Merida Merida


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Greetings from lovely Merida, Mexico, capital of the Yucatan. I’m here for a meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology (oh thank you, Zod!) and will be presenting tomorrow night. But this, my friends, is my first trip to Mexico, and I can’t believe it took me this long to get here!

I am, in most standards of measurement, an immensely experienced traveller. I go on several international trips a year. It’s only March and I’ve been abroad at least five times this year, and I’m sure I’m forgetting a trip or two. I’ve become jaded with the travel thing. I’ve learned to hate airports, airlines, customs officials, hotels and even unfamiliar food. Travel plays havoc on my weight, my diet, my moods, my overall health, and I think it’s even begun to age me bit faster.

So you’ll forgive me when I admit that I wasn’t entirely looking forward to coming here. I knew it would be nice, but I have a lot of work to do, am still sleeping 2-3 hours per night, and receiving scores (and sometimes hundreds) of emails a day from demanding administrators, itchy clients and whiny students alike. In fact, I’ve spent all of today in my hotel room catching up on work.

Despite all that, I must say that my time in Mexico has been among most stress-free and pleasurable excursions ever.

It began with Mexicana Airlines, whose flight from Toronto to Mexico City featured a huge modern plane with enormous, comfy seats, friendly service, excellent food, bottomless tequila and –get this– PEANUTS! When was the last time you got peanuts on a plane? Oh how I missed them.

Here’s a picture of Adam enjoying his tequila on the plane:

In the old terminal in Mexico City, we were treated to a civilized immigration line with polite and friendly officials and a very attractive reception area. Everywhere we turned, someone was offering us free tequila samples. (Um… muchos gracias, senor.) The connecting flight to Merida was equally enjoyable and efficient, and –get this– our bags were unloaded instantly onto the conveyor belt. No ridiculous delays. There was even an official checking to make sure we each collected the correct bag. Why can’t Canadian airports run this smoothly?

The town of Merida is wealthy and gorgeous, with old colonial estates transformed into magnificent (yet affordable) hotels. The streets are clean, the people friendly, the architecture fascinating, and even the trees (it’s a very green city) are curious, having been clipped into interestng shapes.

I’m told it’s one of the safest cities in Mexico, and possibly in all of North America. a late nightwalk finds scores of couples huddled on the multitude of park benches, snogging beneath the Mayan moon. It’s a terrific romantic place, with ancient wonder, old world charm and modern comfort.

On our first night, we took a lengthy walk to the Plaza Principal, the meeting square for the townsfolk. It was packed with quiet, happy people. A similar scene in Toronto would have seen loud music blaring from beatboxes, obnoxious teens knocking people over on their skateboards, and a cacophany of impersonal cell phone chatter. Instead, in Merida there were lovers basking in each other’s quite company, young people meeting up to go elsewhere, and scores of people with laptops enjoying –wait for it– free public wifi. That’s right: free public wifi.

This is what the digital age had originally promised us: technology that was simultaneously free us fromour offices and link us to the world. Here it was in action: an entire town, gathering peacefully to enjoy the outdoors, the beauty of their community, each other, and yet to continue working. This is certainly the way I had originally envisioned the freedoms that the internet was supposed to offer.

A teenage boy struck up a conversation with us. In any other place, I’d be on guard for a scam, a sob story or some kind of marketing angle to drive me into a shop. Instead, he was just waiting for friends and practicing his English. His name is Jasske (spelling?) and he’s studing ethnography to become a tour guide in the Mayan ruins. He taught me a little of the Mayan language and suggested some of the less touristy places to see. He even encouraged us not to shop in most of the stores due to their use of fake Chinese-made “Mayan” art.

Speaking of art, I purchased an (overpriced) handmade wall-hanging that supposedly depicts the Mayan calendar, from an artists’ co-op. In the same place they make “living brooches”, which are beetles that have been decorated with jewellery and that crawl over your shirt. Perhaps it’s cruel, but it’s also worthy of a couple of photographs:

I spent the rest of the night working. I have a paper to revise, a presentation to write, a teleconference to prepare and a consulting contract to satisfy. Somewhere along the line, I also managed to imbibe beer, tequila, sangria and rum. No burritos yet, but stay tuned.

Mmmmm…. burritos.

On Friday I’ll try to find a few hours to visit Chichen Itza. I hear Elton John will be playing at the ruins. Great. I’m sure that will make all the dead Mayans very happy.