Mexico editor Gay Nagle Myers visited Merida for the first time, sampling the charms of the Yucatan capital and the unveiling of the Hyatt Regency’s new look following a seven-month design update. Gay’s second dispatch follows. Click to read her first dispatch.
Tour guides are a wealth of knowledge, and not just about the destination they’re touting.
Victor is a case in point.
On a recent city tour of Merida, Victor shepherded a group of 20-something students and me around the 10-block colonial Plaza Grande, the central square of the historic town.
Everyone spoke Spanish except me. Victor did double-duty, translating for me what he had just told the others.
He talked faster than any New Yorker I’ve ever met and even with his translations, I found it hard to keep up with what he was saying.
So I both listened and looked.
Cobblestone streets, decaying limestone mansions and painted storefronts and houses reminded me a bit of Old Havana in Cuba.
“The Cathedral of San Ildefonso was the first cathedral built in the Americas. The Spanish arrived here in 1541. The Museo Macay (Museum of Contemporary Art) has free admission, except on Tuesdays, when it’s closed,” he said.
By midway through the tour, the students had drifted off, busy on their iPhones, texting, talking and taking pictures of each other. Victor talked just to me.
“I don’t understand these young people,” he said.
So I had Victor to myself.
“Why is Merida called the White City?” I asked.
“It’s part of the history of the Yucatan Peninsula. It was isolated from the rest of Mexico for years. The Yucatan has a hot climate. To help ward off the heat, people wore white — white dresses and shirts and white paint on their faces.
“When Merida was connected to the rest of Mexico on a rail line from Veracruz to Mexico City in the 1930s, people arriving in Merida saw white trees (painted white to eradicate bugs), white dresses and white painted faces, so they called Merida the White City.”
Then Victor told me to check out La Noche Mexicana, a night of free music and dancing on Saturday nights along the Paseo de Montejo, one of Merida’s main avenues.
He recommended trying the habanero hot sauce (but just “a little bit”) on tortilla chips and climbing aboard a horse and carriage for a ride downtown.
He said I should “feel safe in Merida, because it is safe and clean.”
Muchas gracias, Victor.
Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.