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!

Ecuador, Mexico, Texas – The disastrous trip

My room is the whole of the ground floor with patio doors leading onto the pool.

I am a seasoned traveler but even I could hardly believe the series of unfortunate events that befell my latest trip.  Just before I stopped taking estrogen (which was making me ‘high’), I decided that I wanted one last really adventurous trip.  After checking the State Department’s website, I noted that Quito in Ecuador was now much safer for tourists.  Done!  Before I could blink a manic eye, the flight was booked and the ‘authentic’ hotel in old town Quito.  I excitedly started sharing my forthcoming trip with friends who expressed concern about the dangers and pointed out that I look very fair.  As the estrogen started leaving my body, I realized that even though Quito was safer than it had been, I might feel restricted using my camera.  Then there was the weather…Quito is cold!  It is 9000 feet above sea level which might affect the cyst in my chest.

I was able to cancel the hotel easily and was sad because the owner seemed charming and helpful.  Then I paid a change fee for United Airlines to screw me some more and give me a credit.  Almost immediately I decided to go to the safest city in Mexico – Mérida.  Mérida is in the north of the Yucatán region and very popular with expats with the cost of living, safety and good health care.  I booked the hotel through a well-known internet company.  It was another hacienda boutique hotel, close to the old part of the city.  The day before my departure, I woke up to find an email saying my hotel was not available and would I like to stay in the Ibis? “Hell no!” was my response and for the Americans, Ibis is a cheap motel chain from Europe popular with backpackers visiting the Maya ruins.  I phoned and explained that I wanted a boutique hotel.  Long story short, I cancelled everything and started with another travel company.

Hurrah! I found another lovely hotel, pictured above, and even phoned the hotel directly to explain that I was arriving on a late flight from Houston (so please don’t give my room away).  They were delightful and I was happy…briefly.  It was a full flight from Houston and the ground staff delayed our boarding because the AIR CONDITIONING WASN’T WORKING… WTF???  It was almost 100 degrees in Houston but none of us wanted to miss the one flight per day to Mérida.  Babies were screaming, we were all severely over-heated but no one said anything because the staff looked as though they were going to expire.  Finally we got off the runway and up high enough for the air-conditioning to work.  Thank goodness the flight is only 1hr and 40 minutes.

Mérida airport was wonderful!  Clean, new and friendly – including the immigration officers.  I went straight outside to the very well organized taxi service where you pay a small fee in advance to your destination – mine was about $10.  I breathed a sigh of relief as we drove from the airport.  Mérida is a beautiful city and women were walking alone on dark streets.  We shortly arrived at my hotel that had that beautiful layout of Spanish or Moroccan buildings with an interior atrium.  They offered me a gratefully received alcoholic drink and took me to my beautiful bedroom.  I was so happy…

I will continue with the series of disastrous events in future posts.