The photo above is a stretch of Avenida Itzaes — something that looked so mysterious at night on my first visit last year, and now perfectly sweet in the light of day. It’s easy to turn something new into something more than it is. I have acclimated, or at least I’m starting to. Mérida just seems so normal to me now, but I’ll never forget my first impressions.
Most Americans coming to Mérida these days, I suppose, that that night flight from Houston. So my first impressions of Mérida are probably common to many NOBs.
We land after nightfall, and emerge from the airport to the city’s muggy air after being cooped up for hours in air-conditioned, antiseptic airport environs. The eager driver crams our suitcases into his trunk and we’re soon gazing out the rolled-down window, drinking everything in.
The cab races up Avenida Itzaes. What is probably quite banal to the locals is exciting to me. The Pemex, the Oxxo, all kinds of stores and eateries, including one with a bright open flame in what appears to be a Brazilian barbecue right on the sidewalk. We quickly approach the zoo to the right. Is that a giraffe through the trees? We turn on to Calle 57, where a mansion-turned-funeral-home is lit up like a Christmas tree, mourners mingling about. Mind you, the cab is making tracks, so these images are fleeting.Taking photos is out of the question.
You wind your way through some smaller streets, end up on Calle 55 in what looks a lot more like that historical zone you’ve been seeing represented on those real estate websites. The streets seem pretty peaceful, and you notice how the cantinas either look very similar, or you’ve been going around the block 10 times past the same Cervesa Sol sign.
The contradictions were striking. Things seems orderly and chaotic. Formal and relaxed. Strange and normal. Electric and placid.
On 55 y 64, I spotted a hole in the wall with a Che Guevara poster and what appeared to be college-age kids hanging around, and I couldn’t get the image out of my head. If you were designing a Hollywood set for a radical underground, it would look like this.
This social club is probably matched by something you’d find near my house, but seemed out of place among the cantinas and restaurants I had seen before. I learned later that this is “Casa de Todos,” a club that seems to cater to young activist types. If you Google that name and the city, you’ll find musicians on YouTube, and also some news reports of police cracking down on drug sales. No way am I going to endanger my visa before I even fill out the application — so Todos is off my list.