Tag Archives: yucatan travel

El Crítico Casual Restaurantero visits Oliva/Enoteca

Unsure if the Critic had posted a previous review of Enoteca/Oliva (which fell into the ‘meh’ category), he is putting this latest visit up for your perusal.

Everyone knows Oliva and Enoteca so there’s not much to add to the general knowledge base. Located on the corner of 47 and 54, Enoteca/Oliva is a slightly larger version of the original Oliva everyone raves about. Great Italian food, extensive wine list and, on this occasion the service by Maria was outstanding. She was so pleasant that the Critic forgot about the previous visit some time ago where the server was snooty and somewhat presumptuous in his handling of the Critics’ party.

Hopefully Maria will stay (and get a raise) and whoever the other waiter was will remain where he was on this occasion – happily absent.

Here are a few photos of the food, which was not only excellent but also beautifully presented.

Homemade breadsticks

Homemade breadsticks

Merlot

Merlot

Wine rack overhead

Wine rack overhead

Tuna tartare

Tuna tartare

Burrata with grilled asparagus

Burrata with grilled asparagus

Grilled 'escolar' fish from northern Mexico

Grilled ‘escolar’ fish from northern Mexico

The always unphotogenic but delicious gnocchi

The always unphotogenic but delicious gnocchi

A stupendous carbonara

A stupendous carbonara

Casual Restaurant Critic at Zamna, in Izamal

The Casual Restaurant Critic had the opportunity to spend a Sunday afternoon near Izamal and so it was only logical that lunch should be had there. Instead of the usual and 99% excellent Kinich it was decided, with the Better Half’s acquiescence, that the newer Zamná, which has somehow appropriated the entire serving staff originally working at Kinich (how did THAT happen?) should be given a chance.

Located just near the edge of town, where the ‘paint your place yellow’ memorandum somehow failed to arrive, the Zamná restaurant is an attempt to recreate the same atmosphere as Kinich, with mixed results. There are artesanias for sale, there is a giant palapa roof, there is an hipil-clad Mayan lady making tortillas in a separate hut along with a young man grilling the poc chuc and the servers are all women, able to maneuver giant trays of food and drink to their guests.

But somehow, the atmosphere is lacking. There is something missing here and it is hard to pinpoint exactly what it is – maybe a lack of interaction with the friendly-enough staff, who are mostly efficient, but not particularly charming. The actual space is a long an unremarkable rectangle and the music is all trio but the overall feel is… meh. If you are going to copy or emulate the already very successful brand that is Kinich, you are going to have to try to make it better, not just the same or almost the same.

The food you ask?

The food is fine. Better Half had the pipian de conejo, served only on Sundays which was quite good and the Critic had the queso relleno, which his go-to dish to evaluate Yucatecan restaurants, due to its complexity and the facility with which one can get it wrong (like at the over-rated Hacienda Ochil, where the dish is quick to arrive at your table and has seemingly been microwaved) and here, the platillo tipico was very good, but not better than, Kinich. Or Teya, where it is excellent.

Sikil pak dip was excellent, as were the empanadas, crunchy on the outside and melty cheesy inside.

Here are some photos of the food and restaurant and in the Critic’s opinion, visitors to Izamal are well-served by sticking to Kinich.

The restaurant Zamna

The restaurant Zamna

Hammocks make up part of  the decoration

Hammocks make up part of the decoration

Empanadas w chaya corn stuffed w edam cheese

Empanadas w chaya corn stuffed w edam cheese

Sikil pak and chaya limonada

Sikil pak and chaya limonada

Pipian de conejo (rabbit) only on Sundays

Pipian de conejo (rabbit) only on Sundays

Critic's choice - queso relleno

Critic’s choice – queso relleno

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.

The Uman Police Stop

On the outskirts of that large small town called Uman, to the south of Merida, there is a small retén, a police roadblock manned un-imposingly by one or two members of the Uman municipal police force, a formidable foe feared by organized crime, I’m sure.

On this occasion I was driving through Uman to Muna and the single skinny police official manning this post, who could not have been more than 18, made the up and down motions with his hands indicating that I should slow down and stop at his 4 poles and a piece of plywood shelter, complete with the economical and improvised flattened-tire-across-the-road speed bump.

I rolled down my window. It was a first for me to be stopped here in the many times I have driven this route, and I gave him a look that I hoped was inquisitive and at the same time supremely bored.

¿A donde se dirige?” was the official-sounding query that came out of his barely teen mouth. This is a common phrase from the Official State Police Handbook used by police officials and literally translates as “where are you headed?” They could just say “a donde vas” but that just doesn’t quite cut it in terms of official verbosity.

“Muna” I answer evenly.

EagerCop closes in to peek inside the vehicle and sees that I have two 12-packs of cervezas on the floor of the truck. His face lights up noticeably.

Muéstrame sus papeles” is his next salvo. I hand him my foreign driver’s license, setting down a couple of $100 peso bills on the seat beside me, and fish around for the vehicle’s tarjeta de circulacion and hand him that as well.

Debe tener una licencia de aqui” he says. “Si no, le pueden dar una infraccion.” I know I should have a Yucatan license but did not know I could get a fine for not having one. In fact I do have one, but I like to mess with the traffic cops, especially prepotente little pricks like this one, who see a gringo face and figure they’ll try a little shakedown (cars, SUV’s and trucks were and are continuing to drive past and around us as he does his thing).

Aha – lo dudo” I answer looking at him.

He looked thirstily down at the beer. I swear he licked his lips, but my memory might be playing tricks on me. The thought occurred to me that he might enjoy a cold beer.

“¿Cuantás ya se tomó?

How many did I drink? Presuming guilt is is straight from the pages of Canadian customs officials and any hope he might have had of me giving him a few cold ones just went out the window.

He’s already giving up on the driver’s license end and now wants to work the alcohol angle or so it seems so as his next question, when I answer that I haven’t had a drink and that I don’t drink and drive is “No se puede transportar alcohol, le pueden dar una infracción.”

Right. So now, in his little world where he is the almighty authority lording it over a supuesto dumb gringo, transporting alcohol is now illegal. I explain to him that this is beer for an event I am attending in Muna, that I haven’t had any and that it most certainly is legal to put your shopping in your car and move it from one place to another even if said shopping includes alcoholic beverages.

He half-hardheartedly looks at the license, the registration, the 100 peso bills, the beer.

Debe tener cuidado,” he says and hands me back the papers. I place the license along with the $100 peso bills in my shirt pocket and nod at him, biting my tongue to not tell him what a dick he is, and drive on to Muna.

 

 

 

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic visits Younghee’s Kitchen

IMG_2568 The Casual Restaurant Critic, following the suggestions of Better Half who seems to be trying new restaurants with far more frequency than the Critic these days, visited Younghee’s Kitchen today.

Accompanied by said Better Half, the Critic ate far too much absolutely gorgeous and delicious Korean food and is still feeling the after-effects of the severely spicy and overwhelmingly delicious soup(s) feature in the photos below.

All names have been forgotten but be assured that everything is excellent and the restaurant itself is a gem and would be at home in Miami Beach, Chelsea or Vancouver. Top notch quality throughout and the service is delightful.

This will become a Saturday thing folks, and since the restaurant is only open that day, expect waits and line ups but be patient. It’s worth waiting for.

It’s located near the Cine Colon where the Slow Food Market takes place every Saturday and doors open at 9 AM and close at 4 PM.

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Chichen Itza Sound and Light Show for Extranjeros

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Yep, there’s a pyramid under that projection!

Perhaps you have been reading about Uxmal on this blog, where the sugar coating comes off and the tourism rhetoric is saved for another day.

Perhaps not. If not, then you need to get with the program.:

http://www.lawsonsyucatan.com/2014/04/01/uxmal-what-if/

http://www.lawsonsyucatan.com/2014/05/14/6-reasons-why-uxmal-is-better-than-chichen-itza/

Now it’s time for an update on the situation for foreigners trying to see the new ‘sound and light’ show at Chichen Itza. Why anyone would want to see the further Disney-fication of the Mayan culture let alone pay for the privilege is beyond me, but apparently there are some that do like to see colored lights on the altars and temples there, so here you go.

This article is for people (foreigners) who are coming to Chichen Itza on their own, not from a hotel or a travel agency. Those situations require their own dexterities which are not covered today.

The good news is that the entry to the ‘show’ is free, monetarily speaking. Not free of effort however. Here are the steps to follow, designed by someone in an air conditioned office, unfamiliar with the idea of tourism promotion and how to treat our visiting guests once they arrive:

1) You must visit the office of Cultur (the Yucatan state agency in charge of Mayan ruins and administrator of the enormous cash flow that these sites provide) in person where you will be handed a ticket that contains a folio number. A website address is also provided for the next step. Be sure to take along ID in case you don’t look foreign enough.

2) You must then take the folio number and enter it on a web page on the aforementioned website. A confirmation screen comes up and you must print this page. Hopefully the website will be up and hopefully you will have access to the internet AND A PRINTER.

3) You then take the printed page (save our forests!) to the ticket counter at Chichen Itza where it is checked against a list for that day, to see if you are on it. If you are, hooray, you get a ticket and can go to the lineup where the ticketholders are waiting to get in to see the show. If not, well, all that previous work was for nothing.

4) Enjoy your walk to the area where you will witness this technological wonder, where you will be amazed by lighting effects splashed on the buildings. The show itself will last a whopping 25 minutes.

5) Enjoy the walk out, and back to your car. And the drive back to wherever you came from.

I hope this post has been helpful to you, dear reader. Personally I could think of easier ways to grant access to a free show, most of which involve lining up and then letting people in, but I am hardly an expert in such matters.

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Eureka!

Some finicky Lawson guests as well as many friends and acquaintances have all raved about Eureka and so, it is more than appropriate that the Critic take note and see what all the fuss is about.

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Once again accompanied by the ever-present and charming Better Half, the Critic visited on a Sunday and experienced this latest Italian entry into the Merida restaurant scene first-hand. And what a great experience it was!

The Critic and BH we welcomed at the door by smiling faces that seemed genuinely pleased to receive new lunch guests. This is remarkable when you consider how many times your welcome at a restaurant seems less than cordial, or perhaps at some of these places they already know it’s the cranky Critic and are preparing for the worst.

Chef Fabrizio stopped by the table and said hello and told the Critic a little about where he had worked before and so on. Friendly chit chat that just seemed natural.

The menu is interesting in that all of the appetizers aka aperitivi, all priced the same, making it easy both for customers and wait staff to figure out the bill. Salads and soups too.

But you readers want to know what the Critic thought of the food, right? Well let’s just say it was/is sublime. Absolutely lip-smacking, finger-licking and palate-pleasing-ly scrumptious.

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Mixed olive appetizer. And those garlic pieces.

To start, an appetizer of mixed olives with cured garlic (above) that sent Better Half to the moon and back, followed by an amazing mixed salad of the day and an asparagus/prosciutto/mozzarella appetizer that featured a fresh and creamy mozzarella cheese with a texture that straddled the line between fresh cream and soft cheese. You could have eaten it with a spoon and it was delicious!

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Mozzarella, Prosciutto e Asparagi

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Mesticanza del Giorno

Then, the main courses of salmon and pasta. The pasta is not the most photogenic of plates, but the Critic can assure you that this house specialty is an absolutely mouthwatering combination of flavors and textures. The pasta was a tiny bit inconsistent in texture, as in a few pieces a bit more al dente than others, but nothing to lose sleep over. The ragu sauce was so good!

The perfectly grilled salmon was dressed up with a fresh pea and leek puree sauce, and also outstanding. Even better, if that is possible, were the roasted potatoes served alongside the fish. These would be fantastic for breakfast with a little bacon a la German bratkartoffeln.

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Riccioli Eureka

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Salmone alla Flavia

And dessert? Well it had to be tried, although there was really no room whatsoever left at this point. The tiramisu is amazing.

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Eureka is on Facebook and their address is there, as well as on the sign in the photo below.

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If you are a fan of Oliva, Bella Roma or even Due Torri, you will definitely enjoy this new Italian restaurant that pushes the envelope yet again and raises the bar for anyone contemplating opening another Italian eatery in Merida. Grazie, Fabrizio e Vero!

 

The Coliseo Experience – Marc Anthony Comes to Merida

marcanthony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At last, we are inside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

6 Reasons Why Uxmal is Better Than Chichen Itza

Uxmal is better than Chichen Itzá.

Yeah, I said it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

6 Cool Places to Escape the Heat in Merida

Damn it's hot!

Damn it’s hot!

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

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

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

1. The Vegetable and Fruit Refrigerated Room at Costco

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

2. OXXO Convenience Stores

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

3. Galeria Mall

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

4. Altabrisa Mall

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

5. Starbucks

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

6. The Casa Montejo Museum

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