Tag Archives: mexico

April 20, 2020. Sweeping as Therapy

Who knew?

My morning routine, such as it is here in the COVID19 era, involves taking a broom and sweeping the driveway. 

In case you don’t live in Yucatan and don’t know, we are at the height of our dry season and many trees are popping seed pods off by the thousands in preparation for the rains that will soon come. Nature is smart that way. 

Each morning finds our treed driveway littered with hundreds of cracked open seed pods, their contents strewn randomly and wastefully all over the concrete. These pods are dry and have the consistency of hard plastic. Stepping on them results in a satisfying crunch that will make you jump in anticpation to the next step, just to crunch every pod you can, like a six year old stomping in a puddle. The satisfaction is similar to that achieved when you take that piece of bubble wrap and pop all those delicious bubbles. Step on these hard shells with bare feet however, and you will be reminded of that time you stepped on your kids/cousins/brothers/sisters lego in the middle of the night. Ouch.

But, once again I digress.

The morning sweep with the headphones on comes after the morning walk and the morning coffee enjoyed by the morning fire. There is a certain satisfaction moving that broom back and forth, hypnotically watching the seeds, leaves and dirt accumulate, while listening to Bill Maher trying to be funny from his backyard and without an audience, or the New York Times Michael Barbaro emphatically interjecting yet another “HMM” during an interview with an enthusiasm usually reserved for Mayan mestizas during a particularly juicy piece of gossip.

Once the sweeping is finished, it’s back to the morning coffee and attending to pressing decisions about what to cook for the day’s lunch, whether or not it’s garbage day, washing whites or colors, or any number of mundane tasks that could be undertaken to take my mind off the fact that this situation is dragging on and on (and on) and I have no legit means of income and what will happen when my meager savings are used up and my credit cards limits have been saturated…

Where’s that broom? 

 

April 9, 2020. Sanitary Mall Entrances and Police Checkpoints

Armed with my non-N95 mask, hand sanitizer and a half tank of gas, I ventured out of the house this morning to pay my TelCel bill (cell phone for those who don’t live in sunny Mexico) to face the empty streets, police checkpoints and 40-plus degree heat.

I know people are already thinking “can’t he pay this online?” “Why doesn’t he pay this online?” Look I needed to get out of the house and I am not going to be around people at all OK? Jeez. Plus online payments don’t work for me. I am challenged or cursed that way.

Into Las Americas, the fraccionamiento  I go, looking for Banco Azteca/Elektra a hybrid bank/department store where I have been informed that they can exchange a few USD that I have sitting around the house. The regular exchange places are closed, at least the ones that are in my neck of the woods. On the road into the 5,000 home neighborhood, built by a local housing construction company, there are police checkpoints, but on the lanes that lead out of the fraccionamiento, not going in. I assume they are checking for cars with more than one occupant in them so as to ask them what the hell they are doing out and about. I will find out later perhaps, on the way back out.

I find the bank, slip on my facemask/mouth covering thing – which is bright red and doesn’t match my pistachio colored Columbia shirt –  and say hello to the two cleaning women who are working on the windows of said bank/department store, neither of whom is wearing a mask.

The bank is on the second floor of the department store which is empty; all that merchandise from yellow commercial tricycles (a popular form of transportation here in the pueblos) to furniture to appliances and cell phones and no one buying anything. Salespeople are few and far between and are wearing masks. The other two clients in the store, are not.

I won’t mention that I felt a little out of breath at the top of the stairs? Is that a coronavirus-related symptom? I will say that I took a deep breath upon reaching the second floor and told myself to calm the hell down. 

One of the cashiers – behind glass, no masks on them – informs me that the exchange rate is now 21 something per dollar, up from 18 just two months ago, and I say fine and give her my bills. I notice that I am smiling politely but then also realize that much of our social interactions are centered around the eyes and the mouth and so the smile is unnoticed by the person behind the glass.

After what seemed like a lengthy process I get a sales slip to sign and take the pen warily that she hands me and sign. She gives me some pesos which I gingerly place in one special pocket of my shirt, the pocket where anything touched by other people goes.

It wasn’t really a lengthy process; I was the only person in the bank and had a chance to chat with the manager, one Arturo who is married to … not important, don’t bother, not interesting. He’s not wearing a mask either. 

Soon I’m back in the car and slathering hand sanitizer on myself before touching anything – my car is germ-free – and off I go to TelCel at the Gran Plaza mall. At the checkpoint out of Las Americas, I am waved through by a mask-wearing state policeman. As I approach Merida, another set of traffic cones turn 4 lanes into 1 and again, I am waved through. This confirms my theory about the ‘too many people in the car’ alert.

At the mall, there is only one entrance open to the public, same as the last time I went. Only this time there are no other people around, so I can go in, hooray.

But wait – not so fast.

First, I am asked where I am going. “A donde se dirige?” This means “where are you directing yourself?” and is ‘official speak’, the language of policemen and security guards of the mall and airport variety.

The options are HSBC, TelCel and CFE. CFE, you will recall from my previous story, is closed. Until April 30, I find out today. I tell the guard – masked, gloved – I am going to pay my phone bill and he tells me to proceed to the giant tubs of water and soap dispensers. I am issued a little water, a squirt of anti-bacterial soap and told to wash. I sing ‘En un dia feliz‘ two times and then rinse. I am given a paper towel. I almost feel I should leave a tip. Maybe if the guard hadn’t placed a gun against my head I just might have. A temperature gun thing.

The part about leaving a tip? Just made that up. And the singing? That was to myself, in my head, obviously. I am not going to break into song at the entrance to the mall.

Once inside, the payment took me 5 minutes if that and out I went. Someone was scrubbing the rubber mat that you walk across to get into and out of the mall – like a sanitary measure you would see at the entrance to a chicken processing plant or something.

A quick visit to the supermarket Soriana (formerly La Comercial Mexicana, now defunct) next door where I was again issued gel for my hands and another pistol pointed at my head to measure once again my body temperature. “You’re good!” he says.

“I’m good?” I ask.

“Yep.” And shows me my score: 36.8. “Todo bien, adelante

If I mention that the gel was the cheap kind that leaves your hands all sticky that might be considered complaining, so I will just keep that thought to myself.

Got my butter, some M&M’s (with peanuts) and for nostalgic and price reasons, and in honor of my heritage, a bottle of Canadian Club.

We all have NEEDS so don’t start with the criticism of my shopping list. Also, someone actually stole my shopping cart which I had parked by the egg display while I was checking out the canned tomato aisle so I had to go back and get those three things AGAIN.

It was a good day out and now I am back at home, under a creaking fan that is blowing excruciatingly dry and hot air at the top of my head as I write this.

April 7, 2020. On Social Unrest and Class Distinctions

“This crisis is a godsend”

This is what the president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) proclaimed on April 2 at a ‘press conference’ a regular media event these days that is quickly becoming as criticized and mocked (and irrelevant) as those of his counterpart to the north. At least he has finally come around to the idea of social distancing as something people should be doing to avoid spreading the virus as the medical system is already straining under the weight of impending disaster.

When he said this the Spanish equivalent  “nos vino como anillo al dedo” he said it in the context of his much-touted 4T or fourth transformation. It will make it easier to create his new, corruption-free society, a happy, shiny new Mexico free of violence and crime. A utopic vision his fanatical supporters fervently share. Nevermind that many will die as a result of the virus, the important thing is that his vision is realized.

For those of you not familiar with what AMLO means by the 4T there is a brief explanation at the bottom of this article.

In any case, his unfortunate choice of words was the subject of much commentary from the press and those people who are truly concerned about the direction this country is going in. And it demonstrates the absolute sense of self-delusion this president is under that he feels he will be protected from a virus because he will not be corrupt, like past administrations.

One member of his party, the current governor of Puebla, stated categorically that the virus will affect only the well off. “The poor are immune,” he said. If this doesn’t smack of populism and appealing to the downtrodden masses, I don’t know what is.

At this moment there is not a single federal program (like in Canada, Germany and even El Salvador) to shore up businesses alongside individuals. His message to the business community has been ‘you rich capitalists: pay your workers but send them home to keep them safe’ Meetings between the president and leaders of the business community have not yielded anything. No tax relief, no help to meet payroll, no help of any kind.

According to an interview with hotel impresario Jose Chapur this week, Mexico is the only country in the world that is not supporting its business community at the federal level.

Here in the state of Yucatan, we have a much more proactive governor who thankfully has not followed the lead of our illustrious leader. Tax relief, benefits for small businesses, benefits for individuals.

This situation can only lead to one thing: more job losses resulting in more people without an income (there is no guaranteed income for Mexico’s 130 million people, the great majority of whom are wage earners or entrepreneurs.

All those people with nothing to do, no money and plenty of anger and fear, will, with the tacit consent and quiet encouragement of the national leadership, lead to social unrest. Remember the scene from Beauty and the Beast and the villagers heading to the castle with their pitchforks, screaming angrily? Something like that. All those poor exploited workers against those greedy capitalist impresarios.

In the past, we might have been comforted by the thought of our neighbor to the north – uncomfortable as it is – to exercise some pressure to stop Mexico from becoming another Venezuela as they surely wouldn’t want that in their “backyard” but that country is so confused, disorganized and ravaged by the virus that it is not able to exercise much influence on the global stage any longer.

What the country needs now is a serious set of solutions (look around señor presidente, there are plenty of examples around the world) to what may potentially be a huge problem. It can be avoided, but we need action and a clear plan now.

EXPLANATION OF THE 4T

López Obrador refers to his election as the Fourth Transformation of Mexico, preceded by the War for Independence from Spain (1810-1821), the Reform Period led by President Benito Juárez (1857-72, interrupted by two civil wars) and the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917). Mexicans, with their infallible capacity for reducing names to acronyms and deflating the grandiose, are referring to it as “the 4T”.

 

April 3, 2020 – Yucatan, Mexico

While not the end-all-be-all of on-the-ground reporting from Merida, the capital city of Yucatan, it’s my experience and I plan to maintain some sanity by writing about it.

I feel presumptuous. I also wonder how many other paragraphs I can include with so many hyphenated phrases? Do all my thoughts start with I ?

April 3 seemed like a good a day as any to pay my electricity bill. In case you don’t know, electricity in all parts of this country is provided by the monopolous (invented term) Comisión Federal de Electricidad, an almost state-run enterprise much like Pemex. The CFE – as it affectionately referred to – is it’s own universe and it could care less about your financial situation or something as trivial as a virus. So, no concessions – so far – from this giant company in terms of postponing, reducing or condoning any payments. The payment is not due for another week or so, but given the increasing emphasis on staying the hell home, I thought I would get it out of the way, as I cannot imagine being stuck at home with no electricity which would also cut the modem, water and so on.

I sound socialist. Do I sound socialist? Elitist for wanting wifi and water?

I stopped at the sad Gran Plaza mall – sad with so few cars in the parking lot and only the Soriana grocery store open for business. The official decree issued by our governor (of Yucatan) and mayor (of Merida) is that non-essential businesses remain closed and that includes malls. Inside the malls, however, are often banks and other services and those are allowed to open and access to them is permitted.

Getting into the mall is through one entrance only. This entrance is guarded by security personnel in masks and gloves, who are separating people into the various lineups according to what they plan to do. Electricity, cellular, banks. Each service has its own lineup and you are allowed access as people leave so as not to accumulate crowds.

Mantenga su distancia, por favor!” It’s early, so he still says por favor; I suspect that nicety will be dropped as the 40-degree day progresses.

I learn from the questioning man in front of me, that the CFE in all its wisdom has closed its payment machine-only locale and one must therefore either pay it at a bank or some other location. I don’t have the printed version with me, so the bank is out. Confirming that the CFE is indeed closed “sí está cerrado Papi”  I head back to the car.

I later – and thanks to the astuteness of my Better Half – find that I can pay the bill at an OXXO convenience store, as they are able to scan the bar code directly from the image of the bill on my cell phone. Who knew? Probably everyone in the universe except me. In the very busy OXXO store, an employee was in charge of reminding people to stay apart, at least one meter apart and look for the markers taped on the floor. Some people were wearing masks, most were not.

Writing this reminds me of the press conference yesterday or whenever where Trump says the CDC recommends wearing masks but that he is not going to but that that is what the CDC recommends. Tremendous success with the masks. 

The other items on the Things to Do Once You Are Out and About list were bread and gasoline.

So, the next stop: Pan y Kof.fee. Before leaving the house I had placed an order on Facebook and lo and behold it was ready to go when I showed up. In case you don’t know, this place has the most amazing bread; the baguettes are truly a beautiful thing to behold (and eat warm with butter) and so now our freezer is full of them, cut into thirds and wrapped tightly to keep them as fresh as the pandemic will allow.

As the credit card machine did its thing, I chatted with the young lady who was handing me the bread through the wrought iron protectores.

Está terrible” she said “lo que está pasando en Ecuador

I nodded and concurred that it was a terrible thing. I had just heard about their body disposal problem and the intensity of the virus there, especially in Guayaquil, from my friend Mus with whom I had chatted that morning via WhatsApp.

I hope Mus doesn’t mind that I mention him here.

Finally, gasoline at the Pemex station on the Merida-Progreso highway. As is the case all over the world, gasoline prices have dropped significantly. Good news for the tourism industry!! The bad news? No tourists.

Our messianic señor Presidente in his continued delusional state insists that the lower gasoline prices are thanks to him; he apparently believes that no one has access to news other than his and won’t notice that the world’s oil prices have dropped dramatically.


There was a lineup of cars. This particular gas station, part of the El Roble franchises (Abimerhi and La Gas are two other large and omnipresent gasolinera chains in the Yucatan)  have the best prices by at least a peso and sometimes as much as two pesos, which means folks are lining up to get their cars filled at these stations. Currently, the price is at 12.99 a liter, way down from almost twenty pesos back in January.

As a side note, it is worth noting that gasoline stations in Mexico are notorious for magically delivering less than the amount shown on the pump. It is amazing how much ingenuity is harnessed in this country for the purpose of beating the system, at any and all levels. More on the gasoline situation- en español of course – on the Por Esto website here.

Some readers might not understand how much that is, so I should probably explain to them. With the exchange rates, in January gasoline cost about four dollars a gallon. Now, again adjusting for the exchange rates it’s at about $2.50 a gallon

I waited for my turn and asked the female gas pump attendant (the concept of self-service goes against our I-pay-you-so-serve-me Latin American culture) how her day was going. She said she was hot, and the scorching wind blowing leaves and dust through the gas station made it feel like when you open a convection oven and get a blast of hot air. I can just imagine how she feels being out there all day moving between two lines of cars, pumping gas non-stop with the added risk of contagion from a potentially sick or infected client.

She also mentioned Ecuador. “Será que vamos a quedar como ellos?” she half-asked, half-wondered almost to herself.

I told her that probably not, we had things way more under control and would she like some hand sanitizer?

Tengo, gracias” she replied. I paid and tipped and headed back to the safe refuge of my home to cut and wrap and freeze my supply of baguettes, ciabattas and a couple of loaves of something hopefully delicious.

Should I have mentioned the ciabattas? 

 

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Soberana Steakhouse

The discrete Soberana restaurant, tucked into the bottom of the Santa Lucia hotel, might be overlooked with all the more visible eateries in the Santa Lucia square across the street (60) but it shouldn’t be.

Chef Andrés Zapata has created a meat-lovers menu and even sells some of the rubs that have made him somewhat of a local legend in the local culinary scene. That and his personality which displays none of the dickiness of other more diva-like chefs, make him one of the most sought-after personalities when it comes to events featuring barbeque, grilling and the like.

On this visit, the Critic had been invited to sample the new menu and in the absence of a recuperating Better Half, the Critic invited a second critic to help try the new meat offerings.

Frijoles Puercos

The first item to grace the table was a small bowl of beans, cooked non stop and served with black corn chips. The thing that makes these beans decadent (they are called Frijoles Puercos) is that when cooking up meat in the kitchen, the pot is always on the back burner and chef Andrés throws in whatever meat juices are bubbling up and left over, resulting in extremely flavorful and deliciously fatty beans. Cholesterol warning in effect.

Chef Andrés taking a momento to crack a joke. This Critic has never seen Andrés in a bad mood, ever.

Rubs to take home

Soberana’s take on Mac & Cheese

The Critic let the chef decide, although anything off the menu was available to try. First up? The Mac and Cheese. It could use a tiny bit more cheese but the creaminess and the addition of caramelized “million dollar” bacon was amazing.

Smoky fish tacos on Panela cheese tortillas

The second appetizer was smoky fish tacos served on panela cheese “tortillas” Anyone familiar with dieting and panela cheese knows that this is a cheese-like substance, far removed from anything resembling tasty cheese. An interesting and probably healthy concept, but as far as flavor goes, eat the topping, skip the cheese.

Salsas

Main course – picaña steak, prepared tableside by the master grill chef himself.

For the main course, and to share, the picaña beef steak, cooked to perfection. The flavor of this cut was truly mouth watering and this is the steak the Critic highly recommends you order. Andrés will prepare it with it’s juices , at your table.

Preparing the Picaña

Delicious!

Prices are reasonable and this is a good alternative to mix things up a little in Santa Lucia. You can eat in the restaurant or enjoy a limited menu on the park itself, where there are some tables and chairs set up so you can have your conversation drowned out by the musical acts, if that is your thing.

The Death of the Kankirixche Cenote

As the owner of a tour company specializing in off-the-beaten-track adventures I have seen, over the last 10-15 years, a notable increase in tourism traffic to places that used to be quiet, beautiful and often magical.

This is unfortunate but natural, given that

  • a) we have more people in general so there is going to be more traffic everywhere, not only on the heart-attack-inducingly congested Prolongacion del Paseo de Montejo on weekdays around 1 PM
  • b) we have the ubiquitous internet to thank for the massive diffusion of any and all information so now potentially everyone knows where everything is and how to do it or get there
  • c) tourism authorities rack their brains to come up with new and exciting promotions to places that are often not ready to receive the influx of tourism that comes from said promotion
  • d) politicians not involved in tourism but who are anxious to be patted on the back for their social awareness and for helping the ejidatarios and campesinos in becoming better political clients, throw massive amounts of money in their general direction (with plenty left over for splatter to cousins, compadres and family members who carry out their ambitious projects) in the form of infrastructure and development.

Case Study – Kankirixche Cenote

Located between the towns of Abalá (which in Mayan means not much going on here but we like to spend money on lamp posts) and Mucuyché (we’re a rustic pueblo but our hacienda is fancy) the Kankirixche cenote is a large, mostly open cavernous cenote that was absolutely gorgeous, and difficult to access both in terms of the road and also the actual climbing in and out of the water.

You would drive along an extremely rustic and rough former railway trestle, hoping for no oncoming vehicle since this would mean you had to back up from whence you came, and would park under a tree near the cenote. You might find a pickup truck there with diving tanks and other related paraphernalia, and in the water, lots of bubbles and lights from below as you lower yourself down a rickety ladder strapped – in pieces held together by wire, rope and faith – to the roots of a magnificent alamo tree growing out of the middle.

Aside from the divers and occasionally some local kids who arrived by motorbike, the site was serene and lived fully up to how cenotes are described in glossy tourism promotion materials: magical, mystical places full of history and home to aluxes and the spirits of the ancient Mayans.

Fast forward to 2019.

There is now a giant blue government sign marking the turn-off to get to Kankirixche cenote. The sign has the symbol for the cenote, for a restaurant, etc. All very civilized. The road has been somewhat widened here and there, so there is no more backing up except for perhaps a few short stretches, and that is a good thing because there is now a LOT of traffic going in and out.

When you arrived you are greeted by a handful of constantly changing campesinos from nearby Uayalceh, who claim that this cenote falls within their jurisdiction ejidatariamente speaking and so it is they who are entitled to charge you 60 pesos (gringo price) to enter the cenote. There is a rope that is lowered once you have paid so you and your vehicle can proceed. Your laminated “tickets” you will turn in to yet another individual who is sitting under the dilapidated life jacket structure, where you will pay extra to rent those should you so desire. There, is also the rocky parking lot, which is now usually filled with at least 5 cars and vans (on a good day) and up to 20 vehicles on a holiday or weekend.

 

That laurel tree growing from inside the cenote? It is now dead, having been blown over by a chubasco, a small whirlwind storm that hit the area some years ago. Its carcass is still lying there, in the trampled brown dirt and dust-covered rocks. The desolate scene is accompanied by the shouts and shrieks emanating from the water inside the cenote, which you can now access via a rickety wooden staircase and which is covered with clothing, sandals, backpacks and more, all of which belong to the hordes in the water, who are screaming and hollering like there is no tomorrow.

Whatever spirits inhabited these caves have long since departed in disgust, as you might also do upon encountering this disturbing scene. There is no magic here, no mysticism. It is a swimming hole, pure and simple and a very commercialized and crappy one at that.

I haven’t gone into the infrastructure details that are a modern feature at Kankirixche. The powers that be, in all their infinite wisdom and benevolence, have provided the campesinos with everything they need (this is at many cenotes throughout the Yucatan by the way) and that means the ladder access, the life jackets, a massive palm thatch roof structure to be used as a restaurant, accompanied by a fully equipped industrial kitchen with refrigeration, giant gas stove, oven, and even an extractor. There are solar panels on the roof for electricity. There are bicycles for rent – stored in chains among the upturned tables and chairs – that have never been moved except when the palapa restaurant floor is swept which happens rarely as the restaurant is NEVER open. There are change rooms, and bathrooms with composting toilets.

The campesinos have been given all this infrastructure in the form of a handout, with no conditions attached either in the form of repayment (insert guffaws of laughter here) or even teaching these people the basics of business to help them become self-sufficient and therefore actually achieve what was the purported goal of the program. And so, the campesinos could care less about making anything to sell, which means the restaurant is always closed and the entire infrastructure WASTED, sitting there like the white elephant it is, a monument to government waste and unrealized social program potential. The campesinos are happy to extend their hand for more money when something breaks and yes, if they vote for the party doing the handing out, they will receive the money.

On the last visit I made to this once beautiful spot, I was greeted by the usual shirtless men who charged me the entry fee, along with the sight of a family’s laundry hanging among the trees in plain sight. Pots, pans and dirty dishes were strewn among the tables in the restaurant, as were more unwashed pots and pans in the kitchen. Women, presumably the wives of the men, lounged in hammocks hanging in the restaurant. When I asked what they had cooked up that the answer was the same as it always is when I ask this same question: “hoy no cocinaron” Today they didn’t cook. Yes, well, there were only 10 cars in the parking lot at that moment and so it probably didn’t make economic sense to USE THE FREE INFRASTRUCTURE TO BRING A GOD DAMN CHICKEN AND SOME TORTILLAS to make some food for the approximately 100-200 people that would be visiting that day. It’s so much easier to just sit there and collect money.

Are you in a tourism destination or a village on laundry day?

looking back at the giant palapa built with a no-repay loan for the ‘poor’ campesinos thereby dooming them to a continuation of paternalistic handouts and no education or self improvement

Speaking of laziness and lack of planning, it is interesting to note that the garbage that is collected in bins at the site is simply dumped in the underbrush a few meters from the parking lot. Stroll into the forest, such as it is, and follow the trail. You will come upon piles of glass and plastic, as well as toilet paper (used) and evidence of human defecation with the charming sounds (huge flies) and smells that accompany an open toilet.

Yes, that’s a pile of human shit at the bottom left. How about we clean this all up before we go to Berlin to the tourism fair?

Kankirixche cenote is a perfect example of human laziness, blind mismanagement, government misspending and how a pretty tourism spot can be completely and utterly ruined by over-promoting it to the point of surpassing its capacity.

RIP Kankirixche.

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Santiago Market – Itzalana

The Critic knows for a fact that many of the 19 readers of his ramblings have been – probably repeatedly – to eat at the market in Santiago, so he will just post a few photos of the delicious breakfast enjoyed recently in the company of the always charming Better Half and a group of amigos.

Salbut and panucho ‘especial’ which means a ton of turkey meat

Salbutes de asado

Torta Cubana, the only one with no eggs. The Critic is not a fan of things eggy

Torta cubana with agua de watermelon and chaya in the background

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Partners and Brothers Burgerlab

Once upon a time, on a Merida intersection, there was a great property to build a city park. Unfortunately, this being Merida, it became yet another shopping mall, complete with a hotel, a Best Buy, another Walmart (Merida needed another Walmart) a movie theater and the obligatory Telcel store, along with VIP’s, Fridays and some other lesser-known restaurants. Today the Critic will discuss one of these, the interestingly-named Partners and Brothers Burgerlab. Or Burguerlab.

Accompanied by the MiniCritic, the CRC went for a late lunch, around 4 PM which is neither here nor there in terms of dinner or lunch, to try out this burger option in the formerly white city.

Why is it called Partners and Brothers? I had a look at the website to find out more, and found the typical message of FUN! and FRESH! and COOL! with lots of really great English words sprinkled throughout (at the top of the website: HOME / SOMOS / FOOD / DRINKS / CONTACTO – why?) to make it all so much more international. Burger is spelled Burguer and then it isn’t, which shows an impressive eye for detail considering it is in their name. The annoying video on the home page says that at this restaurant, which seems like a clone of the Fridays or Bostons concept, at one point says: enjoy…  partners, with your brothers. Um, OK. I don’t understand, but maybe it’s in English so that’s cool in itself, regardless of any possible meaning. By the way, the video and its ear-worm jingle will continue playing as long as you are on the website, ad nauseum.

The experience was a mix. The food is perfectly acceptable: the MiniCritic had a half kilo of BBQ ribs, which were tasty enough and the Critic had the Louisiana Burger, a monstrously high collection of many ingredients stacked on home-made bread. The bread kind of fell apart quickly, with the juices of the meat and the caramelized onions, but the flavor overall was very good. Home-made chips (as in potato chips) are an option and while they were fine, they seemed to have been sprinkled with either lemon or vinegar and the sour taste was not to the Critics liking. A dessert of apple tart, described in flowery terms as soaked in Jack Daniels blah blah blah, was frankly, inedible. The coffee is of the Nespresso machine variety.

Quibbles?

Service, as is so often the case in Merida, was spotty. The waiter was friendly enough, when he was around. To get the drink order, one must get up to get a waiters attention. Many staff members are lounging about, absorbed in their smartphones and whatever exciting stuff is going on in there.

Considering the place had been open for three hours, you would think that things would be ready for the evening rush. However, sauces in glass bottles on the table were not full and had that look like they had been there since last month, with crusty bits inside and a generally unappealing look to them.

A visit to the bathroom revealed that there was no paper towel in the dispenser to dry ones hands after washing, that in spite of the obligatory cleaning schedule on the door which obviously no one was paying any attention to.

Dirty dishes on the table containing rib bones and burger/burguer carcasses had to be looked at for the longest time until the Critic, on his way to the bathroom, interrupted the waiter who was smartphoning with his compañeros, and mentioned that he might want to clear away the dishes.

That caesar salad! A caesar salad is a caesar salad. If you leave out the dressing with the anchovies, throw in a tomato and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds you no longer have the right to call this a caesar salad. Call it a bloody pumpkin seed salad, or a Mayan salad, or make up another name. It’s NOT a caesar salad for crying out loud.

So overall, this restaurant does not impress. The Critic suspects that it is popular with the drinking crowd in the evenings, especially on the terrace where there is a nice breeze and it is quite pleasant, in spite of the horrific view of traffic and concrete that makes up the area around Altabrisa. Then again, with drinks on the expensive side, including a bottle of scotch you can enjoy with your brothers (or partners) for a paltry $13,000 pesos, the target market might be a bit fuzzy.

Verdict? Don’t bother. Friday’s is directly across the hall from them, on the second floor of the mall, and they have their act together and will provide you with a more predictable American-style food experience. Partners and Brothers is a poor imitation.

 

That habanero sauce really does look disgusting

The room. There are over 30 TV screens all around

Amstel Ultra chelada

The Caesar salad that isn’t

The burger/burguer. You can squish it down so it fits in your mouth. Best part of the experience (the burger, not the squishing part)

Burger accompanied by chips

BBQ ribs, corn on the cob and in the little bowl, mashed potatoes that the MiniCritic said were tasty

This apple tart, in spite of its flowery description on the menu, was pretty much inedible

 

 

 

 

El Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca

The Critic and BH along with MiniCritic, enjoyed a solid, good, Yucatecan lunch on Sunday at the new-ish and already very popular Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca. (Note and hola to Jan Morgan: the information on where it is etc. is in the link which is the name)

First of all, this is a gigantic restaurant especially compared with the cramped quarters of the also popular Chaya Maya or others, probably because it is an old colonial-era home of one of the henequen barons from back in the day. So you have a huge interior open-air patio surrounded by terraces and rooms which make up the area for tables. Each of the rooms features a henequen (sisal) based theme that is still being completed and will be finished very soon.

In the back, there is a re-creation of a small Mayan “village” complete with the requisite kitchen structure where two or three mestiza women make hand-made tortillas. Other chozas feature information and displays on ingredients used in Yucatecan cooking. Explanations are in Spanish and English, and the Critic is happy to report that the translations are pretty good. Also in the back yard is the pib area, or cooking pit(s) where the food is cooked, in the traditional way of the Yucatecan pueblos. On this visit, the Critic arrived in time to see, along with a dozen or so other interested diners, the moment when the ‘relleno negro’ was pulled out of the pib, and samples were given out – delicious!

In addition to all this, there is a gift shop and a small museum-like display of artifacts and ingredients typically used in the preparation of Yucatecan food and it is evident that someone took their time to arrange and present all this in an attractive and professional manner.

The food was excellent. Well prepared and tasted as it should. BH enjoyed one of her favorite dishes, a Sunday Merida classic called puchero de tres carnes, MC and the Critic both had queso relleno, which is the standard (for the Critic) by which all Yucatecan restaurants are measured. This queso relleno, complete with capers, raisins and almonds is the real deal and is up there with the best of them. Brazo de reina and a small mucbilpollo or tamal were had as appetizers. The first was good, while the tamal was just OK and lacked the crispiness of the fresh-baked version.

Keep in mind that this is heavy food; very filling and you will need a siesta afterward. Don’t feel the need to try everything the first time you visit. You can come back. And don’t eat this at night, for crying out loud: Yucatecan food is a mid-day thing.

What really blew the Critics mind, however, especially after recent forays into various “fancy” restaurants and their indifferent or just plain inadequate service, was the service at the Museo. Santos arrived at the table to introduce himself and when offering drinks made a smooth, professional, sales pitch that convinced all three members of the Critics lunch group to try the house cocktail. Throughout the meal, Santos was not more than a hand-wave away, in spite of having several tables under his charge. There was no intrusiveness, no slinking up to the table, no mumbling and no arriving with the dishes and not knowing to whom they belonged. So, a big shout-out to Santos – keep it up!

The location will make this place very successful and if they keep up the quality of the food and service, this place should be around for a while. Enjoy the photos!

The least photogenic of any appetizer in the world, these are black beans (l) and sikil pak (r) along with tostadas. The sikil pak is excellent.

Shot of the museum part of the restaurant

Gift shop

Museum from the other side

A little pueblo in the back yard – your clue that you’re not somewhere else is the building poking out between the trees

One of the chozas and the display

Inside the choza: here we have an explanation of recado verde

There’s cooking going on right now, under there.

Pueblo in the foreground with a giant hotel in the background for context

A fizzy but not too sweet opener

Brazo de Reina I

Tamalito known as mucbilpolloI

Mucbilpollo II

Brazo de Reina II

Preparing to uncover the pib

The chef explains what is happening here

After carefully removing the earth, the laminated tin sheet is taken off the pit

With the tin sheet removed, this is what you see. Jabin leaves and branches aromatize the food

A treasure chest, waiting to be opened

Forget gold coins and trinkets. This treasure chest contains something much more memorable

Preparing a sample for those watching

Aguas frescas de chaya y ramon. Yes, ramon.

Puchero!

Queso Relleno!

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