Saturday, October 31, 2009

Last night at my house

On the street outside the house last night I heard drumming and a low, haunting sound. I opened the front door and saw this.
You don't have to go far to see some amazing sights here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

"This is Yucatan"

I realize I  haven't said much about the attractions of Merida and the Yucatan. In reality I haven't been able to visit the surrounding towns and ruins this time around because of all the house-hunting busy-ness. However, someone has posted a YouTube video which gives a good, if somewhat idealized, picture of what is so irresistible about this place. It's a bit light on the dirt and noise and heat of the city, the smells and the delays and frustrations, but hey, it's a promotional piece.
Here in La Ermita tonight the main street is closed to traffic and people have set up Hanal Pichan altars outside the church and all the way down the street as far as my house. I took a few pictures though the afternoon light was challenging with my cheapo camera.  It is very moving to see the photos of old folks and dads and teenagers and babies propped up on the tables amid food and flowers. A stage is set up by the park. I wonder what the performance will be tonight?
This spot is a parade of beautiful and unexpected scenes. Last night I looked out my door and a man was coming around the corner on a horse. Not driving one of the calesas - the buggies with the undersized ponies that serve the tourist trade. But a full-sized horse, with just a regular looking guy on top, in the middle of a big city. I wonder if he keeps it in one of those huge yards that extend way back from the street. You can't tell where they are, behind the high facades and walls of the houses here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead displays and preparations are visible everywhere in Merida these days. Last night, cycling to dinner, I could see through open doors and windows  the altars set up in the front rooms of houses, with balloons and/or flowers and favourite objects and food arranged for the deceased family members. (Often there's a halloween display in another corner.) Today there was an elaborate display and performance at the Casa de Las Artesanias in Centro Merida. In this city you see women in the traditional Mayan clothing everywhere doing everyday things, but it was stunning to see so many gathered for this event, dressed in the most elaborate huipiles, performing and sitting by their Day of the Dead altars. Here are some photos. The Mayan version of the celebration is called Hanal Pichan which means "meal with the dead." Some of the altars are very elaborate.

Some are very simple.

Pasta time!

Fans of Merida's colonial architecture have a mania about pasta floor tiles. Frequently in the real estate listings you'll see photo after photo of the floors, with maybe a shot of the wooden vigas on the ceiling and not much else. These tiles are made by pouring different colours of cement pasta, or paste, into a mold which is then allowed to set. They can last hundreds of years. Here is a small selection of pasta floor patterns I've been walking on over the past couple of weeks. It's hard to keep the feet out of the picture.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Second look in Mejorada/Chen Bech

Last time I mistakenly called this neighborhood Chuminopolis. That's further east. Here are interior pictures. I really like this one.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A second look in Santiago

Went to see the colonial house with the vigas for a second time today. I'm back and forth on the pros and cons of this house. It's in the best location in terms of being close walking distance to all the main attractions: the Zocalo/Plaza Grande, Santiago square, markets, shopping, Paseo de Montejo (the wide avenue modeled on the Champs Elysees), all the music and cultural hot spots. It's even close to the Merida English Language Library. Most of the houses in this area are way out of my price range. However the street is busy with cars and buses - at times. When we were there today for more than an hour it seemed very quiet. Even when vehicles went by they didn't seem loud. In the back of the house and in the courtyard and garden it was particularly peaceful. So it's back on the list, I think. This location is "in the zone" as Lexy's friend Debbie says. It would definitely be attractive to people looking for a central place to rent. But for us, staying long-term?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Chuminopolis and Day of the Dead

Much pounding of hot pavement today, trying to find the perfect Day of the Dead gift for the daughter. Can't seem to find the funky Mexican folk art store that we went to before. But did get a chance to take a tour of the unfamiliar neighborhood around one prospective house. It's described variously as Mejorada, Chen-Bech and Chuminopolis. Whatever, it seems quite nice. Here are lots of pix

La pelota de golf

That means the game of golf. I looked it up. David asked, what about golf around Merida. It had never crossed my mind, though I recalled hearing about a new development north of the city called La Ceiba. It's named for a type of tree with a funny trunk. Here's a discussion thread on Tripadvisor about La Ceiba. This page has information about another golf course, Club de Golf de Yucatan. and other golf courses in the region if you wanted to try a bunch.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The cure for culture shock

Lexy took me sightseeing today. Not to the ruins or anything like that. She revealed to me the secret cure for culture shock which often strikes people visiting for the first time. A trip to the high-end megamalls in the north of the city. I don't even feel like I have culture shock but I started forgetting where I was and automatically speaking to the store employees in English.
It seems you can get almost anything here, now. It didn't used to be that way - Tom was remembering how, when we worked at the now-defunct Mexico City News, the opening of the first McDonald's in Mexico was a really big story.

Chuburna beach house

I wasn't planning to look for a beach house but Katy at the inn, who also sells real estate, took me on a drive to the small fishing village of Chuburna, to look at a house she thought would be a good one for us.
It's very interesting. Here are some photos of the house and the area 

The ex-pat connection

Saturday night. Just got back from the Yolisto "meetup" at La Playa de Chelem restaurant in the beach town of Chelem, east of Progreso. A great time with a very friendly bunch.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Saturday morning in Progreso

Took an early bus to the port town of Progreso, pop. 50,000. Haven't been here since 1982. Sure has changed. Hoped to hit several beach towns - east to Telchac Puerto to see the murals and the ladies who sell dulces at roadside stands. However, the 2:30 Costero bus was cancelled, or broke down, or something. So gave up on that and crammed into a combi (collective taxi) for the 7 peso ride straight to Chelem. There is a lot of wind here, and sand.
Here are some more images of Progreso.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Counting cars

After several days of viewing houses there are a few that seem like possibilities - sometimes. Other times I am unsure. None are just right. They are either too small, too expensive, too noisy, too much work to handle, too far from the Zocalo, too close to bars or bus stations or the firemen's social club or the main market.  
Tonight after attending (as a guest) the gathering of the International Women's Club, I walked, then cycled, around the colonial home in Santiago that was at the top of our list so far. I quickly realized there was more car and bus traffic on the street than I originally thought. I waited and counted. There sure are a lot of buses going to Petronilla, wherever that neighborhood is, and this seems to be their route!
Cycled past a couple of other houses that are under consideration, though they have their own drawbacks. Quieter streets, but at the moment I'm just feeling kind of discouraged.
Anyway, after several days dealing with camera and photo uploading and editing challenges,  here are some of the best of the bunch so far. Let me know what you think.

Santiago Modern (Santiago's an old neighborhood just a few blocks west of the historic centre. Also known as Gringo Gulch.)
Santiago Midcentury
Santiago Colonial Restoration
Viva las Vigas

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Viva las vigas!

There's something irresistible about  vigas, the high beams in very old colonial houses.
Out of all the houses I saw yesterday this is the one that really ticked the boxes, as they say. Actually it was more than box-ticking. It had a great spacious feel about it, beautiful details and character, a not-overwhelming amount of renovation to do, and a great quiet location near to everything. Unfortunately a lot of the photos were lost amid downloading problems (so I hope an upgraded Flickr account will handle the load). What you can't see is the patio and garden in the back with room for the "plunge pool" and an orange tree, as well as space to hang out and socialize. Here are the rest of the surviving photos. Oh, and here's a link to the real estate listing which has more photos.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Information overload

First day of viewings: Eight houses, 330 photos, and a computer that got a bad case of indigestion when I tried to upload them all. Still, there's one that really stood out once I put them all on a map and estimated renovation costs and the quietness and feel of the street and the neighborhood. We'll see what turns up on tomorrow's tour.
Meanwhile, I filled the bike tires and took it out for a spin - Mexican style. No helmet, no lights. It was great until I realized I'd got the street grid turned around in my head and was heading for Cancun by mistake. Still made it back in time for take out from the night food stands set up around Parque San Sebastian. No idea what I ordered but it was delicious.
Post Script:  I identified my mystery meal with the help of the web. It was panuchos and salbutes, entertainingly described in this article.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Morning walk

 Through the neighborhood, where the Sunday "Bici-Ruta" closes the street to motorized traffic. To the main market, a source for everything from sugar skulls (for Day of the Dead) to puppies and live chickens, as well as the full assortment of food, flowers and hardware.
After that, late breakfast with Lexy and Lorcan, our first in-person meeting after email and Skype chats over several months. Loved seeing their stunning renovation of their midcentury home. Then Lexy gave a guided tour of some charming Merida neighborhoods that were completely new to me. Now I've got pages of hastily scribbled notes and addresses of interest to decipher,
and a head full of new possibilities.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Night music

I must be finally caught up on rest from the trip, after packing it in early, too tired to go hear the Saturday concert in the central square.
Now I'm wide awake. At midnight the cacophony of the streets died down as if on cue: the loud traffic out front, occasional shouting, strange animal calls, thumps and bangs and other interesting sounds. Now come faint voices from old records on the night air, mixed with the background hum of distant traffic and barking dogs.

Welcome to the 'hood

Hard to believe I'm really here. The little house I'm renting is even cooler than I thought, though I mean that in the funky, hip sense of the word, not as a reference to climate. It is hot, but the fans and the afternoon breeze through the open doors do help. There are a couple of resident iguanas that cause a racket when they run along the metal roofing over the covered porch/storage area. And what a charming neighborhood. Some colourful renovated and restored houses and lots of original ones with the abuelitas standing in the doorway. Raul, the shopkeeper next door, had heard I was coming and called out to me as I was walking back to the house with my take-out barbecued chicken(more on that to come). I had been told he was really friendly and would help if I needed anything. Big welcome, introductions to his daughter(who bestowed a hug and cheek-peck) and son Carlos.
Now I am restored by the pollo asado from the place a block from here, and I'm ready to go find more coffee and explore the streets around here.
Here's someone else's blog post about the charms of Merida as well as some ruins we haven't yet seen. Pix to come. First, coffee.

Airport purgatory

Taking the long way to Merida, as it turns out. Fifteen hours by bus, ferry and air yesterday. Overnight in the Mexico City Airport Hilton (not as fancy as it sounds, in fact sort of like a Travellodge with an upscale lobby, but comfortable enough.) Love seeing the Diego Rivera mural of man´s dream of flight, mounted without fanfare over the nondescript domestic departures check-in.

Monday, October 12, 2009

43 degrees of separation

The weather turned cold today. It's 6 degrees Celsius in Victoria, 50 fahrenheit. Toes went numb on the dog walk. Wearing coats in the house again.
I see on it's 93F in Merida. In five days I'll be there.

Friday, October 2, 2009

There goes the neighborhood

Corporate Board Member magazine features Merida in its lineup of "Great Places for a Rich Retirement"

But seriously, I keep stumbling upon blogs by other people, regular folks even, fixing to move to Merida or thereabouts. You'd think there's a movement afoot. Today's other discovery is Moving to Merida. They've included a very handy guide on their blog about what to watch for when house-buying in Merida or the beach towns, salvaged from yet another Merida expats' guide that's now defunct.

Meanwhile I'm finally at the stage of lining up houses to see in Merida. I've been dreaming of a crumbling old high-ceilinged colonial project somewhere, but
Arturo Novelo with Mexico International sparked my interest in something newish in one of the lovely old neighborhoods. More of a decorating challenge than a renovating challenge.
What do you think? I'll be taking a vote as we work our way through the list.

13 days to go!