Stately and elegant

Paseo de Montejo, Merida

As I walked along this elegant boulevard, the Paseo de Montejo, in Merida, I felt like I was back in Madrid.  I imagine the Spanish conquistadors also wanted to recreate a feel of home although I believe the design was influenced by French boulevards.

This pastel avenue of sculptures was located right next to Merida Cathedral and was a wonderfully cool and artistic respite from the unrelenting heat.  Most people were not tourists so it was joyful to see residents enjoy their beautiful city.

These wonderful windows caught my eye – such a tranquil Sunday feel to the day.  Below is a close up of the detail.

There seems to be different coats of arms above each window.  My absolute favorite was the colonnades of the Plaza Grande which was also the original center of the Maya city of Tiho.

 

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Andres Quintana Roo

I liked this vivid statue in Merida but I mostly took the photograph to showcase the colorful buildings behind.  It was only when I zoomed in on the image that I realized that this was Andrès Quintana Roo for whom the state is named.  He was born in Merida in 1787 and died in Mexico City in 1851.  Not only did he draft the Mexican Declaration of Independence but he was a liberal forward thinking politician whose roles included Secretary of State.

He had a Romeo and Juliet romance with his wife Leona.  Her family were Royalists so they ran away to get married.  Andrès’ father was part of a group called the Sanjuanistas who fought against native slavery and oppressive taxes to the Catholic Church.  Go Sanjuanistas!!  We sometimes forget that the USA is not the only country who participated in slavery.  There are many African Americans in Texas who have my Scottish last name and I have no doubt that there will be many native Mexicans who are called Ortega, my maiden name.  For all I know some of my native DNA might be Maya or from the Mexican region although I doubt it.

We recently had a false rumor around Houston that a statue of Sam Houston was going to be removed because he was a slave owner.  Enough already!  We don’t need statues of dictators such as Hitler but even George Washington owned slaves because it was the unacceptable norm of the day.  My great-great grandfather was a Confederate medic but I doubt he had much choice about his fate.  He used the experience to become a renowned doctor in Arkansas.  History is rarely sunshine and butterflies but we learn something from our mistakes.  I have a long line of ancestors named Sam and/or Houston because he (Sam Houston) was admired so much my family who have native heritage.  My father’s middle name is Houston.  I was meant to be here…

Back to Quintana Roo –in this state you can clearly see native heritage in the faces of residents.  Less Spanish, more Maya.   On one side of Andres’ statue was the church of Santa Ana.  The yellow towers made the red brick stand out. Look at those flame trees!

Church of Santa Ana

In another neighborhood, I was taken by the contrast of this yellow column against the red umbrellas.  Yellow seems to be a favorite color in Merida – so sunny and vibrant!

 

Sinister graveyard – los muertos

Three crucifixes

My good friend Victo Dolore recently posted one of her wonderful short pieces of fiction Post Pains. She asked if any of her readers felt something from a building. Since I am a certifiable ball of emotions and feelings, it happens to me all the time and despite the candy colored buildings of my last post Colorful Merida, the graveyard (pictured above) made the hair on the back of my neck rise. There is something about the bells and the three crucifixes that seems so sinister. It was naturally shaded so that heightened the effect. Maybe it was because Merida Cathedral was once a Maya temple?

The interior of the Cathedral was somberly beautiful but there was no color which is unusual in churches here or in Mexico.  Even the nuns were wearing off white habits.  Is it the gray of the limestone that bothers me?

Limestone church and a local with her slippers on? Que?

Perhaps it is those little slits for windows (perfect in a heatwave) that upsets me?

Finally, why do I take most of my photographs from a weird angle?  I have to straighten most of them but it truly reflects what this photographer sees.  My thinking is skewed because of a mental illness, as is my take on life.  It is not always negative, however, and like most people I like to be scared (a little).  Boo!

 

Colorful Merida

San Juan de Dios

Despite my shortened trip to Mérida, I was quite enchanted by the city. They enjoy using color as you can see in the old building above. I tried to research it and I think it may have been a hospital.
The more recently renovated buildings included this lovely candy colored street (below) leading up to Mérida Cathedral.


I particularly like the dappled sunshine on this pink bar and restaurant (below). You can see some of the cyclists meandering around the hot streets.



This busy little colored row of streets was part of the Barrio of Santa Lucia. I love the ‘Muerte’ lady.

…and then God smote me

WHY IS THE STEP SO HIGH???

I should have put some money in the collection plate but I always reverse when there are nuns. So, now the power is off for at least a day or two at my first wonderful hacienda. I skipped down the pavement to the second hacienda which still had power. As we walked into the entryway I was pleased to see that it was almost a mirror image of the first hotel; it was actually rated more highly. The manager showed me the first room available but it was incredibly dark with very high ceilings – something out of a Guillermo del Toro movie, perhaps? It was also a smoker’s room. My nose started to wrinkle with disappointment and they showed me the only other room. It too was smoky and similar to the first one – it’s only advantage was a dark window looking onto the pool at another room like the first perfect one. There were no more rooms available. Sigh.

I sadly drooped back to my first room with some portable lights so that I could pack my bag. By this time, my clothes were soaked through for the third time with the intense heat and humidity. After I moved into sinister room #2, I had another shower and decided to have a nap in bed. I kept looking up into the ceiling beams and seeing ‘things’. They were probably dead cicadas or spiders but I was now on an imagination roll. As I lay in bed, I thought about what I could do.

• I could try to find another hotel but now the WiFi was out and it was too hot to wander about
• I could visit the wonderful museum with Maya artifacts
• I could go to the fancy shopping mall
• I could take the bus to Progreso, a seaside resort, but it was 3 hours on the bus.
• I could take a guided tour in a car to one of the ruins/cenote

These were all part of my original plan but I was feeling really sick with the heat and what latterly turned out to be virus (we had a flu virus in Houston). What did I really want to do? Go home was the simple answer but given that I had just done something similar in Puerto Vallarta, I was wondering if I was over-reacting. I tried to self-diagnose and my conclusion was that I was not anxious just fed up. Finally, I decided to go on one last walkabout to get some snacks from the local shop. My room was so dark that I hadn’t realized that the sky was ominous. I took two steps outside and then changed my mind and came back into the hotel. Within minutes a tropical thunderstorm had started with flash flooding. I looked with fascination as the pool started to overflow and then asked if I could use the phone to speak to United Airlines in Mexico.

The representative was very helpful but yet again United screwed me again with a $200 change fee to go home the next day even though the flight was not full. The night staff looked upset that I was leaving but I think they understood. After the phone call, I arranged for a wake-up call at 4 am (one early flight a day from Mérida). One young man working at the hotel reminded me of Agador Spartacus in the Birdcage movie but he was wearing shoes. He offered me a drink and brought me a plate of lovely snacks. Agador explained in halting English that the crackers were like communion wafers and covered in delicious tomato and avocado salsas. Since I had gone to bed at 6 pm, I was fully awake at 2 am. That was fortunate because the night porter slept through his alarm. I could see the taxi driver through the gap in the door but struggled to unlock the big old door. Finally, the porter came running out half-dressed and bid me Adios!

When I got to the airport, there were no United representatives at the check-in desk… The cleaning staff explained that it didn’t open for another hour even though I had been told to be there precisely three hours before departure. Teddy was waiting anxiously for me at immigration in Houston but seemed relieved that my mood was fine. So that concludes the disastrous trip to Quito Mérida but I will post some lovely photographs next week and I will definitely return…

One final look at my perfect room #1 with the red patio doors…

It was so bloody hot, I went to Mass…

St Ildephonsus Cathedral, Merida

In my fresh outfit, I went off to further investigate Mérida and pray that the electrician was able to fix the power.  I walked past the beautiful Cathedral pictured above I heard the sound of hymns sung in Spanish.  There was no air conditioning in the church but the large airy limestone building was naturally cool.  There were fans up and down the aisles to prevent us from fainting…  It was so comfortable and reassuring that I decided to stay for Mass.  Most of the parishioners were indigenous Maya descendants.

There is a fascinating history to the Saint Ildephonsus Cathedral (Qué?)  It is one of the oldest cathedrals in the Americas.  The Cathedral was initiated in 1561, finished in 1598 and was built on the ruins of a Maya temple in the city of Tiho renamed Mérida.  Some of the original Maya stones were used in the construction.  How cool is that?  The gigantic crucifix above the altar is Christ of Unity – a symbol of reconciliation between Maya and Catholics.  I’m pretty sure they just forced them to become Catholic… The diocese of Yúcatan and Cozumel was granted by Pope Pius IV in 1561.  One of the reasons for my trip was to see some of the lesser known Maya ruins close to Mérida (that have less tourists).  It was becoming clear that it was just too damned hot to visit ruins in an area with no shade but at least I have now been in one that is posing as a church.  St Ildephonsus was born to a Visigoth family in Toledo around 607, who knew??  His fame was spread by Portuguese navigators.

Once the nuns started preying on us to give money, I slipped out the back door.  That’s a sin, isn’t it?  I promise to give money when I don’t have heat stroke…  Finally the regular shops started opening even though it was Sunday and one department store was blissfully cold.  The streets and buildings were so enticing that I just kept walking for a few hours, stopping just once to have a drink in a café (that was not enough and I must have been severely dehydrated).  I watched in horror as one of the municipal workers drank from a hose on the ground.  The water in Merida is NOT potable!  It has to be one of the few places were you really cannot drink the water even if you are local.  Regular drought, no rivers or lakes and then flooding means that the water is full of bacteria.  I read some reports that the pristine blue cisterns that everyone swims in are not really that safe.  There was a documentary some time ago that suggested that one of the reasons that the Maya empire may have disintegrated with increasing ritual sacrifices was because of a long period of natural drought.  The population had soared during their glory days but now the crops, animals and people were dying.

My companion on the flight was a charming young man who commutes from Houston to Merida and he had mentioned the Grand Boulevard, otherwise known as the Paseo de Montejo.  I felt like I was back in Spain with a marked difference to the old town with narrow, cobbled streets.

A newly renovated yellow building on the Paseo de Monteja

After I had walked the length of the Boulevard I had to admit defeat and returned to the Hacienda.  The staff greeted me at the door with the news that the power cut was municipal and probably a small substation had failed.  I foolishly asked them when it might be fixed knowing that there was no correct answer.  When the last hurricane came through Houston, most people had no power for weeks…  I looked at my beautiful room pathetically and they came to my rescue with an offer of another room at their sister hotel just two doors down.  I could use both rooms if I didn’t want to pack or they would pack for me.  How kind they were!  My spirits perked up again but not for long…

Was it a sound and light show?

I closed my wonderful hotel door in Merida and looked around my room.  There was a four poster bed, patio doors opening onto the small pool outside.  Even though it was now dark, there were little lights illuminating the pool, columns, archways and muslin curtains outside.  The room was simply furnished in typical Spanish/Mexican style but had a large flat screen TV and Wifi.  The bathroom was commodious and modern with wonderful limestone tiles.  It was chock full of prehistoric critters and I remember thinking that Teddy could have written a thesis about the tiles.  There was a tiny bit of black mold in the corner of one ceiling but it was an old building prone to leaks in rainstorms – much like our house (and it’s new).

The hotel was very quiet and it was incredibly hot.  I put on the air conditioning unit and the large fan.  At home I keep the temperature at about 78 degrees for most of the year so I am used to tolerating hot weather.  We lived in Egypt for two years with minimal air-conditioning.  My flight didn’t arrive until almost 9 pm so now it was well past my normal bed time.  The bed was comfortable and despite the heat, I drifted off to sleep under the sheet.

My dreams were all about sound and light shows and later I realized that this was because the power was flickering in and out all night creating a light show with the little outside lights.  Both the air-con and the fan were generating a crescendo of noise from going on and off.   Ah, the joys of foreign travel.  In the morning, one of the staff came to my door to explain that the power would be going out so that an electrician could work on the hotel.

“Not a problem,” said I, blithely, and thoroughly enjoyed the breakfast before lights out.  There was real natural yogurt, honey, local fruits, jellies, toast and granola.  A virtual feast.  Since the power was going to be off, I decided to set off to see the city even though it was early on Sunday morning.  The local residents were busy setting up the main Plaza with market stalls and half of the old town was barricaded off for a bike race.  Race is too strong a word – perhaps a meander?

Merida was exactly what I expected and a little more.  It was a regular city not dominated by tourism with many beautiful Spanish colonial buildings.  Not everyone spoke English but I was able to communicate with my bad Spanish.  I admired some beautiful cotton drindl skirts in vivid colors and the white haired Señor asked me if he could help.  I remembered the words for just browsing – “Solo mirando, gracias!” and I received a smile with no pressure.  All of America was enduring a heatwave and I noticed the local people, many of whom were indigenous Maya, were struggling to keep cool.  I was already getting over-heated so went back to the hotel to change into something lighter.  The electrician was still hard at work.  It was difficult to see in the closet with no power but the room was naturally cool.

I set off again to take more photos and enjoy the city sights.  I was feeling a little weary but I metaphorically shook myself in anticipation of a wonderful vacation.  Oh, I spoke too soon….

There were love seats all over the plaza and I noticed couples kissing openly – sweet!