Category Archives: Life in the Yucatan

The good, the bad and the ugly. Telling it like I see it for over 10 years now.

Camino de las Flores – Parque de la Paz

On this site of the old penitentiary, in a park called the Park of Peace, there is a display of flowers happening that might be worth a visit if you are interested in flowers. The display has been presented in the form of an original design that incorporates Mayan cosmology and the personal vision of its creator, Martin Ramirez.

Eugenia Morales and Martin Ramirez – photo Maru Medina

Martin and his wife Eugenia Morales, both agricultural engineers, started what was then a novel idea back in 1994: opening the city’s first exotic plant store in Merida’s first world-class mall, the Gran Plaza. Since then they have moved on to larger projects. This current project, one of only three in all of Mexico has been done in conjunction with the municipal government of Merida.

An interesting fact that should be considered when taking in this bounty of color: each plant had to be selected according to the time that the flowers would appear, in order to achieve all the colors at the same time, not an easy feat.

The exhibit opens at 9 AM and is a good morning activity, which can be combined with a posterior (or prior) visit to the nearby Santiago market for breakfast.

Some photos of my very recent visit to the Camino de las Flores:

 

 

Speaking of Traffic: what’s your route and how long does it take?

Merida is not the charming small city it once was. Being the safest place in the country, close to international destinations by air and with things like queso relleno to eat, the city has attracted folks from all over, growing exponentially in the last few decades. Architects and construction companies in cahoots with indifferent and self-serving politicians delight in destroying the little green we have left and replacing it with heat-absorbing concrete and cement fraccionamientos and malls. So many malls. Parks? Nah. Not profitable, so no one cares about those. Climate? Buy air conditioning.

Again I digress. Back to the subject of traffic.

In the interest of science and traffic technology, it would be interesting to see what routes people are taking and how long does it take to complete these routes.

For example, my personal longest and most frustrating trip was from Calle 21 in Chuburna to the Altabrisa mall. This relatively short-distance jaunt turned into a 45 minutes nightmare odyssey of stop lights, topes and slinking bumper to bumper traffic. Thank goodness for podcasts, as Terry Gross was able to calm my increasing desire to unload a shotgun on those around me.

What about you? Perhaps one or more of the 19 readers currently reading this blog could chime in on their favorite (sarcasm) routes and the time it took them. And anything remarkable along the way that might have ocurred.

Thanks!

Back to Basics – The Neurotic Foreigner

Inspired perhaps by listening to George Carlin reading his book, or my growing impatience as I get older, or the restrictions put on my free speech in an increasingly politically correct world, I feel the urge to let loose a little.

This post will perhaps remind early readers of my neurotic ramblings from over 15 years ago, when this blog morphed out of a print version of my thoughts, both positive and negative, on life in the formerly white city of Merida. For my Yucatecan readers, those who know me will acknowledge that not everything is perfect in this great city and those who don’t know me, will tell me to go home and worse. To the former, thank you for your realism, to the latter, go suck on an habanero chile: I am home thank you very much.

There are some important traffic routes in the city of Merida, of which I will address two, having just traversed the city from one end to the other on a Saturday: the avenida Jacinto Canek and the Prolongacion del Paseo de Montejo, both of which are a goddamn mess. One is named after a Mayan revolutionary, the other after the illustrious Spaniards that thought it would be cool to tear down the remains of the Mayan T’ho and build their version of a Merida in the new world. Both are congested disasters in terms of traffic flow and city planning.

First of all, there are no lanes. Three lanes become four, then two and then four again, without any warning and without any order whatsoever. Cars jostle for position and swing right and left, driven by people who apparently have received their driver’s license from a box of Choco-Krispis and without the faintest notion of how to operate a motor vehicle. If you are driving in a left lane, you will suddenly find yourself in a lane that is exclusively for left turns, no warnings. You, and a hundred other cars behind and in front of you, will then try to move into a right or center lane, avoiding the cars flying up alongside you and actually accelerating to prevent you from getting unstuck. Old people, older than me even, will straddle two lanes, completely oblivious to the concept of a lane and perhaps in their minds they are still in 1950, when traffic was much lighter and you could get away with such idiotic driving.

There are crosswalks, with their paint completely faded away, waiting for some brave soul to attempt a crossing; there are also raised pedestrian crosswalks that force you to come to an almost complete stop so as not to destroy your suspension. Interestingly, these are nothing more than elongated speed bumps or topes, since the crosswalks lead from one side of the street to a partially treed median, where there is no crosswalk and from where you are on your own, as there is no crosswalk leading from the median to the other side of the street. Who are the mentally-challenged city planners who come up with these designs, I wonder, as I ease my car over yet another giant obstacle in the road. Having any sort of clue is not a requirement for their taxpayer-funded positions, it seems.

Interestingly, the one place where there SHOULD be a raised crosswalk or – mínimo – some yellow paint, is on 60, at the Tecnologico. Here, students are constantly running across the street without any bumps to slow down traffic. I always marvel at the fact that nothing has been done here, when other streets feature these suspension-rattlers so prominently and in less-trafficked locations.

Turn signals on vehicles driven by the afore-mentioned Choco Krispi license holders are unused and vehicles sashay from left to right and right to left, the drivers left guessing as to where the lanes might be, as paint is obviously in very short supply and so whatever lane marker was painted a month ago has now been washed away

Traffic policemen, who may or may not have ever driven a vehicle of their own, direct traffic in such a way as to further make life miserable for everyone else, creating bottlenecks and traffic jams beyond anyone sane’s worst nightmare. The traffic lights, untimed and randomly switching from green to red and taking at least a thousand years to change, create further lines and congestion.

It can take you a solid 45 minutes to drive from say, 47 street and Montejo to the roundabout at Chedraui Selecto and the Gran Plaza mall. This roundabout, created by the same mindless planners as those in charge of the crosswalk tope, is a two and a half lane affair, funneling traffic from 5 lanes back into 4 to where Cordemex meets Costco. Then there is a further delight once you pass Liverpool and head into what is the area around the newest monster-mall name Via Montejo/The Harbor, where you will find a traffic light on a 3 lane road that does not align at all with the 3 lanes you will be taking once you get through the traffic light. If you are in the left lane, you must then force your way right and make that person in the middle lane also move to his or her right, often accompanied by much handwaving and horn honking. The engineers who design these roads should really face a firing squad for their complete and utter ineptitude.

There are more cases like these, of course.

In el centro there are plenty of one-way streets, where you will be happily driving along when suddenly you see oncoming traffic and realize that for a half-block section, the street has unbeknownst to you become a two-way affair.

On the Itzaes avenue, also called Avenida Aviacion or the street where the trannies gather at night, the same lane challenges and lack of paint make driving a treat.

I thank you, dear reader, for allowing me to get this off my chest. Happy and safe driving out there!

 

Highlights from the Club Sibarita Festival Gastronomico 2019

The Critic and his Better Half bought tickets for several culinary events for this year’s version of Club Sibarita’s Festival Gastronomico 2019, the third such festival in Merida and now recognized nationally as an event worth attending. Chefs from all over Mexico (including Merida of course) and places further afield are in attendance, showcasing their talents with exquisite creations for attendees to swoon over.

Events at Pueblo Pibil in Tixcocob, Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca in Merida and the Hacienda Xcanatun were packed and the food was truly amazing. It made for some very late nights, and often the Critic and BH were home around 1 in the morning, full of great food and excellent wine courtesy of Casa Madero.

Enjoy some photos of the highlights of the events! First up: Pueblo Pibil, in Tixcocob for a leisurely and delectable lunch. Click on the photos to make them grow magically.

Next stop: Hacienda Xcanatun for the Fine Dining signature Sibarito event.

Lastly, Taste the Best at Altozano:

Public Transportation Prices Drop, Uxmal and Chichen Prices Rise

The powers that be have decided (link at the bottom of the page) that a drop in the price of your local bus ticket is warranted and starting February 16 the price will drop from 8 pesos to 7.50. This represents a huge saving of course for those using the buses, and those 50 centavos will be put to good use elsewhere in the family expense budget.

But wait. Have you ever seen a 50 centavo coin?

There are several versions of this cute coin from Mexico’s glorious past kicking around; little silver-colored things made of some worthless metal that range in size from tiny to microscopic. If you have ever tried, you know that picking one of them up off the ground or floor is a geriatric nightmare. Plus, who actually uses them anymore? Do you really think that when you pay your bus fare with a 10 peso coin you are going to get 2 pesos back AND that 50 centavos coin too? That bus driver, already overworked and underpaid for his 12-hour shift, is going to be very pleased to provide this extra service.

Maybe they will have a redondeo, OXXO-style, to benefit some charitable organization that exists only in the minds of its creator.

Enjoy the new bus fares, everyone!

Meanwhile, the Yucatan’s archeological sites are getting a makeover as new tariffs are introduced, doubling the current entry fee price for visitors. Expect huge and amazing changes as the sites are upgraded. Uxmal, a UNESCO World Heritage site, might even get phone service in 2019!

Just kidding. Of course, there will be no improvements forthcoming. All that money will go the way of the Elton John concert money, for which there was little to no accounting and whose destiny is a mystery still, years later.

Besides the huge increase to see the Mayan sites in the state of Yucatan (one of the few states in the country to charge people an additional entry fee along with the INAH ticket) the folks in the hallowed halls of government have also decided that since people don’t have anywhere else to park their cars, buses, and vans, it would be a grand idea to raise the price there as well.

Parking at one of the sites – and there are no other options for leaving your car anywhere nearby – has gone up by 167% from a symbolic 30 pesos to a whopping 80 pesos. And it’s not like it’s an incentive to use some sort of alternative transportation system to get to Uxmal or Chichen (or Ek Balam or Dzibilchaltun) because there is none.

 

Things are going swimmingly. Happy 2019!

https://sipse.com/novedades-yucatan/gobierno-mauricio-vila-dosal-disminuye-precio-camiones-merida-323741.html

Have you heard of DIEZ DIEZ?

Diez Diez is a new boutique hotel offering that is in the works just a block off Paseo de Montejo. The kickstart party to the construction which is underway as you read this was at the end of January. Some music, some drinks and some classy snacks from chef Roberto Solis (Nectar, Orori et al) made for an interesting evening, meeting the project founders, architects and promoters.

Should be interesting – stay tuned!

 

The Casual Restaurant Critics visits Piñuela

The room

It’s a been on the list for a while, but Piñuela, in the heart of the ‘centro’ restaurant scene and in its high-visibility location on the corner of 60 and 57, has never been visited by the Critic.

Until last night. With the always charming and elegant Better Half, the Critic met up with some folks for dinner at this establishment, run by the folks who founded Ku’uk.

The room is pretty enough, but the Critic couldn’t decide if the feel was casual or formal or perhaps casual-formal? The food and settings look elegant, while the television screens showing a Fox Sports futbol match along with lively tropical music are reminiscent of a different ambiance altogether.

Everyone was happy with their meal; the catch of the day, short ribs, octopus and a steak. There was nothing over-the-top that made the Critic’s eyes pop out or achieve the coveted mouthgasm. The food was good, and the presentation of each dish attractive.

Where the restaurant really fell down, in the Critic’s opinion at least, was the service. There was no welcome or host, per se. Waiters and cooks wave you in and when a reservation is mentioned to the world-weary and clearly bored waiter, he simply nods and continues to wave his arm at the empty restaurant. ‘Sit wherever’ is the motto.

The menus are brought over, no drink orders are taken. After requesting it, the drink menu is brought to the table, the waiter leaves. The Critic at this point has had enough of the dragging-his-feet-I’m-so-bored waiter and asks another waiter to wait. Which he does. Critic has to call the second waiter over to get a drink order going. No sales pitch, no attempt to create interest in anything on the drink menu. He literally waits on Critic and BH, to make a decision that is. This second waiter is of the tail-between-the-legs-I’m-not-going-to-the-table-in-case-they-ask-me-something variety. He approaches the table – when called over of course – as an abused animal at the shelter might crawl towards you on his belly to get a pat on the head.

After dinner and the plates cleared, the Critic once again signals for the waiter, who is waiting in the wings, to come over and ask the table about wanting desserts. Which the waiter does and tells everyone what’s on the menu. No use asking which is his favorite, he might flinch. One of everything is ordered and soon our slinky second waiter arrives with the dessert selection. Is coffee offered? Nope.

The service was so distracting that it became a focus of the evening. With decent but nothing special food and this kind of attention, the Critic won’t be back any time soon, especially with so many better options now around in El Centro of Merida.

Food photos below.

Catch of the day

Pulp aka octopus

Shortribs, risotto

Steak

Marquesitas dessert

Creme Brulee

Chocolate cake

Cheesecake

 

 

Casual Restaurant Critic at Las Meras

Las Meras (pescadillas) is a place the Critic “discovered” (kind of like those white Europeans “discovering” the American continent)  since it already existed. Anyway, the Critic walked into this place ‘green’ which is kind of like making a cold call in sales, when you don’t really know what you are getting into.

For starters, it is fishy, and those pescadillas are quesadillas or empanadas filled with – wait for it – fish. There are also camaroncillas, which are stuffed with shrimp. You get the drift. Someone thought it would be clever, one supposes. The music is Juan Luis Guerra and the chairs and tables are real wood with a Corona stamp on them. The Critic considers this a good sign as he hates the more ubiquitous white plastic or its’ trashy Coca Cola red counterpart.

As the only person in the place, the Critic receives a menu and decides to stay. Asking about the seafood broth, the wait person promptly offers to bring out a little to try. And it is good; more tomato-y than the broth yesterday at Micaela but very satisfying.

The pesca and camaron thingadillas are fine, but fresh out of the deep frier, they are so damn hot that the Critic burns his lower lip as the steaming contents burst out and spill onto chin and plate. This hasn’t happened since the Critic was 7, so it’s a really memorable event for sure.

There is an array of home-made sauces to squirt on your tacos and such, in those nasty plastic squirty bottles that invariably are sticky and have bits of residue on the tips. Note to restaurant owners: get rid of these damn things already. You don’t know where that stickiness comes from and the dried bits at the tops of the bottles are just gross. The Critic abstained from adding any of these probably delicious sauces to his piping hot pescadilla.

The food is not expensive and it is tasty, if you are in the area or waiting on your car being washed at the VW dealership car wash. Location is on their Facebook page (link on their name at the top of the article)

Interior of the restaurant

Complimentary ceviche to start

You see the problem with these sauces

One is stuffed with fish, the other with shrimp. Hot as hell, these little mofos.

Marisco soup. This is a great hangover cure.

 

 

Feria de la Chicharra in Xcalachen – Photos

Xcalachen (sh-cala-CHEN) is a neighborhood in Merida’s economically challenged southern half, where the real estate folks advise against buying anything as your property values might not as appreciate as quickly as an investment on the northern side of the Plaza Grande.

Once known for its many chicharronerias or chicharra (pork cracklin’s) stalls, the neighborhood, directly next to Merida’s cemetery, fell victim to decay and the lack of economic opportunity. Now, the neighborhood is coming back to life thanks to the efforts of residents and municipal authorities who have reinstated the colonias most famous product: the chicharra.

In addition, there are many colorful and quite beautiful murals throughout the neighborhood, another effort to spruce it up and make it somewhat of a tourist attraction. Interestingly they are not just great art plastered on an available space, but each painting actually has something to do with the owners of the home or wall where they reside.

Today, November 24th, there was another edition of the Feria de la Chicharra, where pork rinds, fried pork belly, local blood sausage, and a stuffed haggis-like delicacy called buche relleno.

A live band was playing cumbias and other tropical hits while the crowds – and many many policemen from Merida’s municipal police department – filled the streets, munching happily on their cholesterol-laden heart-attack-inducing snacks. The mayor of Merida was also on hand, taking many photos with fans and dragging behind him a large and persistent press entourage.

Enjoy the photos – this is what the walk-through looked like today, from murals to pork to politicos, in chronological order 🙂

Hanal

Pixan

The lineup went out the door, on the right

Sour orange, salad and all the ‘fixins’ for your pork rind needs

A cornucopia of heart-stopping goodness

Face painting for the kids too

Merida’s illustrious mayor

Closeup of the Pedro Infante mural

Pedro Infante

Pedro Infante

The mayor and his press entourage

Buche relleno

Detail

Simple and clean

The flaking paint make this deer look almost luminous

Amazing street art!

Cardenal

Kimbomba – traditional Yucatan children’s game

 

A Stay in one of Merida’s ‘Better’ Clinics – Clínica de las Americas

One of the most popular questions retiring expats have when researching a new place to call home, is the availability and quality of medical care in the potential new place of residence. Merida, being so popular, is no exception and a quick look around shows that medical care is generally pretty good in the formerly white city, with hospitals such as the Clínica Mérida, Star Médica and CMA (Centro Médico Las Americas) in the forefront, along with several smaller clinics and those serving the masses through the IMSS system with their long lineups, horrific bureaucracy and significantly less-than-five-star service.

In today’s rant, I am going to point out a few details that I have noticed thanks to a necessary and prolonged stay at the CMA by a beloved family member. Remember, this is one of the city’s better hospitals.

First of all, when you arrive, you will be greeted by a street that is trash-strewn, bumpy and a sidewalk that will present you with the very distinct possibility of breaking an ankle or fracturing a femur, should you fall into one of the many holes or cracks, or trip over the irregular sidewalk unions from one property to the next. In other words, should you survive your illness or are done with your doctor’s appointment and are able to leave, you just might fall and break a hip on the sidewalk outside, which, I suppose, is a handy place for that to happen.

On the side streets, many CMA affiliated clinics and other services abound. One service offers “mobility care” featuring a prominent drawing of a wheelchair on their facade. Interestingly, their minuscule parking lot means that cars are parked blocking the crooked and dilapidated sidewalk completely, making it necessary for anyone traversing this stretch of street to actually roll his or her wheelchair into the street and traffic. Amazing.

Should you enter the Clinica Las Americas through their ‘Urgencias’ (emergency) doors, with it’s tiny entrance for an ambulance that is frequently blocked by taxis, you will be greeted with paint-challenged walls and the words “soap” and “water” come to mind almost immediately. It gets worse inside the small area where emergency patients are treated or evaluated. While the doctors come and go in Mercedes and Audis, the patients are definitely in their own third world experience.

To check in, it is necessary to give your personal information as you would in any hospital admittance procedure. Enjoy your time here, as this is the most attractive space in the entire complex. The patient is then wheeled from the emergency area with its cadaverous white lighting and stained walls, to a room, this one called a ‘standard’ room, which is only a slight improvement over the emergency holding area.

A friend who had the need to visit the hospital described as a kind of throwback to a 1960’s American motel. The vinyl furniture surrounding the hospital bed, the awful lighting, the decor such as it is, all are reminiscent of another time and place.

The nurses, who seem to change shifts every 6 hours or so and a new group comes in to do their checking and medicating, mention that is suggested or rather imperative, that a family member of friend spend the night with the patient. This is apparently to inform the nurses if something should go wrong. Do not make the mistake of running to the nurse’s station in the night after waking up from your uncomfortable snooze on the rock hard vinyl bench that poses as a bed, IN BARE FEET as you will get an earful from the nurse on duty about not wearing footwear in the hallway. Bring flip-flops.

The nurses range from clinical to efficient to friendly to chatty. Like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates analogy, you never know which kind you are going to get, except for the head nurse, who is obviously the pro and knows her way around a bedpan like nobody’s business. She is also not afraid to point out that she is working a double shift because she can’t make ends meet, thereby somewhat subliminally making you aware of the time-honored Mexican custom of tipping the nurses, preferably the head nurse first.

Occasionally groups of chatty nurses male and female will congregate in the hall outside the patient’s rooms, under the sign that says “favor de mantener silencio” and have a loud gigglefest. Should you pop your head out of the room and remind them to keep the noise down you will be met with a blank stare or two before they get what it is you are on about. They might even move elsewhere, if you’re lucky and look fierce enough.

Other details you might notice:

  • upon entering through the main doors, you will see a very modern reception area on your left. As mentioned above, this is where patients are admitted and it is the nicest part of the hospital, bar none. You will not see anything this nice again after finishing the paperwork. Straight in front of you is the little desk tucked under a stairwell in a masterstroke of architectural genius (the Cubbyhole School), where visitors to the hospital are ‘required’ to register. Often there is no one there, an open, ancient book open on the desktop. You can quite comfortably and without any trepidation completely ignore this desk and walk right in and stroll around, off the street. No worries. If you were a narco chieftain having your appendix out at this clinic, you should probably bring your own bodyguards because those sicarios from the other narco outfit can just waltz right in and wipe you (and the family member who is sleeping on the rock-hard vinyl bed contraption with you at night) out.
  • nurses and cleaning personnel are almost uniformly unfamiliar with the concept of doorknobs; the fact that turning the doorknob will make for a quieter door closing is something not taught in nursing school apparently. Each entry and exit is therefore accompanied by the relatively loud snapping of the door mechanism, making it so much more peaceful for the patient.
  • everything is childspeak in nurse-landia. Body parts such as brazos (arms) and piernas (legs) become bracitos and piernitas, cabezas (heads) become cabecitas and even medicamentos (medicines) become medicamentitos and so on. Urinating and defecating are referred to as pipí and popó, which is useful in making the patient feel less like an adult and more like a dependent child-creature, to be dealt with in a decidedly paternalistic way.
  • the building is fugly. Really, really ugly. Whoever designed this abomination should have his architecture license revoked. And so much has been added onto the original building that it is a maze of tiny corridors and weird stairways and badly lit hallways that join them all.

The city of Merida, boasting its cultural attractions, liveability and wonderful lifestyle, really needs to take a hard look at this hospital and its surroundings. Making the (probably rich since this is the whole point of a private clinic) owners fork over a few extra pesos to improve the area around the hospital as well as an overhaul of the facility itself to bring into the modern world, and not in the third world it is in now.

All in all, the medical care at Las Americas is decent and you will get better. Doctors are qualified as are the nurses and even with all the neurotic observations I have mentioned, it is a far cry from the horrors of hallway heart transplants at the public IMSS clinics. But it has a long – very long – way to go before even remotely resembling anything first-world.