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.
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…