My week in Merida, Mexico

It always starts innocently enough: A morning coffee, a stroll down to the beach to enjoy the a bit of sunshine, stop to chat with a friend, friend offers you a beer, you head to the store for a couple more beers to repay the favor, and suddenly, it’s 4AM and you’re slamming shots of mescal and savoring 6-peso tacos al pastor. This is the way of life in Playa del Carmen, and since I’d finished my studies at International House, I had fallen victim to this all-too-alluring lifestyle.

Horse-drawn Carriages are commonplace in Merida’s main plaza.

I needed a break. I needed to get some work done. I needed a place where I didn’t have any friends, and there was no beach.  So I booked a bus ticket to Merida, a Spanish Colonial city, about 4 1/2 hours west of Playa del Carmen where I figured I’d be able to hide out for a week and get some work done.

I arrived late, around 10PM, and I hadn’t booked a place to stay, but I’d looked online and scoped out a private room at a place called Hostal Zocalo, right in the center of town.  The price on Hostel Bookers was about $150 Pesos per night for a private room with a bathroom – that’s less than $12 USD. Deal.

I find the place easily, walk inside, and inquire about a private room. They show me a small, windowless closet with a twin bed. Nothing spectacular, but for $150 Pesos, I was happy. I asked about the price and they said the room was $350 pesos per night – more than twice what I was quoted on the internet. “That’s the online price, you should have booked online if you want that price,” the manager told me.  “Okay, then I’ll go to the internet cafe next door and book online. Or you can just give me that price.”  He didn’t like that much. They dropped the price to $250 pesos and then tried to up-sell me on a buffet breakfast for an additional $30 pesos per night.  I’m a pretty savvy traveler, and I know a gringo hustle when I hear one. I was not impressed, and not happy, so I told them what they could do with their buffet breakfast, slung my backpack over my shoulder and hit the road.

I’d seen a sign for a hostel on my walk from the bus station, so I decided to head back that way. 3 blocks later, I was at the friendly, clean, and spacious Hostel Casa Nico, and they offered me a private room with it’s own bathroom for $180 pesos per night. I asked if there was a discount for booking a week in advance and got the room for $160 pesos. The place was perfect. The room had a massive, comfortable bed, there was a pool, a sunny courtyard, free breakfast that included eggs, bread, fruit, and coffee, and free, fast wifi throughout. My stay at Hostel Casa Nico was great, and I highly recommend it over Hostal Zocalo.

A man relaxes on a bench in Merida’s main plaza.

So, the next day I worked all day, churning out a couple sponsored posts for this blog, editing some posts for my other travel magazine website (have I already begged you all to Follow, Like, and check out World Travel Buzz yet?), and being generally productive.  That night, I needed a break, so I went into town to hunt up some cheap tacos and a beer or two. I found a great little place, just off the main plaza with $10 peso tacos and a 2-for-1 beer special on Negro Modelos (19 pesos!). Sold.

I’m half way through my first beer and my plate of tacos when someone walked into the bar and said hi to the waiter in English. I looked up and saw a vaguely familiar face, but I couldn’t quite place it. He looked at me, “Is that Justin?” he said. “What the fuck? Is that Justin??”” he repeated.

“Yeah, but I can’t remember.. .where do I know you from?” I said.

“Burning Man!”

That was the slap to my subconscious that I needed – I absolutely remembered him.  He was Ludovic, the French Canadian “Get drunk about it” guy from this Youtube video I put together for The Bureau of Misinformation, my Burning Man theme camp! More importantly, he’s a member of the infamous El Guagua bus, a traveling web-series that roams from festival to festival around the world. I’d met the whole El Guagua crew in the Black Rock Desert, about 6 months ago, and we all boozed hard together, taking shots of cheap vodka out of flavored condoms. And here was Ludovic Guagua, himself, standing in front of my table in Merida, Mexico, calling to the rest of the Guagua crew to come join us for a few rounds of 2-for-1 beers.  So much for getting any work done.

The next few days and nights were a blurry rush of web design, writing and editing by day, and boozing with the Guagua crew by night.  The two Mexican girls who had join the Guagua advenure tour back in Mexico City invited me to join them on a trip to the Mayan ruins at Uxmal. I’d seen a lot of ruins already, in Tulum, Coba, and Muyil, but Uxmal is supposed to be one of the most extensive and best preserved sites in the Yukitan — and that includes Chichen Itza, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. So we hopped on a local bus to go check out Uxmal.

An attempted double handstand in front of a pyramid at Uxmal

Most ruin sites in Mexico cost $57 pesos to enter, a standard fee that goes towards maintaining and resorting the site, but Uxmal costs a staggering $166 pesos. I asked a local tour guide why it costs so much, and he explained that in the state of Yucatan, they can impose an extra “tax” that goes towards maintaining not only the ruins, but also the other buildings adjacent to the site, such as the restaurant, cafe, gift shop, and parking lot. None of this makes sense, of course, since you have to pay an additional fee for parking, and the restaurant, cafe, and gift shop have to pay rent for their space in the building. I prefer my ancient Mayan ruins sans gift shop anyway, so this was a big negative for me. Bad move, Yucatan.

Anyway, the ruins were pretty spectacular, and included a 100-foot-tall pyramid and a nice collection of other well-preserved buildings, some of which you can climb.  There was also an interesting network of cisterns and underground canals that the Mayans used for storing water.

When we finished exploring the ruins, we hitchhiked back to Merida – it was an easy journey and we made it in only 2 rides.

Once back in town, the girls suggested that we all head to Corona Fest, a local music festival, that was going on just outside of town and sponsored by Corona.  I was exhausted, but they had a couple extra tickets, and I have a standing travel rule: Never turn down an offer from a trusted local. Especially two cute and fun local girls.

Corona Fest!

So we hopped in a cab and headed to the festival.  There was a rule about no backpacks or professional cameras, and I had both, so I had to schmooze my way into the press line.  A couple business cards and handshakes later and I was in. The show was fun and wild. Beer was cheap – $30 pesos for two Coronas poured into a large cardboard cup. That’s so cheap, in fact, that many revelers thought it was funny to throw their half full beers skyward over the crowd.  We were perpetually showered with tepid beer, and occasionally with salsa. Not cool in my book, but we were all one big sweaty, filthy mob together – C’est la vie.

Nortec Collective,at Corona Fest!

We rocked out to a bunch of Mexican bands I’d never heard of, including one of my new favorites, Nortec Collective, which blends traditional Mariachi live instruments with electronic production – very cool stuff.

The festival wore me out and after the last set, I went straight home to bed.

I spent the next day wrapping up some projects and taking some photos of the beautiful, crumbling Colonial Spanish Architecture, and then headed back to Playa to catch up with some friends.

All in all, a fun and interesting week in Merida! If you plan on visiting, here are plenty of hostels and cheap hotels to check out, as well as Merida Vacation Rentals all over the city.

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