Left Santa Elena about 9:30, and stopped at the Hacienda Yaxcopoli. After the Caste Wars, and the Spanish retook control of the peninsula, the ruling Europeans set up haciendas and gave away great tracts of land. The local people then lived on the land as serfs. Their main crop was henequen, used to make fiber. This Hacienda is well maintained, and was voted “Best Hacienda experience in Mexico in 2007.”
They were ongoing repairs being made on the estate, with a mason rebuilding a stone patio while we were there. He said he had been working on that particular patio for two months. There were some very old trees on the estate. It is interesting to see what we would consider houseplants out in the tropical wilds. A philodendron was strangling an old oak tree, with it virtually encapsulating the tree, and parts hanging down 20 feet from the branches of the tree. If they reach the ground, then they take root, and begin to take even more water and nutrients from the tree.
There was a small chapel with a religious statue I had not seen before, it was of Saint Geronimo, the patron saint of workers. Ironic considering the way the Hacienda was run.
The building that held the machinery was the neatest, as some of the machines with working as late as 1984. A large diesel motor powered all the machinery that processed the henequen. All the belts were gone, and there was much rust, but I could imagine someday it being restored to working condition.
We arrived in Merida about 1pm, checked into out hotel…the Hotel Casa Del Balam, Balam is another Mayan term for jaguar. It is very nice. There are two people in our room, but we got only one large key, which we are to turn into the desk whenever we leave. The door to the room cannot be left unlocked, and later on that day I locked the key inside the room.
The downtown part of Merida on a Friday afternoon reminded me of the pictures I have seen of Shanghai; narrow streets, hundreds of shops and stalls, and overflowing with people. The are eating and hawking wares, sitting and using their laptops in the plaza, feeding the pigeons, and generally bustling from place to place. We went to one of the grand markets, a warehouse with what seemed to be one hundred individual shops inside. I was looking at the comisas…shirts…and one of the women there was trying to explain the difference in the fabrics. The cheapest was a polyester blend, the next step up was all cotton, the fabric I had asked about was Sisal…a blend of henquen and cotton. In honor of our trip I decided to buy only Sisal items. I bought a Phillipino style sisal shirt and a traditional collared, pocketed, embroidered shirt.
We visited the cultural center and spent time looking at the murals painted in the 1970’s by artist Carlos Pacheco. They showed the history of the Yucatan as viewed by the indigenous people. My favorite mural was the birth of the Mayan people as a man arose from an ear of maize.
After dinner we walked to more modern section of town, which contained the Merida Anthropology museum. Lining one side of the street were large metal sculptures. The trees are lined with rope lights and the sidewalks were wide. We stopped into a art gallery, and some gift shops. That section of town had a much different feel than downtown. Nate bought some crazy sunglasses at the gift shop, and many of us had our pictures taken with the giant inflatable Corona bottles found in front of one the bars.
After dinner we went to the plaza for what we thought was going to be live music, but was actually a audience participation comedy routine performed by a Mexican troupe. The danced and did slapstick. While we were taking a breather a very small girl…of approximately 3 or 4, came up and asked for “uno peso”, she was dressed poorly and was smudged with grime. I asked “Donde es su madre?” . but she just looked away and shook her head. Shanna and I both gave her a peso and tried to watch where she wandered off too. There are many children set out on the streets to sell things…particularly Mayan girls to sell embroidered fabrics, but this was the first child we had met who was begging. It was heartbreaking
At night they close off 60th avenue after 8 pm and a lot of the restaurants take over and there are small bands that play at each one. We took over one small place and danced for about an hour…and got some locals and other gringos to join us. It was much fun.
I has been decided that Merida is a neat town in a lot of ways