Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Luck of the Irish

KINGSBRIDGE, ENGLAND. Lucky, at least in my case that is, to live in Yucatan, where winter weather is something that happens somewhere else. Since my last dispatch from Dublin, the weather deteriorated. I relocated to the UK, where cool temperatures, heavy rain, and strong winds have prevailed for the last 2 weeks. As I write, the sun is shining, but it is cold, and once again is the proverbial calm before the storm, since tonight, more heavy rain and winds of 50 km/hour are expected, with similar conditions continuing over the next few days. Temperatures will range between 2°c at night, to highs around 9°c or 10°c.

A glance at the weather forecast for Merida for the next few days shows sunny conditions, lows around 20°c and highs around 28°c. More perfect conditions are hard to imagine, and once again I find myself thanking providence for bringing me to Yucatan, and wondering why more northern Europeans haven’t realized what a great option our state represents, both in terms of weather and cost of living. I was reminded of this last week, when taking a 15 minute bus ride in Torquay, a resort town on the Devon coast. The cost was £2.90 (approx. $62 pesos). In Bristol, the one way journey (of around 30 minutes) from the airport to the city center is £7.00 (approx. $150 pesos). In Dublin (again around 30 minutes), €6.00 (approx. $110 pesos). Bear in mind, we are talking about public buses here, not private transfers. Housing and utility costs in the UK are also astronomical, with heating costs taking up a large part of many household budgets. Again, I encourage anyone looking for a cheaper, more pleasant or warmer lifestyle to look towards Yucatan!

Meanwhile, back in Merida, people are recovering from the festivities of ‘Noche Buena’ and looking forward to New Year’s Eve. Over in Tizimin, the Feria de Reyes runs until January 19, and is well worth a visit, as is the city itself. More information is available here:

In Merida itself, the Merida Fest (formerly known as the Festival de la Ciudad) will run from January 5 to 31, and the program is available here:

Since this will be my final dispatch of 2013, I would like to take the opportunity to say thank you to my readers, and to wish you “Athbhliain faoi mhaise dhaoibh”, or, more commonly used in Merida, “feliz año nuevo!!” I’ll be heading home to Merida myself next week, looking forward to an excellent year ahead.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

In Dublin's Fair City

DUBLIN, IRELAND. In September this year, Ireland officially exited from the recession that started in 2008, the year when the ‘Celtic Tiger’ boom suddenly came to a grinding halt. The following years were brutal for the country, which fell deeply into depression. That, it seems, is all behind them, and if the activity seen on the streets of Dublin this week is anything to go by, the economic picture is looking a lot brighter. Vast crowds fill the streets, shopping crazily. Even the typical Irish weather (mainly gloomy, with frequent drizzle - at least once per day seems to be mandatory) isn’t keeping them at home. Prices for hotels, food, and other tourist related services, which fell dramatically after 2008 are climbing again. Things, at least on the surface, seem to be improving.

Eager to escape the wildly shopping crowds, I made the short trip by DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) train to the coastal village of Howth, a short distance to the north-east of the city. A large marina, fishing fleet, and gorgeous coastal scenery await the visitor, although at this time of year, the icy wind off the sea meant that the views were better enjoyed from behind the window of one of the many pubs and restaurants.

In Dublin, as in any major city in northern Europe or the USA, I am reminded of the rushed and hurried lives that people lead in these places. I need only step outside to see people literally running; and they are not doing it for exercise. There are business men in suits, business women in smart skirts and heels, all running for buses, running for trains, and presumably running to, from, and between appointments. They look stressed, they look harassed, and they look tired. Such is life in the rat race, and seeing it once again reminds me how happy I am to be living in Merida. The Mexican habit of arriving late can sometime be annoying, but it sure beats having a stress related heart attack while running to catch a bus in order to arrive on time. To my ‘paisanos’ (countrymen) in Ireland, I invite you to come and visit Merida, to experience the peace and tranquility of life in Yucatan. Oh, and need I mention, the weather is better, too?

What else this week? In the entire country of Mexico, December 12 marks the ‘Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe’ – a major religious event, which is fascinating to witness, whether or not you are a believer. In Merida, the events center around the ‘Iglesia de San Cristobal’, at the intersection of Calle 50 and Calle 69.

Any Ricky Martin fans out there? If you didn’t already know, he will be performing at the Moon Palace Resort in Cancun, on December 28. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster.

From the chilly city of Dublin, I wish you all ‘Feliz Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe’!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Transatlantic Reporting

I’m coming to you this week from the beautiful town of Kingsbridge, in Devon, England, where I will be based for the next few weeks. It’s not the best time to be in the UK, at least from a weather point of view, nor to be away from Merida, where of course the cooler sunny winter weather is starting, and we are welcoming back many of our seasonal residents.

I traveled from Merida via Mexico City and Amsterdam, on a ticket booked with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. From Merida to Mexico City, the flight is operated by AeroMexico, connecting with KLM’s service to Amsterdam. While I am no great fan of AeroMexico, KLM offers one of the best economy class products across the Atlantic, with good food, friendly service, and a wide selection of entertainment, and is always a pleasurable way to cross. Amsterdam is a great airport to use as a connecting point, with quick transit, and a wide selection of onward connections to Europe, Asia, and further afield.

For the next few weeks, I will be bringing you some observations from this side of ‘the pond’ as well as continuing to feature Merida and its events. Next week, I will be reporting from Dublin, Ireland, home of course to the world’s most famous pint.

Today, the internet is overwhelmed with expressions of grief for Paul Walker, an actor, who died in a car crash in his Porsche in Los Angeles. It would seem that vast numbers of people are in mourning. Apparently, I am one of the few people on the planet who had never heard of him, yet I consider myself fortunate that my life in Merida keeps me occupied enough that I don’t know the current ‘celebrities’. Keeping some perspective, I also read today that according to the United Nations, 21,000 people die of hunger every day in the world. For sure some of them are in Mexico. Strangely, no one feels the need to express their grief for them.

What else this week? The Feria Yucatan concluded yesterday, hopefully if you are in Merida, you managed to visit at least once.

Have you visited Canada Burger yet? Rave reviews continue to pour in, so if you haven’t tried this culinary treat yet, check our article here: and then go taste it for yourself!

And it’s the last week for Chaud Devant, at UVM. If you haven’t been, make the effort before they close! More details in our story here:

Saturday December 7 will mark the second ‘Noche Blanca’ in the centro of Merida. Did you attend the first one? It was a great success, and all indications are that the second one will be even better. A wide range of cultural activities will be taking place in locations in centro, including free entrance to museums, and many discounts at restaurants and bars. The event runs from 8pm to 2am, so come along and enjoy.

Friday, 22 November 2013

The Traveler's Life - An Irishman in Mexico

November is my ‘month of bureaucracy’, one I look forward to annually with some trepidation. This year however, it has passed without a hitch, making me wonder whether Mexico’s famous bureaucratic processes, which for so long have been time consuming nightmares, are finally being overhauled and improved to the benefit of all?

The month started with the renewal of my “Residente Temporal” (temporary resident) card – formerly known as ‘FM2’. It was the first time I was renewing under the new immigration rules, reason alone to be nervous, but forms were filed, appointment was given, and the card (previously given on the spot) was sent from Mexico City in less than 2 weeks, rather than the promised 3. Since the new rules allow multi-year renewals, the first time will also have been the last time I need to renew, and in 2 years from now, I will be able to change to the permanent resident card. Immigration – check!

Next, payment of my Fideicomiso (bank trust, which enables non-Mexicans to own property in the restricted zones of the country, near the coasts and international borders – soon, hopefully, to be abolished). I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Scotiabank, the holders of my Fideicomiso. They love me, as they get to take my money every year; I hate them for their inefficiency and lack of customer service. Last year, they double charged my fees to my credit card, and it took months of corresponding with the bank and the credit card company to get the charge corrected. This year, I decided that cash was the way to go; presented myself at the Scotiabank location on Calle 59 in centro, paid, and was given my receipt right away. That easy. Fideicomiso – check!

Finally, renewal of my Yucatan driving license. Obtaining the original 2 years ago was a bureaucratic farce worthy of its own TV show, so it was with a large pinch of salt that I took the instructions for renewing it, which made the process sound extremely easy and straightforward. According to the state government website, I could renew at one of the ‘modules’ located around town, presenting nothing more than the original license and a photocopy. Expecting the worst, and armed with passport, proof of address, and reading material for a lengthy wait, I went to the ‘module’ at Plaza Fiesta. There was no line. I handed my old license to the clerk (copy was not requested), provided a digital signature, fingerprints, and photo, and paid. Ten minutes later, I was back outside, new license in hand. Driving license renewal – check!

So what is going on? I pay my electricity bill, phone bill, and water bill online. Annual property tax can be paid online. Garbage collection fees (at least in centro) can be paid at one of the ‘modules’. I even recently received a package from Acapulco by Correos de Mexico, the notoriously inefficient Mexican postal service, in less than a week. Life suddenly seems less complicated here. Don’t worry though; if you are missing the experience of spending an entire day dealing with meaningless paperwork, there are still opportunities. Recently a friend of mine lost the license plate from the front of his car. The resulting process was also worthy of its own TV show, and stretched over three partial days.

While we’re on the subject of documentation, one of the benefits of being ‘An Irishman in Mexico’ is being able to present my Irish passport as ID, in banks, offices, etc. The passport is primarily written, as one would expect, in Irish. It carries glorious paragraphs such as “Iarran Aire Gnóthaí Eachtracha na hÉireann ar gach n-aon lena mbaineann ligean dá shealbhóir seo, saoránach d’Éirinn, gabháil ar aghaidh gan bhac gan chosc agus gach cúnamh agus caomhnú is gá a thabhairt don sealbhóir. Yup, it’s all Greek to me, too. There are not many Irish people in Merida, and hence, Irish passports are a rarity, and it is always a delight to see the look of complete bemusement on the face of the clerk or official who requested to see the passport. Even I don’t speak Irish, but fortunately, the salient parts are also written in English, from where I can translate them to Spanish if requested.

What else this week? Feria Yucatan continues at the fairgrounds at Xmatkuil, to the south of the city. Check the website at for schedules, maps, and more information. If you haven’t been yet, plan to go before it ends on Sunday December 1st.

And hopefully next week, the long awaited and often delayed opening of “Union Jacks”, Merida’s first British restaurant!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Don’t miss the Gran Vaqueria at Feria Yucatan!

The Feria Yucatan is in full swing at the Xmatkuil fairgrounds, attracting the normal crowds to the rides, concerts and events for which it is famous. There is something happening every day at Xmatkuil, however if you plan to go only once during the event, then make it Friday November 29, which is the day of a truly unique event, the Gran Vaqueria, a traditional colonial hacienda style dance and party which runs from 7pm.

Villages throughout the state are represented, competing with each other for the most spectacular dress, and best jarana dancing.  

The Gran Vaqueria takes place at the Teatro del Pueblo, inside the fairgrounds, and to whet your appetite, here are some photos from last year’s event. Thanks to Feria Yucatan 2012 Facebook page for the photos.

Check the website at for schedules, maps, and more information.

Monday, 11 November 2013

“Chaud Devant” opens at UVM in Merida

Merida, Yucatan – November 11, 2013 - A unique ‘temporary’ restaurant opened for business today, at the Glion hotel school building on the campus of Universidad del Valle de México (UVM), located on the road from Merida to Progreso, just outside the periferico. Glion Institute of Higher Education, as it is officially known, is a world famous, top-rated Swiss hospitality school, which operates schools in other countries in conjunction with local institutes; in Mexico, they partner with UVM.

A project by the 5th semester students, this semester’s concept is “Chaud Devant”, a French-Mexican fusion. What does “Chaud Devant” mean? In France, when a waiter needs to cross a crowded restaurant with hot plates, he calls “attention, chaud devant!” to alert his colleagues.

During their 4th semester, student teams of four to five people compete for the grand prize; namely to develop their concept into an actual restaurant, which they will run for one month. The winning students are responsible for everything, from developing the concept, to food preparation, service, and managing the restaurant.

The restaurant caters mainly to the campus, however is also open to the public from Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm, from now until December 6.

The menu features breakfast items including a ham and cheese filled croissant ($25 pesos), traditional omelets with a choice of fillings ($30 pesos), and Mexican breakfast staples molletes ($25 pesos) and chilaquiles ($32 pesos).

Lunch offerings include appetizers of mushroom soup ($24 pesos) and chicken brochettes ($27 pesos), with mains encompassing French items such as the Chaud Devant salad ($26 pesos), ham and cheese quiche ($36 pesos), Mexican house nachos ($46 pesos) and fusion dishes such as the fusion roll, a crepe stuffed with lettuce, avocado, onion, refried beans and chicken ($32 pesos). If you are still hungry, desserts include crepes ($24 pesos), and fruit tart ($24 pesos). Soft drinks and coffee range in price from $10 – 14 pesos.

We regretted that we didn’t feel hungry enough to try everything, however were delighted with our selections of the fusion roll and the ham and cheese quiche, both of which were fresh and delicious, and the quiche quite reminiscent of what one might find in Europe. We’ll be making a return visit soon to sample some of the other offerings.

Menus are in English and Spanish, and the students serving you speak English, so if your Spanish is not good, don’t let a fear of being unable to communicate put you off going.

There’s an expat connection at the school as well, since Greg Fryer, the food and beverage leader, and teacher of many of the culinary classes, is Canadian, resident in Merida since 2004.

It’s well worth a visit to “Chaud Devant”, and easy to get there – just head north on the highway towards Progreso, take the Dzitya exit, make a u turn, and head back towards Merida. You will see UVM on the right. Enter through the gates, park, and then walk back to the Glion building, which is right next to the gate. Visit for more information.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Traveler's Life

Business unexpectedly took me to Ciudad del Carmen, in our neighboring state of Campeche this week. I’d passed through there before, but this was the first time I had the questionable ‘pleasure’ of overnighting there.

Ciudad del Carmen was a small city mostly devoted to fishing until the 1970s when oil was discovered in the region; since then it has grown and developed substantially. The oil industry (and businesses supporting it) is now the overwhelming reason for the existence of the city, which is correspondingly unappealing to the casual visitor. Check any website related to the city, and one of the main ‘attractions’ mentioned will be ‘El Zacatal Bridge’. Yes, a bridge. If bridge viewing is not your thing, then it’s probably a good idea to keep right on going through Ciudad del Carmen, although it’s worth a stop to admire the stunning beach scenery alongside the road between Champoton and Isla Aguada.  

What this trip did remind me of however is the quality and value provided by the long distance bus services in Mexico, which have been the main method of travel around the country for decades, and continue to be, although the low-cost airlines are starting to make inroads in this area. I traveled from Merida to Ciudad del Carmen by ADO GL, part of the ADO transport group. The GL service is considered ‘executive’, meaning extra legroom, more comfortable seats, two onboard toilets, and for me, the most valuable amenity, the fact that sound for the onboard movies is delivered via individual headphones (provided) rather than broadcast over the onboard PA system, meaning that if you don’t wish to hear the soundtrack for the continual movies, you don’t have to! Value, compared with a similar journey in Europe or the USA is excellent – the 5 hour 30 minute journey cost $418 pesos. The same journey on ‘regular’ ADO (1st class service – only one onboard toilet and broadcast movie soundtracks) costs $358 pesos, and on ADO Platino (luxury service with 2 toilets, seats that recline way back complete with leg rests, only three seats abreast, and individual movie screens) runs $536 pesos. I’ve taken the Platino service before between Merida and Cancun, and it is indeed an extremely comfortable experience.

If you need to make a long journey in the region, and the bus is the easiest or most convenient way, don’t be scared to do it, the ADO group services will take you where you want to go in comfort and safety.

What else this week? Feria Yucatan has started at the fairgrounds at Xmatkuil, to the south of the city. Check the website at for schedules, maps, and more information.

And on Monday, the opening of a unique temporary restaurant at Universidad del Valle de Mexico – run by the catering students at the Glion School for a month every year. This year’s project is called “Chaud Devant” and will be offering breakfast and lunch with a mix of French and Mexican cuisine. Watch this space for a report and more information.  

Friday, 1 November 2013

Holier than thou...

So it seems I ruffled some feathers with my recent 'Jehovah's  Witness' photo. This morning, I received an email from an American acquaintance who lives part time in Merida. Below, is her missive, and my answer.


Dear Stewart,

I read with interest your comments on Facebook. Since the ladies you spoke to would not comply with your request for their names and addresses I felt it proper to give you mine so you could visit. My name is ****** and my address is ******. My husband and I have been Jehovah's Witnesses for some 50 years, in fact we are in Merida now and ***** is giving the public talk at our Kingdom Hall next Saturday. If you don't care to visit us please contact ******* as he and his family have been Witnesses their entire lives.

I can't blame the ladies for not giving you their personal information. In this day and age would any woman give a complete stranger her name and address? Would you? I certainly wouldn't. When out in the ministry I will give a stranger my name and email if the person seems interested in studying the Bible. Many want to know why God permits suffering and when will wickedness be done away with on the Earth. We do our work because it was a command from Jesus Christ to witness and teach God's word to people just as he did. (Matt. 28:19 & 20) We are only following his direction. If an individual is not interest we move on to someone who is.

It grieves me that you find it necessary to bother innocent women on the street that are only doing their godly duty. It has rarely happened to me as most people admire our work and are grateful someone has taken the initiative to bring good news to their door.

So please phone if you would care to come and discuss the Bible's message. I look forward to hearing from you.


* * * * * 

Hi *****,

Nice to hear from you, and welcome home! 

Indeed, I know that you and ***** are Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as ****** and his family, and I have always appreciated that none of you have ever tried to force your beliefs on me. Please thank ****** for bringing my Facebook posting to your attention. 

I have no issue with Jehovah's witnesses per se - my quarrel is with anyone who comes uninvited to private houses, intending to indoctrinate others with their beliefs, be they Jehovah's witnesses, Mormons, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, or Devil Worshipers, all of whom would receive the same treatment. I believe religion is a private matter - the aforementioned groups are free to practice and believe what they wish, in the confines of their own homes and religious premises, or indeed, in public places where preaching is permitted, and people have the choice to listen or walk away. My issue is with ANYONE who brings religious messages to private houses, uninvited. 

While I understand your point about ladies not wishing to give out their personal information, I am sure you will agree with me that there seems to be a strange discrepancy in the fact that they feel free to visit houses uninvited, yet don't offer a welcome to people who wish to visit them? Of course I have no interest or intention of visiting them, but feel it is a valid way to make the point. 

You (by 'you' I mean Jehovah's Witnesses in general, not only you personally) believe you are doing as commanded by God. Many of us disagree with that, and therein lies the problem. Clearly your (again, JWs in general) behavior isn't going to change, since 'you' carry this belief. It's important therefore that 'you' understand the reason for the hostility you encounter sometimes. 

You mention that if a person is not interested, you move on to someone who is. If only that were the case! Why then, do the same witnesses come through the street week after week, knocking at the same doors? If indeed it was only once, I would tolerate it (indeed, I did, on the first occasion, many moons ago). To have the disturbance in the street week after week (indeed generally speaking more than once a week) is surely a gross invasion of privacy by anyone's definition? And they don't knock once and move on. They knock again, and again, and again. The 'Mexican' way to handle unwanted visitors such as these is to disappear inside the house and ignore the visitors. It's amazing how quickly the street empties of people, doors close, windows close, and blinds go down when the witnesses appear. You would think the street to be uninhabited, or a small atomic explosion to have occurred!

The British way is rather more confrontational however. I'm sure you are familiar with the prevailing British belief that religion is a very private matter, having spent a long time in the country yourself. I can also assure you that in Britain, visiting witnesses tend to receive a rather ruder welcome than the toned down version I provide here! I can't speak for Texans, never having lived there, but when I lived in New York, I found people to be quite opinionated (to say the least) and am sure that being 'out in the ministry' there must be an experience in itself. 

I've always thought that it is best to avoid discussing religion (and often politics) with friends. I have friends who are Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim, and personally believe little of what they do. I know that. They know that. They don't try to force their beliefs on me, I don't force mine on them. As Benito Juarez said, 'respect for the rights of others is peace'. The right to believe what one wishes, in the privacy of one's home, without unwanted  propagandists at the door should be a primary one. 

I appreciate your offer to contact you if I wish to discuss the bible's message. That is the way it should be done, allowing me to initiate the contact if I wish. 

Hope you will enjoy your stay in Merida! The weather has not been great recently, and we have had a horrendous rainy season, which seems never ending. I was hopeful it was over, but now the nortes have started arriving, yet without enough strength to clear across the peninsula, resulting in a lot of wet and humid weather, and I see the forecast is for continuing unsettled weather for the next 10 days at least. 



Paseo de las Ánimas once again captivates Merida

Last night, Merida witnessed one of the most unique and interesting events of the yearly calendar; namely the Paseo de las Ánimas, or Passage of the Souls, an annual occurrence coinciding with Hanal Pixan, the Mayan version of the better known Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations.

To accommodate the ever growing number of visitors, this year’s event took place over an extended route, all the way from the General Cemetery to the arch at San Juan.

The procession itself was of course the highlight, with children and young people, wearing traditional Yucatecan dress, and face makeup to appear like sculls.

Visitors also enjoyed guided tours of the cemetery, the regional gastronomy on offer, and the exhibition of the typical Yucatecan altars along the route, set up by families and businesses alike to remember those no longer with us.

Three stages, one at the cemetery, one at La Ermita, and one at Parque San Juan offered a selection of entertainment, including performances by Trio Trova Nova, Las Maya Internacional, Trio Los Juglares, and the ‘Vaqueria de las Ánimas’.

The Paseo de las Ánimas is one of those events that could only occur in Merida, and we hope that those who attended enjoyed it, and those who were not in town will make an effort to be here next year!

* * *

Coming soon: The next big (OK, huge) event on the calendar in Merida is the Feria Yucatan, the state fair, which will commence on Friday November 8, running all the way until Sunday December 1. The fair is one of the largest in the country, and is a major commercial event. It takes place in the fairgrounds at Xmatkuil, to the south of the city, directly down Calle 50. To get there, just follow Calle 50 south, until it ends, turn left, and follow the crowds!

This year, shows will include the ‘Caballeros del Reino’ (a medieval horseback show), an ice skating spectacular, and a dolphin show. The midway area will include all the usual fairground rides, and concerts and performances by local and nationally famous artists will include Espinoza Paz, Banda MS, Alejandra Guzman, and Maria Jose. On 14 different days, the Teatro del Pueblo will feature concerts and other entertainment events entirely free of charge.

A truly unique event, and well worth making the drive for is the Gran Vaqueria, a tradional colonial hacienda style dance and party on Friday November 29, from 7pm. Other attractions include judging of bovines, working dogs, and vast exhibitions on many subjects, as well as food, drinks, and music at every turn. Entrance fee will be $15 pesos per person; car parking will be $30 pesos per car. A bus service will run from centro. Come on down to Xmatkuil! A good time is sure to be had by all. More information can be found on the Feria website:

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Carnival relocation – but why?

As local media outlets in Merida are today reporting, the deadline for deciding the location for Merida’s 2014 Carnival is fast looming on the horizon.

Mayor Renan Barrera is calling on state governor Rolando Zapata to provide the city with free use of the Xmatkuil fairgrounds, and says that he believes he will have the governor’s support on the issue. If the city fails to secure usage of the grounds at Xmatkuil, Barrera has stated that he will seek alternative venues to avoid using Paseo de Montejo.

The real question though is why the carnival needs to be moved in the first place. The official version is that moving the event to Xmatkuil will “improve the safety, health, and cultural aspects”. So, to follow established reasoning when listening to politicians speaking, those are obviously NOT the reasons.

Let’s take a quick look at them. First, safety. We can hit that one on the head right away, by looking at a glowing report published at the end of Carnival 2013 by the Secretary of Public Security (SSP) who stated that no major crime had taken place during the event. On the final day as an example, 170,000 people were reported to have attended, with 72 arrests, mainly for disorderly conduct due to alcohol consumption. Due to the central location, most of the ‘borrachos’ can stagger home at the end of the day. One can only imagine the carnage if, instead, they get in their cars and attempt to drive home from Xmatkuil. The city and state provide a huge (some would say overbearing) police presence, quite easily taking care of safety. Move along please, nothing to see here.

Second, health. No concrete examples have been provided as to the ‘health’ risks posed by the current location, beyond a vague suggestion that a lack of adequate food stands may prove a sanitary issue. Anyone who has been to the carnival in the past will agree that the food stands are no more or less insanitary than any other food stand in Merida.

Third, cultural aspects.  Again, nothing concrete has been provided as to how the move would improve things culturally, beyond the comments that moving would help to ‘renew the concept of the carnival to make it a tourist attraction, generating economic benefit… instead of being a giant street saloon’. Somehow, it seems that culturally, showcasing the event in the city’s historic center and along its premier thoroughfare would be light years ahead of a soulless park far to the south.   

One doesn’t have to look too far to find the real reasons; in fact, they are lined up along the sides of Paseo Montejo, in the form of the hotels and business owners fronting the famous boulevard. Perhaps more telling is that the driving force behind the change is ‘The Business Sector’ of Merida, according to media reports, whose cries for change have for years fallen on deaf ears at city hall, but who, in newly elected Mayor Renan Barrera, have finally found a sympathetic listener. These hotel and business owners resent the fact that for 5 days each year, vehicular traffic is restricted to their properties, and access is reduced. Instead of embracing the carnival and marketing it to their advantage, they take every opportunity to complain about it and campaign for its move.

The fact is that all the most famous carnivals in the world take place in the streets of the cities concerned, not in parks 20km distant. Merida’s carnival is already one of its premier tourist attractions; however that will quickly change if the event is banished to the wilds of Xmatkuil.

The ‘benefits to the people’ of moving are constantly touted; however, Merida has a huge population within walking distance or a short bus ride from the current carnival location, including vast numbers of low income families, who are happy to be able to walk with their children to enjoy a fun, exciting, colorful, and above all free day out. How are they to fare if the event is moved to Xmatkuil? The cost of transportation alone will make their attendance prohibitive, and one has to wonder whether “generating economic benefit” is code for “an entrance fee will be charged”? ‘The Business Sector’ is not interested in these people; they are of no economic worth, and are not customers of the hotels and businesses along the Paseo. If a way could be found to ban them altogether, it would probably be welcomed. In reality however, this is the same thing, since carnival is probably the only time in the year when they darken the Paseo with their presence, leaving it, for the rest of the year to the rich, white, ‘entitled’ community and the tourists.

A ‘sub-theme’ in all of this appears to be a growing puritanical movement to restrict ‘fun’ (remember the ‘giant street saloon’ comment, clearly meant to incite horror in the reader that such a thing could exist?), which has been encroaching on other events in the region recently, notably in Progreso, where once bustling, party like street events have been reduced to the atmosphere of a church coffee social.  Merida is a warm, tropical city, and its events should reflect that.

The carnival has taken place on Paseo de Montejo for 80 years, long before any of the current hotel and business owners were in place. They should embrace this tradition, and indeed seek to enhance and expand it.

The fairgrounds at Xmatkuil are indeed grossly underutilized, and a plan should be developed to benefit from the facilities throughout the year. This however, is not the answer.

Unfortunately, despite the public ‘discussion’ taking place, it appears that the decision has already been taken, and that the ‘anti-carnival’ shills have finally got what they have been waiting for and salivating over for years. The result, sadly, will likely be the end of carnival in Merida as we know it, and the end of Merida as one of the foremost carnival locations in North America.

A (Canadian) Cheeseburger in Paradise

It turns out there is a very ‘Canadian’ way to make a cheeseburger. Who knew? Starting yesterday, the lucky residents of Merida have the chance to taste this unique style, thanks to the opening of Canada Burger, 3 blocks from Gran Plaza mall.

Local resident Canadians, Mark Miller and Scott Jaspar, driven by “a love of food and a love of Canada” decided to combine their two passions, and drawing on a background in the food service business, they conceived the concept for a Canadian themed burger joint here in Yucatan.

The result, in a word, is delicious.

Keeping it simple, the menu consists of two basic items; the Canadian style cheeseburger, and poutine, a creation from Quebec, popular across Canada.

The cheeseburger begins with a toasted bun, brushed with melted butter. A choice of mustard, mayonnaise, ranch dressing, ketchup, or Canada Burger’s signature maple barbecue sauce is offered, and the piping hot off the grill patty is stuffed with a secret mixture of four cheeses, making for delightful oozing when bitten. An additional slice of cheese graces the top, and crisp lettuce, juicy tomato slices, onion, jalapeño and pickles are available for topping the burger, which is then wrapped for easy eating.

Poutine – for those of us unfamiliar with this Canadian treat – is French fries, topped with cheese curds and beef gravy, and Canada Burger’s poutine is indeed sublime.

Soft drinks available (“pop” in Canadian) are Coke, Coke light and zero, and to the delight of many, Cherry Coke and Vanilla Coke.

Prices are accessible - $39 pesos for the cheeseburger and $21 pesos for an order of poutine if ordered separately, with drinks $11 pesos or $16 pesos for the flavors. The combo, which includes the burger, an order of poutine and a drink, is priced at $66 pesos ($71 pesos with flavored Coke).

Current location is Calle 26 #237, x 73 y 71, in Colonia Montes de Amé, 3 blocks behind Gran Plaza, in the north of Merida, and opening hours are from 7pm to midnight, Monday to Saturday. Visit them on Facebook at for more information.

In the future, the plan is to relocate to Prolongación Paseo de Montejo, in the vicinity of Superama. Watch this space for news when that happens. For now, make the drive to Montes de Amé, enjoy a unique taste of Canada in Merida at Canada Burger, and tell Scott you read about it in The Yucatan Times.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Traveler's Life

Welcome to the first edition of our new column, ‘The Traveler’s Life’, with me, Stewart Mandy. Through this column I will be your virtual guide to a host of useful and interesting information, features, and events. I will be bringing you the latest travel news related to the Yucatan peninsula, getting here, and moving around, as well as reports of events, attractions, and information you can use.

I’ll cover local happenings, show you the hidden side of places you may already have heard of, and take you to some places that foreigners don’t often go. Sometimes, I will ‘eat and drink’ on your behalf, so you’ll know if a place is worth the trip. If you are planning a trip, I will help to whet your appetite for what awaits you. While those of us who live here already know that the Yucatan is the best place on earth to live, we all need to get away sometimes, and therefore I’ll also be covering other destinations within Mexico and abroad, for when you fancy a change of scene.

Please let me know if there is an aspect of living in or traveling around Mexico and the Yucatan that you would like covered in a future column. I hope in the weeks and months ahead to keep you entertained, intrigued, and informed.

Without further ado, let’s look at this week’s top Mexican travel story - the exciting news that VivaAerobus, Mexico’s fastest growing airline, has agreed to purchase 52 Airbus A320 aircraft, representing the biggest Airbus aircraft order by a single airline in Latin American history. The airline will begin welcoming the new aircraft in the 2nd quarter of 2014, and will replace its entire existing fleet of older 737-300 aircraft by 2016. The new aircraft will also be used to realize VivaAerobus’ domestic and international expansion plans. The airline’s intention is to convert long distance bus travelers to air travelers, by offering low fares and convenient services. Its operation is similar to low-cost carriers such as Southwest Airlines in the USA, or Ryanair in Europe.

Currently, VivaAerobus serves 5 cities in the southeast of Mexico: Cancun from 11 cities across the country including Mexico DF, Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Veracruz; Merida from Guadalajara and Monterrey; Campeche from Mexico DF; Villahermosa (Tabasco) from Cancun, Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Toluca; and Tuxtla Gutierrez (Chiapas) from Cancun, Guadalajara and Monterrey. Cancun is the airline’s third largest hub, providing easy access from the Caribbean coast to destinations across Mexico.

What else this week? Here in Merida, we are preparing to celebrate Hanal Pixan, the Mayan version of the Day of the Dead celebration which is observed in the rest of Mexico. Hanal Pixan occurs on November 1 and 2, and as a prelude, on October 31, Merida will experience El Paseo de las Animas, the Passage of the Souls. The route will run from the General Cemetery to the arch at San Juan, starting at 6pm. There will be music, regional gastronomy, the ceremonial parade, and exhibition of the typical Yucatecan altars. Guided tours of the cemetery will be available (in English and Spanish) as well as three performance stages along the route. It’s a truly unique event, not to be missed.

And coming soon… the Yucatan State Fair at Xmatkuil, one of the highlights of the year for many people in the region.