My first week of traveling was spent in the cultural city of Mérida, on the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico. For the longest time leading up to my departure I thought I was going to fly to Costa Rica as the prices stayed consistently low (around $100 USD), but when it finally came time to book my ticket in April, flights to Costa Rica had tripled, so based on what I saw in Skyscanner, my options were narrowed down to Mérida and Cancun in Mexico, and Bogotá, Colombia.
It wasn't hard to eliminate Cancun from the list because I did NOT want to fly into that shit show smack dab in the middle of spring break (as surprising as that may sound, but we'll get to that later).
So I was between Mérida and Bogotá.
On one hand there's Bogotá – I am stoked to wander around in South America and I could always make my way back up into Central America if I wanted to.
On the other hand, I know how much I want to see South America so I had a feeling if I did fly into Colombia there's a high probability I wouldn't be seeing Central America before hopping over one of the big ponds.
So, that was settled rather quickly.
When I landed in Mérida the first thing I did was plant myself at the cafe in the airport and get settled, check to see if Facebook had been shut down during the few hours I was in the air, make sure I still had everything and my shit was in order, and find an ATM so I could take some pesos out to pay for the taxi.
I took out 2000 pesos, which is around $100 USD, and exited the airport. The taxi man identified me and waved me over, walked me to the window to buy a fare into the city to Akasha Hostel, where I hoped there would be vacancies available. The standard fare into the city centre was 200 pesos (~$10 USD) and they give you a bottle of water and a little bag of wafer cookies for the ride.
I checked into the hostel uneventfully, met the owner, Paco, took a shower, and went for a long walk to see what the city was like.
For 9 o'clock at night in April, it was hot and humid, but the absence of the sun kept it from being too much. I walked a mile or two, passed a ton of people hanging out at parks, having dinner outside restaurants, and playing music for passersby on the streets. It certainly had a magic appeal to it, and I ended up sitting down on a bench at one point to take a break, and found myself watching these two older men having drinks at a small table just outside the restaurant of a nice hotel. It was the first time on my trip I felt like I was truly watching someone else's universe. The two men appeared as if they were at home in Mérida, completely absorbed in the conversation they were having, like two old friends catching up at the end of a long week. I imagined the lives they might have led that brought them to this moment decades after being born, to be having drinks in the middle of a random little park square.
There's so much life in this world.
My days in Mérida have certainly been on the relaxed side. Like I said earlier, I didn't want to fly into Cancun in the middle of spring break – I wanted to start my adventure on a low key, to get accustomed to the climate, the language, the culture, and legitimately being on my own with all the time in the world, so a cultural city like Mérida (versus a party city like Cancun) was the perfect spot in my eyes to start. It's a huge city with a laid back vibe but plenty to do during the day and at night.
I tried to survive on 2000 pesos (~$100 USD) for the entire week just to see how little I could live on. The taxi from the airport was 250 pesos with tip, the hostel I stayed in was 160 pesos/night (960 pesos for 6 nights), and I aimed to spend less than 100 pesos (700 pesos total) per day on food.
When it comes to food, I've been training myself for the last 5 months to be satisfied eating only once a day, and not necessarily one day's worth of calories, but simply one meal, small or large. In Mérida I typically woke up around 7 or 8 in the morning and was not hungry until the afternoon, at which point I'd have a few salbutes or panuchos, maybe a tamal, and I'd be ok the rest of the day, go to bed a little hungry, and wake up the next day feeling energized and lean. I fasted for a couple days as well to cut down on my expenses even more and allow my mind and body to benefit from purposeful withholding of external sustenance. I expect to go without food from time to time on this journey, and not by choice, so the more I can be physically and mentally prepared for those days, the better.
Not to mention, meditating in a fasted state is significantly easier.
I tried to establish somewhat of a routine in Mérida, to ensure I get certain things taken care of before noon everyday, allowing me the freedom to explore, relax, or hang out with friends in the afternoon and evening. I wrote in my Five Minute Journal as soon as I woke up, I took notes in a separate journal (my "adventure journal") about the previous day and anything on my mind that morning, I practiced some Spanish in Duolingo, I knocked out 750 words on 750words.com, and I did some basic strength & conditioning work – air squats, lunges, push-ups, handstand push-ups, pull-ups when I can, and plenty of mobility work.
I wore the same underwear, shorts, and shirt for the week I was in Mérida. I know that sounds disgusting, but I realized that as long as I keep the sweating to a minimum and wash my underwear in the shower every day, my clothes stay pretty fresh.
It was the beginning of April and it stayed warm all day and all night long. As far as I could tell it didn't dip below 70F (21C) while I was there, and I didn't have air conditioning in my room, so to stay cool I took at least two showers a day and bathed in my underwear or at least soaked them before putting them back on so they kept me cool around the hostel for a couple hours until they dried out. I also kept my soap usage to minimum, maybe using it once a week for times that I spent all day out in the sun, or had a particularly intense workout.
I acquired a number of bug bites walking around and in my sleep, but I'm not dead yet so that's a win.
I went for walks around the neighborhood, observing all the people, food stands, and cafe's and restaurants. I tried to read as many signs as possible to improve my grasp on the Spanish language, and listen in on conversations here and there, but my grasp on the language isn't strong enough to do more than catch a few spoken words here and there.
I had a few great interactions in which I tried to exclusively use Spanish, and they were usually had with one woman in particular who was staying at the hostel with a friend of hers.
Carlina (pronounced Car-leena) is a slender vintage bottle of wine from Venezuela, most likely aged around 50 years judging from her dark color and the abundance of wisdom visible around her eyes, though you wouldn't be able to tell by her spirit and the way she dresses, like a woman in her twenties – short jean shorts, t-shirt, and light blue running shoes. She speaks Inglés, but with a heavy Español accent, which I assume is specifically a Venezuelan accent since that is where she grew up.
She was probably the friendliest human being in that hostel. Greeting people every morning with a cheerful, "Buenos dias!" and a long hug, because as she put it, "A hug must be at least 10 seconds long or you don't get any benefit from it." She was always smiling, always laughing, and incredibly patient when it came to helping me with my Spanish. There were several mornings and nights when she cooked enough food to offer some to anyone else staying at the hostel, including one night when she made arepas, a beautiful Venezuelan dish in which you take the corn flour based mix, roll it into small balls, flatten them into half-inch thick circles, and fry them before cutting them open and stuffing them with butter, cheese, veggies, or whatever you want.
Bro, I DESTROYED those arepas. I think I finished off 6 of them just stuffed with loads of butter, oaxaca cheese, and a chicken-veggie mix one of the other guests had made. The way the arepas absorb the butter and provide this amazingly rich corn flavor on top of whatever you decide to stuff them with is delicious.
If there's any one thing I remember Mérida for, it will be Carlina, with her huge heart, effervescent personality, ever glowing smile, and inner child. We should all strive to grow up as young as she has.
After putting in some time to build a routine, brushing up on my Spanish, and getting tired of sweating every time I went outside with no body of water in sight I knew it was time to leave after only a week, so after hearing some great things about a little town by the name of Tulum, I headed to the bus station one day and booked a ticket.
Have you been to Mérida? What did you love or hate about the city? Do you have any memories of places defined by a person you met there? Comment below and tell me about it!
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