Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Putting your best face forward...

Sydney realtors call photos like this "lifestyle shots"!
We made our first trip to Merida in April of 2010, and the city won us over pretty quickly.  By the end of the week we had already seen about a half dozen houses.  One easily stood out for me, although Darren was not quite as convinced. I thought that the house had everything....proximity to our favorite park, a medium sized grocery store and pharmacy within 2 blocks, a good-but-not-great price, and lots of potential though it was not easy to see at first glance.  We flew home, and over the next several months I imagined, dreamed, sketched, and fantasized about renovating that house as our Merida home base.

I'm generally cautious though, and I agonized about the price and the timing...we weren't anywhere near the point in our lives when a move to Mexico would make sense, and what might have been a bargain price for some folks was a lot of money for us.  And so we waited.  I checked the status of that house every day for months until one day the listing changed to "under contract."  Surprisingly, I wasn't devastated.  After all, the timing wasn't at all right for us.  But the disappointment did make us think hard, settle on a plan, and really commit to the idea of finding the right place for us in Merida.

All of this is a long introduction to explain why I check up on this particular house on nearly every trip to the city. When we were here in February, the new owners had started a renovation project, and on this trip they appear to be finished.  The house looks great, and the before/after pictures of its facade demonstrate exactly why a good eye can be your best asset in a Merida house hunt.  That plain, uninspiring facade has now turned into this:

I have no idea who bought the house, or what the inside looks like.  But the new facade is beautiful, and the location is the same stunner that it always was.  I'm glad that someone saw the potential in this fixer-upper, and I hope that they enjoy it for years to come.  For me, though, this house will always be the one that pushed the fuzzy dream of a Merida home into an actual plan for a future reality.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A quick trip to Celestun

In all of the time that we have spent in Merida, we have rarely ventured outside of the city...actually only once, to Uxmal (which will be the subject of a separate post soon).  This is too bad, because what is outside of Merida is as interesting as what is inside. Yesterday we tried to correct for our oversight with a half a day in Celestun.

Celestun is about one and a half to two hours outside of Merida.  The distance isn't far, but the drive takes you through a number of towns and smaller pueblos that take some time to traverse.  Most of these are in the first half of the drive, with the last half dominated by a long, straight road through lots of scrubland and nothing.  The drive is not difficult, and there is lots to see that will give you a deeper perspective on the Yucatan outside of Merida.

Just before you come to Celestun proper, you cross a bridge over the river (although on a map it seems more like a large tidal inlet from the Gulf) where there is a boat dock for tours to see the flamingos.  The facility has parking, restrooms, a couple of snack counters, and vending machines along with the ticket booth and the dock itself.  We took a 1-hour boat trip that cost 800 pesos for the five of us.  I don't think that the price changed for the number of people (so long as you could all fit on one boat), but it would be an overstatement to suggest that I understood the complete exchange with the lady in the ticket booth.  Others who were there booked the more extensive two-hour tour.
The boats have 8 seats and a canopy to protect from the sun.

The one-hour tour took us out to see a group (flock?  gaggle?) of flamingos, a mangrove tunnel, and a cenote that bubbled up within the mangroves.  Although you could swim in the cenote, it was not very inviting on the day of our trip.  Our guide (the boat driver) told us that for the last ten days there had been no flamingos, but that the small group that we saw had arrived on the morning of our trip.  Both the guide and other folks in Merida report that on a good day there can be literally thousands of these graceful, unlikely birds.  We spent about 15 minutes of our hour watching them, and I could easily have spent more.  The mangroves were interesting, and the short boardwalk into the trees to get to the cenote was fun, so long as you bring mosquito repellent.  In the mangrove tunnel, the guide pointed out aerial termite colonies built onto the trees, something I had never seen before.

After the boat trip we went in to Celestun proper.  It is a small beach town right on the Gulf and, like Merida, seems to have been investing in fixing itself up.  This is especially apparent in the "first row," the street just behind the restaurants, small hotels, and shops that open directly to the beach.  The "second row" drops off a one ruin, someone had penned up a family of goats that we heard and smelled as we approached!  Still, the town was a very pleasant place for a wander.

The very best of Celestun, though, was lunch.  We ate at a small restaurant that opened right up to the beach.  In fact, the sand of the beach ended somewhere about mid-way back into the restaurant itself.  The shaded tables were cool and the breeze off the Gulf was welcome.  The menu was all seafood, and was nearly all good.  We had ceviche, sauteed crab meat with rice, stuffed fish, Mexican shrimp, and shrimp in garlic.  I would have all but the last dish again in a heartbeat, and would even make the whole trip back just for the ceviche and the sauteed crab.  We loved everything about lunch, including the 8-minute rainstorm and accompanying winds that brought the temperature down by 5 or 10 degrees, if only for a few minutes.

The drive back was uneventful and ended with an afternoon of napping.  For Darren and me, it was good to learn that there are destinations within an easy drive or bus ride from the city that are appealing enough to draw you back repeatedly and a sane, quiet beach town near Merida even in the height of summer.  If you haven't been to Celestun, we would recommend a trip whether you are a resident or a tourist.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Not Exactly an "Audrey II"

The house that we are renting has an entire bed filled with this strange and interesting plant.  While I'm fairly sure that it isn't a blood-thirsty alien (aka Little Shop of Horrors), it has caught my attention.  The complete plant looks like this:

The baby plants along the edges of the leaves are fascinating, not merely in their appearance but in their behavior as well.  During a rainstorm the other day, it seemed like many of the baby plantlets actually leaped right off of the leaves!  Sadly, most of them landed on hot, hard concrete rather than welcoming earth (though we did sweep most of them into the garden beds).

I can't figure out whether this is some Darwinian reproductive maneuver, or maybe just the physical force of the rain hitting the leaves and dislodging the baby plants.  Either way, it was a treat to watch.  Does anyone know what kind of plant this is?

Monday, July 2, 2012


Since our first trip, we've managed to make it back to Merida between two and three times per year.  So much has been happening in the city that one of the first things we do is go out to see what has changed.  This trip is no exception, and there are lots of improvements. 

The majority of the municipal work in Centro seems to be complete, and the Plaza Grande and the parks look really good.

The lighting on the major buildings along C. 60 is dramatic, and the new paving on streets and sidewalks (for those streets that had work) are a welcome change.  

The new roofed arcade between the Cathedral and the MACAY is a pleasant place for a stroll and will also probably be a welcome shelter during unexpected summer storms.  Although there are doors for what look like shop spaces all along the MACAY side, only one (a Mayan crafts shop) was open on Saturday.  Since this area will be on virtually every tourists' list, it seems like these spaces would be ideal for shops or tour agencies.

My personal favorite addition, though, are new signs throughout Centro for the directionally challenged that helpfully point the way to major sites and destinations.  Like the sidewalks and renovated parks and the new lighting, these signs seem like a clear indication that the city is ready for tourists and ready for its close up.