I jumped out of the ho-hum hostel in Isla Mujeres while the majority of the guests were still sleeping. After taking a ferry to the mainland followed by a minibus ride to the downtown Cancún bus terminal, I promptly bought a $235 peso (US$22) 1st-class ticket to Mérida.
About 200 miles west of Cancún is Mérida, the capital city of the Yucatán. Said to be one of the safest metropolitan cities in Mexico (as well as "the intellectual, arts and cultural center of the peninsula"—think folkloric dancers, music, theatrical performances, art openings, and film showings), it took a little over four hours for my plush bus to comfortably whisk me across a well maintained (pay-toll funded) highway. If I read the toll sign correctly, it looks like it costs almost as much as my ticket to drive an average car on the MEX 180D expressway.
I decided to let Raphael, one of the guys at the bus terminal soliciting freshly arrived travelers, lead me to the recently opened hostel he was promoting (Sta. Lucia Hostel). Only a few blocks from the Lonely Planet's #1 pick (Nómadas Youth Hostel), I figured it couldn't hurt.
Sta. Lucia Hostel isn't bad, and for MX$80/night it's about 10 pesos more and 50 people less than Nómadas. I'll probably stay here for just a night or two, and then switch over to some place like Nómadas where I can socialize.
After spending the afternoon and evening walking around Mérida, I think it's pretty safe to say that I've found the balance I've been looking for. This is a big, deliciously stimulating city, and I'm right in the heart of town—the lively Centro Histórico district.
As I strolled down the streets and around the plaza's and parks today, I couldn't help but notice that I was much taller than well over 95% of the masses of people around me. Standing only average in height for a gringo (5'10"), it's quite an interesting (and entertaining) experience.
One of the most amazing things I've noticed during this jaunt into Mexico has been the complete absence of feral (stray) dogs on the streets. It's incredible; I haven't seem a single one yet! It would seem that I've grown oddly accustom to their annoying presence (and the accompanying feelings of disgust and hate they induce). Here in Mérida there's a whole mess of street beggars, but at least I don't have to chase them off with sticks and stones.
When I was in Tobago, Andy showed me a neat trick for getting rid of feral dogs that have become an annoyance or a threat. Bend down like you're going to pick up a stone from the street, even if there isn't one (but if you're lucky there actually will be). Most dogs have been pelted by so many rocks that the motion alone will usually scare them off. Simple, and surprisingly effective.