Where to watch the World Cup in Merida – Round Two

To continue the reviewing of possible options for your FIFA World Cup viewing, here is the latest contender for your beer drinking pesos.

Merida Restaurants and Bars and other Venues

Stars are awarded in each category as follows:

* Horrible, stay away
** Not quite as bad as horrible, but not worth the drive. If you’re in the neighborhood…
*** Average – hit or miss, meh
**** Pretty darn good, make an effort.
***** Worth driving to and find parking for

HENNESSY’S

The game on the menu today was USA vs Germany, and, since the gringos were playing I thought it best to watch this at the popular expat hangout everyone knows and loves: Hennesseys.

1. Screen quality and location: ****
Hennessy’s screens are behind the bar so you will need to sit at the bar or thereabouts in order to get a view of the screen. There is one on each side and while these are great at night, the 11 AM game time was not an optimum moment as there was some glare from the sun outside and so one of the screens had a big white glare spot in the middle of it and I had to watch the one further away. A nice touch was a temporary third screen showing the simultaneous Portugal vs Ghana game, which, had things gone differently, would have affected the outcome of the main event today. Unfortunately the Portugal game was an internet feed that cut out every 2 seconds or so, making it impossible to watch. Thank you TelMex, for that excellent internet service.
2. Air conditioning: ****
Could have been a little cooler in my never humble opinion but perhaps there were enough older folks there with thin blood that need a little more heat than I. Boston’s wins this round as well.
3. Service: ****
With the friendly guys that Sean and Colm are, I am always surprised the wait staff is so serious. But you will get your drinks (or coffee) and Hennessy’s has prizes for every single match. So each time Portugal scored a goal, free shots of whisky all around. Can’t beat that!
4. Food: *****
We all know and love the Hennessy’s menu. Great pub food and the mussels are worth licking the bowl, Emily Post be damned.
5. Prices: *****
Hennessy’s is not cheap but you don’t feel like you are getting ripped off by any stretch of the imagination. You are paying for the food, the drinks and the place is gorgeous.
6. Ambience: Maybe it was the fact that the Germans (yawn) were playing the USA team coached by a German (snore). No yelling, no fist pumps, no hooting and hollering. Just a reflective kind of fandom that is probably not used to watching football. Real football I mean. I expect there would be more excitement if it was college American football or basketball or something. Or maybe a book reading. It was pretty quiet. I suspect things get more lively when Mexico is playing and the more enthusiastic Mexicans come to cheer on their team.

http://www.hennessysirishpub.com/

Where to watch the World Cup in Merida – Round One

Unless you live in a Yucatan cave (sacred or otherwise) – or the United States of America – you will probably have noticed that the World Cup is on and the world is watching.

There are many options to watch the matches (also called games) both at home and in the city of Merida itself. Here are some of those options, along with the pros and cons.

Home Viewing

If you have Sky or Dish you are all set to watch the World Cup at home. But if you are like me, you don’t have the fantastic television offerings (sarcasm) of the aforementioned satellite networks and have to resort to watching games on the computer via some live streaming feed on the ‘net with sleep-inducing British announcers that give you the play-by-play from their sofa where they are lying in some sort of tea-and-scone-induced coma. It’s akin to watching a Golf Channel transmission; it’s that exciting. The video quality of these streaming feeds is so low that the players look like Lego pieces chip-chopping along a green background, like an old Nintendo game from the Pleistocene era. Then, when your team is about to score a goal, the screen freezes altogether and the sound cuts out as well.

If you are watching on the afore-mentioned television networks, you are going to have to make sure to avoid the pre and post game commentary which runs the gamut from childishly clownlike to Beavis and Butthead teen toilet humor to Dumb and Dumber a la mexicana. Soap opera commercials will leave you breathless with anticipation as you wonder how close the camera will get on that teardrop crawling down the poor (but pretty) servant girl’s only slightly brown face (she can’t be all that pretty if she is too obviously of indigenous descent – Mexican television rule number 18)

Merida Restaurants and Bars and other Venues

Stars are awarded in each category as follows:

* Horrible, stay away
** Not quite as bad as horrible, but not worth the drive. If you’re in the neighborhood…
*** Average – hit or miss, meh
**** Pretty darn good, make an effort.
***** Worth driving to and find parking for

BOSTON’S PIZZA

The first match I watched in a restaurant/bar was USA vs Portugal, at Boston’s Pizza’s Gran Plaza location, with Better Half. Boston’s Pizza so far leads in the unofficial survey of Great Places to Watch a Sports Event like the World Cup (GPTWASELTWC por sus siglas en inglés, as the Diario would say). 

1. Screen quality and location: *****
Boston’s has a lot of screens and you can be sitting anywhere and see the game. And hear it. They pipe the audio in to the restaurant’s sound system and so you won’t miss a thing. Video quality is clear and sharp and the screens are large. 
2. Air conditioning: *****
Excellent and you will be able to fist pump the air without the potential embarrassment of underarm sweat stains grossing out your date or fellow game watchers who might care about such things
3. Service: ****
Fast and more or less attentive. They will keep you plied with drinks and enough food if you are willing. Could have a sense of humor, but then again, these are all just kids barely out of high school.
4. Food: ****
Good, fatty bar food and pizza that is really excellent. Try the Mama Meata (lots of carne) and notice the wait person say Mama Miata as in the car.
5. Prices: *****
Excellent prices, for them. Boston’s is not cheap but it is probably worth it if an important game is on.
6. Ambience: Chill. No one is going nuts, unless a goal by the favorite team is scored, then there is a lot of yelling and shouting. But the mood is somewhat on the civilized side as the game progresses. The usual oohs and aaaahs as goalposts are struck by errant balls projected from unbelievable angles by various body parts.

http://www.bostons.com.mx/

ELADIOS

The second match was Mexico vs Croacia, at Eladio’s in Altabrisa again with Better Half but with an additional 13 people as well. We all sat at one long table in their small-ish salon con aire acondicionado. That’s right, Eladio’s doesn’t enjoy A/C in the main room, preferring to keep it more on the al fresco end of the temperature spectrum, an interesting choice since they are only open mid-day, the hottest time of the year. The World Cup is on in June this year and it is only somewhat warm (more sarcasm)

1. Screen quality and location: **
The screens at Eladio’s seem improvised and were installed specifically for this, it would seem. They are smallish and the color is off on a few of them, rendering them fluorescent and difficult to watch if you are epileptic. Sounds is muddled and piped in through a KBR sound system. You’ve seen the KBR speakers: they are the cheap, Asian version of JBL speakers complete with the same style of red letter logo on the front. It’s the audio equivalent of trying to get a throaty 427 V8 hemi sound out of your six-cylinder 1974 Dodge Dart. Uh uh; ain’t gonna happen.
2. Air conditioning: **
No fist-pumping the air hear – your underarms will show that the A/C in this room is not keeping up with the amount of warm bodies inside. Plus the giant sliding glass doors that open and close constantly as waiters and busboys enter and leave, more or less negate what those poor compressors are trying to do. Think sticky.
3. Service: *****
Fast and furious. As in right on it. They are super fast with both drinks and botana and if the game sucks, the highlight of the visit might be seeing those waiters and busboys carry in a tray-load of botana plates for a large table of 15, stacked impossibly on top of one another. Waiters are fun and have a great sense of humor
4. Food: ****
It’s all Yucatecan and for the most part pretty good. To me, it’s a little on the bland side, but it is rich and heavy the way Yucatecan food should be and you will leave with a solid distension of abdomen that will go away in about 24 hours. Added bonus: no pickled pig ears. No worries.
5. Prices: ****
Stick to beer and botana and you won’t be spending that much. You will get to sample most of the menu without even looking at it. Just keep drinking.
6. Ambience: *****
It’s raucous. Here you will enjoy live renditions of the Mexican “PUTOOO” chant, in all it’s expletive glory. Don’t even think about complaining; you’ll be the object of that chant faster than you can grind some pepita seeds on your dzotobichay. When there is a goal from the favorite team, the place will go batshit. Chairs will fall over, drinks will be spilled and much fist pumping, clapping, yelling and back slapping will ensue. Go batshit with everyone else and enjoy a true Mexican moment. Also, when Mexico plays and the pre-game national anthem comes on and people in the restaurant stand, go ahead and stand with them. Don’t be sitting there like a puu… You get the idea.

 http://www.eladios.com.mx/18-1-La+ciudad+de+Merida.html

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for more reviews as the World Cup continues!

FIFA WEBSITE

 

6 Places to Get Out of the Rain

It seems, for some strange reason, that the rains this June here in Merida and the Yucatan in general, are never-ending and the humidity is threatening the paint and stucco on your restored colonial in el centro. And there is the mould that is sprouting on belts, shoes, handbags and the gear in your dungeon playroom; ugh.

Here is a short list of six things to do or places to go while this west coast (of Canada) weather continues to hamper your tanning,  organic tomato-drying and other sun-related activities.

1. Trámites. If you don’t know what a trámite is, you are missing out. Trámites can be loosely translated as paperwork (usually) involving something to do with the government. The rainy season can be used as an excuse to visit some government agency and do some paperwork: perhaps you need a license renewed, which you can do at the Siglo XXI convention center and movie theater complex across from what used to be Carrefour. You can easily spend a half day there, asking questions, filling out a form or two, getting some photocopies made and generally enjoying the dry, somewhat air conditioned space. Reward yourself with some popcorn from the movie theater concession stand afterwards.  OR, perhaps something to do with Hacienda? Hacienda has a modern office on 60 street near Sam’s and is fully air conditioned, has plenty of seating and there are lot of other people in there as well, so you can practice your Spanish and perhaps make new friends. I would not recommend doing anything related to immigration as their waiting room is tiny and you may end up waiting outside under a tarp in the humidity waiting for a spot in the air conditioned waiting room. There’s a lot of waiting in that last sentence.

2. Movies. Rainy season is a great time to catch up on movies. Go to a decent movie theater like the Cinepolis complex at Altabrisa, which will afford you the opportunity to also spend time in the mall. Head out early in the morning and spend the day watching all the movies, back to back. Barring any power outages, you will have a great day, seated in air conditioned comfort and watching potentially decent movies and overdosing on candy corn which is quite good at Cinepolis. TIP: Avoid the movie Maléfica, with Angelina Jolie. It is truly hideous and you will feel your toes curl in pena ajena embarrassment for her. What was she thinking? She actually produced as well as starred in this drivel.

3. Mall time. Great time to go to a mall! The best mall is Altabrisa, where you can spend the better part of the day, especially when combined with a visit to the Cinepolis movie theaters (mentioned in the previous paragraph if you’re just skipping through this). Figure for an hour or two at Starbucks, people watching and drinking expensive but great coffee. Visit the Haagen Dazs shop and eat an ice cream that will cost as much as a dinner for seven at any panuchería downtown. Another hour or two can be spent at the Sanborns magazine rack, reading through anything of interest there. A movie will kill an hour and a half as well. There is a grocery store if you are so inclined as well as several restaurants upstairs such PF Chiangs, IHOP, California Pizza Kitchen, among others.

4. Serious grocery shopping. If you are used to the hustle and bustle, the grime and the crowds of the markets downtown, a rainy day is a good opportunity to visit a big grocery store in the norte of the city. Perhaps Comercial Mexicana or Chedraui or, what the hell, Walmart. Please note that Walmart here is not the same as trashy Walmart in the US; it is a more upscale experience and you will not find the g-string-clad and balding 65 year old with his gym pants around his knees shopper here. You can also enjoy the interesting concept at La Comer, for example, of laying out raw meat on giant tables with a little ice underneath, the carne exposed in all it’s raw nakedness, edges curling, to the supermarket air and people sneezing, coughing and poking with fingers. Nevermind the science that has evolved over several hundred years regarding temperature requirements for the storage of raw meat. The store is air conditioned so that is enough, apparently. And while the meat is placidly rotting, notice the ham and cheese ladies who are obliged to wear disposable masks. Does anyone else think this is somewhat incongruous or is it just me? Hmm. Cruise the aisles and look for interesting items you may have previously thought were not available here, like the Spam, located near the Paté du Canard. A gourmet item, surely.

5. Museum time. You might spend a day at the new Mayan museum, built to honor all things Mayan with money that could have been better spent on actual Mayans still living in abject poverty to this day. But who am I to know about these things and the deci$ion$ made by the powers that be. It’s all about promotion. Keep in mind that a visit to the museum might be thwarted if some dignitary is visiting the convention center nearby and the entire area is sealed off by the state police and men in white guayaberas, khaki pants and earpieces. These guys are the estado mayor and take care of presidential level security, so don’t expect any sympathy from them when you try to explain that you came all the way from Santiago by bus and were really wanting to see the how the meteor killed the dinosaurs at the museum.

6. Stay home. A great time to read, clear up your email inbox, file and label those papers you have been stacking in a pile near the door. Of course if the CFE doesn’t cooperate you will need candles and reading glasses as the power will flicker out and you sit in the damp, warm darkness listening to the lovers quarrel, cats mating, dogs barking or the roosters crowing just below your window. At that point you might consider renting a room at the Hyatt, which is what the well-to-do locals are prone to do during a hurricane.

I hope this list comes in time for you, dear reader, to take advantage of it and enjoy the rest of your mouldy day.

The Coliseo Experience – Marc Anthony Comes to Merida

marcanthony

From the poster, we should all have known that the temperature inside the Coliseo was going to be heat-stroke inducing.

I drive by the new (as of this writing) Coliseo every day. I marvel at it’s size and the potential of having world-class entertainment come to Merida at last, and not have to play on a baseball field or a sports stadium. Until last night, however, I had not been inside the building. Marc Anthony came to town and of course the Better Half wanted to go so we got some decent tickets in the tiered section, three rows up right in the middle. Fantastic seats with a perfect view of the stage.

But let’s step back for a moment and start at the beginning of the experience, from when you approach the Coliseo on the highway. If you are coming from Progreso, you must take the Dzibilchaltun exit on your right, but of course that is not marked so you will unwittingly reach the Maseca exit only to find it blocked off – at which point you will have to continue on to the Xcanatun exit and come back and find yourself in the same predicament as the people coming from Merida! From Merida, you need to be in your left lane practically from Liverpool on as the process of getting to the Coliseo is not exactly a streamlined process, to say the least. On the highway to Progreso, in your left lane with your emergency flashers a-flashing like a good Mexican driver, you advance slowly but hopefully patiently.

Bring an audiobook for this part of your trip as it may take a while. I suggest something calming as your nerves are about to be tested. You notice that many people pass on the lane to your right but pay them little heed until you come to a point where you notice that all these people, who had far less patience than you and were NOT going to wait in line, are now trying to force their way into your lane. You will notice cars behind you and in front of you closing in on their neighbors, moving to literal bumper-to-bumper status so as not to let ANYONE in.

When you come to the Dzibilchaltun roundabout, you will notice that there are other cars, probably from the Ceiba or Country golf residential areas, trying to merge into the roundabout which is now a solid line of vehicles with only a henequen fiber’s space between the front of one car and the back of the other. Then suddenly someone from the the golf lineup will just drive into the line of cars and force someone in your line to apply the brakes, causing much horn-honking and high beam flashing, but nothing more serious. (Yes, that was me) If this were Los Angeles…

Now you have come around the roundabout and are going again in a Progreso to Merida direction. You will notice that there are two lanes to choose from, so you pick the right lane, which is moving slower than the left, but it is the one that will take you into the Coliseo, you figure. A third lane appears as impatient drivers move to take over any available asphalt in their quest to reach the Coliseo.

The show starts at 9 and it is 8:30 when you finally reach the entrance to the Coliseo and that one lane that became two and then three? They are all turning into the Coliseo parking lot. You are merging almost bumper car style from three to two lanes and then are met with – surprise – a guy that tells you you need to pay $30 pesos for parking. Never mind that you already forked over $100 – $400 USD or more for your ticket, this is extra*. And it’s not like you have a choice either, the highway across the street and any available parking in the area has been blocked off by the state police.

So you pay and get a very official looking little ticket (insert chuckle or snort here) and proceed along the 3 yards of pavement to what is now a Xmatkuil parking lot, complete with a few rocks lining the route and plenty of dusty dirt. In fact, the Xmatkuil parking lot may be better, as they at least left some trees in the parking lot as a nod to Mother Nature; but in the modern Coliseo world, Mother Nature probably didn’t pay her 30 pesos ticket and so was kicked to the curb by a bulldozer. Note to self – don’t wash car to impress anyone if coming to the Coliseo. It will be covered in dust (as will you) at the end of the night.

After parking almost in Sisal, you then embark on a leisurely 15 minute stroll to the building, breathing in the gritty dust of the hot night air and enjoying the blinding bright white glaring in your face as you stumble behind the people in front of you.

At the door your ticket is checked and you are relieved of your cigarettes. Not your lighter, but your cigarettes. What the hell? I save two for later in a shirt pocket and hand over my pack and this seems satisfactory to the person doing the cigarette collecting.

At last, we are inside.

The place looks like it is not yet finished, but the spaces for concessions and so on are full; it appears many companies have paid big pesos to be there and have even brought their sound systems and skimpily clad edecanes (models whose purpose it is to draw your attention to whatever the company that hired them is trying to promote, which they do by flaunting skin tight lycra clothing, as much cleavage as they can push up and exposed navels) The sound systems create the kind of cacophony that would rival Xmatkuil on opening day, which seems to be what the Coliseo is all about.

There is a lineup for the elevator (yes, elevator) to take us to the seats and section where we are supposed to be, but I don’t want to stand in line and also want to see the place, so I suggest we take the stairs. The semi-open building is still pretty hot as we hike up several flights of concrete stairs in a never-ending spiral.

Somewhat out of breath, we arrive at our level and a random young lady takes the tickets out of my hands and starts walking so we follow. If she had had a uniform it would have been a little less adrenaline-producing to have those tickets snatched out of my hand like that. But, it turns out she is one of many ushers, none of whom are wearing anything remotely resembling a uniform and we are shown to our seat, such as it is. The seats are the plastic kind you would find at a sports arena and quite close together both on the sides and in front and back. Walking out from your seat to the stairs to say, go to the bathroom, would require some care and in the high heels some of these ladies were wearing, it would be downright dangerous and the chance of falling into the seats and onto the heads of those seated directly in front would be pretty high.

Immediately we notice the heat. It is unbearably hot and everyone of the female persuasion and the occasional male is fanning themselves. We all acquire a healthy “glow” as we wait for the show to begin.

As I mentioned the seats were great. I felt sorry for the folks in the front row, where there is a balcony looking down on the sorry-ass VIP’s below, because this front row is also where the vendors are passing by selling everything from beer, pop and water to snacks to junk food to whatever else they can, out of elegant 5 gallon paint buckets. There are at least 1,000 of them in the entire place and they DO NOT STOP the entire evening and so, those people who thought they had an unobstructed view of the stage, spend much of their evening peering around the sweaty bodies of vendors looking forlornly and expectantly into the bleachers.

Did I mention the heat? As I said before, if you are a woman, don’t bother putting on makeup or dressing in any light colors as the dust outside will dirty your clothing and the heat inside will smudge the Sephora garage sale on your face. It is really hot. Reading up on the Coliseo’s Facebook page, someone complained about the fact that the air conditioners weren’t turned on until half way through the concert, and the Coliseo answer was that yes they were, but there were so many people that “affected the air flow”. Um, OK. That makes perfect sense.

Oh yes, the sorry-ass VIP comment. The people on the floor had paid top peso to be there in their little seats and all. As soon as the lights dimmed and the music started, however, the seats were abandoned as was all sense of decorum and it became a large mosh pit filled with an over-dressed mob that jostled to get as close to the stage as possible. Aisles? Forget about it; those filled up as well.

An MC announced a welcome to the disinterested crowd, and informed us all where the emergency exits were, should an emergency arise. The immediate concern to me was suffocation and heat stroke as my shirt stuck to my back in spite of Better Half’s vigorous fanning.

Marc started his show more or less on time and people continued drifting in until about 10 AM and by then, the show was 1/3 over and the Coliseo was finally full. The powers that be at this point started thinking about turning on the air conditioning.

Perhaps in another post I will write about the concert itself, but for now, this report has gone on for far too long.

Ahh, what the hell; a few lines about the concert. Short show, awful, muddled acoustics due to all that concrete, and he stops singing during almost all the songs and asks the audience if “they know this one” and then holds the microphone out to the audience and they all scream along in their charming tone-deaf but enthusiastic way like autistic children at a birthday party. I know this is how concerts at Xmatkuil and other palenque events work, but I was hoping for a more enlightened experience at this new and supposedly more sophisticated venue. Alas, it was not to be. Marc by the way was also sporting a healthy glow that quickly metamorphosed into a full blown flow of sweat and he laughingly mentioned on more than one occasion that it sure was cold here tonight which got a laugh out of the audience every time.

So what about after the show you ask. Well, I could write for another 12 minutes about the absolute MESS that is all those people leaving the Coliseo parking lot at the same time with no direction, no courtesy and driving like a herd of horny hippos that have been let loose from the zoo to find a mate after 2 years in captivity. I could, but I won’t. Have you been to Costco and seen how the charming mothers from the catholic Merida school across the street, who use it as their personal parking lot, will commit vehicular homicide against anyone who is in their way? It’s like that, but on a larger, unmarked, chaotic and of course dustier scale.

The Coliseo has potential, but I don’t see anyone working on it these days so perhaps the half-finished look and feel is what they were going for. One day perhaps, the plastic-looking facade will be redone with something more striking and the parking lot will be landscaped (insert another snort here) or at least paved and there will be some adequate lighting outside and the air conditioners will be turned on (or they will let less people in to enable more “air flow”) but for now, I will avoid it and retain my sanity thank you very much.

 

* The parking fee, from what I have learned extra-officially is the Coliseo’s payment to the state police for “helping” them “organize” the parking situation. Apparently the money goes to some sort of fund for policeman’s families.   

 

6 Reasons Why Uxmal is Better Than Chichen Itza

Uxmal is better than Chichen Itzá.

Yeah, I said it.

While all the tour companies and agencies and re-sellers and operators are out to make a buck on delivering hordes of bleary-eyed and sunburnt beachgoers from Cancun, the Riviera Maya and Tulum, those in the know are in Uxmal enjoying what is most assuredly a superior Mayan ruin experience.

Here are the top six reasons Uxmal beats Chichen Itzá, hands down:

1. It’s location. Uxmal is located 90 minutes from Merida and about 5 hours from Cancun which is fantastic. Fantastic because the hordes from the Quintana Roo (Google it) side  of the Yucatan peninsula are not going to show up here, ever. To get to Uxmal from Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Cancun and that all-inclusive hotel, you would have to sacrifice a night of accommodation you already paid for and stay in the area around Uxmal or at least Mérida OR spend the entire day driving. And of course then you would be exposed to all that crime in this country. And all this leads to the second reason Uxmal beats Chichen Itzá:

2. No Crowds. Mostly because of the location, Uxmal never feels crowded. Whereas at Chichen Itzá you will line up for a ticket, line up for a bathroom, line up for a second ticket, line up to get your ticket punched and can not get a photo of a structure without seven hundred other human beings photobombing you, at Uxmal you can play Annie Leibovitz all day and get some truly award-winning photos that will keep you in the money via iStock for years to come. Maybe. There is enough room that whenever a tour bus does show up (and they do, but they are full of Russians, Italians, Belgians, Germans or Poles rather than Americanos) the site is large enough to absorb them and it never feels crowded. Also, if you are going to make a wish (inside joke) there are no lines at the bathrooms, ladies!

3. No vendors. Woo-hoo! If you have been to Chichen Itzá lately you know all about the vendors and how their presence INSIDE the site is an eyesore and takes away from your experience. Nothing like feeling the energy of the the ancient stones with your fellow “crystal people” when suddenly your meditative reverie is interrupted by  a nasal shout from under the trees “CHEAPER THAN WALMART!” Um, OK, good to know since I always shop for my Mayan souvenirs at Walmart. The vendors have their agenda and I am not going to get into whether or not it’s a valid one; we are talking about the experience here, and they are not helping by occupying every shady spot on the site and hassling you every two steps with yet another article of dubious origin that all miraculously cost the same and are made by the same person – the ubiquitous and elusive Juan Dolla. You may get the impression that YOU are Juan Dolla: “blanket, Juan Dolla”; “jade mask, Juan Dolla”; Along with the wood carver next to the table carving his (same) piece of wood for the duration of his day thereby convincing you that those masks and jaguars and calendars are hand carved, there are also the Mayan grannies who have learned some English: “hankie, Juan Dolla”. Uxmal has no vendors inside the site. Period.

4. The structure themselves. While Chichen Itzá is impressive in its size and many buildings are indeed breathtaking, the stonework on each and every façade at Uxmal is so much more intricate and will literally blow your mind, if you are of the artistic bent and are prepared to allow your mind to be blown. Chichen Itzá’s structures feature some carved stone but there was also a lot of stucco, painted and sculpted, which, over the centuries has melted away under the sun, rain and the chisels and pockets of the curious. The stones on the other hand at Uxmal, are still there, probably because the un-enlightened Spaniards did not find it necessary to build anything resembling a city, town or hacienda there.

5. No ropes! OK: just a few. The buildings and structures at Uxmal have far less restrictions and nasty ropes draped around their entirety with the sign “no pasar” or “prohibido el paso” which means you are able to walk around in the jungle, behind giant partially restored pyramids, play Indiana Jones (watch out for snakes and wasps) and/or generally feel like Dora the Explorer in your own way. You can climb the giant pyramid at the back for a spectacular and vertigo-inducing view. At Chichen Itzá, EVERYTHING is roped off, all the cool little pathways into the jungle have the aforementioned rope or chain and forget about climbing up anything to get a look around.

6. The best espresso in the Yucatan. It’s true, in spite of what Starbucks and some of those newly arrived Italianos in Merida might tell you: the espresso at the little cart up against the wall in Uxmal, is probably the best espresso you will find for hundreds of miles around.  Chichen Itzá does not have one of these carts. Boo for them.

 

Superman on Montejo

On the Prolongación Paseo de Montejo recently, I was able to observe this super-man who, while transporting a giant king-size mattress from A to B, felt that him assisting in holding the mattress down by the plastic covering on it, would basically prevent it from flying away with a gust of wind.

I can’t remember if it was George Lopez or Jerry Seinfeld that first pointed out this (always male) phenomenon and the (always male) belief that simply grabbing whatever is on your car roof can be held down by you with one hand as you drive along the road.

Please note that this is a male thing and not related to the license plate on the car; I will not approve posts that make fun of our neighbours from Campeche thank you very much.

IMG_9302 IMG_9303

Casual Restaurant Critic – Merci Update

Thanks to the Twitter app HootSuite, the posts via Twitter lost their photos on the way from the Critic’s iPhone to the internet. Here are the missing photos, and the Critic can vouch for each and every one of these dishes – excellent!

The chou(x) in particular are really good; not too sweet as is often the case.

French Toast

French Toast

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict

Quiche

Quiche

Chou

Chou

The Casual Restaurant Critic Has Breakfast – A Puro Pan / Merci

In the company of the charming and always gastronomically adventurous Better Half, the Casual Restaurant Critic mustered up the strength to shower, get dressed and go out for breakfast on this fine Easter Sunday morning. Two restaurants were visited, in the interest of coming up with some new options for the 11 constant readers of this column and to take advantage of a lazy Sunday (and the fact that the Critic was freshly showered)

A Puro Pan

This is a new restaurant, in yet another small shopping plaza, this one called “Luxury Plaza” on that stretch of northern Merida road that starts at the “pocito” roundabout and ends where CityCenter meets the periferico. It never ceases to amaze the Critic at how many shopping plazas there are along these few kilometers – at last count there were more than 20, of varying styles, sizes and all sporting the same L shape so popular among Merida plazas. It is also amazing that all these luxury and exclusive and VIP places still have clientele; there are so many offerings for this tiny market segment.

A Puro Pan is all about bread, hence it’s name. Freshly baked bread and plenty of sandwich options are on the menu and for breakfast, some egg items as well. The Critic chose the Spanish baguette on Parmesan bread while the Better Half ordered Eggs Benedict.

Now you can’t go wrong with jamon serrano (unless you are unlucky enough to order it at the Viejo Molino – ugh) and so here, the Spanish baguette was just fine, a smallish baguette-like bread with plenty of jamon, some inexpensive local cheese. Nothing to write home about and the accompanying salad – some lettuce of varying styles possibly of the pre-washed plastic bag variety – showed signs of browning around some of the leaves and so was a little less than appetizing and the Critic did not finish his vegetables.

The Eggs Benedict however, were about as Benedict-y as the Caesar salad is Caesar-y at Trotters. In other words, not really Eggs Benedict. Eggs were baked in what appeared to be little muffin cups; not poached. Accompanied by some breakfast potatoes and atop something that looked like an English muffin and some salmon, there was no evidence of any hollandaise sauce lurking under, among or on top of the eggs, so not sure what the restaurant is trying to do with this menu item. It is not unattractively presented but, call it Puro Pan Eggs or something else, por favor.

Service was extremely nice and attentive. The room itself is dark, with low lighting which is fine for mornings when the Critic is less than presentable and doesn’t want to be in the harsh glare of the lights. Air conditioning was minimal and the place was cool but on the edge of a little warm, if you know how that feels.

After breakfast there, Better Half suggested checking out another new spot called Merci.

Merci – HomeMade Food

photo 3 photo 1

Merci is located in the San Angelo shopping (more luxury of course) plaza, which is near the soon-to-be-finished San Angelo condos, yet another housing development in northern Merida defining itself as – yawn – exclusive, and located parallel to the periferico in the area between City Center and Sodzil.

It is a bright, airy restaurant with a decidedly French feel, not only because the waiter is indeed French but also because the Yucatecan chef studied in France and has come home to feed her fellow Meridanos. By this time, the Critic didn’t mind the bright airiness of the place and was delighted to see French Press coffee on the menu.

Indeed, the freshly pressed coffee is very tasty and served with tiny ceramic cups that are too cute. A bread basket was ordered and it contains what appears to be a scone, a pain au chocolat and a little muffin. Served with tiny bowls of butter and jam and all very good. The pain au chocolat is not flaky and light, but heavier, denser and delicious. Very buttery.

The kitchen is in plain view, the tables are close together European style and the overall impression is that this is a place worth re-visiting, to try some of the other breakfast offerings which range from homemade banana pancakes and oeufs any style to granola and more. Prices seem very reasonable and the air conditioning is perfect.

Final verdict for breakfast? Merci, hands down. The Critic will be back.

6 Cool Places to Escape the Heat in Merida

Damn it's hot!

Damn it’s hot!

At this time of the year, the hottest season in the Yucatan with temperatures in the high 90′s and low 100′s (fahrenheit) there are brush fires everywhere and the city of Merida, with all it’s concrete and asphalt, is an inferno.

Real health issues can result from extended exposure to this kind of oppressive heat and so, in the interest of assisting visitors and locals alike, I am presenting a list of my favorite places to cool off in (and around) Merida.

Please, if you have favorite places, let me know to include them in this list for others to enjoy.

1. The Vegetable and Fruit Refrigerated Room at Costco

Costco is air conditioned and that is all fine and good, but if you are really wanting to cool off, I suggest you go to the patio furniture area, pick out a nice lounge chair and carry it into the vegetable and fruit cooler at the back of the store, where temperatures hover just above the freezing mark. A good 10 minutes in there and your body temperature will be restored and your brain will contract back into the available space in your cranium, relieving you of your heat-headache.

2. OXXO Convenience Stores

The thing about OXXO convenience stores is that they are located everywhere in Merida (except south of 63 street as it seems that the people down that way do NOT fit into the OXXO demographic) and they are all air conditioned and most even have a small table and chair setup where you can enjoy something from the large selection of processed junk food available. Take your time; there is no apparent set amount of time you can stay there. If you are feeling considerate, you can give up your spot to the next overheated Meridano or turista waiting to cool off.

3. Galeria Mall

At the Galeria mall, you can grab a bench seat in front of the ice rink (yes, I said ice rink) and watch the kids – and some adults – do their imitation of The Walking Dead on skates. Of course there are some really talented skaters out there along with the zombies which begs the question “how the hell did THAT happen?” Where did they learn and practice skating before this mall opened? Interesting.  After sitting there for a while you will notice your body cooling off and the desire to throw yourself on the ice naked will thankfully go away.

4. Altabrisa Mall

At the Altabrisa Mall, you can just hang out along with everybody else and their perro who is in from the heat. I mention this mall and not the Gran Plaza mall as it seems the Gran Plaza mall has air conditioning issues and so is not nearly as fresh and refreshing as Altabrisa is, the mall of the moment. There is a Starbucks and also a Haagen Dazs café if you are feeling the need to be seen spending an inordinate amount of money on a beverage.

5. Starbucks

Speaking of Starbucks, there are several of these around Merida now and are a somewhat more cozy option than the OXXO convenience store concept discussed above. It’s like being in someone’s (someone well off) living room: nice music, nice people, nice temperature and good coffee. You’ll spend money on your coffee but you will be guaranteed a good cup of coffee. To the people not from Merida – you know who you are – who whine that Starbucks is killing the local coffee culture, I laugh out loud at your ignorance of the crap we had to drink before Starbucks came to down.

6. The Casa Montejo Museum

If you are in dire need of a blast of ice all over your body and are on the main square, you can pay a visit, ostensibly to get a little culture, to the Casa de Montejo museum. Unless it’s a Monday, you will be able to visit the former home of one of the Franciscos de Montejo and while pretending to enjoy looking at furniture and wallpaper from the 1500′s and 1600′s, you can be sucking in icy cool air. That place is kept as cool as a Pappa’s Steakhouse meat locker and it feels great. Afterwards, pop across the square for a sherbet at the Sorbeteria Colon, where you can frost your insides with a creamy scoop of coconut ice cream.

Uxmal. What if?

rising is dangerous photo

Rising is dangerous. Really? Physically rising? Socially aspirational rising?

If you visit Uxmal on a regular basis, showing off this wonderful site to visitors and friends, you may perhaps have a few questions as I do. Criticizing is of course, bad and we wouldn’t want to affect anyone’s self-esteem or God forbid offend anyone, so let’s just ask some hypothetical “what if” questions:

  1. What if: When you arrived at Uxmal there was a welcoming smile at the ticket booth and not the burned out, Mr. Grumpy that currently received visitors who wait patiently in line?
  2. What if: The federal and state authorities were to make a leap of faith, move into the 21st century and trust modern computer and accounting software to divide the entry fee so that visitors could pay one ticket and not lineup for two separate tickets, sold side by side by two employees at two separate desks with two separate cash floats and to be punched by two separate employees at two separate ticket-punching stations? This archaic system works well for the government agencies involved, but is the purpose of Uxmal to benefit the government agencies and their accounting or is it to delight the visitor?
  3. What if: You could buy the ticket to enter Uxmal in less than 2 minutes? If there more than 4 people waiting, you can easily spend 10 minutes in the two lineups to get your two tickets from the two employees in the two windows.
  4. What if: If you did have to wait, you could do so in the shade? If larger groups are in line to buy their tickets, you will stand in the baking April sun thinking “is it really worth it?” while you feel trickles of sweat running down the small of your back. The employees are in the shade and so good for them. What about the visitors? Could they not at least have a canopy of some sort to stop them from literally burning? Would this not make their experience better?
  5. What if: You could choose the best guide and not the one whose turn it is? Some guides are better than others, some speak English better than others and some are better with children. But you can’t choose because there is a system in place that makes you take the next guide in line. Great for the guides – and I love them all – but is the visit to Uxmal about the guides having a fair distribution of clients, or is it about the visitor’s experience?
  6. What if: They actually hired someone who spoke English to translate the signs warning people of the dangers in climbing the ruins and respecting the structures? Signs like “not sit” and “rising is dangerous” are toe-curling embarrassments to those of us who live here and take away from the magnificence of Uxmal. Hiring someone’s cousin who speaks no English to translate the signs obviously benefited someone – wink, wink – but how does this impact the visitor’s experience?

What if the powers that be considered the visitors experience when they arrive in the Yucatan instead of spending millions of pesos on snazzy brochures and costly junkets to tourism fairs to promote the states attractions? Doesn’t magnificent Uxmal and all its grandeur deserve more than just to act as a cash cow for inefficient bureaucracies interested only in self-preservation? Ask yourself these “what if” questions on your next visit to Uxmal and think about how much better it could be. Is this the hospitality we want to show our guests when they arrive in the Yucatan? Yucatecans are famous for their hospitality. Is this really as good as we can be?