house in Merida as a memorial of Uxmal.

- Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Vol. I. (John L. Stephens)
We trudge through the ball court, climb the platforms upon which the House of the Turtles and Palace of the Governor sit, and are just overwhelmed by the amount of detail to be seen.

And it's bloody hot.

House of the Turtles:

Detail, Governor's Palace:

The first engraving represents the part immediately over the doorway. It shows the remaining portion of a figure seated on a kind of throne. This throne was formerly supported by a rich ornament, still forming part of similar designs over other doorways in this building. The head-dress is lofty, and from it proceed enormous plumes of feathers, dividing at the top, and falling symmetrically on each side, until they touch the ornament on which the feet of the statue rest. Each figure was perhaps the portrait of some cacique, warrior, prophet, or priest, distinguished in the history of this unknown people.

- Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Vol. I. (John L. Stephens)
The two-headed jaguar throne:

John Lloyd Stephens's account of finding it:

At a distance of sixty feet in a right line beyond this was a rude circular mound, about six feet high. We had used it as a position from which to take a Daguerreotype view of the front of the building, and, at the instance of the Cura Carillo, who came to pay us a visit, we determined to open it. It was a mere mass of earth and stones; and, on digging down to the depth of three or four feet, a sculptured monument was discovered, which is represented in the engraving that follows. It was found standing on its feet, in the position represented in the engraving. It is carved out of a single block of stone, and measures three feet two inches in length and two feet in height. It seems intended to represent a double-headed cat or lynx, and is entire with the exception of one foot, which is a little broken. The sculpture is rude. It was too heavy to carry away. We had it raised to the side of the mound for Mr. Catherwood to draw, and probably it remains there still. The picote, or great stone, before referred to, appears in the engraving in the distance. Engraving 14: Double-headed Lynx Why this monument had been consigned to the strange place in which it was discovered we were at a loss to conjecture. This could never have been its original destination. It had been formally and deliberately buried. In my opinion, there is but one way of accounting for it. It had been one of the many idols worshipped by the people of Uxmal; and the probability is, that when the inhabitants abandoned the city they buried it, that it might not be desecrated; or else the Spaniards, when they drove out the inhabitants and depopulated the city, in order to destroy all the reverential feelings of the Indians toward it, followed the example of Cortez at Cholula, and threw down and buried the idols.

- Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Vol. I. (John L. Stephens)
Speaking of a mound of rubble, you could open your own Mayan Depot with this stuff:

Beside the House of the Turtles looking back to the Nunnery Quadrangle and Pyramid of the Magician:

Artsy attempt:

Time to climb a pyramid - how about the Grand Pyramid? It doesn't look so steep . . .

¡Dios Mio! Maybe I was wrong!

The House of the Pigeons in the distance:

Many people seem to say that 2 hours is sufficient at Uxmal, but for me 2 days would be better. I look at my pictures and compare to those available on the web and in books, and I kick myself for the many shots that I neglected to get.
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Old 06-30-2016   #12 (permalink)
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Gorgeous photos, really takes me back to when we visited in 2012. We LOVED Uxmal. It's probably our favourite Mayan ruin to date (we've also been to Chichen Itza, Tulum, Coba, Muyil, Chachobban). And I agree, you really do need more than two hours...though the heat makes that feat near impossible most days. I loved that the site wasn't overrun with people or vendors so you could really explore at your own pace. Can't wait to read more!

P.S. Did you find the collection of stone phallices behind the grand pyramid?
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Old 06-30-2016   #13 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by newfiegirl22 View Post
Gorgeous photos, really takes me back to when we visited in 2012. We LOVED Uxmal. It's probably our favourite Mayan ruin to date (we've also been to Chichen Itza, Tulum, Coba, Muyil, Chachobban). And I agree, you really do need more than two hours...though the heat makes that feat near impossible most days. I loved that the site wasn't overrun with people or vendors so you could really explore at your own pace. Can't wait to read more!

P.S. Did you find the collection of stone phallices behind the grand pyramid?
OK, when I wrote that I was kicking myself for some pics I missed, Rock! Hard! Penises! were not part of the equation.

I think I may have had some inkling of their existence via pre-trip planning, but it wasn't until I bought a book of historical photos that I saw them:

So no, never saw them in person.
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Old 07-02-2016   #14 (permalink)
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Lucha Libre At Loltun

Happy Canada Day, eh? Happy 4th of July.

A couple of days later José picked us up and whisked us off to the Loltun Caves; I thought time underground would be a good way to beat the heat.

We arrive and José tells us that he's going to park across the road, a good idea since there appears to be a fee to park onsite.

About 30 seconds into our walk to the entrance I sense someone next to me and wouldn't you know it, it's José. Before I can ask him what he's doing he's charged ahead and started talking to the guides hanging around out front.

"How much is it?," he asks. They tell him that in addition to paying the entrance fee I must pay a guide a hefty mordida or we can't go in.

So José goes mildly ballistic.

Now I actually know this going in, again due to pre-trip research. And I'm actually prepared for negotiations, but José has figuratively pushed me aside and is going at it hammer and tongs with one of the guides. It was like lucha libre without the masks.

They're almost chest to chest. Voices are raised. The guide points to the sign on the wall, the one he probably put up, backing up his claim.

José is having none of that: he pulls out his cell and puts in a call to the Tourist Office in Plaza Grande back in Mérida, asking in an "I'm telling Mom!" tone if the guide fee is mandatory or optional. Upon being told it's optional, José triumphantly relays the information. The guide is unimpressed.

And I break it all up by telling the guide I'll pay an amount that I feel is more than reasonable, but less than half of the original asking price.

It dawns on me later that José was just protecting his income, that any money going to the guide would be money not going into José's wallet.

As we enter the caves the guide apologizes for José's behaviour, not realizing that he's no stranger to us. Plus I was greatly amused by the whole thing.

He remained spiteful for a while, a couple of times peevishly turning off the lights when I dawdled behind to take photos, but eventually he calmed down.

Toltec mask:

10,000 BC hand print, or so we were told:

On the way back we stopped off at Mayapan, which is quite close to the highway. As we walked in a man and his son were exiting. We saw a husband and wife inside but shortly thereafter we had the place to ourselves.

I like Mayapan: it's like a compact half-sized version of Chichen Itza but with rougher masonry work a la Coba or Ek Balam.

El Castillo:

A long way down:

El Caracol:

Chac and caracol:

Stucco figures:

I think I read somewhere that the niche where the head should be was used to display real heads that had been separated from the body and themselves stuccoed.
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Old 07-05-2016   #15 (permalink)
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There's always some sort of organized entertainment going on in Mérida.

Up in Santa Lucia they've been doing the Serenata Yucateca for over 50 years:

I don't see how any man can resist those ladies in their huipils.

You would think that after 50 years of performances the locals would be bored with it all, but the place was packed and the audience was very appreciative of the singing, dancing, comedy, and poetry. There must be families where the grandparents, children, and grandchildren have all participated at one time or another.

This gent seemed to be the master of ceremonies at all the events. Here he is at Noche Mexicana at the remate on Paseo de Montejo:

The show itself was pretty much the equivalent of a seniors stay fit class, with these ladies from Chiapas providing the entertainment:

At one point they came into the audience and handed out Chiapan treats that they themselves had made, and again the packed audience was very appreciative.

On Sunday we took in Mérida en Domingo in front of the Palacio Municipal. On this date they performed the dances that traditionally would be danced at a wedding.

Bride & Groom:

One of the dances consisted of the groomsmen piling their hats on the head of the Bride:

Look at how pretty she is:

Not so pretty:

But it was a hot day so I can't blame him.
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