Leaning into a plastic deck chair, you poke at the salt rim of your watery margarita. Suddenly, a wedding party cannonballs into the pool, soaking the front of your shorts. To your left, a man in a tuxedo t-shirt pumps his fist and shotguns a beer, while children shriek near a tank full of dolphins. You tug at your plastic wristband and move through the buffet – an array of limp fries and cheesy concoctions that contain fewer spices than a Cuban grocery store. While contemplating your third margarita, you lock eyes with a woman in a frilly dress, as she dances to a loud mariachi band festooned with tiny jackets and cartoon mustaches. A bottle of beer is expertly balanced on her head, her arms swaying to the music as her gaze implores: “Is this really all there is?”
This could be your Mexico experience, but it doesn’t have to be.
There are a few ways to get to Mérida, including flying direct, renting a car (you’ll get the best deal by booking online), or taking public transportation. Choosing the latter, I head past the exit gates at the Cancun airport to board a plush ADO bus, complete with dubbed Hollywood movies and assigned seats. The 4-hour commute to the capital of the state of Yucatán sees barren highways slowly move into lush gardens and a sea of dimly lit windows.
Soon, I arrive at my holiday home, owned by an ex-pat American writer, who also happens to be Kurt Vonnegut’s cousin. The interiors include vaulted ceilings, original pasta floors, and a lap pool of carved stone. Standing in the backyard, I run my fingers through the water and inhale the perfume of exotic blooms.
Sadly, due to the holidays and an overloaded system, the following morning sees the death of most of the electricity on the block, which continues for the duration of my 5-day sojourn. Mornings eggs and tortillas are assembled after turning on the gas stove by holding a lighter to the element (eyebrows intact).
The daylight is comprised of a mix of music in the park, bat-filled cenotes, historical haciendas, proud denizens, stately homes, safe streets (truly), along with a free dance performance, all fueled by a steady dose of cochinita pibil – a succulent dish of citrus-infused slow-roasted pulled pork.
As with most adventures of a traveler from a young country, wonder lies in the hours of walking amid the dust and weathered patina of the colonial architecture that lines the streets. While a growing number of these buildings are being bought and restored, many stand on shaky legs – the memories of grander times peering out from overgrown brambles and jagged windows. Still, there is beauty in the crumbling facades akin to a treasured vintage family photo, the stories of yesterday unfolding with every glance.
While beach time doesn’t come into play in Mérida like it does on the Caribbean side, this desire is satiated with a stay at Flamingos Inn in Chuburná Puerto, which is roughly 20 minutes from the city. This bed and breakfast is owned and run by Stig, an extraordinarily welcoming host who relocated from Oslo with his two greyhounds, Charlie and Alex. Together with the shy Mexican beach dog, Canela, they welcome guests from across the globe to revel in delicate sunsets and sweet Norwegian treats.
Given the combination of a dog-eared Paul Theroux paperback, the ocean and a sisal hammock, I observe the Vonnegut quote: “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.’”
Words and photos ©Ehren Seeland