Mérida - Day of the Dead celebrations and our first taste of mezcal
30/10/2013 - 03/11/2013 30 °C
After our relaxing time in Tulum we, yet again, packed our suitcases and hopped on a bus to Mérida, the capital of the Yucatan state.
After a lazy 4 hours on a bus, we were in a full-blown city of a little under one million people. Quite the change from sleepy Tulum. Plus, it was swelteringly hot and rained only once.
The town’s Centro Histórico, which was only a 10 minute walk from our hostel, was built on top of the ancient Maya city of T’Ho and is rich in old colonial architecture, built from stones taken from the old Maya buildings.
Mérida also has the highest percentage of indigenous people of any large city in Mexico with approximately 60% of all inhabitants being of the Maya ethnicity. This is especially evident by the number of craft cooperatives that operate in and around the city, selling traditional maya wares from textiles, sombreros and hamacas (hammocks). From a few of the locals we struck-up conversations with, we learned that most Mayas actually sleep in hammocks and not in beds. Couples sleep together in the same hammocks, even with one or two small children! A Maya version of the Kama Sutra also exists, designed for the perfectly hung hammock.
This used to be an extremely wealthy town in the turn of the 20th century. Now much of the old splendour is in ruins.
The cathedral built in 1598 from ancient Maya stones
Merida was stinking hot, lucky our hostel had a pool!
For practically our entire time in Mérida, the 3 day festival of Dia de los Muertos was on. This is a festival celebrated throughout Mexico and is all about celebrating the memory of loved ones who have passed away. We witnessed a big parade of sombre skeletons and bands playing dirges, and ghosts running and up and down the lines screaming into the faces of spectating children.
In the main square opposite the cathedral, families had set up elaborate altars to their dearly departed with cardboard skeletons, photos and cherished items. Their favourite food was being dished out en masse to long lines of passers-by and their favourite drinks were also on display. Every single altar had a bottle of coke. Mexicans love coke.
"Death is just the key to enter the eternity of new life"
The screaming ghosts
Something else Amber and I were introduced to in Mérida, hailing from the state of Oaxaca, was the delightful spirit Mezcal, and their dedicated dispensaries, Mezcalerias. These are special mezcal bars with many different mezcals on offer, often being stored in large, unbranded glass jars to be decanted out on request. Unlike tequila, this spirit is not shot, but sipped and is served with sliced oranges dusted with "sal de gusano", literally worm salt, which is a mixture of ground fried larvae, ground chili peppers, and salt. ~ I just googled what that salt was called/made of and had no idea about the ‘ground fried worm larve’. Nice ~ Mezcal tastes seriously smoky thanks to the earthen ovens the agave hearts are roasted in. All of the bar staff here were experts in the stuff and fountains of information, which would’ve been great if I spoke Spanish, but from what I could gather the vast majority of Mezcal producers are very small, artisanal producers with a big focus on quality.