Tag Archives: Life in the Yucatan

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.

Inside the La Isla Food Court – OnThai

At Merida’s second-newest (the newest being Via Montejo) monstrous shopping mega shopping mall, complete with a let’s-turn-Merida-into-Miami artificial lake, there are some shops now open and the food court is fully operational and worth a visit. The Critic is talking about La Isla at Cabo Norte.

It is a strange food court, in that all the locales, with the exception of a few at the entrance area, are owned by the same company, Distrito Gourmet. They all look alike: lots of black backgrounds with white lettering and yet, at the same time, different. There are tacos, sushi, Thai, steaks, pastas, but they are all under the same company umbrella. This was the info provided by one of the employees when asked why the sushi person was in the taco place and vice versa. Also, you can see the same company-labeled drinks in all the countertop refrigerators, like horchata, piña con chaya etc as well as the usual Cokes.

Speaking of those drinks, do not have the piña con chaya drink as it is quite horrendous, so artificial tasting that you might as well be drinking Fabuloso. The horchata is much more palatable. And if you do, notice the ingredients labels on the plastic bottles. Here are some photos so you can reach your own conclusions (it’s probably not even legal to have this lack of information on a food product but the Critic knows nothing about such things) regarding what’s in that drink:

That’s right, the ingredients are: water. Notice that they are also free of protein, fats and sodium. No sugar either. OK.

Anyway, back to the food.

The Critic and MiniCritic decided on Thai at OnThai for something different than the usual boring tacos. The one employee commented that he was the only one who had been trained in Thai cooking and was therefore working 12 hours a day, every day. Every day.  No days off. How a probably successful company (and the owners are probably doing very well thank you) can exploit an employee this badly in 2018 is beyond the Critic’s imagination, but again, what does he know about Mexican labor laws which look great on paper but are completely ignored in real life.

Back to the food.

The Critic ordered Pad Thai and the Mini-Critic a rice dish. As it turned out they were exactly the same: same ingredients (Mini-Critic chose shrimp and the Critic chicken) same sauce; they even looked the same. So much so that it wasn’t even worth it to take a photo of the rice. They were very tasty though and the Critic would probably go back to try something else from the limited menu of available items (about 8).

Hilarious non-related observation: there is a lifeguard watching the artificial lake.

Enjoy the photos and excuse all the ranting!

A pastry and dessert shop

Something healthy looking

Something Spanish

Pad Thai

Was it good? Yes!

 

Playa del Carmen for Tourists

The strange roof top pool at the weird but comfortable Reina Roja hotel in Playa del Carmen

Having just come back from a little overnight in Playa del Carmen after dropping off the kids at their hotel in Tulum, I thought I would share a few impressions from Playa – as folks around here call it because it’s too hard and time-consuming to actually say Playa del Carmen – from a visitors/slash neurotic foreigners (the original viewpoint of this blog when it started 20 years ago) point of view.

Playa is heavily policed

In the touristy part around the 5th avenue area, the police presence is massive. There are armed policemen at every intersection and at one spot that I saw, a tank-like armored vehicle that probably came from the US Army’s surplus after the Iraq invasion was successfully completed.

Since you hear a lot about the gangs, the narcos and the violence that has plagued the area, this dark undertone to all the happy people selling stuff on the street and the trendy restaurants and shops, should be reassuring and not threatening. How you will react is entirely up to you. And in spite of their rather intimidating aspecto, what with their bullet-proof vests, machine guns, and all-black uniforms, they seem friendly enough though and don’t mess with anyone.

The touts

Touts is one of those weird words that I have trouble writing, just because it sounds so 18th century. But apparently, that is the official word for those guys in the street, that are trying to get you to come into their (or a friends or employers) store along the Quinta Avenida.

Predominantly men, they pester each and every passerby, inviting them to come and see their cigars, their hats or their tours. If they are waving a plastic covered menu, it’s a restaurant they want you to try. And listen to their banter, which is incredibly original – “hey, I remember you” and funny (sarcasm). If any females walk by, you can be sure that they will have a #metoo moment and be ogled and commented on by the touts, who usually hang around in small groups. As a tourist you can ignore them completely and if you don’t understand Spanish, the better it is for you since you won’t know what crap it is they are spouting.

Discounts galore

Beyond the verbal sales pitches of “good price” “cheapest price” and “best price” there are signs everywhere advertising discounts of up to 50% (on selected items). These are crappy things that never sold as well as they were expected to and so, are things you don’t want anyway unless you can’t pass up a good bargain on some plastic Made in China glass holder that says Playa del Carmen or the purple top with fringes from last year.

Pharmacies

Mexico is famous for its lax pharma laws and cheap drug prices and that, combined with the ridiculously high prices for prescription medicines in the US, means you will see pharmacy counters in the gift shops advertising everything from anti-depressants to anti-biotics to erectile dysfunction drugs with dubious labels. There are legit pharmacies a few blocks away where you can buy real drugs and medicines at local prices and so, you really don’t need to shop here unless you are afraid to venture into the “real” Playa del Carmen, a fear which is unfounded (read the part about the police, above)

The rich and the poor

You can see the disparity between the rich and the poor on the touristy streets of Playa. The wealthy tourists from abroad and from within Mexico stroll past high-end shops especially around the luxury shopping mall complete with Starbucks and all manner of luxury brand stores, while the miniature young women from Chiapas with their wares displayed Mayan market style on the very same streets right outside. Note that these women usually have small children in tow, who are entertaining themselves on cell phones, and who add a sympathetic look to the scene, invoking a sense of guilt to passers-by and thereby perhaps making it more probable to get that sale.

At one point, a shiny black Mercedes Benz coupe drove past a police checkpoint which was interesting since a) it was a black Mercedes that costs probably about a million and a half pesos and was driven by a twenty-something-year-old and his female cohort which might raise an eyebrow or two; b) they had a child on the lap of the female in the front seat, a clear violation of transit law and c) the car had no plates, another violation and normally a reason for the police to pull the car over.

Weekend getaway

In any case, Playa del Carmen is a great destination for a weekend escape from your routine if you enjoy a little beach time and some great restaurants. Other than that, I wouldn’t come back for more than a day or two as the whole ambiance seems just a little too much for my laid back Yucatecan self.

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Numen

While the Casual Restaurant Critic is a meat lover (and dairy and fish and and and) some members of the Critical Family are vegan, and so, with a resigned sigh and little hope of a decent lunch, the Critic and the Family had lunch at the well-known vegan restaurant Numen, in northern Merida. The result was a mixed bag. Some good food, some OK food and some food that was quite forgettable.

The best option was the tacos al pastor, which is a local favorite and Numen has created a vegan option of this classic. Don’t ask, don’t tell is the Critic’s motto when it comes to what is actually in the vegan version, but it was tasty and satisfying. If he came back, the Critic would definitely have those again.

Most forgettable dish? The pozole. Pozole is a rich broth with all kinds of meaty juices and in this case, it was sliced mushrooms and hominy floating in a barely salted broth that was really quite watery. Not satisfying at all, ITCO. In between was the Critic’s dish, a pasta with tomato sauce, which he could have made at home but was tasty enough and the Critic devoured it down to the last spiral of fusilli.

Some photos will illustrate that the dishes are beautifully presented. The service was average, not horrible, but not particularly gracious or charming either.

Pozole

Pozole

Tacos al Pastor, vegan style

Torta de Empanizado, which was sort of a bean paste, and not great at all

Pasta w Tomato Sauce and vegan “cheese”

Avocado tacos

The accompanying fries were the best part of this empanizado torta

 

Friends with Benefits – Giving Away Your Business

In the years I have lived in Mexico, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon among business owners and their friends, that I can only attribute to cultural differences between where I grew up and where I live now.

In Canada, and I suspect this also happens in the U.S.,  when you open a new business, you put out the word and where do you start? Friends and family of course. And your friends and your family will come and check out your new venture, congratulate you perhaps and wish you well; they will also buy stuff. No matter if you are making empanadas or ear wax candles, they will probably pick up something to support your latest entrepreneurial effort. They appreciate the time and work put into the logo, the concept, the locale if you have one, and the actual products themselves and they want to support you, so they buy something, even if they really have no use for it. They’re your support base and they want you to succeed, so they do.

Here in sunny Mexico, things are a little different. You open your doors or Tupperware container on the corner and let your friends and family know. They will all show up of course; they do love you after all and most of them want you to succeed except for the ones that don’t who will voice unwanted opinions on your product, your idea, your enthusiasm. The goal is to not let you get ‘too big for your britches’ so to speak; they do it out of love and for your own good and that when you fail, you won’t feel so bad and they can say “te lo dije” And, as George Lopez would say “so you learn”

And while they love you, they love anything free even more. And this invitation to see your new business is exactly that: an opportunity to get something for nothing because you’re family! So instead of buying anything, they will ask – in some cases demand – that you invite them to everything on the menu, or in the case of ear wax candles, a free candle to take home. This is not hinted at; no, this is expected and you had better cough up or else your friendship or familial relationship will be in peril.

Where does this come from I wonder? I am not an anthropologist but would love to hear from anyone who has a theory.

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Oishii Japanese Cuisine

The Casual Restaurant Critic and his band of merry Critics including Mini and Better Half, tried this new sushi restaurant which is on the THIRD floor of yet another commercial plaza in Merida, where the commercial plazas outnumber the parks by a million to one. Yes, you have to walk up to get here (or take an elevator – fancy) but it is worth the effort. It’s in the Altabrisa area, in the umpteenth version of a luxury plaza; this one is called Luxus (yawn)

However, the sushi is great. Service is friendly and professional and the room offers a great view of the area around Altabrisa, specifically the mall and hospitals just down the road. There is also seating outside. And you might recognize the chef behind the sushi bar – he was a fixture at the now-defunct Hamachi, so you know he knows that you know that he knows what he’s doing.

Location info at the bottom of the page or on their restaurant link here.

Edamame

Unagi

Ramen ‘especial’ w pork

Location: Calle 20 between 15 and 7 (Correa Rachó Avenue) in Altabrisa, Merida

From periferico, take Altabrisa exit, get into the side access road and turn right on Calle 20

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Sushi Pop in La Isla

 

The Mini-Critic invited the Casual Restaurant Critic to try a new sushi place called Sushi Pop in the closest approximation of shopping bliss in Merida resembling Miami. If you are looking for somewhere to make you feel like you are not in the Yucatan (with the exception of the people around you) come to La Isla.

Sushi Pop is a franchise with locations all over the country. Merida location at the end of this post.

Directly in front of a colorfully lighted fountain with spurts of water shooting up ala Bellagio, and with the artificial lagoon in the background where you will nightly presence a light show, you can enjoy some truly average sushi, either in their air-conditioned locale or outside on the little terrace, where you will swelter but can enjoy a smoke without being hassled by the pure-air police.

The service was alright, but nothing outstanding. What put the Critic off is the fact that the waiter, who was dancing happily inside the locale, showed up at the table and his rumpled shirt with rolled up sleeves and unshaven face put an immediate damper on his expectations (the Critic’s, not the waiter’s)

There were some rolls which were fine, and an order of gyoza, but the most interesting item was their broccoli tempura, for which they are apparently famous, according to RumpleShirtSkin.

Would the Critic go back? Maybe, but no rush.

Broccoli tempura with spicy mayo and a slice of tuna

Unagi (roll) which was warm and delicious

Gyoza w meat filling

 

LOCATION AND HOURS INFO:

La Isla Mérida Cabo Norte
Calle 24, Cabo Norte
Mérida, Yucatán.

MONDAY TO WEDNESDAY:
13:00 – 23:00

THURSDAY THRU SATURDAY
13:00 a 2:00

El Catrin, a New Merida Centro Bar Option. The Casual Restaurant Critic, yet Again.

El Catrín, calle 47, Mérida

Accompanied by the Better Half and Mini-Critic, the Casual Restaurant Critic visited this 6 month-old addition to the Merida centro bar and restaurant scene, located on the up and coming gourmet stretch of calle 47, which already features 130 Grados, Oliva, Caffe 47 and others, and was suitably impressed by both the place itself, and its food. Gracious and friendly service rounded out the very positive experience.

The giant mural in the back, outdoor area of El Catrín

Artist credit. Murals and framed art inside as well.

Outside design and cool-ness

Salsas

These are napkin holders

Esquites, corn, queso fresco and plenty of zest. If you don’t like esquites, try this anyway. You’ll love it.

This caldo cantinero is a perfect seafood broth. For those who love chilpachole 🙂

Carnitas; can’t go wrong with carnitas

Good stuff to sprinkle on your carnitas, including chicharron

Carnitas deserve a close up, don’t you think?

Empanadas, beautiful

Guacamole w grasshoppers and cherry tomatoes

Fabulous chocolate brownie that looks like a tamalito, hoja santa ice cream and popped corn and strawberries and and and…

The Casual Restaurant Critic at a Xcanatun Wine Pairing Event

Hacienda Xcanatun, one of the Critic’s favorite go-to options when you want to eat in a civilized manner, without crowds, without downtown traffic (bonus: no retenes! for after-wine driving peace of mind) just the other day had an interesting event featuring some of their typically fabulous food paired with some delicious wine from Baja California, part of a collection called The Four Seasons by Proyecto Vinícola de México (links at the bottom of the page) On this occasion, three of those seasons were presented to the folks attending.

Since wine is such a subjective topic, we shall leave the flowery descriptions to others far more qualified than the Critic. Nevertheless, there was one fine Chardonnay (Spring) accompanied by both a home-made duck paté as well as a terrific no-lime esmedregal ceviche and one very rich red blend (Fall), the latter a favorite at the Critic’s table, with definite notes of forest fire and earthiness. ‘Velvet’ was was another term that came to mind after some serious consultation and mouth swirling with the Critic’s always entertaining table neighbor, the Sculpting Critic and her husband, the Eagle Scout. That’s some pretty flowery wordplay right there…

As usual, a terrific experience at Hacienda Xcanatun.

The menu, with what appears to be one unfortunate typo

A delicious meaty paté

Spring, one of the four seasons collection – a Chardonnay – presented this evening

Hearty meat dish with grilled veggies to accompany the smoky Fall wine blend

Fall, which you might do after having too much of this delicious wine

Fall, again

Part of the fun was trying to figure out what the medallion around the sommeliers’ neck was all about. “Lemon squeezer” was one guess from the Critic’s happy table partners

Scrumptious chocolate cake to accompany the Winter wine, a South African dessert wine made especially for the Mexican label

The dessert wine Elefante sparkles on the left and the sultry Fall wine rests sullenly on the right. The angle of the photo was seriously affected by wine consumed up to this point

Links for more info:

Proyecto Vinícola de Mexico

Hacienda Xcanatun

The Casual Restaurant Critic at La Galeria Cantina Artesanal

The Casual Restaurant Critic and his Better-than-Ever Half, had the opportunity (by invitation) to visit this cantina/restaurant and sample some of their amazing food very recently. With expectations not really high nor low but somewhere in between, both the Critic and BH were blown away by the food, which is on the level of some of the best they have tried in Merida, and if you are fan of Mexican food prepared with imagination, creativity, and attention to detail, you are in for a treat.

The room itself is a mixup of an art gallery – there is all kinds of art on the walls – cantina and restaurant. Real tables and chairs, cool and dark, and music videos on the television monitors.

Service is a little distracted until Salvador, one of the owners, shows up and then things improve dramatically. When asked what beers they had, the answer was “Sol y Lager” and when asked for more detail and what other beers there were, as in artisanal beers, the information became a little more detailed. La Cantina offers a chocolate stout and an IPA by Tatich, a local craft beer. The Critic ordered the dark which was a delicious accompaniment to the food that followed.

Salvador told the Critic that the idea of the restaurant/cantina is to provide guests with a relaxing space where the beer is cold and not expensive (at $25 pesos it’s much cheaper than other places that serve free botanas) but with excellent food also at a reasonable price. A place you can visit 2 or more times a week and not break your pocketbook. And the food, dear readers, is truly amazing! Ingredients and recipe ideas from all over Mexico -guacamole w mezcal anyone? – are combined with Yucatecan influences to create original, delicious dishes that are generously portioned and extremely satisfying. You will not feel you are in a normal cantina; this is a much more gourmet experience and will please the most ardent foodie.

Enjoy the photos and come to eat here soon! La Galeria Cantina Artesanal is located on the corner of 54 and 35, very close to the CMA hospital just down the street, and open from 1-11 PM. Credit cards and cash are accepted.

A dark cool place to escape the midday heat

Blue corn chips for scooping up these delicious lentil and bean dips

The room. Plenty of art everywhere

Castacan con pulpo salad. This dish is gigantic and can be shared among many. Not to be missed!

Real mushrooms, real gouda cheese, looks as good as it tastes!

 

Poc chuc

Octopus tacos and grilled tuétano!

Blue corn tortillas

The men’s bathroom is worth visiting, truly

Entry to the bathrooms; if you’ve had too much to drink, you might find all the glass and mirrors somewhat disorienting. But this is the nicest baño you will ever find in a cantina, guaranteed.

More art on the walls!

The bar

Piece de resistance: pork chamorro bathed with home-made mole sauce

Roasting those bones

Chef Miguel Uicab at work

The Man behind the Magic, Miguel Uicab