Merida Travelogue, Part 2

FRIDAY NIGHT, 7:45 P.M. LOCAL TIME:  A good night out, a good couple of days, good meal and we’re tired.
Yesterday was low-key.  Everyone was tired in the morning.  I worked out here, and my wife and I took an exercise walk around to get a feel for the area, eventually making our way to the Paseo de Montejo, a four-lane tree-lined boulevard with nice old mansions and new businesses.  We ate a good breakfast, and while the rest of them rested, I walked to the Grand Plaza to see if it was something my parents could manage.  It was, and so after lunch we walked down.  The area is nice, lots of things to see, but the combination of narrow cracked sidewalks, heavy fume-spitting traffic and large amounts of pedestrians make the walk not as pleasant as it could be.  I told my wife that I’d never be in favor of any government making such a rule, but—if they ever did shut down the roads around the square full-time—the value of the place would double.  We went to the Governor’s Mansion, walked through the Montejo Museum, visited some shops in the square, and generally had a laid back time.  We got back here and were too tired to go out to eat, so we just fixed leftovers in.
Today we hired a driver (the same company that picked us up from Cancun) to take us to the coastal area.  The plan was to do a sort of loop:  we’d drive to the failed but taken over Flamingo Lakes subdivision, then drive along the coastal road visiting coastal towns, then leave the coast and visit Yucatan Country Club on the way back to Merida.
We’d planned to meet a sales person from Flamingo Lakes at 10:00.  Flamingo Lakes was supposed to be a budget-friendly gringo development located somewhere near Merida.  It might’ve even been planned to have a golf course at one time, though all of that crashed.  The development crashed, the owners went bust, I even heard worse allegations.  Last year I actually made contact with someone from Flamingo Lakes, who offered to sell units—already built, mind you—for somewhere around $30,000.  These were units that had been offered for more than $100,000.  I was at least interested in learning more.  Prior to coming down, I’d contacted the manager again, was told that a new company had taken over and the sales plan hadn’t been finalized, and nothing was currently on offer.
We made plans to meet at 10:00.  Our driver picked us up at 9:30, and the salesperson emailed that it should take us 45 minutes.  It took us more than an hour to reach the road she indicated the development was off of, though to be fair, I believe our driver wasn’t that familiar with it.  We drove down the length of the road, past a little Mayan village, then past an old Mayan ruin, and still didn’t see it.  The email indicated it was at a mile marker we’d already passed, amazing because we’d been driving down a fairly desolate road, seen no signs, no gates, nothing to indicate the development.  I told our driver I thought we’d overshot it, but he didn’t believe me, telling me he thought it was down at the end of the road and then a left.  He was wrong, we learned, but only after we’d driven perhaps 20 or more minutes.  The salesperson indicated that they were now at the sight, on the site of a road, beside a dirt pile!  I hated to put her out for having driven down there, but I honestly knew that if I couldn’t have even located the road into the so-called development, driving down that flat, desolate stretch of road, that this was nothing I wanted to even look at.  I have no reason to believe they didn’t build the first condo units that they sent me pictures of, but I’m guessing that they didn’t have a paved road during construction, and the dirt road must’ve become overgrown.
I didn’t feel like returning, much less my family, so we moved on.  We were by this time at Telchac Puerto, probably the prettiest beach area I’ve seen on the gulf side of the Yucatan.  I’d been to the little villages west of Progreso (and then again on this trip, as described later), but not this eastern town.  Here, our driver (Rodolfo) told us, the wealthy of Merida had large plots of land with large homes on the beach.  And indeed, the lots were large, the houses spectacular in a minimalist beach style, and the water very pretty.  Unfortunately there was no public access to get on to the beach, so we kept going, shortly thereafter reaching Progreso.
Progreso is a port town, apparently created originally for shipping, but now has a large cruise ship port with an extremely long pier—long as in perhaps a couple of miles long.  The construction of this pier (as will be explained shortly), has allegedly had a deleterious effect on the neighboring towns to the west.  Progreso was set up for tourists, though no cruise ship was in today, and was also preparing itself for Carnival next week.  We all walked along the ten-block malecon in between the stores and the ocean, enjoying the view.  A few tourists—gringos and Mexican—sunned on the beach, and a few local women were out with their children.  It was lunch, and all the seafront restaurants were open, but nobody in our group wanted to eat other than me.  And I wasn’t hungry, really just wanted to sit in an open air restaurant, enjoying the sea breezes while we people watched.  In any event, we just walked, looked through a few shops, did nothing really.
The pier, which we could see in the distance, had been added on to.  The first portion, originally created,  had arches underneath that allowed the flow of water through the pier.  The second part, the add on, however, was simple rock and concrete, probably adding another mile on to the pier for the cruise ships, and this is what—according to Rodolfo—created a problem to the west.
The problem, he said, was that it changed the tides and flow of water, creating erosion on the beaches of Chelem and Chuburna.  I’d actually visited these two villages on a previous trip, thought they were quaint, noticed the shore almost lapping up to homes, but wrote that off to just the decision of locals (without zoning, I assumed) to build literally as close to the water as possible.  Actually, Rodolfo said, these homes had once been the second row homes, and were likely, in the next few years, to also get washed out.   I’d thought the beach homes (built practically on top of each other, probably for the more middle-class Meridians) had been quaint, but after viewing the grand homes at Telchac Puerto, they seemed pretty shabby to my group (including myself).  Nobody but me wanted to get out and look at the seafront (which I did for just a minute), and then we slowly made our way back to the villa.  I wanted to see the Yucatan Country Club, but everybody else was tired and wanted to go back home.
YCC is an interesting place, a club and residence that would be high-end by American standards, and absolutely would be only accessible to the elite of Mexico. A pro-designed golf course, a Marc Spitz aquatic center, perhaps ten well-groomed tennis courts, beautiful pools, restaurants, etc., this place had it all.  It was beautiful, a playground for someone sports minded.  Nothing was shabby about it, very first world, when I’d visited two years ago, but no homes had been built.  Now they had.  Guess I’ll have to return another time.
We came back, crashed here the remainder of the afternoon.  We intended to walk to Santa Anna park nearby to eat at the square, but many of the places had closed (open only for breakfast and lunch).  We walked over to Paseo de Montejo, enjoyed people watching, and ate a good dinner outside at a restaurant, then made our way back.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2012, 10:30 A.M.:
A cool, quiet overcast day.  We had some unwanted excitement last night that is causing us problems this morning.  Before I went to bed, we’d noticed water was not flowing in all the bathrooms, which we at the time just attributed to a washing machine running.  After I was in bed, my wife woke me up saying there was a problem with a possible fire.  We smelled plastic/electrical burn, and when I opened up a service hatch at the pool, smoke billowed out.  Something was definitely on fire, and the power had just shut down.  We got our most important belongings—money, wallets and passports. With those, you can most likely make your way back home even if you lose everything else.  I tried to call the property manager and owner, sending emails too, but to no avail.  Eventually the smoke stopped.  We’d all been pretty scared.  I figured that for some reason, the water level had run low in the well pump, causing either the pump or filter to overheat, both shutting off the breakers and causing a small fire.  I stayed outside at the pool and slept on a pool lounge just in case a problem reappeared.
Power is back on but we still have no water.  My family is pretty irritable.  I worked out and washed down with a bottle of water I had.
The rest of the previous day had been very enjoyable.  My wife and I walked—for miles.  We spent the morning roaming the Mercado downtown.  The farther away we walked from the Plaza Grande, the grittier the area became.  At first, there were little stalls selling tourist trinkets, then stuff that I would describe as the Mexican version of flea market items for sale.  Eventually, we made it to the food market.  Fish hung out in the open inside, split open, no ice, while ten meters away people ate its fried cousin.  It was packed, filled with all sorts of unusual smells, loud sounds, radios pumping music from all the outdoor stores and stalls.  We walked about five miles and came back to our villa.
That afternoon we saw a different side of the town by visiting Plaza Altabrisas, the town’s most upscale mall.  Here, the customers were lighter-skinned, dressed in more North American attire, and the stores were often branches of U.S. chains.  Nothing particularly impressive there. We took a taxi down to Plaza Las Americas, a more downscale mall, though still nice.  There were a few lower-end American chains, and more Mexican knockoffs.  We bought a few groceries and returned home.
Finally, we walked downtown for dinner, eating at one of the restaurants on the square, watching a line of people grow for the Frieda Kahlo exhibit.  Good food (chicken and shrimp), then we finished off with sorbets at a Sorbeteria on the square.

MONDAY MORNING, 7:00 A.M.:  Waiting on our ride to pick us up for the airport back in Cancun.  Yesterday was intentionally a laid back day, staying around time, enjoying ourselves, and taking in the weekend festivities in Merida.  We spent the morning just reading and lounging around in the outdoor area, and then went out in the afternoon for some sightseeing.  First, to the Plaza Grande/Zocalo.  We stopped and ate outside at a nice restaurant, don’t remember the name but it was Cuban themed, I believe, and watched the people.   A lot of gringos in the square eating with us, but from the looks of them, mostly expats and not tourists.   Afterward, we walked to the Plaza and walked around all the sellers’ stalls.  Not as much interesting stuff as I’d recalled.  I’d wanted to buy a few of the neat childrens’ toys for my nephew that I’d bought last trip, but didn’t see them this time.  There were a combination of t-shirts, beads, bracelets, etc.—nothing of much interest, except for a few street artists performing.  We went back and rested, then went out for the evening to eat.  This time we headed in the other direction toward the Paseo Monteo, stopping at a local café (the “Impala”) to eat.  A cool front had moved in over the afternoon and the evening was actually quite chilly—probably in the 60s.  The eating was all outdoors, and we enjoyed people watching while we ate.  Everyone liked their food.  The Paseo Montejo is a little more upscale, and appears to be where upper-middle-class Meridians frequent.  Things were quiet, just families and friends eating Sunday supper out.  Afterward, we walked up the street a few blocks to a sorbeteria for sorbet.  I had Guava and my wife had coconut.  It was too chilly for my parents to even think about eating sorbet, so they just sat with us while we ate—quickly—and then went back.
I believe everyone was pleasantly surprised at how much they enjoyed this part of Mexico.  This town has a lot of things going for it, and, though my family probably wouldn’t consider living here, I think it has a lot of potential.  First, however, the cons as I saw them (in no particular order):

1.  Streets and traffic.  If you’re in the older part of the town, the sidewalks are narrow, streets are crowded and traffic is bad.  It’s not pedestrian friendly, though you’ll need to walk if you’re going around the Centro area.  It took my parents a couple of days to get used to the traffic crossings and the cracked and pitted narrow sidewalks. The fumes from cars are ubiquitous.  The new areas have wide sidewalks (though still bad traffic), but the older areas could use some improvement in that regard.
2. Heat.  Though the weather was pleasantly cool when we went this time, it can get very hot.  I’d been before at the end of April where the temperature exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit every day.
3. Ease to get to.  I can’t say it was extremely difficult to get to Merida, but it wasn’t as easy as it could be.  My choices were to take a connecting flight through Houston and arrive late at night (9:30 local time), or arrive in Cancun at 11:30 and make a four hour drive to Merida.
Here are just a few of the good things, though:
1.  Safety:  I’ve always felt very safe there.  The people are gentle, crime is low, and thepopulace is educated.  I saw young girls and families walking at night after dark in fairly low-traffic areas, a good safety indicator.
2. Beauty:  as with any area, sure there are some ugly areas, but Merida is fortunate to have the nice older Centro district, while at the same time having the more modern and upscale areas in Paseo Montejo and the northern part of town.
3. Accessibility:  while you definitely should know some Spanish to get around, this town would give an air of familiarity to North American expats, with its U.S. chain stores, first world shopping, and accessibility to about anything first world you might need
4. Proximity:  no, Merida is not seafront, but it’s only 30 minutes from the gulf of the Yucatan.  It’s near ruins, cenotes, other historic villages, and lots of things to see on weekend.
Could I live here?  Yes.