Missing Merida

As I stare out the window at the freshly fallen snow, I miss Mérida. Don’t get me wrong. I fully appreciate the beauty of the sun hitting that snow, sending sparkles dancing across the yard. I know spring is close, but for now, I miss Mérida. I miss the warmth. I miss the blue sky. I miss the community. So, humour me. I’m going to write about Mérida.

Mérida is the capital of Mexico’s southeastern Yucatan state. It has a rich history that dates to the 16th century when it was founded by Spanish conquistadors on the site of a Mayan city called T’ho. Today, Mérida (which is pronounced mare-ee-da) has a population of just over one million and is said to be one of the safest cities in Mexico. Culture is a major factor in the city, and there are many colonial buildings, cultural centres, and historic sites to visit. At the same time, Mérida is a modern city with a range of hotels, leisure facilities, shopping malls, and other first-world conveniences. It is no wonder so many people chose to retire in Mérida.

Known as the heart of Mayan culture, there are many things to do in Mérida and surrounding areas. It is the gateway to many Mayan ruins, cenotes, and small, seemingly “unchanged by time” villages. There are galleries, markets, and parks offering free Wi-Fi. Because of the dedication and effort put into keeping the Mayan culture alive, there are lots of cultural activities to enjoy, including re-enactments and street shows. The architecture is astounding. Restaurants showcase the delicious Yucatan food, which is quite different from other Mexican fare. And let’s not forget about the weather. Mérida is located inland, about 35 km from the Gulf of Mexico, and only 9 meters above sea level. This means it has a tropical, humid climate. When we visit in late January or February, temperatures range from around 28 to 34. Things start to really heat up in March, staying in the high 30s. That’s time to come home! You can Google Mérida to learn more about this fascinating place.

The things I miss the most about Mérida are the simple things. You know, the way the sun hits the broad leaves of the lush tropical plants surrounding our Airbnb. Or the beautiful bright pink hibiscus suspended in midair, the delicate flower falling prey to the wind only to bloom again in a few days. I miss the brilliant reds of the poinsettias that grow wild and the beautiful purples, yellows, and blues of the flowers that grow haphazardly on the streets. I miss the quiet hum of the ladies next door preparing delicious food for the day in their economico cocina and the geckos as they scamper up the wall going about their business. I miss the soulful coo of the local doves and the enthralling whistle of the Great-Tailed Grackle, who’s so high up in the trees that he’s difficult to spot. I miss the zip of the Cinnamon Hummingbird. And then there is the far-off cock-a-doodle-do of the fighting rooster and the sorrowful baying of Luna the beagle across the street, while the shrill yapping of three chihuahuas a few doors down alerts us to someone passing by. I can still hear the early morning calls of “pan”, “agua” or “tamales” as the locals hit the street to make a living. I miss the far-off conversation as people drop into the store across the street to buy a few supplies and chat with the woman who tirelessly opens before 8 am every day except Sunday. I miss the gentle and ever-so-welcoming breeze swaying the palm fronds, offering a brief respite from the hot sun.

Could I live there forever? No. But for me, it is the perfect place to go for a winter getaway.

This was our fourth visit to Mérida, the last time being in February of 2020. The world had no idea what was about to happen, and in fact, we made it home just two weeks before we were thrown into lockdown and life as we knew it changed. Sounds dramatic, right? Well, it was. Now we have a new reality, and I noticed it in many places in Mérida. For example, a masked woman prepares tortillas at Chaya Maya, one of my favourite restaurants. The sterile starkness of the mask is in contrast to the beautiful white Mayan dress featuring delicately embroidered flowers, birds, and other creatures in a myriad of vibrant colours. Out and about, I see so many people wearing masks in the plus-32-degree temperatures. It is not comfortable, but for my safety and theirs, I pull my mask up over my face when I jump on the bus or enter a crowded store. Large bottles of hand sanitizer grace the entrances to restaurants and other “touristy” places. A couple of our favourite haunts are no longer there, perhaps falling victim to the downfall of the economy of this gentle city.

As in any hot or tropical country, things move at a different pace. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” takes on a whole new meaning when it is always in the 30s. In her 2010 book Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot – And – Cold – Climate Cultures, author Sarah Lanier explains it very well. In a nutshell, hot-climate cultures tend to be relationship-based, have a strong group identity, prefer indirect communication, and do not value time as much as the relationship or being in the moment. Cold-climate cultures are more task-oriented, prefer direct communication, and are concerned with scheduling and punctuality. Where do you fit in?

For me, vacation is not only about escaping the cold and snow. It is about challenging myself, learning about another culture, and experiencing a different way of life. It makes me appreciate the things I hold dear and question some of my habits. Do I really need the big, fancy supermarket with its endless displays of products I don’t need but buy anyway? I only leave feeling stressed and guilty, and with a whole lot of stuff I really don’t use. It is much easier (on the mind and pocketbook) to walk across the street and buy a couple of eggs, fruit off the tree, and some tortillas to get me through the day. And if I’m lucky, I’ll have a conversation with the store’s owner and her friend Pitbull, Tito.

Now that you’re retired, it’s time to broaden your reality and maybe change your life perspective. So, travel. And I mean travel. Live in another culture. Experience other ways of doing things, experience authenticity. Meet everyday people. Leave the resort. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you discover, not only about others but also about yourself.

If you can’t travel, there are other ways to learn. Volunteer with a local settlement agency. There are lots of ways to get to know people from around the world. Remember to leave any ethnocentric thoughts at the door. You are privileged to learn about another culture. Learn. Celebrate. Respect.

One word of advice: just because it comes in a shiny wrapper doesn’t mean it is sweet. It could be, I don’t know, dishwasher soap!

Interesting Reads & Things 

MERIDA, MEXICO (2022) | 8 Incredible Things To Do In & Around Mérida – YouTube

(5) Safe Night Walk Tour Merida Yucatan Mexico | Merida is Safest City in Mexico – YouTube

(5) Poc ta poc – Mayan ball game – YouTube

Maya | People, Language, & Civilization | Britannica

Travel is said to increase cultural understanding. Does it? (nationalgeographic.com)

Understanding Cultural Differences: A Guide for Travel Professionals | Adventure Travel Trade Association (adventuretravelnews.com)


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