Our Airbnb, Villa Merida, was amazing. It's this old mansion that was renovated and now has about 7 rooms that you can rent. Since it was already 8:00pm by the time we checked in, we just hung out in our gorgeous room with incredibly fast wi-fi. Adam had been trying to upload videos and pictures from Bacalar and Chichen Itza when we were in Valladolid and it was taking 12 hours to upload half a video; in Merida, he uploaded about 50 videos in 5 minutes. The super fast wi-fi was really nice; we were able to video chat with our families (and my parents happened to be in Connecticut that week, so I got to see my favorite little faces, too).
We met our host, Naima, the next morning, and she was super helpful and gave us lots of suggestions for things to see and places to eat. I was really needing some non-Mexican food, and Merida had lots of options. The first place we went to was a Mediterranean restaurant called Pita, which was GREAT. Adam's falafel was just as good as any you could find in New York (and so good that I made us go back on our last day so I could get one!), and I was finally able to have the salad and greens I was craving.
|Pasta from Oliva Kitchen: penne pomodoro (front) and taggliatelle ragu back right.|
|Shaksouka and Falafel from Pita, excellent, plus vegetables!|
A lot of our time in Merida was spent wandering around, relaxing, and eating. Our Airbnb was about a 20 minute walk from Plaza Grande, which is the main square in Merida (Merida has TONS of squares. It's the largest city in the Yucatan). While 20 minutes doesn't sound so bad, it was about 100 degrees there everyday, with high humidity. And unlike Cancun, the buses were not easy to figure out. We were able to figure them out enough to take us INTO Centro, but always ended up just taking a 30 peso cab back.
|Merida on one of our first nights|
After the first day in Merida, we decided we liked the city and our Airbnb enough to extend for a few more days. Unfortunately, our room was booked, so we had to switch rooms after the first three days. While both rooms were wonderful, the first room was nicer.
One of the things we wanted to do in Merida was cook! The kitchen was gorgeous - it looked like something out of Top Chef with rows of silver counter tops. We decided we were going to make skirt steak fajitas with rajas, and stopped by the market to pick up what we needed (rajas is sliced and sauteed poblano chiles and onions). Now, the thing with Mexico is that you can find any kind of chile pepper anywhere. ANYWHERE - except for the market near our Airbnb, which had no poblanos. And, in my preoccupation with looking for poblanos, I completely forgot the onions and didn't realize this until we started cooking. Also of note with this market - it had way more rum than tequila, which isn't really something you expect for Mexico...
The advantage to traveling with Adam, amongst other things, is that he's pretty inventive when he needs to be. The kitchen had this great plancha to cook on (flat top grill), which was perfect for the steak and peppers (I settled on plain green peppers), except that it wouldn't light because the long lighter was out of fuel and the matchboxes were empty. Well my incredibly resourceful love found a leftover box of spaghetti, lit one with a small lighter that was in the kitchen, and was able to light the plancha from underneath to get it working. Score! Dinner ended up being really good, and our host was impressed that we got the plancha working since apparently no one had been able to get it working in months.
|The enormous kitchen at Airbnb. So many prep tables...|
|Our successful if not exactly as intended skirt steak tacos (unassembled)|
with margaritas we made from limes, oranges and tequila.
Over the next few days, we did a walking tour of the city (Adam wrote about that already), walked down Paseo de Montejo (the Merida version of the Champs de Elysee, which, no joke, had a Starbucks on it that had valet parking. VALET PARKING FOR A STARBUCKS!), checked out the Museo de Anthropologia, had really good Italian food (I wrote about that in an earlier post as well), and spent our time learning about Merida. However, the one thing we had a really hard time finding were marquesitas. Marquesitas are a dessert item that you can typically find being sold on the streets, much like churros are sold. Marquesitas are kind of like a really thin waffle with fillings added, folded, and a garnish on the top. They are originally from Merida, so we were expecting to find them everywhere! We were only able to find them on the Sunday we were there, when Plaza Grande becomes a giant market with tons of food, dancing, craft stalls, etc. So while we were only able to find them that last day, they were worth the wait. The traditional one with Queso de Bola (Edam cheese) and Cajete (a goat's milk caramel that is ubiquitous here) was delicious, and Adam was very happy he finally got one. (The other things that were unique to Merida but that Adam did NOT get to try were Burger King's Whopper with Doritos and McDonald's Queso Fries).
|We did not take advantage of Starbucks valet.|
We did take advantage of its air conditioning
|On the lookout for another Burger King after missing this...|
Walking in Merida can be tricky - it's a very old city, and a lot of the streets and sidewalks are made of limestone (funny story: Adam got really interested in learning about the limestone, and all I kept thinking was of the scene from Parks and Rec when Ron gets annoyed with Tom & Lucy for being ridiculous and missing out on a fascinating conversation about Michigan limestone. Yes, I miss Parks and Rec). Well when it rains, smooth limestone becomes very, very slippery so you have to be extremely careful. From Adam's notes: most of the Yucatan is made of limestone as soil is only a few meters deep at best. It dissolves over time to form caves and cenotes, and is made of dead sea animals, a different kind of marble. The Spanish ripped up five Mayan pyramids to build churches and markets, and all the streets in centro are covered in limestone and buildings use it extensively as well. The other danger in walking around Merida is that the buses drive very, very fast and close to the curb, so you just need to be aware so you don't get hit while you're trying not to slip off the narrow sidewalks.
However, the real highlight of our time in Merida was the Pok ta Pok game that was held in the main square on Friday night. I believe Adam wrote about Pok ta Pok when he wrote about Chichen Itza - it's a ball game that was played by the Mayans where you hit the ball with your hip to try and get it through these holes that are about 3 meters or so off the ground. Yes, it's as bizarre as it sounds. On Friday nights, Merida has a Pok to Pok game, where the athletes don full costumes and make-up and play this game. After the first round, they light the ball on fire and throw it around, kind of like volleyball, trying to throw it through the hoops. It was incredibly fascinating to watch.
After 6 days at the Airbnb, we spent our last two nights at a hostel right on Plaza Grande. It was really nice to be right in the middle of everything, and it was a nice change of pace before we headed to San Cristobal on Monday afternoon. All in all, Merida was wonderful, and I'm so glad we were able to spend 8 days there.
|An elaborate roundabout on Paseo de Montejo|
|Walking along Paseo de Montejo|
|A Museo on Paseo de Montejo, these often used to be wealthy family estates|
|A bird head at the anthropology museum|
|Average street corner in Merida|