Mérida

A thirty-peso taxi ride took us from the bus station in Mérida to Casa Alvarez, a friendly guest house run by the lovely Enrique and Miriam, and Charlie the cat. We were given the “penthouse” for the same price as a regular room – they must have liked the look of us. After our rather more basic lodgings in Tulum and Chichen Itzá, we felt surrounded by luxury: our own rooftop cabin, an enormous king-sized bed, a lounge area, a fridge, air-conditioning, a lovely little veranda surrounded by potted plants and an enormous roof garden to ourselves.

We immediately set out to explore the pretty market town, heading down past the busy Plaza Grande to the Municipal Market. There was more than a touch of southern Spain to the town, from the architecture to the beautiful stuccoed churches and pavement cafés.

The market sold mostly food: fish and seafood, fruit and vegetables, and a handful of other stall selling hardware, clothes and other goods scattered in between. Not having had breakfast, Orlando stopped at a stall and had three beef tacos, whilst I headed back to the fish market to pick up my first cocktail de mariscos of the trip.

My stall lady mixed chopped octopus, calamari and prawns together with chopped onion, chopped tomato, salt and pepper, coriander, and squirt of olive oil and – the surprise ingredient – a squirt of Worcestershire sauce. A tasty dish. Add a spoonful or two of homemade habañero salsa – onion, tomato and chopped habañero chillies – and mop it all up with a basket of fresh tortilla chips. Perfect.

After doing a few chores and getting our bearings, we headed back to the room to (literally) chill out and relax out of the searing heat and humidity. I took real pleasure in standing at my little outdoor sink on the veranda and doing a pile of laundry by hand. I think Orlando appreciated my handiwork too.

A dip in the little pool downstairs rounded off the afternoon and cooled me down. I took pleasure just sitting with a mug of coffee on the veranda watching all my laundry dry, and admiring the successful results of my attempt to bleach my poor linen trousers back to blazing white.

Later in the evening we watched the sun set from the roof garden as the lights came on across the city. La Chaya restaurant served up good Mayan food to locals and foreigners alike, with three women employed to sit and make tortillas by hand in the full view of the diners.

The Plaza Grande was alive at nine o’clock in the evening, with a cultural performance of traditional jarana dance taking place for free outside the Palacio Municipal. A dozen or so women, dressed in immaculate traditional huipiles and underskirts, white high heels and flowers in their hair, were escorted by the same number of courtly gentlemen wearing white trousers and tunics, a red bandana tucked into their waistbands, simple white sandals and a Panama hat. The dancing couples rarely touched except at the start and end of each dance. The men escorted the women to their starting positions, bowed slightly and raised their hats before taking up their own positions. At the end, they took the women’s arms and escorted them back to their seats on the veranda of the palacio.

Most of the dances were fairly sedately-paced, which was appropriate given the age and relative girth of some of the dancers, not to mention the heat and humidity. Their performances were punctuated by another gentleman, similarly attired to the male dancers, who recited patriotic and comedic poetry with a passion much to the delight of the audience.

A turn around the gardens of the Plaza Grande and a leisurely stroll along a quieter avenue lined with old university buildings, cafés and small churches ended our evening. Back at our room I folded away all our clean clothes and made us a cup of tea in the little kitchen downstairs. It was nice to have a bit of luxury at last.

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