Mérida is a pleasant place in which to look after someone who's not very well... or it is once you've left your terrible hotel behind and booked into a charming little spot like the Álvarez Family Guesthouse on Calle 62. Peta stayed in bed all day on our first full day in town; we did try to pop out to Parque Santa Lucía, one block from the hotel, where we thought a nice gentle orange juice in the shady colonnades would help bring some colour back into her cheeks, but a couple of sips down she suddenly went pale and announced she would have to lie down, right now, so while she gently collapsed on the plaza's sun-warmed steps, I paid the bill and mentally ripped up any plans we had for exploring the rest of the Yucatán. When Montezuma's revenge strikes, you have absolutely no choice but to stay where you are and sit it out (or something similar-sounding, anyway).
To be honest, this isn't the end of the world, because the only other destinations I'd earmarked for this neck of the woods were Campeche, a colonial town on the west coast of Yucatán, and Uxmal, another world-class Mayan ruin. Although they both sound excellent, I think we're probably going to have our fill of Spanish colonial architecture and Mayan ruins on this trip – much as I expect us to be heartily sick of corn-, tomato- and cheese-based food before too long – so it looks like Mérida will be our last destination of note in Mexico. We'd like to head back to Cozumel to do some diving, as it's supposed to be amazing, and there may be time for a visit to a cenote or two, but with the wind taken out of our sails, I suspect we'll be heading to Belize slightly sooner than planned.
So while Peta lay in bed, making a slow but steady recovery from the shock of Hotel Illness's tap-borne bacteria, I headed off into town to stock up on the usual suspects when it comes to curing the runs: bottled water, bananas, plain biscuits and natural yoghurt. Luckily the market area of Mérida has a couple of supermarkets, so it didn't take long to stock the fridge with weapons of mass bacterial destruction, and with Peta safely tucked up in bed – the best place to be when you're little more than an empty shell – I set off to explore the centre of town.
Museums and Plazas
The main attractions in Mérida are its plazas and its museums. Mérida is the capital of Yucatán, both administratively and culturally, and even a quick wander around the centre is a treat, especially if you like colonial architecture as much as I do. The main centre of town is the Plaza Grande, which contains a pleasant public park from where you can survey the surrounding buildings, of which the biggest and most impressive is the Cathedral de San Ildefonso, whose twin 42m-high towers dominate the eastern side of the plaza. The cathedral dates from 1598 and is the oldest cathedral in Mesoamerica – that's the area of Central America stretching from central Mexico down to the northwest border of Costa Rica, where a number of culturally related agrarian civilisations flourished before the Spanish came and did all their high-handed rearranging. Symbolically, the cathedral was built on the site of an old Mayan temple, and stones from the temple were incorporated into the new building, as was the case for a number of other colonial buildings in central Mérida; a block north of the Plaza Grande, for example, is the Iglesia de Jesús, and in the church's western wall there are two blocks that still bear Mayan carvings.
At the southern end of the plaza is the ancient-looking Casa de Montejo, which dates from 1549 when it was the home of the conquistador Francisco de Montejo y León, who founded colonial Mérida in 1542; it's now a museum of art. Along the northern side of the square is the Palacio de Gobierno (Governor's Palace), which contains some impressive mural paintings, while the western edge is dominated by the red tower of the Palacio Municipal (City Hall), which pokes above the trees in the park and contrasts delightfully with the green trees and blue skies (well, it does if you're lucky with the weather). The best way to soak it all up is to simply plonk yourself on a seat in the park and watch the people roll by. If the sun is shining, as it was when I wandered down there, it's a hive of gentle activity; wait for it to rain, though, and it's suddenly a ghost town.
The city's founder also gives his name to the Paseo de Motejo, a wide, tree-lined avenue some seven blocks to the northeast of the plaza, which Peta and I visited on our first afternoon in Mérida, before things started going wrong. The buildings along that road are really rather wonderful, though they're not as old as those in the historical centre; the Paseo de Motejo was built at the turn of the 20th century, when Mérida was doing exceptionally well from the local production of henequén, a rope that's made from the agave cactus of the same name. Indeed, for a short spell around the start of the 20th century, Mérida was said to have more millionaires than any other city in the world, and looking at the buildings on the Paseo de Motejo, you can clearly see what they did with all that cash.
There are lots of museums in Mérida, but it's perhaps no surprise that the museum that everyone recommends most highly is on Paseo de Motejo. What a pity, then, that when we visited the Museo Regional de Antropoligía, we found that it didn't contain any of the Mayan historical exhibits we'd been told were well worth the effort, but instead found it full of photographs of the various Mayan ruins in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, and only a handful of Mayan artefacts. Apparently the exhibits have all moved up the road to the new Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, but they don't tell you that at the Museo Regional de Antropoligía, and they're still more than happy to take your money at the door. Thanks guys.
But, to be honest, Peta wasn't up for any more exploration and I was quite happy to sit around the hotel all day, enjoying the feeling of not having to pack up the bags and go hunting for a new hotel. So although we didn't do Mérida justice, it turned out to be a pleasant spot for a bit of recuperation, and perhaps this will help us to slow down and take things slightly easier. After all, that's how the locals cope with this weather, and they should know...