A Travellerspoint blog


In a Mexican Market

sunny 34 °C

As far as the world’s markets go, Merida can’t hold a candle to the 8,000 stalls of Bangkok’s Chatuchak, Cairo’s ancient Khan el-Khalili Souk, or the dangerously cluttered lanes of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi. But Merida’s tightly packed, bustling, market halls are certainly worth a visit. The somewhat sterile Sunday market in Merida’s central square, with its entertainers and inflated prices, is just a show put on for the tourists in comparison to the real business of trading that goes on in the Lucas de Galvez market. Here, in a labyrinth of dimly lit stalls, an eclectic mix of costermongers, butchers, bakers, florists, fishmongers, hatters, tinkers and cobblers, spend their lives serving the community while scratching a living. We don’t envy marketeers. Most work seven days a week in hot, cramped, smelly conditions, although there is clearly a camaraderie that enables them to remain sane and be ready with a smile for every customer - but this old fruit lady had clearly had enough…
And this florist was catching up on the day's news...
By Asian standards, Merida’s market halls are palatial and pleasantly scented with fragrances of fresh fruit and flowers. These pineapples are truly enormous…
While these golf ball sized radishes would make a bouquet of roses for a banquet…
But it is the peppers that take pride of place here…
No Mexican meal, or market, would be complete without chillis – capsicums of every variety and colour: red, green, orange, yellow and variegated bell peppers along with jalapenos, poblanos and even scotch bonnets. But fresh peppers are just the tip of the iceberg, ( a very hot iceberg), in Mexico. They are such an essential ingredient in almost every dish that they are sold dried, pickled, smoked and powdered and, of course, in the form of fearsomely hot sauces like Tabasco. The Yucatan is the world’s largest producer of habanera peppers, which originated in Cuba, and this market stall was just swamped with them…
Tortillas are the other staple at every Mexican meal, (although white Wonder bread and its highly refined Mexican cousin called Bimbo are taking over as the locals aspire to a North American diet), and tortillerias can be found on many street corners. Most tortillas are made by machine today, but this lady still makes them by hand in the market...
It's our last week in Mexico; the sun is shining, the sea is warm. and we're off to the beach for lunch.

And the winner of the fruit competition was Catherine who rushed down and accepted her prize so that she could shower us with ice - thanks. The fruits are: guanabana, mamey and anone.
The runner up was Jordan - nice try.
Hasta luego.

Posted by Hawkson 05:49 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

The Safe Side of Mexico

sunny 35 °C

Much has been made lately of the dangers of Mexico but there is a reason that 1.6 million Canadians flee south each winter and it’s not just the balmy weather, the inexpensive food and the cheap booze: Canadians feel safe here.
Eating is safe: The food is edible and most dishes are recognizable, even if the chef at Merida’s best restaurant honed his presentation skills in a prison cafeteria…
Fortunately we are here with the chef from Cafe Bliss, so here’s our dinner...
Many restaurants here have English menus – sort of! Try working this one out…
Travel is safe: the kink-free highways of the Yucatan are quieter than the back road to Tuktoyaktuk, and there are no bears, deer or moose to fly through the windscreen. Stray dogs, cats, iguanas and tejons, on the other hand, are simply considered speed bumps. This cute tejon – a Mexican badger – was very much alive…
…and this iguana is just one of the thousands we have seen - dead and alive…
Vicious man-made speed bumps, called topes, are ubiquitous and will happily ruin a speedy motorist’s day, (and his suspension), as will any of the thousands of cops who constantly patrol the roads looking for people to shake down for baksheesh. However, such vigilance by the boys in blue keeps caballeros to a minimum. The roads are terrific; not like the potholed minefields of India jammed with camel carts, sacred cows, and buses with passengers clinging to the roofs. However, here there are plenty of pick-up trucks crammed to the gunwales with standing workers, together with overloaded tuk-tuks, tricycle rickshaws and motorbikes equipped with several squishy kiddie airbags. Here is a reminder of a motorcycle airbag from our Asian adventure...
We have no photos of airbags or overloaded vehicles in Mexico but these hitchhiking pelicans had the same idea…
Most motorcyclists have helmets – though generally not the baby airbags – but safety equipment for construction workers is as rudimentary as a baseball cap and plastic sandals, (unless the government inspector is visiting). Many of the concrete structures are built using beach sand and sea water so they fall apart faster than an Audi, but hotels, holiday accommodations, and most washrooms, stand up nicely. There is nothing here to frighten granny.

As for our personal safety? We’ve not had the slightest cause to be concerned about the locals; wonderfully helpful and friendly souls who have made our visit thoroughly enjoyable and have helped us enormously with our Spanish. Our Canadian (ex)friend Catherine, on the other hand, was so incensed that we had avoided taking part in yet another Polar Bear swim this year that she tracked us down and showered us with a bagful of ice…
Oh jealousy - thy name is Catherine.

Posted by Hawkson 11:56 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

Mexican Watercolours

sunny 34 °C

Here in the Yucatan we are engulfed by a vibrant palette of colour that daily turns our world into an art gallery. Blue predominates in both sea and sky, but at times the waters take on rainbow hues that demand every letter of the alphabet from A to Z, from aquamarine to zaffre. In minutes the sea and the salinas can subtly shift from azure to cobalt, indigo to navy, sapphire to turquoise, and even magenta to flamingo rose. But, as beautiful as the coast may be, the freshwater cenotes hidden among the mangroves are unquestionably the stars of this vivid al fresco show …
A picture paints a thousand words and these colourful kaleidoscopic works of art, these aqueous collages, these watercolours on nature’s canvass, are as complex and compelling as Monet’s masterpieces: the shimmering sunlight on softly swirling water; the languorous movement of tropical fish, the reflection of gently swaying vegetation revealing snippets of sky blue. The mystical images created in the depths of the Yucatan’s cenotes defy description – so just enjoy…

So much to see - and so little time.

Posted by Hawkson 15:29 Archived in Mexico Comments (6)

Name That Fruit!

sunny 28 °C

Here in the Yucatan there are no stickers on fruit – no pesky little hard-to-remove labels proclaiming, “Produce of Mexico”. Origin labels in the produce department here are as redundant as fur-lined parkas and woolly long johns. This is the land of perpetual summer where, until recently, there was no question as to where all these sweet treats came from…
But things are changing: rumour has it that due to globalization and free trade nearly all chicken in Mexico now comes from Canada, and, just as at home, there seems to be few foodstuffs, (apart from a wedge of strong cheddar cheese), that cannot be found here. However, while globalization may have brought the world to our local superstore in Canada in doing so it has diminished the excitement of experiencing new foods for world adventurers like us. Even truly exotic fruits like rambutan, durian and dragon fruit can now be found alongside the apples and pears in almost every supermarket. Canadian grocers’ coolers are filled, year-round, with out-of season crops and many proudly proclaim their fruit to be ‘Jet Fresh’ without for a moment counting the environmental cost of flying what is essentially a ton of flavoured water halfway around the world. (And don’t get James started only the total insanity of bottling water - plain, simple, unadulterated spring water – and shipping it from one side of the world to another: frequently to countries like Canada which already has a massive excess of its own water).
But we digress. March is fruit month in Mexico when citrus trees are loaded with ripe limes, lemons and oranges, when there are melons, watermelons and strawberries a plenty, and when papaya stalks hang with fruit the size of prize winning vegetable marrows…
Clusters of fresh golden coconuts sway under palm fronds like giant Christmas baubles…
And avocados are shiny green bells hanging in a pretty blue sky…
The trees here, and the stores, are simply bursting with succulent and easily recognizable bananas, mangos, pineapples and papayas – and they all taste so much better when they have come straight from the orchard – but what is the strange looking green giant in the foreground of the first picture? Here’s what it looks like on the inside…
This fabulous fruit tastes like pineapple and strawberry crossed with orange and coconut and it is reputed to contain a chemical which prevents some cancers.

And what are these ostrich egg-sized fruits…?
If you close your eyes when eating this fruit you will believe that you are eating crème caramel…

And finally...
This soft, sweet, fragrant fruit, the size of a tennis ball, has the texture of custard and is also reputed to have medicinal benefits.

If you can name all three of the Mexican fruits you win a one week all-inclusive holiday for two in the Yucatan – airfare and airport transfers not included. (All prizes must be claimed and holidays taken before 31 March 2012 when we head home to finish the dregs of last year’s apple crop and wait for the sun to return to ripen our blackberries).

Posted by Hawkson 13:22 Archived in Mexico Comments (7)

A Peek Behind Merida’s Shutters

sunny 33 °C

At first glance most of the city streets of Merida appear to be a Mexican version of the Victorian terraces of working-class England; meager two up/two down houses with a communal bathroom at the end of the street and an open sewer running down the middle. There are no open sewers, (or public bathhouses), in Merida today, but there are blocks after blocks of innocuous, even ugly, concrete terraces jammed tight to the narrow sidewalks. Every street the same; thousands of seemingly identical single-story houses crammed shoulder to shoulder without an inch of space for trees, lawns or flowers. Cement grey and whitewash are the predominate colours although the drabness is occasionally broken by a sun-faded pastel, a brightly hued door, or a touch of inartistic graffiti…
Unlike its distant neighbor, Izamal, Merida has never been tarted up to welcome a regal visitor, but some of the householders have broken ranks and put on a bit of a show…
However, we had heard tales of magnificent Spanish villas; of opulent mansions oozing with colonial features and simply bursting with objets d’art and antiques from the old world. But we roamed the city’s narrow streets in vain as we looked for stately homes. We imagined lofty houses, shaded by flame trees and banyans, sitting majestically behind massive wrought iron gates. Merida was built by Spaniards, (albeit on the ruins of a Mayan city), so we expected to find wonderful and whimsical architectural treasures like those that line the great boulevards of Madrid and Barcelona. Where could all these magnificent houses be? In desperation we enquired at the English Library where for a donation and some of James’ novels we were taken on a city tour and found an incredible hidden world. Behind the simple stark facades of the city’s streets are expansive houses complete with swimming pools in tropical courtyards …
…huge bedrooms…
…fabulous bathrooms…
…massive, high-ceilinged, reception rooms
And even a replica of a traditional Mexican street scene complete with a fountain and artistically arranged litter…
It was significant that all three houses we viewed had been restored by American owners and it was evident as we looked across the city from the rooftop patios of these grand houses that not all of the buildings have been so well taken care of. Rusty corrugated iron, spalled concrete and rampant vegetation is still the norm, but as we again walked the stark streets we saw them in a different light. Never judge a book by its cover for, as Shakespeare wrote, So may the outward shows be least themselves; The world is still deceived by ornament.

Posted by Hawkson 10:32 Archived in Mexico Comments (4)

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