El Dia de los Muertos in Mérida

First off, let’s just appreciate how amazing it is to go down to your hotel reception and say “Can we keep the room for an extra night?”. We’re taking our time. Ain’t life grand.

Popped to Zocalo Tourist Office to get a free walking tour of the square at 09.30.

Plaza Grande is an interesting place. Even when there is no event hosted, the park is full of people parambulating, sitting, talking with friends. It makes Mérida feel small and personal, if centred there, with a sense of heart and community – even though Mérida is large and sprawling. Mérida’s oldest buildings surround the square so its a great free tour to hear the history and look around inside.

Very interesting, Spanish dismantled 4 great pyramids and used their stone to create the typical Colonial city (Cathedral, Squares, Casas etc). 3 Spanish dudes (Father, Son and Nephew)  from the de Montejo family took control over much of Yucatan. A section of the very ornate Casa de Montejo faces the Zocalo.

What made this auspicious timing for a tour were the altars set up for each region of Yucatan (and some regional businesses too!) on the Plaza Grande. Our Mayan guide (Pool Schmool was his name, as far as we could make out. “Poo like poo”, he says.) explained that each altar is for a particular person and features all the things they loved, including vices like smoking. There were a lot of traditional foods (pibil, pork or chicken baked in banana leaf underground with herbs/spices; mayan drink made from honey, tortillas etc), ladies making tortillas, toys and sweets for the children (the 31st is the Day of Angels – the children) and lots of orange marigolds and incense. Everyone was heartbreakingly proud of their altar and happy to explain and demonstrate.

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Altar 3 Merida

The altars continue all the way along Calle 64 to La Ermita Plaza.

We created our own altar that evening, with everything we love. #proud.

Altar 4 Merida - Jim's

A lot of the ladies wear traditional Mayan “huipil” dress, a white cotton dress adorned with bright, flowery embroidery – even on non-festival days.

Huipil and Tortilla

We watched some traditional dancing (the ladies resplendent in said dress) at La Ermita Plaza in the evening as part of the el Dia de los Muertos festivities.

Day of the Dead Dancers

They danced with bottles balanced on their heads, and then entire trays with 2 candles and whiskey glasses (as well as said bottle).

We wandered back to the centre of town expecting debauchery but the streets were surprisingly quiet in the centre. The festival, and Mexicans generally, seem to be extremely respectful. No drinking or smoking (at least not on the street), just enjoying simple entertainment and taking pride in their local culture. I imagine its the visitors that party hard.


Favourite moments of the day:

Lunch. We tried Cocina Economica Lucy for el menu del dia (fried chicken, rice and salad.. with amazing habanero sauce). Love the idea, they are like your local cafe – home-cooked cheap food, usually by a couple of women, open during the day (lunchtime) using whatever is fresh that day to create a few different dishes. I’ve seen others go in a fill up tupperware, maybe to feed the family at home.
At the festival, I needed the loo (we’d drunk lots of beers before venturing out). Jim – not knowing the spanish for ‘toilet’ – went to talk to some dude in a doorway, at some length, before the guy pointed in the direction of ‘banos’.
Jim recounted that this took so long he had very nearly resorted to the international sign language for “shit”. I’ll let you ponder that. Had me laughing.



Mack, Sack and Craic

Managed to catch the right bus, this time, to the town of Merida. Absolutely pouring, good day for bus journey. REALLY boring though, long motorway flanked either side by dense green vegetation.

Went straight in for some Yucatecan specialities… Sopa de Lima (Lime soup) at La Chaya Maya is an immediate fav. Lovely restaurant; there are two, we were in the new one set around a central courtyard.

Next day we woke up to this.. view from Hotel Dolores Alba in Merida at dawn.

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Also the dawn of this blog. Yessss… it HAS taken a while since to actually start blogging. Our wi-fi issues increased when our hotel started to fill up as we neared el Dia de los Muertos, and we have (unsuccessfully) been trying to think of a good domain name.

Initially I chose jimily.org, but once committed we realised it was a bit twee. My parents house is called ‘Linzel’, which I always thought must have been a naff portmanteau of Lin and Hazel, or Linzi and Manuel, or something. And here I am creating a blog called ‘Jimily’. But its endearing to be given a collective noun by your mates, so why not?

Other non-starters were:

  •  macksackandcraic (but too Jim oriented)
  • Iquit.job
  • masmasmas
  • ojorojo
  • alpackinglight
  • ancientruins
  • gringostars
  • etc

…. there’s a pun somewhere.

Pretty chilled the rest of the day. Wandered out along Merida’s cracked and crumbling streets for a nose around after breakfast. Very near Zocalo main square, with its cute little love seats (see us show you how it’s done below), groups of men were setting up thatched stalls for el Dia de los Muertos, massive queues for the bank, lots of people milling around busying themselves or chilling in the shade.

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Had a hang around the pool, then went to Lucas de Galbez market to find some lunch. I guess you’d describe it as a ‘people run’ – massive, undercover, with narrow walkways…you get picked up by the crowd shuffling through and deposited the other side. Found a decent street taco stall, two each with a large bottle of coke for 40 pesos (about £2). Loving the habanero sauce, lime and radish accompaniment. Watched everyone buzzing around – cooking, walking, running, carrying, talking. Lots of flies buzzing around too on the sweets and treats being sold. People, signs, stalls, wares, cars, police, whistles, smells of damp or sewers or sweets or perfumes.. or all of them together! Pretty damn hectic.

Bought some snacks and traditional “el pan de muerto cake to bring back. Cake smelt like cheese so we didn’t eat that. Think its actually egg.

During the afternoon we discovered, in the course of doing some spanish learning, that Jim has an amazing French vocabulary he didn’t realise he was harbouring all these years; “merci”, “pourquois”, “a quelle heure” etc are all making a comeback. We’re also a bit unsure of the usage of ‘seniorita’ as opposed to ‘señora’… so we imagine Jim is calling everyone ‘gal’… “alright gal”, “thanks gal”, “very good gal”. The first cockney Espanol.

Walked out again in the evening and found Los Trompos (on street where photo below was taken), sort of fast-food but cheap. Each time we buy dinner its getting roughly 20% cheaper as we work out how to stick to a backpacker budget. Checked out a Mayan pub afterwards, nice garden where locals were drinking.
.. street at night.

.. street at night.

On the Blog

Le blog has arrived! We’re a bit late, we’ve been quite busy.
We only decided 5 weeks ago to come travelling. And over that five weeks we have discovered:

  1. 5 weeks isn’t enough unless one of you is not working
  2. Google becomes your closest confidante and advisor, it (well a cacophony of travel bloggers) can tell you what the best sleeping bag liners are, what visas you need, what to do about bed bugs, that thrush cream should be purchased “just in case”, typical itineraries.. or simply mire you in confusion about whether you’ll need a sleeping bag, trainers vs hiking boots for Machu Picchu, how important malaria tablets are, whether you need a mosquito net…  the tributary comments roar in a torrent of debate for a while then meander through estuaries and out into the big blue sea of no resolution. To be honest, I’m looking forward to actually talking to people, or simply finding out, whilst on the move… rather than begin a new job as an internet researcher trying to understand the big blue.
  3. You’ll spend approximately 5x your boyf’s budget on gear
  4. You’ll be totes emosh saying “goodbye” to family (along with your sentimental trinkets) and friends
  5. The closer leaving gets, the more vivid & strange your dreams will be – and yet frankly dull at the same time (“that backpacker nicked my sarong!”, “My storage doesn’t let me store frozen goods?! Are you kidding?” etc)
  6. You basically have no idea what you’re doing.

And look, this blog is probably not going to conjure up any inspiration to travel in whoever reads it, it won’t contain any insights that haven’t been documented by thousands of internet voices before us, but that’s not the point of the journey or the blog. Although, in an effort to afford trite nonsense I have ordered Jim to serve up one funny morcel each day. Its one man’s quest against the banal.

So, on our first day travelling, I had two immediate and stark reminders of why this is important to me and what I’m hoping to gain from this experience.

The first reminder was a massive attachment to my stuff in storage. Well, not exactly to my stuff – I woke up at 4.30am in a panic about what I’d left in my boxes that might explode (pressurised gas canisters etc) – but not because it might ruin my things, rather it might ruin others’ belongings and my insurance would be invalidated, plunging me into massive personal liability debt. I could not detach from my contrivance. Thankfully a flight to another country gives you some perspective i.e. you stop thinking about it. Que sera.

And therein lies the first point, perspective. Living life from just what’s on your back, I expect, is quite liberating in terms of properly assigning importance to things.

Me and the Pack

Me and the Pack

And when we arrived into Cancun it was total amateur night.

  • Missed the bus we booked a ticket for because we couldn’t find the departure platform >>
  • Got soaked in a massive downpour >>
  • Paid a taxi to go about 50 meters >>
  • Asked hotel (Hotel el Rey del Caribe) for a food recommendation (OK, it was nice but far too expensive for backpackers)>>
  • Succumbed to a mariachi band (“Mexicanismo 2000”, no less) >>
.. with no espanol (yet) its basically confusing and bewildering. And so to the second point… isn’t that amazing? The not knowing if you’re in the right place, on the right bus, walking in the right direction, tipping the waiter the right money, massively insulting people… how can that not make you less insular, more open, more free to take a chance and “see what happens” (a philosophy that’s anathema to my product manager self in London)?

We’ll see.