Category Archives: Life in the Yucatan

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

Brown People

There is and always has been a palpable racist element in this country and you will see, in the hundreds of interactions the well-to-do Mexican upper classes have with their supposed inferiors, a total disregard for these browner versions of themselves.

Look around. You will see it everywhere.

Privileged kids at private school
dropping wrappers and plastic bottles
Brown People

Dirty dishes in the sink
greasy pots and pans
Brown People

Enemas and bandages
bedpans and injections
Brown People

The Lincoln on Montejo
garbage out the window
Brown People

The traffic accident
blue lights flashing
Brown People

The Barbie Mom
coffee after the gym
Brown People

Babies in strollers
families at the mall
Brown People

The busy executive
car at the valet
Brown People

Gym workout
towels, wrappers, water everywhere
Brown People

The children’s party
the piñata bursts open
Brown People

The drug war rages
who to fight the cartels
Brown People

Fortunes made
henequen industry families
Brown People

A stray shopping cart
supermarket parking lot
Brown People

Political unrest
thugs beating up citizens
Brown People

Morning TV show
the silver-toothed buffoon
Brown People

Hacienda Cacao – A Little Slice of History

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On my forays into the Yucatan as part of the work I do with my touring company Lawson’s Original Yucatan Excursions, I try to poke my head into whatever mysterious or interesting site I can find, including the many haciendas both restored and abandoned that are so liberally sprinkled across the peninsula. This is a little bit of history of one of those haciendas.

On the way to San Antonio Mulix, home to several cenotes including ones used in scenes for the famous Mexican telenovela Abismo de Pasión, one must necessarily drive through another village, a former hacienda simply called Cacao.

Cacao is a strange name for a Yucatecan hacienda, since cacao was not really a product produced in any significant commercial form on the haciendas, which originally started as farms for livestock and some grew cotton, sugar cane and other products, before all turning to henequen (sisal) production in the early, mid and late 1800’s in an effort to cash in on the boom that made the Yucatan home to more millionaires per capita than anywhere in the world at that time.

On one such drive-by, with the enthusiastic approval of similarly curious guests, I stopped to explore the chapel, which is still intact (as opposed to the rest of the hacienda which is completely and utterly in ruins) to admire and photograph the original stain glass windows and high ceilings. The chapel is still used by the catholics in the village to this day, with a visiting priest performing the corresponding duties. On the floor, I photographed the plaques commemorating the people from the hacienda that had died over the years.

As I was reviewing the photos, I noticed that one of the plaques indicated that the deceased person had been ‘assassinated at the hacienda Cacao’ in August of 1924 (see photo below)

Assassinated! Really...

Assassinated! Really…

Now this is highly unusual. Normally, these plaques give us a name and date of death and not much else and so I immediately wanted to learn more.

It turns out that this hacienda, was the property of the Ponce de Leon family, the surname I associate with Florida, having seen it in Miami many times. This branch, here in the Yucatan, at one point dropped the ‘de Leon’ suffix and became simply the Ponce family, whose members to this day are movers and shakers in the Yucatan economy. The owner of the hacienda, one Jose Luis Ponce Solis, was part of the ruling elite in the 1920’s and in addition to the usual henequen production common to all haciendas at the time, was the founder of  Yucatan’s first brewery, Cerveceria Yucateca, for which he brought a German beer expert over from Deutschland to get it right. He also founded a chocolate factory and another company dedicated to the manufacture of ice.

A little more digging and I found the information I was looking for. In 1924, when tensions were running high between Felipe Carrillo’s socialists and liberal conservatives, a group of outlaws under the command of famous ‘bandit’ and personal friend of then-governor Iturralde Traconis, Braulio Euán, entered the hacienda and killed the caretaker, his wife and 20 workers as well. I suspect that the Francisco Yam on the plaque was either the caretaker or one of those 20 people killed on that fateful day in August, 1924.

We often find ourselves driving through half-forgotten villages, past crumbling buildings or under giant trees; unaware that these are all silent witnesses to a slowly disappearing history that is, as so often is the case in human history, tragic.

The Casual Restaurant Critics Re-Visits Merci

It seems amazing that THREE YEARS have gone by since the Critic first tried breakfast at Merci! It has, in the interim, become a definite go-to place not only for the delicious breakfasts but also the very good lunch offerings.

Merci

You can read the previous mentions of Merci here. And for some more photos of the menu items off the breakfast menu, here.

This mini-review is just to keep the Critics’ faithful seven readers up to date and in the loop, in case you are not, on the latest and greatest at Merci.

Owner Regina has been busy making changes both to the menu and to her operation, and has expanded the locale to make it a bit larger, thanks to demand from her loyal following. The changes are palpable, as the service has become more professional, the ambience is more relaxed and seems less stressed (due to her amazing success) and the menu features new and tasty options.

It remains a top choice for breakfast and lunch and is an excellent spot to have a meal if you are in the northern part of the city, doing your non-colonial Merida errands. 🙂

Enjoy the photos, from a recent lunch visit with the always charming Better Half!

Interior shot

Seared tuna tostadas

Fish of the day – spectacular!

Salad

That’s pork belly. Can’t beat pork belly

Pear crumble could have been better with a more tart fruit to offset the sweet

Casual Restaurant Critic visits La Gloria Cantinera

img_5007In the strangely named Plaza Mangus, which is home to several culinary offerings including the heavily overpriced and nothing special yet somehow still around Tony Roma’s, there is a new restaurant that the Critic can recommend highly, based on now two visits.

Located in the space once occupied by the Bodeguita and directly across from Los Trompos at City Center, La Gloria Cantinera is a cantina run by the folks who own La Recova and it is a quality operation from the food to the service to the actual room.

The guacamole presented in a molcajete is excellent, as are the spiced tostadas accompanying the fresh and zesty salsas, served tiny stone pots. Anything pork has proven to be outstanding including the chamorro cooked with mezcal, the slab of ribs with a hint of spice cooked to tender perfection and the chicharron which makes an appearance here and there. The sirloin tacos with tuetano (bone marrow) are fantastic, the tortillas are hand made, the cucumber lemonade is a great non-alcoholic drink and the salmon tostadas that the critic tried on this visit were amazing.

The churro cart for dessert is not only original, it’s contents are amazingly addictive. Have them take those crispy sugary treats before you eat them all, which you might, and then regret as your stomach protests. The churros are accompanied by three dipping sauces: berries, chocolate and Bailey’s. You have been warned.

Service is professional, cordial and the way it should be – attentive but not intrusive.

This restaurant may well be on the Critic’s short list of best places to eat in Merida, based on the experiences had so far!

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Casual Restaurant Critic, sans new pants, reviews Petit Delice

The German part of the Casual Restaurant Critic feels it is important to have an afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen. If you have traveled to the land of the kraut (sauerkraut that is) you know what this custom is all about.

After a heavy meal the other day, the Critic wanted a good cup of coffee and Petit Delice has one of the best coffees in town, bar none. Along with their excellent coffee and tea selections, they feature some real French-style pastries that are out of this world.

The local bible, el Diario de Yucatan, did an article on them a while back, for those of you capable of reading en español:

Abren un rincón de estilo francés

The café, a little piece of France in Merida, is located on that awful and congested avenida that runs from El Pocito to City Center (Walmart) near the periferico, with it’s hundreds of small L-shaped plazas full of businesses that will probably fail sooner than later, due to the sheer volume of commercial offerings.

Enjoy the photos – this place is highly recommended!

Pastries that taste as good as they look

Pastries that taste as good as they look

Calm, subdued atmosphere

Calm, subdued atmosphere

The lamps are beautiful

The lamps are beautiful

Pavlova

Pavlova

The best coffee (this is a latte) in town

The best coffee (this is a latte) in town

Perennial favorite - lemon tart

Perennial favorite – lemon tart

Yum

Yum

 

The End of the ‘Temporada’ in Yucatan

If you have lived in the Yucatan for any length of time, you know that every good Yucatecan looks forward to the summer vacations at the beach, known simply as “la temporada”. While the term “temporada” literally means ‘season’ a word that is of special significance to hunters when combined with the word rabbit, duck, deer or moose; or that special time of the year when those of us past a certain age used to play marbles. In the Yucatan, the word has a special meaning and that is: summer vacations. Plans for what one is going to do during the upcoming ‘temporada’ can be started as early as January, when looking at the upcoming year on the calendar; it is a big deal here.

And, at the end of August, when Sams Club and Costco in Merida have already set up displays with plastic made-in-China Santa Clauses and inflatable snowmen, the temporada comes to an end and the locals pack everything up and head back to the city.

No more afternoon sunset-watching, cool drink in hand, while the kids walk the beach for kilometers on end. No more afternoons of entertaining visitors from Merida or beyond with fresh fried fish from the local fishermen and junk food galore to snack on. No more morning jogs on the beach, lazy afternoons with the kids on a boat or pre-dawn wake up calls to go fishing. The beginning of another school year means that Moms – and the occasional enlightened Dad – will be lining up at Merida papelerias like Burrel to buy their school supplies and books if they haven’t already done so for their children and you can’t do those things if you are still at the beach.

For the well-off, who have vacationed in Chicxulub, Uaymitun, Telchac and points further out, jet-skis and motorized beach vehicles are hosed off (by the help of course) and stowed on trailers, to be towed back to Merida behind luxury pickup trucks and minivans where they will be stored in the garage until the next beach break, usually Easter in April the following year. Boats of all sizes are taken to marinas to be taken care of by someone else. Leftover food, alcohol, hammocks and clothing will be loaded into the aforementioned minivans by sullen muchachas to be unloaded by same once they arrive back in the city.

Here’s a socio-cultural aside: most muchachas hate the temporada as it means much more work than usual what with all the sand being tracked in on an hourly basis and the constant arrival and departure of relatives and friends. Plus they can’t get back to their pueblos as easily from the beach on their (few) days off and don’t enjoy any of the beach activities as these are completely foreign to them, never having learned to swim or to appreciate a good ceviche or pescado frito.

For the less economically blessed, plastic chairs, remaining food items and TV’s will be crammed into and onto smaller, less-luxurious vehicles and will, with their owners holding onto rooftop items with their fingertips, also be transported back to Merida.

Both socio-economic groups use the same garbage disposal system, which involves throwing supermarket bags of accumulated trash on to roadside temporary “dumps” which make for a delightful visual treat for many weeks to come.

At the beach, restaurants and businesses that had moved their operations to the coast for the duration will shutter doors, unplug refrigerators and return everything movable back to Merida. The futbolitos, those popular tables with little plastic soccer players that every Yucatecan teen and pre-teen spends an inordinate amount of time at during the evenings to flirt with the opposite sex will be packed up and moved to an upcoming fair or put in storage. Local businesses, the ones that are on the beach year-round, will reduce their staff and count the pesos they made during the temporada, which will probably be just enough (but not quite, they will assure you) to tide them over until the next group of vacationers – the notoriously frugal snowbirds from Canada and the northeastern states – arrive in the fall to spend their winters in warmer climes and spread around what little money they bring with them. Beach houses themselves are closed up in preparation for long term emptiness, unless they are on the rental market for the afore-mentioned snowbirds, in which case they are only partially stripped as a caretaker will probably remain on site to keep things up and running.

All that packing, storing, towing and hauling activity comes democratically together in a sea of vehicles on the Progreso-Merida highway, thankfully now 4 lanes wide most of the way.  Traffic to Merida, in the last daylight hours of the last Sunday of the last weekend of the temporada, is usually a nightmare, especially on the stretches from Uaymitun to Progreso and Chelem to the Progreso-Merida highway as there are only two lanes and one lane, respectively, as the upper class and the middle and lower classes converge. 23 years ago, when there was one lane out to Progreso and one lane back to Merida, this last day’s traffic was literally bumper to bumper for the entire 20 kilometer drive with exasperated drivers looking for free asphalt on shoulders and passing dangerously at every opportunity.

Upon arriving in Merida, temporadistas are welcomed by the flashing blue and red lights of many police patrol vehicles and face the final hurdle of getting into the city and home, where washing machines and empty refrigerators stand ready to process sand-encrusted towels and receive plastic containers of leftovers.

A sense of relief mixed with nostalgia washes over many. But, the temporada has officially ended and it’s time to get back to the regular routine of life in Merida.

Picking Your Wedding Music – The Dinner

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If you have been to a production-quality wedding in Merida, you know that it is a blow-out event, and in many cases, it seems that no expense is spared; the sheer volume of guests, tables and accoutrements making the “large” wedding North of the Border (NOB) of 80 people or so seem like a children’s party in comparison.

Besides the catered meal (in Merida, Rigel is your best option), the photography, the flowers, and the ‘hall’ which in the Yucatan is much more than that: a former plantation or hacienda could be the venue or perhaps one of the social clubs like the Campestre or Libanés which are also popular for those who don’t feel like driving out into the countryside in the dark.

The music, which is the topic of today’s article is also a make or break part of any wedding event and you can choose from a DJ or a live band, of which there are many, some better than others. At the time of this writing, Grupo Crack (honest, that’s their name) is among the latter group with vocalists that not only have great range and sing in tune, but also featuring an almost limitless range of musical genres from the ever-popular tropical cumbias to reggaeton and even – gasp – classic rock and disco numbers.

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Before the band or DJ swing into action, however, dinner is usually served and during that time, which is ideally suited to conversation and getting to know or reacquainting yourself with the folks around your table, the music ideally should be at a volume conducive to the aforementioned activity.

Options for this musical interlude include:

  • recorded music played at a moderate volume thus permitting one to converse without screaming across the table, with the ensuing potential for projectile food particle dispersion;
  • a juggler (kidding – this is not an option at a wedding)
  • a string quartet or similar acoustic and unamplified musical option, again allowing not only the all-important table conversation (you will leave your iPhone with these people after all when you hit the dance floor), but also enabling you to actually digest in a manner becoming civilized human beings, the food you are partaking of;
  • a saxophone player. Unfortunately the saxophone player, who plays with himself and his previously recorded background tracks, is the worst of any option, as I can attest to personally, having just suffered through an hour of over-amplified alto sax wailing that reminded me of Monty Pythons cheese shop sketch (“shut that bloody bouzouki player up!”), or perhaps an afternoon at the local goose farm, where gaggles of geese incessantly honk while you are trying to have a meal.

It was, in fact, a rather unpleasant musical sax intervention during dinner at an otherwise delightful wedding that  prompted this article. Fellow guests and I (and Better Half) could not believe that the screeching, out of tune and random notes being played at eardrum-piercing volume along with pre-recorded backing tracks ranging from Metallica (really) to Celine Dion (naturally) was intended to make the guests dining experience more pleasant. The effect of this musical masturbation, a term I invented for musicians who play and receive enjoyment themselves at the expense of their audience, is mind numbing and heart palpitation inducing. You will want to get up at some point and stuff a floral centerpiece into his instrument or simply shoot him.

If you are planning a wedding and have the usual large production in mind, please think of your guests and do not, I repeat, do NOT include a sax player for your dinner interlude music. Your guests will love you and thank you for it.

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Chichen Itza – Random Imagery

A menagerie of tourists
wandering herds of pampered human flesh
bright white sneakers, tomato-red faces, tank tops with sunburnt arms dangling

scrawny brown vendors en masse
hogging shady trees,
waving shiny trinkets, “Juan Dolla!”

weary, burnt-out guides
in mirrored sunglasses, white guayaberas washed to the point of transparency
“now look over here, my friends” ad nauseum

wrinkled wizened face
the ancient tiny Mayan lady’s sad eyes
“hankie 10 pesos” her only English

sweaty lineups
crowded bathrooms and overpriced ice cream shops
tourists in heat-exhausted stupors, indifferent employees

“hat my friend, hat my friend”
brown woman ignored by the pale masses
climbing the stairs to their overheated destiny

flocks of silver buses
motors racing, air conditioners on high
parked, waiting for their victims to return, the driver snoring in his undershirt

Wonder of the World
Chichen Itza Disney-fied
and cash cow to the government