She arrives late — a woman in her mid-30s travelling with her mother, or perhaps her mother-in-law — and sits down in the seat adjacent to ours. Gold, Tom’s-style shoes, but more expensive-looking; black pencil pants; a crisp black and white blouse; and a thin, quilted black vest that wouldn’t look out of place riding a thoroughbred on a grand hacienda. It’s all accessorized perfectly: diamond earrings; a sapphire and diamond engagement ring and white gold band; and a designer tote bag and watch. She moves around with ease, like she has barely a care in the world.
Of course, it’s impossible to know someone’s life, privilege, or struggles from an outfit viewed across the aisle on a two-hour flight, but there’s something about this woman that shocks me: she’s sophisticated and cosmopolitan, and she seems to come from a entirely different version of Mexico than the one we’ve spent the last four months in.
One thing’s for sure: we’re not in Oaxaca anymore.
We’ve been in Mexico for 4 months now, and just when I thought I was starting to understand the country, I realize I know next to nothing. I mistook the ways of a unique piece of a massive, geographically and culturally diverse country for the entire thing, and now I’m experiencing the shock of realizing how wrong I was.
We’re now in Merida, a city that feels polished and shiny, like the woman across from us in 27C. I remember being here about 15 years ago with two girlfriends, and loving Merida’s colonial vibe and well-preserved Zocalo. And friends who’ve spent time backpacking in Mexico and living temporarily absolutely love Merida. But now, to me, it just feels a bit…meh. I still recognize that it’s Mexico, but it doesn’t feel quite right.
Of course, it hasn’t been helped by the fact that we’ve both been hit with a nasty cold since arriving. For Geoff, it actually started the night before we left, at Mezcalogia, our defacto drinking headquarters for the last month with friends in Oaxaca. He spent the entire flight miserable and feverish, with an uncontrollable cough, falling into bed when we arrived for several days of restless, sweaty sleep.
Just as Geoff started to get better, I felt the tell-tale aches and pains, slight fever, and terrible chest cold creeping up on me. A friend, still in Oaxaca, messaged to say she’d been hit by it too, describing her limbs as feeling like lead weights, and sure enough, the next day my limbs felt like lead weights too.
We’ve both sort of recovered, and are starting to get out and about to see the city, and get some work done. Yesterday, I ventured out to a nearby café with the friends we’re travelling with, and Geoff stayed behind at the hostel.
And while I was typing away in a nice café garden, I got this message from him through Facebook:
Did you know that the strange yellow door in our room is actually our private bathroom?
Yep. In our sick, confused state, we didn’t realize we had a bathroom in our room. We’d been using the shared bathroom for 3 days.
This is probably one of the funnier mistakes we’ve made over the years, and we certainly had a good laugh about it. We are staying in a hostel, and I recall booking a private room with a shared bathroom, so we never thought to open the strange yellow door in our room, figuring it went to a closet or something. We either got bumped up to a private bathroom, and the staff didn’t tell us, or we booked it all along and I remembered incorrectly.
We’re leaving Merida tomorrow for the beach, and I can’t see myself falling in love with this city in the next 24 hours. It’s not a terrible place, by any stretch of the imagination: we found a great little café (a must, for me), some good food, and it’s clean and colorful. The centre is well preserved, and Merida’s Zocalo is definitely a step-up from Oaxaca’s. And if you go even a few steps away from the centre, there’s plenty of old mansions, some crumbling into a state of decrepit splendour, and some looking shiny and newly restored.
It’s just that Merida isn’t for us, right now. It feels like a layover, on our way to the beach, which is probably more a comment on our state-of-mind, than the city itself.
Have you been to Merida? Am I being unfair?