I travelled from Cancun to Merida on the ADO bus arriving in some car parking lot on the outskirts of town uncomfortably hot and sticky two seconds after the air-conditioning faded away from the door. I’d originally planned to stay three of four nights here but only ended up booking two as Kurt had told me I must go to Palenque, in the jungles of Chiapas a few hours from here, to see the Mayan ruins. Kurt didn’t go because he had the shits in San Cristobal de la Casas. The bano type.
I’d heard Merida was the place to buy hammocks, so I planned to just walk around the town the next day, grab a bit of Yucatan food, and as I wrote at the start of the sentence, go buy a hammock. Not sure where I heard that it was the place to get hammocks, I think word just gets around about these type of things.
But when I got to my hotel on Calle 55 and dumped my bags I felt the humidity growing ever more stuffing like a strangler fig growing over a tree and I realised walking around Merida at this time of year for the whole day looking for hammocks would be what the French call ‘too exhausting’. So I made an instant coffee then went down and asked my Irish host whether the hammock shops would be open in the evenings so I wouldn’t have to get all hot and bothered during the day.
He said, ‘yes’.
I then asked him what I could do around Merida the next day instead of walking around in the heat like a steaming empanada and he recommended I go on a river tour to nearby Celestun, to see some flamingoes and swim in fresh water springs in a mangrove forest.
As flamingoes are well know for being freakin awesome, and I assumed it was going to be much cooler cruising down a crocodile-infested river than the pretty criss-crossed calles of Merida, where the odds go up and the evens across, or vice-versa depending on where your head’s at, I was like , ‘where do you sign me up, and would I will I still have time to buy a hammock in the evening tomorrow as I can’t be bothered going out today as I’d prefer to just sit in the pool until sunset then go out and eat some Yucantani cuisine, if there is such a thing’.
And he was like, in the most friendly leprechaun inspired accent, ‘to be sure, to be sure, there will be plenty of time left to buy yourself a hammock, the shops here usually open quite late, tanks to the heat, you don’t have to worry yourself about that’. He gave me the name of a place where they dealt in fine quality Yucatan made hammocks, rather than the usual shit ones made in China they just sell to tourists, about 10 blocks away.
So I signed up for the tour, got in my Billabongs, and sat in the pool for a few hours talking with a British couple travelling with their daughter. They were nice, there’s lots of nice people in the world, sometimes you find them in the shade in pools in small boutique hotels in Merida, sometimes in coffee shops, they’re all over the place really. I chatted and chatted, glad to hear and talk English – not that I’m some sort of neo-nazi, I just get tired speaking Spanish – before heading out in the relative cool respite of the late afternoon, helped by a brief, but fairly ferocious, tropical downpour which left the pretty colonial buildings freshly washed and the air smelling fresh with that smell only rain brings.
The day didn’t seem to quite want to end – not that I could see any sign of the sun behind the cloudy haze and tall buildings, which weren’t really that tall, just that the streets were narrow so you couldn’t get far enough away from them to see over them very much. It was only just starting to show signs of nightfall by the time I found a little Yucatan restaurant a few streets up from the hotel where I felt inspired to try their shark empanadas. While waiting for the delicacy I snacked on the complementary corn tortilla chips, guacamole and frijole dips they often provide in Mexico before meals, but found by the time the empanadas arrived I had eaten the whole bowl of tortilla chips and couldn’t manage more than a few bites of the serving of six empanadas which would have been enough to feed half of dozen of me.
I was worried that not eating the empanadas could cause waves with the restaurant staff so I tried to eat as much as I could, which only amounted to one and a half with even that being a struggle. It didn’t help that they were, for my taste, bloody awful, and my stomach was still recovering from trying 5 peso tacos in Mexico City a few nights earlier.
On paying I did indeed cause a stir, with the management and chef gathered around questioning me in Spanish (as they tend to do in Mexico) as to why I had come all the way from Australia to their restaurant but couldn’t even eat the half a shark they’d spent so much trouble preparing, possibly explaining that their cousin had had to wrestle with the creature for six hours with his bare hands, and that he had lost part of his little finger in the process, before they had paid 70 pesos to transport it in a special taxi to the restaurant.
I tried to explain that I had a feeling that I might not like shark empanadas but my mother always used to try and get me to try new things so I thought I’d try them anyway, I even threw in a 20 peso tip to show I knew it was me not them and that even though we were parting we could all still be friends. But my Spanish did not extend much beyond asking where the main street was and purchasing a bus ticket so both myself and the staff left with heavy hearts – them with the shame of having prepared such an awful meal and me with the shame of not being able to explain that it really wasn’t that awful it just wasn’t to my taste nor able to be fit in with my still tender tummy.
On the way home I recalled a place I’d seen earlier in the day where I could have put my empanadas to avoid offending the Yucatan restaurant staff:
My Irish host had earlier told me that there was more than just hammocks in Merida, there was also free craic, as they say in Ireland, or evening fiestas as they say in Mexico, which they had at certain squares around Merida and that tonight was my lucky night, it was the turn of the square just across the road from the hotel to host one. After the intense heat of the day the night was a welcome relief so after changing from my sticky clothes, and recharged from another instant coffee (not having found a decent cappuccino anywhere in Mexico yet), I headed to the square to watch some traditional Yucatan dances where they wore cool white suites and put things like tea pot sets on their heads and the such, before a band called Los Juglares put on an acoustic number with guitars and smiley Mexican singing that was not mariachi but the contemporary sounds of Yucatan.
I lamented that in Australia no one did this sort of thing and that everyone would at this hour be sitting in font of a TV or computer screen by this time watching funny memes and vines on YouTube, where here grandparents, young lovers, and children, as well as a sizeable tourist contingent, feel the joy of being together. By the way, there’s a bit of the dancing from that night on my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spwlQjO0-lw
I stayed for the whole show, and bought a Los Juglares CD, before having a little beer and tequila night cap, as I’d become accustomed to doing in my trip to the magic Mexico, in a nice little bar a few streets over where I explained to a bartender, who was eager to practice his English, where the best spots in Australia are to see red-bellied black snake and platypuses, taking yet another photo of a VW Beetle on the way back through the wet streets and into bed.