A couple of years ago, I thought I’d never go to Mexico. In recent years, the Canadian media has covered too many accounts of Canadians tourists who were murdered, jailed or violently targeted while vacationing in Mexico. (I myself sent an email to Prime Minister Harper asking him to liberate Brenda Martin). On the other hand, my father has been going to the Yucatan for years and he’s always sung its praises and felt completely safe. Ivan and I decided that this year, we’d see for ourselves on a ten day vacation to the Yucatan with my dad and two of our friends.
On February 29, we flew from Toronto to Cancun, and then jumped on a bus for the four hour ride to our first destination: the colonial city of Merida.
Merida was built on the site of a centuries-old Mayan city, making it the oldest continually occupied city in the Americas. The state of Yucatán (of which Merida is the capital) has traditionally been isolated from the rest of Mexico by geography, therefore creating a unique culture. The conquistadors found the Mayan culture to be incredibly resilient, and their attempts to eradicate Mayan traditions and religion had only moderate success. The surviving remnants of the Mayan culture can be seen every day, in speech, dress, and in written and oral histories. Merida has the highest percentage of indigenous persons of any large city in Mexico. (Wikipedia)
We had a happy reunion with my dad at the Gran Hotel de Merida (1901) his favourite haunt. Then, Ivan and I (and friends) stayed for two nights at B&B Casa Esperanza – a Spanish colonial oasis hidden behind a nondescript door on a dusty street in the city’s Centro Histórico district. I greatly admired the splendid authentic period architectural features and eclectic artwork at this beautiful century old home. I also fell in love with its mosaic tiles for their hit of colour and pictorial detail (not to mention the coolness they provide in the tropical heat.) Now I’m an avowed tile convert. My favourite meals were at Restaurante Amaro in the Centro Histórico district of Merida.
Dad in lobby of Gran Hotel in Merida
The remainder of our stay was at a rented beach house in the fishing village of Chicxulub (just east of Progresso) on the Gulf of Mexico. It was a short 30 minute drive to reach Chicxulub.
Chicxulub is most famous for being at the geographic center of the crater created by the impact of the massive asteroid or comet some 65 million years ago theorized to have caused the extinction of dinosaurs and a dust cloud that blocked the sun for years. (Wikipedia)
Chicxulub is a favourite retreat for Canadian snow birds from Ontario (like my dad). Every morning, we strolled to the local market to pick up bags of fresh squeezed orange juice, ripe mangos, papaya, and avocados. It was easy to get around as you can jump on their private bus system for 6 pesos (50 cents). It’s a welcome change to find oneself living in a Mayan town, integrating into a vibrant, friendly culture with people who are happy to see you and patient and good-natured enough to communicate in a mix of English, Spanish and gestures. We were smitten.
Our white modern beach house was magnificent. El Norte was blowing (a strong cold northeasterly wind which occasionally blows across the Gulf of Mexico) so we had a few days of wonderful dramatic weather and a wind that cooled us during the 30 degree weather. The ocean view and palms flanking our pool made us feel like jet-setters.
It was here that we encountered the strays of Chicxulub. Like many countries, Mexico has an abandoned or unwanted dog problem. We were surprised at how gentle (but wary) they were. I couldn’t help but feed a beautiful black dog who kept reappearing at our back patio. “Frida” as I called her, wore the tell-tale collar provided when she was spayed at a local sterilization clinic for strays to help control the population. Frida soon brought along her rag tag buddy “Scruffy” and we saved our food scraps for them to enjoy. I removed tics from their ears and they entertained us and stole our hearts.
A few days later, Ivan and I found ourselves offering to volunteer at the first ever “Chicxulub Spay and Neuter Clinic” put on by AFAD: a nonprofit out of Merida that focuses on: raising awareness of the ethical treatment of animals; improving their living conditions; and reducing the high levels of dog and cat overpopulation in the Yucatan. At this one day clinic, a whopping 151 dogs and cats were spayed or neutered (and yes, even the puppies were all taken care of at the end of the day). Nineteen doctors gave up their Sunday to come and do this for the community of Chixculub (as well as over 30 veterinarian students)
I was fortunate to meet AFAD President Lidia Saleh who had come from Merida to help out at the Chicxulub clinic. She said, “A dog is a dog. Whether it’s from Merida or Chicxulub – we just want to help them.” And help they did, as over 900 animals have been sterilized in Chicxulub and Progresso by AFAD and Planned Pethood in 2012 alone. Via this link, you can learn more about AFAD and find out how you can help. I also found an article with a story and more info. Here are some of my pics of our furry friends and the people who so kindly cared for them:
Our verdict…. we loved Mexico! I savoured the tastes of lime soup, mango ice cream, and chili and bean panuchos. The people welcomed us with smiles and didn’t charge us Gringo prices. We did notice the chasm between the working classes and the wealthy, a disparity that is more evident than in Canada. It has made me sympathetic to the early Mexican revolutionary and socialist cause espoused by (among others) Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. I am currently reading Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by art historian Hayden Herrera (and I highly recommend it). Looking at the pictures I took, one can easily see the beauty of the Yucatan. We left with mixed feelings – happy to return home to Canada and aware of our blessings, but reluctant to leave and quite certain we’d return.