The Romantic City
12.07.2007 - 13.07.2007 34 °C
Mérida is a bustling city. When I first arrived here, the bus driving through the crowded streets, I realized that I hadn´t been in a large city since Cancún. The streets of Mérida are crowded streets, foot traffic competing with vehicle traffic for room down the narrow streets, shops selling the lastest fashion, as well as traditional clothes for the tourists, parks, plazas, and Churches on many corners providing shade and relief from the summer heat, and vendors trying to make a living selling everything from hand carved chac-mools to hammocks. When I first saw all the traffic in Mérida, I asked my bus driver of he liked Mérida, unsure if I would. He exclaimed he loved the city and found it a very romantic place. As the bus stood at a standstill, I looked out my window at all the people and all the cars and thought: Romantic?
In my hostel, I became friends with a Frenchman and we spent a day exploring the city. We walked in and out of cathedrals, visited palacios and stared at large murals depicting the struggle of the Maya against the Spaniards. We spent some hours looking at artwork on walls in museums, listened to the distinct sound of horse hooves on pavement, walked down brick sidewalks lined with old colonial buildings, and in the streets of Mérida, I felt my first twinge of romance. That night, in Santa Lucía Park, the locals, the foreigners, the young and the old came together to watch ballet folklorico, a traditional style of Méxican dance. On the stage, lit up by lights and backed by live muscians, the dancers entranced us all. The women were breathtaking in their traditional white embroidered dresses, red lips and dark hair adorned with flowers; the men handsome in their panama hats and white suits. An elderly couple danced in the crowd, laughing, and watching them, I couldn´t help but wonder is dancing together the secret to a successful marriage? Like all happy, public gatherings all over the world, friends gathered and gossiped, older kids ran around happy to have an excuse to stay up late, younger kids slept in their parents arms, and everyone ate sweet bread and ice cream sold by the vendors. From where I stood, I watched a man greet his beautiful lover by putting a large white flower in her hair. Ah, a romantic city indeed!
The next morning, finding myself with more time in Mérida that I had anticipated, I decided to go to the nearby coastal town of Progreso. The town of Progreso is along the Gulf of Mexico and, according to my travel guide, boasts the longest wharf in Mexico at 7km. For my fellow Americans - I have yet to do the calculations and convert kilometers to miles. Walking the streets of Progreso, I didn´t see another person that resembled a tourist until my day was half over. When I arrived, I headed straight for the beach, happy to see the ocean again. After less than a week away from the beach, I missed it - how spoiled I have become! Instead of the tri-colored green of the Carribean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico is two distinct colors: murky green and the dark blue I associate with the Pacific Ocean. Another notable difference between this beach along the Gulf of Mexico and the beaches on the Caribbean side of the Yucatán was the sand. Instead of the soft, white sand of the Riviera Maya, the sand in Progreso was littered with sea weed and sea shells. I couldn´t help but feel like a young girl as I walked along the shore collecting the prettiest sea shells I could find. In my head an old tongue twister played: "Suzy sells seashells...." Finding a shady spot under a palm tree, listening to the distinctive call of seagulls, I watched four men at the water´s edge take starfish out of an old rusty row boat and carve them in half. One man would beat a starfish on the side of the boat, while another, with a long knife, sliced the starfish in half, lengthwise, so not to ruin the shape of the animal. What a feast those men will eat tonight! Although people ignored me, I was acutely aware that I was the only gringa there. The thought made me uncomfortable and I allowed the rythmic breaking of waves to lull me into a comfortable daydream. When the hour came for me to go, behind I left a mound of shells either to be scattered by the wind, birds or passing people, or, hopefully, to be found my some child looking for that perfect shell - may it be in the pile.