Thirsty for Culture
I'm at a cultural watering hole, and I'm drinking deeply. Who would've figured that I'd have to step away from the ocean and into the desert to quench my thirst.
OK—Mérida isn't exactly in the desert, but as temperatures go, I feel like I'm back home in Phoenix. This place can get pizza oven hot during the day—I'm seriously having flashbacks of hiking outdoors in Arizona, the radiant sun beating down on my head, complimented with an un-refreshingly warm triple-digit breeze moving over sweaty skin. I can see why the siesta is popular in this neck of the world (which I might add is particularly pleasant when spent in a hammock, napping and rocking the afternoon away).
Thankfully, the temperature drops near dusk, and ultimately becomes very enjoyable by nightfall. The rapid temp change also seems to bring with it a steady breeze all night, which reminds me so much of the coast I half expect to walk out of the hostel and onto the beach.
I'm learning that Mérida has become a destination for Mexicans seeking refuge from the crime and pollution of Mexico City, as well as becoming host to an increasing number of folks from the States. I hear the weather is really the only thing keeping many from relocating here permanently.
I've had several long conversations with a retired gentleman from Florida (who I met in Cancún, and then again out here) looking to pick up a piece of coastal Cancún property, but decided to try renting a place in Mérida instead. When asked back on the coast, I told him plainly that I really couldn't see myself living in the greater-Cancún area, and I think after spending a week looking for a place he came to the same conclusion.
The Joys of Mérida
I mentioned some months ago that I have two distinct parts of my personality that crave both the beach and city life. As I spend time in Mérida, I can just feel the wave of satisfaction wash over the city-boy part of me.
Coming from what I feel is a culturally deprived state of mind, it's hard to say if Mérida is really as great as I'm making it out to be. I mean, when you're starving, any food tastes great—right? I do know this though, I think this is the first city I've seen in a long time that would be really good for dating; there seems to be no short supply of entertaining and intimate events to enjoy with someone here. While I'm on that thought, I must say that the women in this city of Mayan decent are gorgeous—their frame and soft faces are very easy on the eyes.
This is an arts and entertainment heavy city. In the first few days I was here I've enjoyed traditional and contemporary art exhibitions; the recital of a talented young pianist who effortlessly filled an auditorium full of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and Brahms; explored the first cathedral ever built in Central America (constructed by conquering Spaniards with stones from an ancient Mayan temple) and host to one of the largest crucifixes in the world; archeological museums; a Latin Jazz concert inside one of the local theatres; and a handful of open-air street celebrations. Amazingly, a good percentage of the events available are "entrada libre"—free.
The Ruins at Dzibilchaltún
Dzibilchaltún (pronounced tzee-BEEL-chahl-toon) is the site of a good sized Mayan outpost that is thought to have played a role in regional salt production. Only a dozen or so miles to the north of Mérida, it's easy enough to get to for a quick sightseeing trip.
I left for Dzibilchaltún spontaneously one early afternoon with a hippy-type guy from the hostel (that looks a lot like Bruce Spence, the Trainman from the third installment of The Matrix trilogy). The bus ride out there was hot in the 100+ degree heat, and stomping around the ruins in the afternoon wasn't much cooler.
By far the best part about Dzibilchaltún is the cenote (a freshwater-filled limestone sinkhole, pronounced say-no-tay) right in the middle of the interesting, eroding complex. After I was done checking out the Temple of the Seven Dolls, I walked down the sacbè, stripped, and jumped into the deliciously refreshing spring waters—definitely a highlight for the mental scrapbook. Word has it (on the Internet) that the cenote is open to the public, allowing those that know this little tidbit to enjoy swimming in a part of Mayan history without paying the entrance fee.