Cole had left Canada on the 23rd of December and arrived in Cancun on Christmas Eve so things were busy. Merida has a lot going for it, history, cuisine, Spanish architecture and an atmosphere unmolested by tourism. That doesn’t mean it’s not a busy city, 800,000 people make for some hustle, but it’s a natural fun hustle. With the largest Mayan concentration of any city in Mexico, or Central America for that matter, it was a good place to start our Mayan loop. All one has to do to get an idea of the Mayan people’s journey and Yucatan’s bloody history is explore the Governor’s Palace on one side of the square. It is a beautiful building, but what makes it even more interesting are the paintings inside that depict the arrival of the Spanish and the subsequent plight of the Mayan people as they were eventually conquered and forced into slavery. It is a sobering collection to say the least but one that portrays what happened.
The city itself is a typical Spanish affair with streets in a grid pattern stepping out from a central square and one of the oldest cathedrals in the Americas with construction beginning in 1561. The cathedral is a testimony to how things used to work and the church’s influence wherever the Spanish took a hold. We explored it inside and out and caught a Christmas Eve service which was quite spectacular. I’m not a religious person but do appreciate architecture of such magnitude and religious or not it was hard not to be moved by the voices of the congregation singing hymns inside, I might go as far as to say it echoed a spiritual essence.
Outside in the square things were just as busy. Food carts ringed the square like wagons as their owners sold desserts to eager families while other families sauntered through the square to admire the Christmas creche. Cole and I took it all in, we were from Canada, the great white north, and here we were celebrating Christmas Eve with a temperature pushing 70 degrees. It was an interesting time in a city that had risen to prominence in the 19th century as fortunes were made in the sisal industry (rope) and buildings were built to reflect wealth from the industry, many of which survive today.
All in all it was a good beginning for Cole and I. Coming from Tim Hortons, Netflix and modern west coast style to a city that reflected Colonial ambitions and a taste of a bygone era makes one think of how history has a very strong hand in how countries evolve and the subsequent ebbs and flow that spawn cultural identity. Merida definitely had its own identity, one that I love and will visit again, one that is a world away from the silky beaches and tourist resorts in neighboring Cancun 300kms away.