The Plaza Grande in Merida.

My Mexico Trip, Part 8: Mérida, Yucatán, The Montejos and an excellent Mezcal.

Continued from My Mexico Trip, Part 7: Uxmal.

Mérida, capital of the state of Yucatán, is an old and beautiful city. Founded in the 1540s, it prospered by trading throughout the entire peninsula. The new wealth found expression in lavish villas along the newly formed Paseo de Montejo which was designed to rival the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Many of these villas and estates still exist, transformed into boutique hotels which allow a small glimpse into the laid-back life of the wealthy in those times. After the busy morning at Uxmal, we drove into Mérida to see the city.

Villa along the Paseo de Montejo, Merida.
Lush gardens surrounding an arched villa on the Paseo de Montejo, Mérida.

On the drive along Paseo de Montejo we saw magnificent buildings behind fences or white walls with porticoes, arches and lush gardens. A small door marked “Urban Hot Yoga” caught my eye. Glad to note that yoga has caught on in Mexico and that it is considered “hot”.

Hot Yoga, Merida.
A sign that caught my eye-Urban Hot Yoga, Mérida.

The bus dropped us off at the central plaza known as Plaza Mayor or simply, as the Zócalo. There were benches to sit on under large shady laurel trees. I was beginning to like these plazas in the Mexican cities visited so far. These are green, open spaces to decompress after a busy day. I saw people walking about with their families having a good time. Pigeons were scrounging around on the walkways or cooing in the trees.

Plaza Mayor, Merida.
Plaza Mayor (Plaza Grande) or Zócalo, Mérida.

Pepe, our tour guide, gave us our bearings and showed us the major buildings around the plaza. I fixed in my mind the landmarks to visit in the time we had; the Plaza, Casa de Montejo, the Cathedral, the Governor’s Palace and finally, the sherbet shop.

Casa de Montejo, Merida.
Casa de Montejo, Mérida. Picture taken from the plaza.

My son and I walked through the plaza to the southern end and stopped before the Casa de Montejo. This was one of the earliest buildings in Mérida, built around 1549 by the Montejos (who conquered Yucatan), as their residence. I looked at the structure; the portico, the Montejo coat-of-arms in front, and, in particular, the figures of the two large, armored conquistadors on top, muskets in hand, standing on top of screaming human heads. More heads, neatly arrayed, were visible under the balcony. What did the Montejos have in mind when they designed this portal? What exactly did they want to portray? Perhaps throughout human history this is how the conquerors depicted their power and control over the vanquished.

Portal, Casa de Montejo.
Portal of Casa de Montejo, closeup of the top, Mérida. Note the sculpture of the two conquistadors and the howling human heads.

We entered the building. Part of it is now a bank. But the rest is a well preserved museum with impressive objet d’art collected by the wealthy residents (the Montejos occupied it till the 1800s) over the centuries. The black and white tiles in the entry corridor caught my eye. I have seen this pattern in many old houses in India, often in marble—must have been a popular flooring in European colonial architecture.

A tiled corridor in Casa de Montejo, Merida.
A tiled corridor in Casa de Montejo, Mérida.

Next we entered what might have been the library with white marble flooring. It had ornate bookcases with ancient books. Large Chinese vases lined the walls. The ceiling had intricate wooden beams. There was a sofa set and an elegant writing desk. I would have loved to handle and inhale the sometimes musty aroma emanating from old tomes (not for everyone, I admit), but obviously, that was not allowed.

A room in Case da Montejo, Merida.
A room in the Casa de Montejo, Mérida. Note the floor tiles, the ceiling and the furniture.

Other rooms contained French dining sets, silver tableware, crystal chandeliers and sundry bric-à-brac. One room had an intricately paneled ceiling.

Intricately patterned ceiling, Casa de Montejo, Merida.
Intricately patterned ceiling, Casa de Montejo, Mérida.

After finishing the tour of Casa de Montejo, we stepped out and headed for the arches of the Governor’s Palace. We wanted to enter and see the beautiful murals on the walls by the well known Mexican painter, Fernado Castro Pacheco, but were stopped by armed policemen. That was unfortunate, but I did get a glimpse from a distance of part of a mural that you can see in the picture below.

Governor's House, Merida, Mexico.
Police guarding the Governor’s house from protestors, Mérida.

We were told there was an ongoing protest and demonstration in front of the Governor’s palace which necessitated this step. We looked across the road and saw people in masks (COVID-19 was still a concern) sitting on the low wall around the plaza peacefully holding placards.

Protest in Merida.
Peaceful protesters holding placards in front of the Governor’s House, January 31, 2023, Mérida.

A closeup of one of the signs (see below) suggested a professor might have been detained, perhaps unlawfully. I tried to get more information but did not succeed.

Protestors in Merida.
Close-up of a placard held by one of the protesters (January 31, 2023), Zocalo, Mérida.

Next, we headed for the San Ildefonso cathedral. It was finished in 1598, and therefore, is the oldest cathedral in mainland America. Compared to the ones seen in Pueblo and Mexico City, it was plain and simple, a testament to the time it was built when the Spaniards had just begun settling the land.

Cathedral de San Ildefonso, Merida.
The San Ildefonso Cathedral, Mérida.

The inside was simple too but peaceful, a place of refuge and meditation. We sat on a bench and did that. I got up rejuvenated in body and mind.

Inside Catedral de San Ildefonso, Merida.
Inside the San Ildefonso Cathedral, Mérida.

All this walking had made us thirsty. We walked towards the sherbet shop that we had seen beside the palace. There were little cakes and delicacies on trays inside a glass counter and a list of sherbets on the wall. We studied it. There were some exotic flavors we did not recognize, e.g., elote, morisca and mantecado. We would have loved to try them, but after a brief counsel, decided not to. I was not sure of the water quality in the mix. Why risk an upset stomach on vacation? Just a routine precaution. Instead, we drank the bottled water we had with us. Not as satisfying, but safer.

Sherbet shop, Meridia.
Sherbet shop, Mérida.

Our tour group assembled at the edge of the plaza where our bus came to pick us up. On the way back to our hotel we saw the Monument to the Homeland (Monumento a la Patria), of Maya inspired design created by Romulo Rozo, the noted Mexican/Colombian sculptor. The face was patrician, the attitude, regal. The monument was impressive.

Monumento a la Patria, Merida, Mexico.
Monument to the Homeland (Monumento a la Patria), Mérida.

Back at the hotel we had some free time before dinner. We headed to the roof top pool and bar. I relaxed in a chair beside the pool enjoying the cool breeze and the sunset. The water looked tempting.

Roof top swimming pool, Merida.
View from the roof top swimming pool, Courtyard by Marriott, Mérida.

My son, meanwhile, went to reconnoiter the bar. He came back with, “Dad, I found an excellent mezcal. Want to try?”

The Kioyu Sky Lounge was conveniently located next to the pool. We walked over. We were greeted by Alfredo, a very well informed, friendly bartender who showed us the bottle of “La Ultima Y Nos Vamos”. We had a good chat. He gave us information of life in Mérida. Many retired Americans have settled there. Living was relatively cheap, the weather, warm, and life, good. Sounded enticing, and with what little we had seen of Mérida—true.

Jose Alfredo, out bartender at Kioyu sky lounge, Merida.
Alfredo, a knowledgeable, friendly bartender at Kioyu Sky Lounge, Mérida.

We had a round of the mezcal. It was smoky, potent but smooth. Paired with the chili peppered lime slices and some spicy peanuts, it was delicious. I could not resist the temptation of another round. We were enjoying ourselves so much that our friends came to round us up for dinner. We said goodbye to Alfredo and headed downstairs.

Sipping a fine mescal, Merida, Mexico.
My son and I sipping a rare mezcal, Kioyu Sky Lounge, Mérida.

What a nice end to a nice day in Mérida.

The Plaza Grande in Merida.
Jeet at The Plaza Grande (Zocalo) in Mérida with the Cathedral in the background.

To be continued. Next: Chichén Itzá.

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