The decision had been made to visit Merida. I had been traveling to Playa del Carmen for a few years on my own, and after frequenting Tulum on nearly every trip, I wanted to branch out further and see more of Mexico. With just my backpack, a map and an idea of a hotel I had read about, I set out. Nervous yes, but pushing through. I could do this.
After hopping on a morning bus from Playa del Carmen, I settled into my seat for the 4-hour trip. It ended up taking more like 5 hours after a couple of stops along the way, so I arrived in the “white city” at around 5pm, around the time I would assume residents were finishing up work, as the streets were quite busy with foot traffic.
I really tried to find the hotel I had read about, but the map wasn’t making much sense and I had this sinking feeling I was lost. I stopped to talk to a security guard standing outside an important-looking building, and with his little English and my little Spanish, he was able to point me in the right direction.
It was soon after this that I met Alejandro.
He was walking home from work that Monday afternoon and I was heading in the direction set out by the guard. We walked together, weaving in and out of the rush of people, until our eyes met and we smiled. I learned that his name was Alejandro, he was Mayan and was born and raised in Merida. He spoke English! I asked him if he could help me find my hotel and he suggested another hotel- one “much more beautiful, more reasonably priced, and closer to the Plaza Grande,” he said. I was in.
After checking into Hotel Dolores Alba for the next two nights (I especially loved the many Frida Kahlo paintings hanging throughout the lobby), Alejandro was again kind enough to show me around central Merida, all the while testing my Spanish (or lack thereof) and making sure I knew my way back to my hotel at every turn. We visited a Mayan textile and pottery store, enjoyed a fresh fish dinner (this was in my pre-vegan days!), washed down with a mojito while we overlooked the Plaza Grande from a nearby restaurant balcony. “Where is your hotel located from here?” He continued to test me. Ice cream and a free outdoor concert with traditional Yucatan dress and dancing at the Plaza Grande was next. Alejandro marked up my map of Merida, highlighting all the “must see” places for me for the following day.
Merida is a very old and beautiful city (and if I had taken better quality photos, I could have share them here!). Founded in 1542, Merida is the capital of the Yucatan state of Mexico is is very safe to visit. Its Spanish roots can be found in much of the architecture around town.
The following day I took the Carnavalito City Tour bus that left from the Plaza Grande for an awesome tour of the city. Oh yeah, while waiting for the bus, a much older man sitting a little ways away from me pointed at his arm and then at me and proclaimed, “blanca!” (white). Yes sir, I am white. Apparently it was a compliment.
I saw Alejandro again on the second night and we decided to end the very busy evening of touring around the city over one last mojito. Alejandro said it was considered Mayan tradition for him to buy this one (I had paid up to this point, which I considered a thank-you for his kindness in helping me find a hotel and for being a super tour guide).
We walked to a nearby bar and he once again asked me where my hotel was from where we were. My guess was wrong again, as he patiently pointed the opposite direction. I sat down at a table and ordered a mojito and Alejandro said he would be right back– he just needed to get some money from a bank machine.
Alejandro didn’t return to the bar that night and I never saw him again. I don’t know what happened to him, but I was thankful for the time he spent showing me his beautiful city. My experience would not have been the same without him. After finishing my my mojito, I paid the waiter and walked back to my hotel. And I knew how to get there– Alejandro had made sure of it.