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.

 

 

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