At dinner with friends last night this topic came up yet again. We were three women from the US who have all been here for several years and one Yucatecan man who was born and raised here. After eating typical empanadas with chaya and cheese, we were theorizing over several shots of mezcal. One of my theories is that the Chicxulub crater brought magical astrological powers here, making this the chosen land and a magnet for mystical beings and inspired souls. Maybe it's the healing power of the sacred cenotes and the energy of the ancient Mayan spirits and gods who continue to fill the air with energy from the solar god Kinich Ahau. Maybe it's the chilled life and the easy-going nature of the Yucatecan. Or maybe it's simply because eating a plate of empanadas with chaya and cheese, drinking a cold beer and then sleeping in a hammock during the afternoon makes you never want to leave. Whatever the reason--be it mystical or esoteric--Merida is a cherished place to live and here are some of the reasons that top my list.
The sense of safety I feel is the main reason Merida is so special to me. Since living here, I have never once been in a situation where I felt unsafe or uncomfortable (knock on wood). As a single woman, I walk the streets here day and night, of course taking the normal precautions like walking on lit streets at night, but I always walk with confidence feeling completely unthreatened. The men do not make me feel uncomfortable as I walk down the street. On a rare occasion I may get the cat-call whistle but to be honest, at my 42 years of age, I don’t mind that! When my kids where younger I would deposit them in the toy aisle of the supermarket when I had to do my shopping. After an hour or so, I would go pick them up and, although disappointed they weren’t going to take home the 10th Legos set or some oversized giraffe, they had been completely entertained; the toy aisle had been my babysitter. I would never do that anywhere else. When I would get on a plane to head to the States, I would tell my kids: “We are not in Merida anymore, I don’t want you to leave my sight. You will be right by me at all times”. They understood and all of a sudden, relaxed mommy went to Sgt. Ma’am, military mom. The sense of safety in this city of over a million people is magical. You really do get a feeling that the people – or maybe the mystical Mayan aluxes (elves) – are watching out for you.
Some of my favorite places to visit are the haciendas. These are the old plantations, which intertwine rich history, elegance, beauty, and nature yet hold a certain mystery stained with the infamous turn of the century system of contract slavery of Mayans and other indigenous tribes from the interior of Mexico. There were hundreds of haciendas in Yucatan. Many of the haciendas are abandoned now and nature is consuming them. However, many others have also been brought back to their heyday splendor. The ones that have been restored are stunning, combining nature and tradition with 19th Century architecture. They are definitely my pick for a day trip or a full moon night visit.
The geology of Yucatan is so very unique. The cenotes are, by far in my opinion, the gems of the Yucatan. Characterized by its mainly limestone bedrock, the land is porous and soluble not permitting water to accumulate above ground. As a result, you will find no lakes or rivers on the land’s surface. However, it has the second largest underground river system in the world. And where the earth has fallen away into the waters below, a surreal underworld of cenotes and caves have formed.
There are many Mayan ruins and we are in the heart of the Mundo Maya. Of course the most famous being Chichen Itza, but in the outskirts of Merida, there are many impressive ruins to go see. It's a fascinating part of the history of this state and some of the ruins are well conserved, others are being engrossed by jungles that surround them.
Also, along the coast in the northern part of the Yucatan, there are salt flat lagoons that are pink due to the red algae and plankton that are concentrated there. The mangroves, wildlife – including flamingos, jaguars, and crocodiles – and hundreds of kilometers of clear water beaches make this state not only a dream to live in; it is a dream vacation!
Wrapping it up
Yucatan, Mexico is not perfect. As everywhere it has its ups and downs. It is a traditionally conservative culture, and sometimes that mindset can be oppressive to certain parts of the population. For instance this year the same-sex marriage law did not pass in the Congress leaving the LGBTQ population feeling unaccepted and isolated. A divide remains between the rich and the poor. People of Mayan decent continue to fight for their rights. The struggles of the world exist here too.
Sometimes the pace of life here is hard to get used to. It is slow, but once you get used to it you won’t want to go back to the rat race. People enjoy their weekends at the beach and their relaxed evenings talking to neighbors in town. As you walk the historic Centro you can see the elderly people in rocking chairs on the sidewalk just in front of their houses checking out the scene on the street and getting some fresh air. People enjoy their life without needing to fit a million things into the day. The general feel is: If I don’t get to it today, I´ll figure it out tomorrow or the next day or the next week. People enjoy downtime and make sure they get enough of it. It’s an alluring way to live. And while Trump is trying to put up a wall to keep Mexicans out of the United States, Mexico welcomes Americans, Canadians, and foreigners alike and they are flocking across that “wall” in droves to find a new home south of the border in the Yucatecan sun.
Affordability and Always Something to Do
It’s affordable. In Yucatan the minimum wage is very low, therefore the cost of living is relatively low – granted, it is not so low for those living on minimum wage, but that is for another article. For those living in the middle to upper-class here, a good quality of life is very affordable. The housing prices have gone up considerably since I moved here, in 2010. However, in comparison with other cities in Mexico and nearly every other city in the world it seems, housing is very inexpensive. You can still get a house for as low as US $30,000 in some parts if you know where to look. Also, having an active social life is possible without breaking the bank. The restaurant and culinary scene is booming. We have top-notch chefs and you can get a fabulous meal in a high-end restaurant for between $10 and $15 dollars a plate, and a glass of wine for between $6 and $10. Then there is a variety of middle to low-end places where a meal costs under $5.
The city council has done an incredible job offering free cultural activities all throughout the week such as traditional dances, music, art exhibitions, theater shows and video mapping of the Cathedral. The theaters have great internationally recognized artists coming through town. There is a wide variety and frequent access to high culture. There always seems to be something to do that is at a low price or free.
Yucatecans are very proud of their roots. This has been a land of great history and struggle, and is a cultural melting pot. You can’t help but experience the history in every place you visit. The largest population is of Mayan and Spanish ancestry or the mestizo/mestiza. The Mayan culture is still very much alive where people in the pueblos speak Yucatec Maya, and many speak little Spanish. There are also people from many different cultures who have been here for several generations and consider themselves Yucatecan. They are Lebanese, Korean, French, German and Spanish, to name the most prominent. In this tapestry of cultures, the Yucatecan has one thing in common: their chill demeanor. In general, they are very friendly and interested in getting to know foreigners. They are not pushy, nor do they impose their will on you.
A Gringa’s Love Affair with Merida, Yucatan
By Stephanie Carmon
When locals ask me if I like living in Merida, I tell them yes, I love it here; I feel like it is my home. They just smile and tell me I must have drunk the “agua del pozo”; the well water. I often ponder what exactly it is about this town. I know it is definitely not the 40 degree celsius heat (104 fahrenheit) or the mosquitos...so what is it? Why is it that I feel so at home? Why am I perfectly content to wander the streets endlessly? Why do I sometimes leave my house feeling consumed by personal problems and return from my walk in the heat, exhausted and sweaty yet feeling inspired and hopeful?