Mérida, Yucatán, México17 August 2001
Arrived in Cancún on Friday at about 6 pm, took out some money from the bank machine, and hopped into a colectivo¹ for Ciudad Cancún—the city itself—a twenty minute drive from the long strip of hotels between the lagoon and the ocean that the outside world refers to as Cancún. By the time the colectivo got to the bus station, it was 9 pm, so after checking out the schedule and booking tickets, there was just enough time to grab some dinner and get some sleep before heading off to Mérida first thing the next morning.
Sitting in a Mexican bus station is an activity in itself. Drenched in sweat and surrounded by hundreds of other sweaty people carrying bags, backpacks, and cardboard packages held together with twine, in heat and humidity well above what any sane person would tolerate, you gain an appreciation of just how patient a people the Mexicans are. Buses come and go as they please; to the Mexican bus driver, the posted schedule is only a guideline. Buses are notoriously late, and ours is no exception.
When it does arrive, the bags are loaded, everyone climbs into their seats and, once the bus driver has got his drinks and snacks ready for the trip, he throws it into reverse and we´re off. After a four hour ride through the Yucatecan jungle, we arrived at the Fiesta Américana terminal in the north end of Mérida. From there, we grabbed a taxi into town and unloaded everything at Hotel Mucuy, on calle 57 between calle 56 and calle 58, where we stayed while we searched for jobs and a place to live.
This might be a good time to explain the mysterious numbering system for the addresses in Mérida. Odd numbered streets run east-west and even numbered streets run north-south. For streets that run diagonally, the ones that run from SE to NW are even, the rest are odd—usually. Another challenge is that street addresses are not often consistent; number 499 might be three or four blocks from 498. Because of this, addresses are usually given as a street number and a cross street (for corner addresses) or a street number and the two cross streets between which the address lies.
Mérida is the capital city of México’s Yucatán state and, centuries ago, was the capital of the Mayan empire as well. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the city in the mid-16th century, led by Francisco de Montejo, they discovered the Mayan city of Tihó. Its temples and limestone architecture reminded them enough of Mérida, Spain that they promptly renamed the city and began dismantling the Mayan structures. While you won’t find any of the original Mayan buildings remaining today, the cathedral in the Plaza Principal² contains blocks from the Mayan temple that once stood in the same location.
In any case, the city today is gorgeous. Its narrow streets and colonial architecture give it a traditional feel. Every Sunday, all the streets within several blocks of the main plaza are shut down to vehicle traffic while musicians play live music near the Plaza Principal, and people dance in the streets.
- Colectivo: a communal taxi, usually a VW van, into which the driver packs as many people as the laws of physics will allow. For example the last one we used had 16 people stuffed into it.
- Plaza Principal: the main square found in almost every Mexican town.