The very small bathroom contains a sink, toilet with no seat, which is typical in rural Mexican homes, and a shower area with a sloping floor for drainage. No hot water. A stack of toothbrushes, a bar of soap, and a few tubes of toothpaste sat on a small counter next to the sink, which I took in without judgment or opinion. It’s just what is. I knew ahead of time it would be critical to suspend any sense of judgment regarding how local people lived. I was trying to be an adventurer in the real sense of the word.

The noises during the night were different and noisy. First it was dogs barking, which was later replaced by birds singing, and around 3:00 am hundreds of roosters in the barrio, neighborhood crowed into the early morning hours.

I woke up around 6:30 Sunday morning to the sounds of people stirring, motorbikes passing, and dogs barking. I’d slept in my jeans and T-shirt and got out of my hamaca, put on my flip-flops and used the bathroom again. Sitting on a toilet without a seat was a new experience that I got used to but didn’t feel entirely comfortable with.

I walked through the living room out on the patio where Mama, her older sister, Alondra’s sister, and Padre were stoking 3 fires simultaneously and cooking Sunday Comida, the biggest meal of the week.  There were huge pails of cooked turkeys, various types of peppers and onions being grilled and giving off an aroma that assaulted my nose and made my eyes tear, shredded cooked pork, turkey skin pouches the size of footballs being stuffed with something and sewn up in the cooked turkeys and boiled in a rich gravy with lots of seasonings along with several of other dishes cooking on fires. The olores, smells, were overwhelmingly inviting but Comida was still hours away so I went to the store with Alondra and bought some cookies for breakfast. She made me coffee, which was instant and unfamiliar to my SF taste buds, but sufficed.

Like the day before, relatives came and went in droves. Some stayed and helped cook, others watched television, and some just sat and talked with each other. The informality was refreshing and no one ever thought to call before showing up.

Sunday Comida was a major taste sensation. The stuffed turkeys that had been cooking for hours in a heavily seasoned broth were cut up and the stuffing put into bowls. The grilled peppers and onions were put out with the turkey along with a huge stack of fresh tortillas about a foot tall. There was also a dish whose name I can’t remember but it was finely diced turkey gizzards and other internal organs that were cooked in two huge turkey skins for hours with muy picante seasonings.

There’s always some sort of soup to put turkey and all the other ingredients into and eat with a spoon and fingers. All I can say is that it was muy rico, delicious, rich in flavors and a real taste sensation.  We drank beer with Comida and people came and went, eating and talking during the 2-hour late afternoon lunch. It was remarkable how easily the family traffic flowed.

After Comida, having not slept much the night before I lay in my hamaca and fell asleep instantly. An hour later I woke and sat on the patio in the middle of the family flow and spoke with Padre for a while. His Spanish was easy to understand and we spoke at length about life in Teabo and other topics he was interested in discussing.  After I told him about my novia, girlfriend, Nancy he invited both of us to visit at Navidad, Christmas for a few days. But after describing my experience to Nancy she said she didn’t feel quite so adventurous so I’ll likely go back to Teabo again on my own. I understood how she felt without judgment.

Instead of taking a colectivo back to Merida since they don’t run on Sundays Alondra suggested we take the bus but when it was time to leave around 3:00 pm her uncle who had brought her abuelo, her 86-year old grandfather to Comida, offered to drive us to a town near Merida. When we arrived in the town Alondra, her novio, and I took a bus to Merida. It made a lot of stops along the half-hour trip and I watched the scenery change from sparsely populated to a thickly populated one. I noticed over the weekend how quickly Alondra transformed from a Merida university student to a pueblo girl again.

I took a taxi from the bus terminal to my apartment, a ten-minute ride. When I arrived home I collapsed from exhaustion, took a long shower, put all my laundry together to take to the lavenderia Monday morning, and fell asleep for an hour. That night I ate some fruit I had and woke up today, Monday morning, and went to a café to write this blog with help from 3 espreso dobles, double espressos.

I’ll need some time to process the weekend in depth because it was so packed with new experiences and people. It was an extraordinary 36 hours I was agredecido, grateful to have experienced.

 

After the warm greeting I was told to leave my backpack in one of the rooms and invited out to the patio, a large cement deck about 30×30, with a corrugated tin roof, and 3 different cooking fires all burning simultaneously, the smoke wafting on gentle breezes. The primitive nature of the constantly stoked and replenished cooking fires, enflamed all my fantasies about how people live outside the cities.

Mama, who is in her mid-60s, her older sister, and Padre, Alondra’s father were in various stages of cooking Comida, the main meal of the day typically eaten around 2:00 to 3:00 every afternoon.

I noticed something about the women in particular. Every woman had tiny hands that felt like miniature catcher’s mitts. Strong, muscled hands and fingers born from working masa dough and laboring hard every day. When I shook each woman’s hand I was instantly reminded of how hard they work. Even Mama and her older sister lifted huge, heavy pots of food from the fires and carried them to a worktable to cut up. They carried large bottles of water like we use in coolers at home as if they weighed little.

Beyond the patio was a large, yard with a gentle upslope whose only landscaping were a few trees. The groundcover was dirt and large volcanic appearing rocks protruding from the ground. It was about a 1½ acres and was filled with animals. There were 3 dogs tied up around the yard to protect the large number of pavos, turkeys, pollos, chickens, and other birds the Ic family raise for food.  I noticed their neighbor raised goats as well as turkeys and chickens.

The padre, father, proudly showed me around the yard pointing out each animal, telling me how old each was and what he feeds them, the dogs barking constantly as I intruded their space. The large chicken wired areas that held turkeys and chickens were clearly not cages for pets, and even the dog runs had a purpose, to protect the livestock.

I was already numb from the sensory overload and struggled to remain able to take in more of what I knew would surely be much more to come. Alondra’s sisters, a slew of nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles constantly circulated in and out of the home, the front gate and front door of which were never shut.

It was time for Comida and I was invited to sit at the kitchen table on one of only a few chairs. A harina soup, a heavily flavored masa liquid, was the main dish that each person shredded some turkey that was set out on a large plate. The soup was finished with big dollops of a muy picante, spicy, red tomato sauce that had been cooking outdoors. A large stack of fresh corn tortillas sat in the middle of the small table where everyone could reach them.

Mayan Yucatecans eat with cucharros, spoons only, no forks or knives, but mostly they eat with their hands, using tortillas to scoop up pieces of turkey from the harina soup. This was a simple Comida for a Saturday afternoon. People came and went and many sat and ate for a few minutes before leaving.

I was emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted already and I’d only been in the Ic family home for a few hours. So much action that it was hard to keep up with. I went to the Mercado a few blocks away before Comida with Padre to buy cerveza, beer, and he refused to let me pay. He told me I could pay when he comes to San Francisco, which I knew was never going to happen.

I was able to comprehend the majority of the dialogue from nearly everyone. They didn’t speak Mayan to me but did to some family members, which of course I didn’t understand at all. It’s not remotely Spanish. Mayan is unique and is making a huge comeback in elementary schools all over the Yucatan.

Some younger family visitors came over and just lay in hamacas and watched television throughout the day but none stayed longer than an hour. Some arrived on foot and others on motocicletas, motorcycles.

In the evening I walked 2 blocks to town with Alondra and her novio where Alondra’s mother runs a small restaurant that’s only open Saturday and Sunday evenings. She cooks in a thatched hut over a few propane gas rings and serves just a few different dishes. This is the only restaurant in town. The Saturday night I was in Teabo she cooked 3 different, deep- fried corn tortilla dishes. No beer, just sodas. Families came to eat and some, llevar, to take out. Everyone knew everyone of course.

When we got back to the house it was time to sleep and I was given the largest room to sleep in alone. A freshly laundered hamaca was hung on hooks on opposing walls and a piece of fabric meant to be a door hung for privacy. The television was tuned to a Mexican soap opera that I’d watched with Alondra and her novio, boyfriend, for a while. Classic Mexican soap, highly emotional and expressive.

After a short while I was given a blanket and left to my hamaca for the night. Okay, here’s the truth. I didn’t have an iota of an idea how to sleep in this type of hammock. It wasn’t remotely like a Pier One rope hammock that you just flop onto. It was just a bunched up nylon hamaca, which I stretched open and plopped onto hoping I wouldn’t fall on the cement floor. All I can say is that most of the night I kept trying to figure out how to get comfortable, especially about turning over without falling out.

I got up in the night to piss and walked by Padre who was asleep and snoring like a freight train in his hamaca strung on hooks in the living room. I noticed he had wrapped himself up in his hamaca like a cocoon, which gave me some idea how to manage mine.

 

I’m a big fan of the weekly NY Times articles headlined 36 hours in (fill in the blank). I just spent about that amount of time this past weekend in Teabo, a small pueblo of 6,000 Mayan people an hour from Merida. My first impressions of small villages in Mexico have become fairly accurate since visiting many over the years.

Colectivo

I met my friend Alondra at La Catedral in El Centro Saturday morning to travel to her family home in Teabo. Instead of heading for the bus terminal we weaved our way through a series of crowded mercados to a side street where she knew there would be a colectivo, which in this case was an old van nearly full. Alondra squeezed in the back and I sat in front with two other people. As we drove on the highway I had a quick thought that I just as quickly dismissed from my consciousness. I considered the llantas, tires, and hoped they weren’t suave, smooth.

One of the lessons I’m learning on this exceptional journey to Mexico is not to have any expectations about new things, but instead just wait and see what happens. I catch myself in mid-thought sometimes when I’m facing something new and instead of hoping, wondering, or wanting, I try to relax into just letting it all unfold. This is proving to be an enormous help since I’m learning to relax, accept, and enjoy without any anxiety related to what will happen. Lesson not entirely learned, but learning.

The owner of the colectivo played Cumbia music loudly on the radio for the passengers’ entertainment. I’ve always loved Cumbia, a combination of horns, percussion, and singers. It’s the kind of music that’s hard to listen to and sit still. The colectivo made a few stops at small pueblos along the way and an hour after we left we were dropped off in the center of Teabo.

Sensory Stuff

My first sensory sensation was the aloro, smell, of smoke in the air emanating from the ubiquitous cooking fires coming from every home in Teabo. The smell of lena, pronounced lenya, the 2-3 inch round 4 foot sticks of wood used for cooking outdoors are a part of every pueblo, and the smell is one I’ve always loved and associated with a hominess I’d wondered about but had never seen up close.

The second sensory sensation was the obvious rural quality of the pueblo. In one photo is a bull tied up to a tree downtown, the meaning of which is clear. They have an active Corrida, bullfighting ring in Teabo. The tied up bull was being prepared for the Corrida. I was definitely in the country, which is the only place one would see a bull tied up to a tree downtown.

The small town square isn’t ornate of even particularly pretty but there are stores lining it. A small Mercado, grocery and whatever else locals need store, and a series of other stores that se vende, sell products geared to local needs. All of the signs were written in Spanish and Mayan, a language spoken by everyone in Teabo.

We walked 2 quadras, blocks, to Alondra’s family’s home, which is halfway down a small, quiet street behind a low, whitewashed stone, wall and an wrought iron gate. Her family was waiting for us and everyone came to the door when we arrived.

First impression of their home was a very old cement and stucco house, small windows to keep out the heat from the sun, rough cement floors, and not a stick of furniture except a few dressers scattered around the 4-room home. Everyone in Teabo sleeps on hamacas, hammocks, which they attach to hooks in opposing walls at night to sleep.

There are a few small televisions in the house and an altar high up on the wall of the main room with candles lit.

The kitchen has a small plastic table and a few plastic chairs, a propane stove that is rarely used since gas is expensive, and not much else except a small counter. 90% of the cooking is done outdoors.

Alondra’s mother and father greeted me with huge sonrisas, smiles, and welcomed me like I was someone they’d always wanted to have visit their home. It was genuine and sweet and I relaxed into the emotional glove they offered. During my time at the Ic family home there was a non-stop flow of relatives visiting, helping cook, and small children just running around.

No one needs an invitation and the Ic family home has roots that go back a hundred years. And since they are related to a large percentage of Teabo people the flow of family traffic, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and grandchildren only ends when everyone goes to bed.

 

 

I’m just beginning to discover the Merida art scene. I can’t remember what list I signed up for but I received an invitation to take a one-week ceramics class with Valentina Sandoval, a famous Mexican ceramicist and sculptor, from Nov. 22nd to 29th. The class will be taught at her husband’s art studio. Here’s a link to the invitation.  https://shoutout.wix.com/so/0L_eAaok?cid=f264b26f-a98a-4f3b-987b-5e58d8a843fa#/main

I went to La Sala art gallery on Calle 60 to sign up.  I mentioned Calle 60 in the past because it’s Merida’s University Ave. It’s where I met Laura Garcia, the gallery owner. Her husband is a well-known painter, some of whose work hangs in New York with Andy Warhol’s.

 

 

 

Laura is a delightful woman and another terrific source of information. I asked if she knew of any cooking classes taught in someone’s home rather than at big school and she gave me the name of a cleaning woman who also happens to be a well-known Yucatecan cook. I took cooking lessons 30 years ago from a woman at her home in San Miguel and after we’d cook a large meal she would invite me to stay and have comida with her family. Comida is the big meal of the day typically eaten in late afternoon. People come home from work for 2 hours and families sit down together for comida. I’d like to duplicate that experience in Merida and based on my experiences with the friendly people here it might not be a longshot.

When I left Laura’s art gallery I walked a few blocks to Paseo Montejo, the magnificent wide boulevard for breakfast and met Margie, a woman from Texas who moved here with her husband 3 years ago. She volunteers at the Merida English Library where I’m headed in an hour to join a mentoring group for college students. I miss tutoring at Richmond College Prep and I hope this program gives me a similar feeling.

Merida English Library (MEL)

MEL hosts a myriad of weekly events for locals and expats. Besides the Monday evening Spanish/English conversation class I attend there is a mentoring program in which college students are paired with Americans to improve their English skills since they’re all studying to be English teachers and want to talk with native speakers to improve their abilities.

My group has an American couple from Manhattan, Bob and Manju who is originally from India, and two students, 5 of us in all. We are asked to only speak English. Aleyda and  Estafania are sweet young women who had to work incredibly hard to get into university. They both come from small villages an hour or so by bus from Merida. Our first outing is next Saturday and we’re meeting at La Catedral in Centro. We plan to go to the Macay, a contemporary museum that I visited when I arrived in Merida.

We’ll go to lunch afterward somewhere Bob and Manju know since they’ve been living here for 4 years. Coincidentally my new apartment is just a few quadras, blocks from Bob and Manju’s home in Merida and since we’re neighbors we plan to get together. I can’t have too many friends.

An Oscar Tomayo and A Diego Rivera taken at the Macay.

 

 

 

 

 

Luis

Saturday night and I’m meeting my friend Luis, the college student/waiter for dinner. This is our second get together. I speak Spanish, which Luis corrects, and vice versa. It seems like there are quite a lot of Yucatecans interested in learning to speak English and one of the problems is that in the universities none of the teachers is a native speaker. Students don’t get the colloquialisms or the easy way Americans speak English.

Got to take my routine second shower of the day before meeting Luis. It’s pretty hot in the afternoon and after walking any distance during the day a second shower feels appropriate. Fortunately getting my laundry done at the lavenderia around the corner is inexpensive and overnight. My laundry omes back neatly folded and wrapped in plastic. Okay, I know, plastic pollutes but I’m not here on an environmental crusade. The Yucatan will have to figure that one out without my assistance.

Nancy

Missing Nancy and thinking about her frequently, especially when I visit an interesting museum, monument, or restaurant. I’m excited about sharing the places I’m discovering.

We talk every night kind of early for her because I’m 2 hours ahead. There’s no daylight saving time in Mexico.After updating each other about our days our conversations focus on our relationship. We’re still hammering out some issues and we don’t necessarily have the same sense of how well we’re doing but we do share a vision for a future together. We’re a glass half full glass half empty couple and I’ll let you guess who is which. Our enneagram numbers are 4 and 8 respectively and if you know much about the enneagram distinguishing our respective numbers will also be easy.

Everyone knows relationships are difficult but I can’t envision a future without Nancy in it. I’m working on my patience deficit. Merida is a good place to work on that since not much happens quickly here. I’m relaxing into waiting for things like food to be brought to the table in restaurants, drinks to be poured in bars, getting la cuenta, the check afterwards, and lots more. I’m doing pretty well so far and haven’t lost my temper in the 2 weeks I’ve been here, which may not be impressive for many people, but is a definite improvement for me.

Sunday Blues

Sunday is a day for strolling in the parks and the streets are closed to cars for the day along Calle 60. It’s called Bicicleta day and bicycles are available for rent by the hour. Couples holding hands, small children playing, and basically everyone in Merida out for the afternoon.

Sunday is a bluesy day for me here although I met my friend Julei from Martinez for desayuno, breakfast at Chaya Maya, a local fave. Not many tourists in Merida yet but December starts the season. Since Merida isn’t on the coast they don’t get nearly the number of tourists as coastal towns. Unlike most cities I’ve visited in Mexico restaurants in Merida are overflowing with locals.

Chaya Maya is a half block from Calle 60 and a 10-block walk from my house. Here’s a link to Chaya Maya if you’d like to see photos of the restaurant and menu http://lachayamaya.com. I love menus with photos. It’s a fantastic restaurant specializing in Yucatecan cuisine. It’s jumping from the time they open for breakfast until they close late at night and there’s usually a short to not so short wait for a table. Chaya Maya is indoors but it’s also afuera, outdoors because the center of the restaurant is open to the sky. Terrific, friendly service and killer food make this place a local scene. I had huevos divorciados, which literally means divorced eggs because there are 2 sunny side eggs on 2 tortillas with a different sauce on each. I’ve enjoyed this breakfast dish all over California and Mexico, but they do it with a Yucatecan flair here and it was muy rico, delicious.

I spoke with Nancy briefly while she was driving to the second day of a weekend workshop that she wasn’t particularly enjoying but needs the continuing education credits to maintain her license. She was looking forward to the end of the day. I felt badly for her because she’s a major-league seeker who absorbs knowledge like a dry sponge and she wasn’t absorbing much from this workshop. I miss Nancy, not so much in a heart-wrenching way, but more in a dull aching way brought on by watching couples hold hands, strolling the streets and parks of Merida It’s a hollow feeling and even though our separation was my doing I know that no experience is ever perfect.

Most journeys are replete with mixed feelings and mine is not an exception. I didn’t come to Merida because I craved isolation but it is a component of my experience. I’m agradecido, grateful, I’m still young and healthy enough to embark on this journey and I take comfort in the emotional work I’ve accomplished over the years that serves as a backstop. Knowing how to process my feelings, while sometimes complicated and awkward, is ultimately doable.

The friends I’m making here help keep the blues away. I genuinely like people and am thoroughly enjoying becoming acquainted with new folks who I seem to meet almost daily. I recognize everyone I meet has a life already, which makes their willingness to include me feel special. It’s good for my self-esteem because their warmth and openness signify I’m an okay guy. What a difference a few decades has made, even though my progress over the years has been difficult and even painful at times. I’m proud that I’m no longer little Kenny from Medford in terms of not trusting anyone, particularly strangers. My heart and mind are open to new people and new ideas. Ain’t life grand.

There’s a raucous fiesta, party, in progress next door this Sunday afternoon. There’s a live band playing Mexican music, a grill cooking meat for tacos with all the trimmings, and dozens of people enjoying themselves in the back yard. They’re playing the kind of Latin music that it’s impossible to listen to and sit still. I just had to investigate so I slowly strolled past to find the source of the ruido, noise, and by the time I asked the hostess if the fiesta was privada I was noticeably drooling. Of course it was private and even my friendliest, most beseeching cara, face, failed to evoke an invitation. Mexican people sure love to party and this fiesta was a full-blown doozy. It’s later now and the music has toned down to Mexican ballads so I think the fiesta will be over soon.

The smell of food cooking next door is forcing me out of my house to go on a taco hunt, which isn’t really a hunt in Merida as much as a choice since tacos restaurants are ubiquitous in Merida.  Off to eat.

 

Progreso

Progreso is a small beach town on the Gulf of Mexico 30 minutes from Merida. Alondra, my friend from the library Grupo accompanied me. We met at La Catedral in El Centro, a magnificent 15th Century church, the oldest in Mexico.

 

 

 

La Catedral

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alondra Ic May de Teabo

 

 

 

Progreso, like many Mexican beach communities I’ve visited in Mexico has a plethora of shops selling junky stuff but it also has lots of terrific seafood restaurants. We ate fresh fish for lunch sitting at a table under a palapa on the beach. It was predictably muy rico, delicious. Hot day with cooling Gulf breezes. Perfecto.

 

I’d planned to take the bus to Progreso but Alondra suggested we take a colectivo, a van shared with a dozen other beachgoers.It was a $1 each.  We walked along the boardwalk, the malecon, which parallels the beach. The view is the longest pier in the world, an unbelievable 7 miles long, at the end of which huge cruise ships dock. You’ll notice a cruise ship in the photo and it looks small because it’s 7 miles away.

 

 

A Fantasy Becoming a Reality

Alondra invited me to visit her family for the weekend of the 17th. They’re Mayan Mexicans and speak a Mayan dialect as well as Spanish. Alondra’s name is Mayan. They live in a small town an hour away by bus. Her mother owns a tiny restaurant, has 7 children and lots of grandchildren. Some of her siblings still live at home. This is an experience I’d fantasized about, spending real time with local people. Their family home has 2 rooms for sleeping, and no beds. They sleep in hammocks.

She was concerned that might be a problem for me but I assured her I can sleep anywhere. To be invited to a local family’s home is a big deal to me, and to be invited for an entire weekend is a fantasy come true. Her mom raises turkeys, pavos, in the backyard. Turkey is ubiquitous in Merida cuisine and it’s often marinated then cooked in banana leaves in a sauce. It’s the most popular ingredient in Yucatecan cuisine.

Long day and I’m exhausted after walking on the hot sunny beach. Got home and took a very long, cold, refreshing shower. Unlike much of Mexico there’s no water shortage here because Merida is on an aquifer. Ordered pizza delivery, my first attempt at doing business, negocio, on the telephone. A smiling guy showed up on a motorcycle with my pizza 30 minutes later. Success.

Zapatos

I needed to buy a pair of shoes, zapatos, because the pair I brought unfortunately is uncomfortable. James and Lori, the Philly folks I had pizza with last week suggested I visit a shop near El Centro that makes custom shoes. I told them custom shoes were out of my price range but he suggested I’d be pleasantly surprised. B&G Attelier is a shop owned by Alicia, a local woman, who learned her shoe making craft in Switzerland from a master craftsman at a two-year artisan college. She came back to Merida and taught two young Mexican men how to make shoes.

 

She’s a thoroughly delightful and gregarious woman who speaks 5 languages, but we did our transaction in Spanish, which pushed my limits and taught me conversational Spanish. I picked soft as butter, black leather and asked for a low cut, lace-up desert boot. I picked them up two days later and they feel amazing. They’re the lightest shoes I’ve ever worn and are wonderfully comfortable. Alicia and I have had a few long conversations about her shop, her training in Bern, Switzerland, and life in general. If I were reading this I’d be curious about the price of the shoes too, so I’ll tell you. My enthusiasm isn’t due solely to the price, but even more because owning a pair of handcrafted shoes is truly special.  $75  Happy feet

I’ll continue to seek out artisans like Alicia who represent the finest Mexican artisanal efforts. Nancy and I are big fans of the Mexican arts.

Hard to believe I’ve been here 2 weeks. Been busy much of the time, which is how I like it. Accomplishing some of the goals I set before leaving Berkeley. I’ve connected with Americans and Mexicans and hope to develop ongoing friendships with all of them and hopefully more. I’m confident I will.

I’m blogging a lot because there’s so much happening all at once and I want to share it before I forget. I’m probably going to slow it down as I settle in more. I’m excited about what’s happened already and eager to experience what’s to come. Looks like I’ll have 3 or maybe 4 visitors to show Merida, Nancy included.

It’s all, good!

 

 

A Cojero Automatica, ATM, ate my card a few days ago. Mechanics Bank Fedexed a new one but it took a few days before I could get efectivo, cash. How did we manage to travel before ATMs? Remember American Express Traveler’s Checks?

Finding my way around is easy here because all the Calles, Streets, are numbered, truly a blessing for the directionally challenged. Even numbered Calles run north to south and odd numbered Calles run east to west. Or is it the other way around? I’m not sure. I still take the wrong street occasionally (surprise), but it’s difficult to actually get lost. Wonder if there’s an app for my condition?

Saturday Night in Merida

 

 

Saturday night went to Rafaello’s, a small pizzeria in El Centro owned by an Italian and I went with an Italian couple from Philly. Besides being authentic New York/ Neapolitan pizza the evening was fun. I learned a lot about Merida from my new friends James and Lori. Had a Margherita pizza, thin crispy crust, sitting afuera, outside, on a small patio on a balmy evening. Actually, they’re all balmy.

 

 

We’re meeting for Korean food next. Oddly, there’s a small Korean community here dating from the 18th Century when Koreans were brought here to work the henequen fields. Henequen is an agave plant that thick rope was made from until synthetics were invented, which is when the henequen barons who owned mansions along Paseo Montejo went bust. Their abandoned mansions have been renovated by banks, restaurants, museums, etc. and are set back from the magnificent tree-lined boulevard, Merida’s Champs Elyse. Looks like Europe.

Saturday night large crowds of couples and families out strolling along Calle 60, the main drag. There’s music everywhere and a myriad of restaurants, bars, and events going on in every park. Locals come out in droves on Saturday night.

 

 

Lunch Sunday at La Pigua, a seafood restaurant near Paseo Montejo. Upscale but inexpensive. Had pulpo, octopus for lunch cooked over charcoal. Muy rico, delicious.

 

 

 

 

Met my new amigo Luis for una cerveza Sunday night to practice our English/Spanish. We’re both eager to speak each other’s languages better. I met him before briefly at the café where he works. Our language skills are equal, mas o menos. This is a perfect opportunity to speak Spanish better, along with my Monday night Grupo at the library. And I practice with the Uber drivers daily.

Couldn’t Get Found Until I Got That I Was Lost

What has become clear to me is that I had to acknowledge I was lost before I could begin to get found. I consulted my inner Lost & Found Department, a Beta Test Site for my Emotional GPS. Too California? Sorry, I slip into Berkeley-speak sometimes.

When I first focused on my impending journey I realized I wasn’t lost in the manner many of us describe when we simply can’t find our emotional pulse. I was feeling disoriented, disenchanted, and at times gloomy. Life had ceased to have the deeper meaning I was hungry for. I stumbled through it daily, mostly unconscious and without a desired connection with anyone, including me. At times this lack of connection prevented my relationship with Nancy to achieve a mutually desired intimacy level. Absence may or may not make the heart grow fonder but it definitely offers an opportunity for clearer perspective.

Joan Didion

After watching the Documentary about Joan Didion on Netflix a few nights ago I’m a fan. I quote her below because her thoughts on change caused me reflect on my desired change.

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not”… “You can’t remake yourself, whenever you wish. You can’t completely discard older versions of yourself like incremental software upgrades. It doesn’t work like that. You can’t learn from that. You need to be able to continually progress, while maintaining a part of who you were.”

Her quote put me face to face with a personal truth I’ve tried to avoid for a long while. I’ve created nearly every emotional disaster I’ve experienced.

My primary task while in Mexico will be to learn how to not create more. This means battling old demons. I hope to slay those demons and in the process find peace. As Joan suggests I can only accomplish this by maintaining pieces of my old self in the process. I used to believe an entire makeover was possible if I could only let go of all of my baggage at once. Since that hasn’t worked I’ll try it her way.

Found a perfect studio to record audiobooks in Merida that’s only a 10-minute Uber ride away. It’s 600 pesos for 6 hours, which is about $30, a super low price. Sweet guy runs it. I’ll work Tuesdays and Thursdays. Should meet my needs. I’m looking forward to working. I need a sense of purpose to feel productive.

I’m joining a group from the library that spends time with specific students for a few hours a week. I’ve always enjoyed tutoring kids. More to come on this.

As Porky Pig so succinctly says, Bda, bda, bda….that’s all folks!

 

I found an apartment for the rest of my stay in Merida beginning December 1st.  It’s a 2 bedroom so I have room for guests. It’s clean and just a few quadros, blocks, from Paseo Montejo, a wide boulevard lined with shops, cafes, and a few museums, and El Centro, the heart of the historic district. Not fancy, kind of a 70s retro feel, but the location is perfect.

The Merida English Library hosts a Spanish/English conversation night Monday evenings. Last night I sat at a Mexican table with three college students, a young man who works for the government, and an older woman who’s actually younger than me. I know, but I’m still not feeling like older describes me yet. At the end of our 2-hour conversation I suggested the six of us start a Club and everyone agreed. We’re meeting for dinner in a few nights. The students are young women that want to be language teachers. They’re very interested in hearing about where I live at home, and the older woman calls me guapo, which is embarrassing but she’s sweet. The young guy loves American talk shows and watches Jimmy Fallon and Ellen on YouTube. He’s kind of a Merida Hipster.

Photo of El Grupo

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve become friends with a woman from Martinez who has shown me around town and helped me find an apartment. Julei is a translator who has been visiting Merida for years after retiring from Contra Costa Emergency Services.

Now that I’ve met Julei and the wonderful Mexicans in my group I’m feeling more connected and less alone. I’m also going to meet with a Mexican college student who’s a waiter at a local café. We’re going to help each other learn English/Spanish. Between Luis and my Grupo I should have lots of practice speaking Spanish.

So much to explore. List of things to do next: visit Progreso, a coastal town 40 minutes by bus. It has the longest pier in the world at 7 miles, and the celotes, which are natural limestone pools for swimming near Maya archaeological sites. ]

Met a few people from my Grupo for dinner last night. Alondra Ic May de Teabo is the student in the center of the photo who is going to show me Progreso, a town on the Gulf Coast 30 minutes from Merida next week. She also invited me to her pueblo, which is an hour from Merida, to visit her family and show me around the area. The people in Merida have been remarkably cordial with me. It’s such a pleasure getting to know them.

 

Here’s a photo of a young girl in St. Lucia Park the other night. She was adorable and I thought you would enjoy her photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Went to a few art museums today. The Macaya has a Diego Rivera I liked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Went to Parque Mejorada for lunch after the Museo Arte Popular. They have an amazing garden filled with floral sculptures and have Mayan music playing in the parque. That’s it for now Mexico fans. I miss everyone but I’m having an extraordinary experience.

Arrived in Merida after midnight, wired, hungry, and totally disoriented after a day of flying and catching a connecting flight. Got the key to the apartment I rented and stayed up until 3:00 am partly because of the 2 hour time difference and partly because I was too wired to sleep.

Woke up feeling cement-headed and somewhat sad when I realized I was totally alone far from home. Got up, showered, and started walking. 3 hours later ate lunch outside overlooking the Grand Plaza. Walked to my local market and bought fruit, water and shower soap.

Back in my apartment in the Santiago neighborhood I searched the Internet and found a recording studio where I might be able to record audiobooks and also found a Spanish language immersion school.

I’m missing the human connection because it’s hard to ignore I’m a stranger in a strange land, so to speak. When I feel a tug on my heart I remember why I’m here and I put myself back into the community, walk around, getting a feel for the town.

Discovered there are only 2,000 Expats in Merida, a city of over 1 million. That’s the smallest % anywhere I’ve been in Mexico.

The locals are well dressed, neat, well groomed, and none show any sign of despair. No beggars in the street. Very different from Oaxaca.

The city is pastel colored, low-rise buildings and palm trees everywhere. Eaten several meals, all delicious. Yucatecan cuisine is well spiced but not hot. Lots of dishes cooked in sauces in banana leaves. Melt in your mouth kind of food. Took a Spanish test this morning before I could begin the tutoring. Ouch! I was surprised how elemental my grasp of Spanish has become. My first tutoring class is was later in the day and it was surprising how quickly much of it came back to me.

Patience has always been a struggle for me and I want to make friends, find an apartment for December through April, speak Spanish well, begin recording books, and just generally feel like I fit in here. I suspect learning patience will be a recurring lesson.

Dia Del Los Muertos

What I experienced last night, my second in Merida is difficult to put into words because there was so much emotion behind the procession from the Cemetery on the first of a week of nights of celebration for Dia de los Muertos.

I met a young Swiss couple from Zurich in Spanish class who had quit their jobs and were traveling the world and would only go home to work again when their money ran out. Sweet couple.

As I was wandering the streets trying to find the procession (okay everyone knows I have the world’s worst sense of direction) we ran into each other and the three of us followed the crowd to the cemetery walking for several miles. There were tens of thousands of people walking or waiting along the route, many wearing the traditional skeleton makeup. There were hundreds of tables lining the sidewalks in front of homes featuring photos of deceased relatives in alter-like settings with flowers, crosses, and other religious symbols. One photo shows two older women in front of their home with a small campfire on the sidewalk making and cooking tortillas for themselves.

The people wearing skeleton face paint and costumes were eager to pose for photos.

When we got to the old, weathered cemetery the first thing I noticed was a sea of mausoleums in various stages of repair, some small, others huge. We waited for the procession to begin along the road inside the cemetery with thousands of people, nearly all Mexican.

The first photos are of people made up for the occasion and the tables honoring the dead before the cemetary. In addition the sidewalks were lined for miles with food and drink vendors.There was an odd, almost ghostly spiritual music playing everywhere I’d never heard before, and the sweet smell of burning incense was heavy. It was the same incense Nancy and I bought in Oaxaca made from the wood locals use to carve animals, etc. There were about 500 men and women in the procession. They were solemn and a few held signs asking spectators to show respect. Taking photos was okay, though. I think there are aspects of Dia de los Muertos that are joyful but definitely not in this evening’s procession. We followed the crowd to a park where we had started walking an hour before. The crowd was enormous by now and moved very slowly, and as one.

I didn’t see one person drinking, or borracho, drunk, nor did I notice anyone smoking either. And the people following the procession as well as those watching along the route were relatively quiet. The only noise was the spiritual sounds in the air and occasional traditional Mexican music.

This is a weeklong celebration culminating on the first Monday of November, this year November 1st. I’ll surely watch this spectacular event again. Enjoy the photos.

 

 

 

I’m leaving for Merida, Mexico in a week. While I don’t have any reservations about my impending adventure I do have some mixed feelings about leaving aspects of my life behind, especially Nancy, my sweetheart of five years. But she insisted I go because she understands this is something I’ve fantasized about for more than a year and feel compelled to do. After I told her I decided to go her response was comforting. “Have a wonderful adventure, and don’t worry, I’ll be here when you get back.” To my amusement sometimes Nancy refers to this is as Pewee’s Great Adventure.

Admittedly, this journey is self-centered but I’ve always been up front about that. It has the potential to be a terrific growth opportunity. I believe that fully immersing myself in another culture has the potential to build character. The last time I got off a plane somewhere I didn’t know anyone was my junior year in college in London when I was twenty.

I’m driven in part because I don’t know how many adventures I have left at 72 and I don’t want to squander time procrastinating. I’ll be shoe-stringing it for the most part but I anticipate my stay in Merida will be very rich in content.

I’ve been to Mexico dozens of times but this is my first trip to Merida. I picked it for its size, (750k population), and tropical weather. Larger cities typically have a plethora of cultural events, museums, restaurants, and parks.  And while Berkeley isn’t like my childhood in Boston in winter it’s cold and wet and makes me yearn for the sun and summer.

I’ve rented a small apartment for the first month. After that I’ll look around and decide where to live. I speak passable Spanish but I want to become fluent. I’ve always made friends readily and I’m eager to connect with locals and expats alike. I’ve taken art classes for decades and plan to continue in Merida. And since I love cooking I want to learn how to prepare the local cuisine. I’m stoked about arriving a week before Dia del los Muertos, which from all I’ve heard is unforgettable.

Nancy is coming to visit for a few weeks around Christmas, always a magical time in Mexico. And several friends plan to visit too so I’m not sure I’ll have much time to feel lonely.

I sold my car a few days ago, which drove home that I’m leaving shortly, pun intended. I’ve always had a car but I’m thinking about a motor scooter when I return since it will be spring. I like the idea of bicycling and motor scootering to most places, and Nancy has a car when we need one.

I arrive October 25th at midnight. Lately I’ve been fantasizing about waking up and seeing Merida first thing in the morning. I imagine the sun rising over pastel, low-rise buildings and the streets bustling with people. I’ll blog when I’m settled.

I’m quoted in this piece..

Hi Lindsay,

     I know I am quite a bit older than you and a male. I am 53 years old, and I met a very wonderful lady of 48 years a few months ago while using a free dating site. 

Thing is, when we first met there was much more of a spark of romance during the first month of dating. So much so that I fell hard and fast in love with her, and I was so honest to a fault with all the feelings I shared with her. 

I broke every rule that dating gurus give you online because I am in for the long haul, not a one night stand! Those rules I feel are for the young bucks, not for me.… more