Friday, 17 October 2014

When Good Travel Plans Go Bad

KINGSBRIDGE, ENGLAND – “Expect the worst, and hope for the best”. It’s always been my travel mantra, and in general, has served me well over the years. Sometimes, I’m accused of being overly negative with this view – I prefer to see it as being realistic; if things go badly, I’m prepared. If things go smoothly, it’s a benefit. Of course when planning a trip, one can do one’s best to ensure things will go well, by allowing adequate time for connections, not booking unreasonable itineraries, and keeping an eye on things as you go. Having your smart phone loaded up with travel apps can help a lot as well. Sometimes though, Murphy’s Law (“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”) kicks in, and, hard as you may try, there is nothing you can do to stop it.

In recent years, I’ve been lucky. Trips have gone smoothly, luggage has arrived, and connections have been hitch free. The more trips that go smoothly, the more overdue a bad trip becomes. Sooner or later, Murphy will get you. This week, finally was my turn.

Background: I needed to get from Mérida, Yucatan, to Kingsbridge, England. By far the best price was with Air Canada from Cancun, via Toronto (almost 2 hour layover) and Halifax (90 minute layover) to London. I planned to take the bus from Mérida to Cancun (the previous day, since I am not a fan of early morning buses,) and on arrival in London had booked a train departing Paddington some 3 hours after my arrival at Heathrow. All seemed well planned. What could possibly go wrong?

It’s Monday afternoon, and I board ADO’s bus at Altabrisa at 12.45pm. 4 hours later we arrive in Cancun, where I head around the corner to the Hotel Alux, a basic, clean, budget choice which I have used before. I check in, do a little work, and then head out to El Crucero, in Centro, for some tacos and a beer. Tuesday morning, I consult Air Canada’s website to see if the flight will leave on time. It shows that the aircraft has left the gate in Toronto en-route to Cancun, and is expected on time. Therefore, the flight out of Cancun is expected to depart as scheduled. I check out, walk around to the bus station, and take the ADO airport shuttle, arriving at Terminal 2 at 9.30am. Air Canada’s check in is just opening for the 12.40pm departure to Toronto. I check in for the flight, at which point I am advised that there will be a 30 minute delay.

I clear security (keep your shoes on, this is Mexico), and head to the Mera Business Lounge, accessible with Priority Pass, a program highly recommended to frequent travelers, with over 700 airport lounges worldwide. I have a coffee, fruit plate, and several delicious ham and cheese filled mini-croissants. I glance at the flight monitor screen, to see that the delay has increased to one hour. A short time later it increases again, to 90 minutes. I start to get worried, since with a 90 minute delay arriving in Toronto, I won’t have time to clear Canadian immigration, collect my luggage, clear customs, and make the connection to Halifax. I check Air Canada’s website, which is indicating an estimated arrival delay of 105 minutes. Figuring there is no chance of making the connection, I consult the website for alternatives, and see that there is space on a later flight from Toronto directly to London, avoiding the need to even go to Halifax. Couldn’t I have just booked that in the first place? Well, yes, I could, however it would have meant a 6-plus hour layover in Toronto, and a later arrival in London, which is why I took the option via Halifax.

I decide to pro-actively address the problem, and send a message to Air Canada on Facebook, since they have responded very quickly in the past when I have used that method of contact. Sure enough, within 20 minutes they respond, agreeing that I am unlikely to make the connection, and advising that they have made a backup reservation for me on the direct flight leaving Toronto at 11.10pm. It arrives in London at 11.05am, some 90 minutes before my train leaves, which, while tight, should be doable. Unable to do anything more for now, I relax in the peace of the Mera lounge, and enjoy a beer and some more of the mini-croissants. The flight finally departs at 2.10pm, 90 minutes behind schedule. It’s operated by Air Canada Rouge – the ‘low cost’ arm of the main airline, and about which I had heard primarily bad things. In the event, the flight is fine, with friendly crew, complimentary soft drinks, and an acceptable buy onboard menu of food and cocktails.  The captain apologizes profusely for the delay, and explains that they did indeed leave the gate on time in Toronto, but then developed a fault, which needed to be fixed before takeoff, leading to the incoming delay.

We land at 7pm, and I proceed quickly to Canadian immigration. The officer is in a chatty mood, however I eventually get away from him, and move at speed to the baggage belt, still hoping against hope that I may still make the connection to Halifax (hey, maybe it is delayed too!) Luggage delivery is slow, and by the time mine appears, I’m pretty much resigned to the fact my connection has gone. Sure enough, after I exit customs, I look at the flight departures screen, and the flight to Halifax has departed. I proceed to Air Canada’s connections desk, where I receive my boarding pass for the direct flight to London. The lady at the counter looks surprised that I was even going to Halifax in the first place. I explain the reasons, but she still looks doubtful. Since I will need to rush tomorrow morning in London, I decide to carry my luggage on the flight this time (anyway it is carry-on size, so no problems there).

Through security I go (keep your shoes on, this is Canada!), and with almost 3 hours until boarding, I head for the Plaza Premium Lounge (also accessible via Priority Pass). I enjoy some broccoli soup, a salad, and a couple of glasses of Chardonnay. The flight to London departs on time, and, apart from near constant turbulence, is uneventful. We land in London on Wednesday morning at 11.15am, ten minutes behind schedule. I want to catch the 11.48am train from Heathrow to Paddington, to allow a comfortable connection when I get there, and I’m worried I may not make it. Heathrow is infamous for its huge distances, and the new Terminal 2 into which we have arrived is maintaining the tradition. It seems like miles from the gate to immigration, however, thankfully there is no line when I get there, and I am soon through and heading for customs. On the way I stop to buy a ticket for the Heathrow Express train, since it’s “only” £21.00 (approx. US$34.00 or $460 pesos) if bought in advance, compared with £26.00 (approx. US$42.00 or $565 pesos) on the train. For a 15 minute journey, this has to be one of the biggest rip-offs on the planet, but if you are in a rush, there is no other choice. I usually use the Heathrow Connect service instead (a more reasonable £11, approx. US$17.50 or $240 pesos and a 30 minute journey,) but today, there just isn’t time.

I sprint through customs, and into the arrivals hall. Following the signs for the Heathrow Express, I descend into Heathrow’s warren of tunnels. Miles later, I arrive at the station, and take the elevator down to the platform. It’s 11.47am. As the doors open, I see the 11.48am train pulling away. The next train is at 12.03pm, due into Paddington at 12.18pm, which will give me 12 minutes to make the connection. I take it, and arrive as advertised at 12.18pm. I’ve been awake over 24 hours at this point, but summon my remaining energy to charge across the station, collect my ticket, and board the 12.30pm train. At 12.27pm, I sink into my seat. Trains are expensive in England, however are more reasonable when booked in advance, hence the need to make this particular departure. If I missed it, I would have to buy a new ticket, which, on the day, would almost require a mortgage.

12.30pm comes and goes. The train doesn’t move. After a few minutes an announcement is made. A fault has developed with the safety radio, which will need to be fixed before we leave. Fifteen minutes later, it is apparently fixed, as, without further warning, the train departs. I heave a sigh of relief. I did it. My relief is short lived though, as it seems that Murphy is not done with me yet. A couple of miles outside Paddington, the train suddenly comes to a halt. We wait. And wait. An announcement is made for the train manager to contact the driver. Moments later the train manager himself announces that a person has been hit by a train a few miles further down the line; we will not be able to continue, and will return to Paddington. A few minutes later, a member of the train crew tells me that “This happens all the time in the run up to Christmas, but they are starting early this year – we had two last week”… The train manager makes another announcement suggesting passengers take the underground from Paddington to Waterloo, then the train to Reading, where “hopefully” we will be able to make onward connections to our destinations. “Hopefully”? I don’t like the sound of that, and am not keen to get stuck in Reading. I’m also way too tired for all those connections.

We arrive back in Paddington. The departures board shows that all trains are cancelled, at least for the next couple of hours. I give up. Feeling defeated, I join the line at the ticket office, where I tell the ticket agent I would like to change my ticket for tomorrow (which is now permitted, due to the train cancellations). He tells me that’s a good plan, since travel for the rest of the day will be challenging. Ticket changed, I head out onto the street outside Paddington, with no idea where I will stay the night. I feel like my friend Carole, of Drop Me Anywhere. She travels without a plan all the time. If she can do it, so can I! Inspired by this thought, I wander around looking for a likely place to stay. I remember from the past that Norfolk Square, just around the corner from Paddington has a number of hotels, one of which I’ve used before. I head over there, to find it is full. A couple of doors down, I see the St. David’s Hotel, which has a ‘Vacancies’ sign on the door.  Unable to check Trip Advisor (my go-to source for making sure a hotel is not a rat-hole or primarily doing business by the hour) due to lack of a Wi-Fi connection, I head inside. First impressions are good, and I am greeted by a smiling receptionist, who advises that yes, rooms are available, and yes, of course I can take a look before committing myself. I do (take a look that is) and find the room to be clean, comfortable, and the en-suite bathroom (not always included in budget level properties in London) to be compact but functional. I’ll take it! I return to reception, check in, pay, and head back upstairs (yes, stairs, this is London…)

I shower, and debate what to do. I’m exhausted, but it’s only 4pm, and if I go to sleep now, who knows if I will sleep through the night? I’m also hungry, so, feeling slightly refreshed from my shower, decide on a late lunch. I wander around the corner to the Sawyer’s Arms, a pub I noticed on my way from the station. I order the lunch special, a sandwich (I choose the ‘Fish Finger Sandwich’, which I am later informed is a British culinary specialty), a side (I choose the couscous and watercress salad) and a pint (I choose Foster’s beer). It’s £8.45; not bad for London. Having refueled, I walk down to Oxford Street, and towards Oxford Circus. I’m reminded that one of the things I like most about London is the fact that even on a Wednesday evening, there are people out and about, and the bars and restaurants are busy. I enter O’Neill’s, but find so many people waiting to be served (yes, this is London, please buy your drinks at the bar…) so instead walk a little further and go into The Green Man. It’s busy, but not only do I not have to wait to buy my drink, I also manage to snag a seat. I drink my Guinness and reflect on the journey so far, hoping Murphy is done with me now. I leave the pub, to find it raining heavily. I’m reminded that one of the things I like least about London is the weather. Luckily, anticipating this, I have an umbrella with me, which shelters me from the worst of the downpour as I head back to the hotel. After another shower, I fall into a deep sleep.

Thursday morning dawns, and hungry again, I head to the basement of the St. David’s for breakfast (included in the rate). A smiling waitress takes my order, and moments later delivers my orange juice, coffee, full English breakfast, toast, butter and marmalade. It’s all delicious, and sets me up well for the day ahead. I check out of the hotel, and return once again to Paddington, to catch the 10.30am train. It’s delayed 15 minutes, but makes up time en-route, and we arrive on time. I feel I’ve been well visited by Murphy on this occasion, and hope he takes a long break before his next call.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Mérida’s Cantinas

MÉRIDA, YUCATÁN – Have you ever wondered about the many, many cantinas in Mérida, and whether it would be interesting (or safe) to go into one? Following exhaustive research (it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!) I’m pleased to present the following non-scientific evaluation of Mérida’s cantina scene; the different types, the experience, etc.

First things first – what exactly is a cantina? Basically it is a bar, often with fairly basic levels of comfort and service, frequented mainly by ‘working class’ men. The greatest concentration of cantinas is to be found in centro; however the various colonias, especially in older parts of town also generally feature at least one and often more. 

In the USA and other countries, “Mexican” restaurants often incorporate ‘cantina’ into their name (think “Coyote Cantina” etc.) and feature garishly colored decorations, and menus majoring on items such as chimichangas. If this is what you are looking for, you will NOT find it in a ‘cantina’ in Mérida!

Sometimes, rather more upscale bars call themselves ‘cantinas’; for example “Doña Josefa Cantina” on Calle 60 in centro, or “La Cantina de la Mexico” in Colonia Mexico. They are most definitely NOT cantinas in the traditional sense of the word. Neither are “Eladio’s”, “El Lucero de Alba”, and “Los Henequenes”. They’re all fun places and worth visiting, but cantinas they are not.

To add to the confusion, most ‘real’ cantinas don’t feature the word ‘cantina’ in their name. They may call themselves ‘Bar’, ‘Restaurant-Bar’, ‘Sports Bar’, or just a name such as “El Grillon”. How then can you recognize a ‘real’ cantina? Generally speaking they have somewhat low key entrances, often with swing doors; normally the interiors cannot be seen from outside, and they are frequently windowless (due to licensing regulations governing ‘cantinas’ which are different to those governing ‘bars’.) More often than not, they are loud, with juke box music (or live bands) playing, clearly audible from outside.

Back in history, cantinas in Mexico were famous for their signs prohibiting the entry of women, children and men in uniforms (i.e. soldiers, police, etc.) Due to equality laws, the prohibition of women has of course been removed, however in many cantinas, it is still unusual to see female customers, and, in those establishments, women are likely to feel uncomfortable if they enter. Others however feature a loyal female customer base, and ladies wishing to visit a cantina can certainly find an establishment where they will be welcomed and comfortable.

There’s a huge amount of history in some of the cantinas in the city; most have been operating for decades, and some have been serving customers continually for more than a century, often being handed down from father to son. The older ones sometimes proudly display a plaque, photos, or other information about the founding date.

Cantinas in Mérida tend to serve beer from one of the two major Mexican beer companies; Grupo Modelo (producers of Corona, Modelo, Victoria, Montejo, etc.) or Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma (producers of Sol, Superior, Tecate Light, Indio, etc.) and to be equipped with furniture and decorations provided by that producer. It is rare to find a cantina offering products from both companies. Some feature full bars; some a limited liquor choice, and others offer only beer. Beer is available in ‘medias’ (i.e. normal individual bottles), and most cantinas also offer either ‘caguamas’ (1 liter bottles) or ‘megas’ (1.2 liter bottles) or sometimes both. The large bottles will automatically be accompanied with glasses; ‘medias’ normally are not, unless you request them. The majority provide complimentary botanas (snacks) – which vary widely in quality and quantity – until 6 – 7pm. Opening hours are normally from noon – 10pm; some close earlier if quiet; a few have extended licenses and remain open as late as 3am.

Generally speaking (although of course there are exceptions), cantinas on or south of Calle 61 tend to be rougher, dirtier, and less likely to be appealing to ladies and expats than those on or north of Calle 59. Those located near the markets and bus stations tend to be the roughest of all. Mérida being Mérida, (i.e. a very safe city), there are not really any ‘dangerous’ cantinas in town, however I wouldn’t recommend expat ladies (unless they are the adventurous type) to frequent cantinas around the markets or bus stations, as they are likely to feel uncomfortable and receive unwanted attention. Cantinas from Calle 59 northwards tend to be better choices for ladies.

The rougher the cantina, generally the more basic the furnishings; often bare walls, plastic tables and chairs, and toilet facilities which may not meet your expectations!

All cantinas offer table seating areas with waiter/waitress service; some also have bar stools at the counter; a great option if visiting alone, as it gives you the chance to make new friends with others sitting at the bar. Some cantinas, particularly to the southern side of town are staffed by ‘bellas edecanes’ (“beautiful hostesses”) who will be happy to sit at your table and entertain you for the price of a ‘ficha’ (a higher priced drink). They are not generally pushy, and if you are not interested in their company, they won’t normally try to push you. There are of course exceptions…

So, who goes where? Time to name names. Again, what follows is based on my own personal research visits and opinions (with which you may not agree) and things may change at any time. Establishments are listed in no particular order.

Calle 59 and northwards:

Calle 23 x Avenida Alemán, Col. Jesús Carranza.
A historic cantina, dating from 1921, El Pocito offers a large ‘family’ seating area, and a posted menu of botanas, increasing in complexity with each round of drinks. Everyone will feel comfortable here.

Calle 62 x 49, Centro.
A historic cantina, recently remodeled and re-opened. Rather more bohemian atmosphere than most cantinas, and quite popular with the expat community. Everyone will feel comfortable here. Offers a ‘cantina-lite’ experience.

Calle 66 x 47, Centro. Fairly small cantina. Everyone will feel comfortable here.

Calle 53 x 52, Centro. Recently remodeled. Good botana selection. Everyone will feel comfortable here.

Calle 59 x 52 y 54, Centro. Large cantina. Everyone will feel comfortable here.

La Sombra
Calle 52 x 45 y 47, Centro. More of a neighborhood cantina, however everyone should feel comfortable here.

Calle 45 x 60 y 62, Centro. Famed for its copious botanas. Go for lunch, and then go home for a siesta to sleep off the food! Everyone will feel comfortable here.

Calle 55, x 44, Centro. One of the most famous establishments in Mérida, known as the inventor of the ‘Chivo’ – a liter glass of chelada or michelada (beer with lemon and / or seasonings and a huge chunk of ice). It’s also one of the cheapest cantinas in town, and therefore attracts a younger ‘college’ crowd most days. Little or no botanas. A very diverse clientele frequents this cantina – everyone should feel comfortable here, but go with an open mind.

Calle 61 and southwards:

Calle 56 x 63 y 65, Centro. One of the oldest cantinas in Mérida. Tends to be somewhat loud, and always packed. Attracts a diverse crowd. It’s been a very long time since any remodeling was done. Unless you are squeamish, you should feel comfortable here.

Calle 65ª x 54 y 56, Centro. Located behind the ‘piñata’ street. A surprisingly clean and tidy cantina, given the location, with a stern looking lady manager keeping order. It’s rare to see foreigners here, however everyone should feel comfortable.

Calle 65 x 62, Centro. Small historic cantina, founded in 1923, frequented by area workers. Ladies are never seen here, and probably would not feel comfortable for that reason.

La Come Son
Calle 62 x 65 y 67, Centro. Large cantina with huge back patio.

Calle 52 x 63 y 65, Centro. Somewhat rough bar, ladies tend to be ‘working’.

El Gran Chaparral
Calle 54a x 65 y 67, Centro. Popular cantina near the market. Ladies are rarely seen here, and probably would not feel comfortable for that reason.

Sports Bar La Curva II
Calle 67 x 60 y 62, Centro. Large and popular cantina, with small, nondescript entrance, easily overlooked. Popular with working men, builders, painters, etc. “Bellas edecanes”. Usually offers a good botana selection. Features lots of large flat screen TVs, showing football (soccer) matches. Female customers are rarely seen here.

Calle 63 x 54 y 56, Centro. Bills itself as ‘A place for everyone’, and popular with Merida’s gay and lesbian communities. If you are open minded, you will feel comfortable here.

Fancy a cantina tour?

If you are interested in visiting a few cantinas in a group, and would enjoy making new friends, then an option could be the cantina tours offered by “Tour Cantinero MID” ( which take place regularly. Visiting 4 or 5 ‘pre-screened’ cantinas generally on the north side of centro, the tours are free. Primarily patronized by locals and / or Mexican visitors, foreigners are very welcome, and can be seen on the tours from time to time. Check their Facebook page for details of upcoming tours, meeting place and time, etc.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Bar El Templo – Almost a religious experience

MÉRIDA, YUCATÁN – Around the world there are many drinking establishments called ‘Temple Bar’ (Bar El Templo in Spanish); the name appears to originate in Ireland, where the area on the south bank of the River Liffey in central Dublin is known as ‘Temple Bar’, and is the home of the ‘Temple Bar Pub’, arguably the most famous bar to carry the name. Many others around the world have copied the name, or have used the same name due to their proximity to a church or temple.

Bar El Templo in Mérida appears to have been named for the latter; situated as it is nearby the church in Parque de la Mejorada, on the east side of centro. There has been an establishment with this name in this location for more than 8 years; in 2006 it was opened as a restaurant; the current incarnation however dates back to 2010, and has chosen a rather unusual ‘alternative religious’ theme for its décor. Paintings feature religious figures wearing lucha libre (wrestling) masks, while a somewhat bizarre mural, with an alternative depiction of the Last Supper greets you in the lobby. A picture of St. Jude in the men’s room advises you not to drink and drive, while a picture of Jesus wearing an Apple (as in iPhone) t-shirt, and carrying a martini and a cigarette is emblazoned on the menu. Given all of this, you might expect the bar to be patronized by Goths and devil worshipers, and staffed by greasy haired waiters dressed in black. As regulars however, we’re pleased to reassure you that this is not the case; the customers are a normal cross section of Mérida centro society, while the friendly staff are clean and well presented.

The front room at El Templo is largely empty and unused in the evenings, in fact, from Monday – Friday from 12 noon – 4.30pm it functions as a cocina economica, serving tasty, value priced lunches with fresh vegetables; highly recommended if you are in the area. There are a few tables here towards the back, which are used as overflow from the bar when it gets busy. The main bar area is in the rear, behind the entrance lobby, anchored by a long bar with plenty of stools, together with 4 tables large enough to seat 4 – 5. Behind the bar counter is a huge black and white photo display showcasing head shots of famous people ranging from Margaret Thatcher to Fidel Castro to Madonna. There’s an outdoor terrace seating area with a number of tables too, where smoking is permitted. The building was originally a colonial house, and features the high ceilings that the early residents must have enjoyed. Be sure to look down as well, at the original tiled floors which still remain.

The menu offers a good choice of food and beverage options at very reasonable prices, as well as combos featuring a bucket of beer with various menu items at reduced prices. We particularly recommend the Tlayuda, a Oaxaca style giant crisp tortilla, topped with beans, chorizo, cheese and avocado. My mouth is watering while I write about it, it’s that good. It’s $63 pesos, and makes a substantial appetizer for two, or enough for one person as a meal. The Tlayuda combo, including a bucket of 5 beers is $139 pesos.

Snack options include nachos, cheese fingers, wings, stuffed mushroom, guacamole, potato skins, and a flavorful hummus (dip de garbanzo) for $50 – 70 pesos. Main dishes include chicken in various guises, hamburgers, salads and filled bagels for $55 – 75 pesos. A new item added to the menu recently is the Tuna Steak, which at $95 pesos is the most expensive dish. It comes with a side order of garlic bread. I tried it on our latest visit, and found it to be excellent; juicy, pink on the inside, and full of flavor.

Individual domestic beers are $25-26 pesos (or $19 pesos during happy hour, which runs 7pm – 9pm, Monday to Thursday). A better deal is the bucket, at $95 pesos for 5 beers. A full range of cocktails, mixed drinks, shots, etc. is available, as are various specials depending on the day and time. Several artisan beers, including Minerva and Cucapá are offered at $36 pesos each.

The bar is manned by Jonathan, while the tables are looked after by the always smiling and friendly Pablo, and new waiter Jesus.

Music is provided by a DJ, usually a mix of Spanish and English language rock and pop from the 80s through today.

Bar El Templo opens from Monday to Saturday, from 7.00pm to 3.00am, and is closed on Sunday. Futbol (soccer) matches and other sporting events are screened at the bar. It’s located at Calle 59 #438 between 50a and 52, half a block from Parque de la Mejorada. From centro and the Plaza Grande, it’s an easy 10 minute walk along Calle 59 from Calle 60.

For more information, visit El Templo on Facebook at

For good food and drink, excellent service and prices and a unique setting, give Bar El Templo a try for an evening out in centro!

Editorial note – this review is entirely based on my personal experiences as a paying customer – no free hospitality was received in exchange for its publication.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Twenty Four Hours in Campeche

CAMPECHE, CAMPECHE – You could stay longer in Campeche, but if your time is limited, or you just want to make a quick overnight trip from Mérida, twenty four hours gives you a great taste of the city and its attractions. The centro historico is a living museum, and well worth wandering around for a couple of hours; the well restored buildings are delightful to the eye and the peaceful cobbled streets are a pleasure to stroll. 

If you decide to visit for longer, there are additional attractions; the following are my suggestions for a twenty four hour visit. The evening attraction mentioned operates on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I’m assuming you are visiting by car.

Plan to arrive in Campeche around 2pm, stopping at the ‘Zona Cockteleros’ for lunch, which you will pass as you head into the city. This area, at the north end of the malecón, features a number of seafood restaurants on the bayside, all of which offer views across the normally placid waters of the Bay of Campeche. We chose Restaurante Calakmul 2; the large seafood cocktail was $120 pesos and was solidly packed with shrimp, conch, oysters, octopus and crab. Cocktails can be ordered to taste, featuring any or all of the available ingredients. The ‘potpourri’ shrimp was six giant shrimp, two each of coconut, bacon wrapped, and stuffed with crab. Served with rice and vegetables, we found it fairly priced at $159 pesos. 

After lunch, continue along the malecón into the city, and check in to you chosen accommodation. There is a good choice of hotels to suit all budgets; those on the malecón of course feature bay views, while those in the centro historico tend to be more traditional and atmospheric. The Hotel Castelmar is highly rated by many travelers, as is the Hotel Lopez Campeche. On this occasion, we stayed (rather boringly) at the Holiday Inn, thanks to a credit card promotion I received. We found it perfectly adequate, well located, and with a lovely bay view. As with any Holiday Inn however, it lacks any real ‘atmosphere’, and, at ‘rack rate’ could be considered overpriced.

Once you’ve got settled, hop back in your car, and continue along the malecón until you see the signs for the Fort of San Miguel. Located on the top of the hill at the southwest end of the city, the fort was built towards the end of the 18th century. Its construction, along with the Fort of San Jose, gave the city the best defense fortifications in Latin America. Today, it houses the Museum of Mayan Art, and offers great views across the city and bay. Once you come back down the hill, on your way back towards the center, stop and take a walk along the malecón, to enjoy the bay views and, hopefully, a fresh breeze, which often picks up in the late afternoon.

You’ll have time for a shower or quick rest, before making your way to the ‘Puerta de Tierra’ (Land Gate) in time to buy your ticket for the 8pm ‘The Place of the Sun’ tour and show. Performed Thursday – Sunday, the show takes the spectator back to the colonial era, when the local population fought fiercely to defend themselves from pirate attacks. The tour portion involves climbing up to the top of the battlements and a walk along the walls. Following that, a sound and light presentation takes place. The entire event lasts around one hour.

For dinner, attracted by the large local crowd (always a good sign) we enjoyed flavorful tacos at Potros, on the malecón to the south side of the center, followed by drinks at a bay-view terrace bar in the next block. Alternatively, a number of bars, cafés, and restaurants in the centro historico are around the main square, and along Calle 59.

After a well-deserved night’s rest, a great place to start the next day is at Restaurante La Parroquia, on Calle 55, a block from the cathedral. Among other more traditional breakfast foods, they offer an excellent ‘Huevos Motuleños’ – tortillas topped with beans, fried eggs sunny side up, ham, tomato sauce, and green peas, served with fried ripe bananas.

Walk off your breakfast in the centro historico, enjoying the many unique galleries, shops, and cafés, and taking the time to wander down the smaller streets to take in the beautifully restored buildings.

Once you’re ready to leave, head out of the center along the malecón, in the direction from which you entered the previous day. Turn right after the new shopping mall (or make a stop there if you wish) and proceed past it, across the railroad tracks, and up the extremely steep hill to the statue of Benito Juarez at the top. After a brief stop to enjoy the view, continue past the statue to the Fort of San Jose. Completed in 1792, the fort offers more views of the city, bay, and the Petenes Reserve. The internal part of the fort is currently closed for renovation.

Once you head back down the hill, follow the malecón out of town. Fancy some of those crab claws you saw on the menu yesterday but didn’t order? The ‘Zona Cockteleros’ will be on your left. Otherwise, continue up the hill where you will rejoin the highway to Mérida. About 90 minutes later, you’ll be there.

Monday, 21 July 2014

13th “Feria Tunich” starts Friday in Dzitya

DZITYÁ, YUCATÁN – This Friday, July 25, the 13th edition of the “Feria Artesanal Tunich” will open in Dzityá, a small town on the northern edge of the city of Mérida.

It’s a great opportunity to visit the pueblo of Dzityá, and to browse the handcrafted artisan products which will be on display and available for purchase. And of course it’s not only merchants; as with any event like this in Mexico, there will of course also be food and drink for sale, and entertainment to enjoy.

There will be a large selection of regional handmade products, using materials such as wood, stone, and fabric, both from Yucatán and other places such as the municipality of Corregidora, Querétaro, which is this year’s special guest. The 2nd national artisan pavilion will feature exhibitors from the states of Puebla, Michoacán and Veracruz.

The town of Dzityá itself is famous for its artisans, with generations of local families working with wood and stone to produce many of the items you find for sale in Mérida and further afield.

The hours for the fair are from 10am to 10pm, from Friday August 25, until Sunday August 3rd. While the merchants will be on site all the time, the entertainment is mainly in the evenings, which of course is also the coolest and most interesting time to visit. There is a full program on the city’s “Feria Tunich” website; it’s in Spanish, but easily understandable even if you don’t speak it well:

It’s simple to get to Dzityá by car – just take the highway towards Progreso, and take the first exit after the periferico. You can also get there easily using public transport – there is a limited free bus service from the Plaza Grande in Mérida, departing at 3pm, 5pm, and 7pm from Monday to Saturday. On Sunday, the free service will depart from Parque Santa Lucía; the hours will be the same, with the addition of a 10am departure. Three public bus lines also run from centro in Mérida to Dzityá; departure points are listed on the fair’s website here:

So come along and enjoy the 13th annual Feria Tunich! More information (in Spanish) can be found on the fair website:

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Rock in Río approaching

RÍO LAGARTOS, YUCATÁN – Have you been to (or even heard about) Río Lagartos? If not, you might want to start by reading my article here:

Coming up on August 16th is the 4th edition of the popular Rock in Río festival – which could be just the reason to plan a first visit if you’ve never been, or a return visit if you have.

After three successful years, this 4th consecutive event hopes to introduce more people to the touristic pleasures and natural beauty of the Río Lagartos area, while at the same time raising awareness of the need to conserve and protect the natural resources through music and culture. 

The full name of the event is the Festival of Music and Nature – Río Lagartos – shortened to Rock in Río, and each year, the event has had an ecological theme; this year, it will highlight the problem of garbage polluting the ría (estuary) and the dangers caused to the ecosystem. Personnel from the ecological reserve will be cooperating to provide information and resources.

Besides a plethora of regional bands performing, the festival will also feature an exhibition of paintings and photographs, and work by local artisans. There will also be an area for young people to utilize for cultural expression.

The event takes place at the natural spring and swimming hole known as Balneario Chiquilá, on the edge of the town of Río Lagartos, and is 100% free to attend.

The festival is made possible by the sponsors, which include businesses in the town of Río Lagartos and the city of Tizimín, as well as local politicians and the town government.

The musical line up this year includes Kayaroots, Kiabeth, Ruta 42, Calavera, No Canta, Suburbanox, Up the Irons, and Forgotten Son.

A fishing tournament will take place the same day. Registration fee is $750 pesos per boat (hire your own boat and captain) including a supply of beer to keep you cool. Prizes will be given to the top three catches, with a special prize for the largest fish. Free fish frying will also be available after the tournament to cook your catch, accompanied by live music from “Wicho y sus costeños.”

If you’re thinking of going, and looking for a place to stay, the Hotel Tabasco Rio ( is offering special rates for attendees at the festival.

There’s more information about the festival (in Spanish) on their Facebook page:

Thursday, 3 July 2014

The Colors of Yucatán

MÉRIDA, YUCATÁN – There’s something to see around every corner in Yucatán, and colorful surprises wherever you look. For the last couple of years, I’ve been documenting some of the moments of color I have encountered, and the results follow.

It can be as simple as a blue house, almost becoming part of the sky:
Or a pink house, vividly contrasting with it:

The stately charm of a green colonial:
Or the warmth of an orange one:

It can be as basic as an old, purple house:

Or the bougainvillea coming over a wall:

The pink and purple flowers of spring:

Or the white ones of summer:
Or brightest of all, the flamboyant tree:

You can find colors in the city, like the dappled sunlight on a building on Paseo de Montejo:
Or the wall of a cantina near the market:
The church in Colonia Itzimná:

A school near Parque de la Mejorada:

Or the old post office:
Outside the city is colorful too, although sometime more monochrome:

While Izamal at night is a feast of yellow warmth:

The small village of Chocholá has pastel color:

While the paradise of the coast can best be seen in Chelem Puerto:

On a sunny day, or even in the evening, color is everywhere in Yucatán. Take a moment as you move around to appreciate it, absorb it, and photograph it. Share it with your friends, especially in the winter with those at home in Cleveland, Toronto, or London. If the cloudless blue skies and powdery beaches don’t bring them down, I don’t know what will.