Being a Mérida tour guide

Normally, when Angie and me come to town, we hang out by the pool. Walk a little bit. Eat. Hang out by the pool. Eat some more. Sleep. Repeat.

Bringing friends required a bit more excitement.

One thing I could appreciate was that Ivan is an adventurous eater. I would consider myself an adventurous eater, as well, though when I'm with Angie I almost never make the effort, because I know she's a grilled-cheese girl.

This meant we got to try a lot more foods from street stalls, seafood and even those seasoned crickets (grasshoppers?) out of a bucket that you occasionally see street vendors carrying around.

Grasshoppers, by Ivan Miller
al Pastor, by Angie
And a little al Pastor? Yes please!

I can honestly say, this was one of my favorite food trips. I mean, we always eat well in Mérida, but this time was a real opportunity to go outside the box with someone else.

Every meal was a little bit different.

For one of the meals, we wandered into Santa Ana Park looking for some lunch. I wasn't particularly hungry or fussy, and Angie didn't really care to eat any street food (I knew we'd be stopping at a pizza shop for her later) and so I told her to let Ivan wander a bit and pick the food stall he wanted to eat at. So we walked in and, naturally, there are people from each little stall jumping at you to take a seat and order in their section. I politely declined and just slowly wandered as Ivan and his wife, Amanda, perused the menus.

Then, somehow, as she was taking photos, Angie got in front of all of us and someone offered her a seat at a table. She was tired and so, without a hesitation or any thought of what she was committing us to, she sat down. And with that, it was decided where we would eat. It turned out fine, and the food was fantastic.

Maybe you're asking how the bugs were? Honestly, they were pretty good. Once you get over the mental hurdle of eating a bug with long legs, most of the taste is in the seasoning. I'd get them again as a little snack, for sure.

We went to Oliva for Angie's birthday dinner. It was a very nice night with great food.

Our last night, we weren't sure where to go. I had a short list of contenders. All along Calle 47. I had a pick in mind, but since this was Ivan and Amanda's last night here, and I would be back many more times, I let them choose. The place they chose was Casa Dominga, which is a place similar to Mercado 60 (UPDATE: or was, I think they may be closed as it looked like the space was for rent when we went in November of 2019) with different food stalls around a courtyard.

They were just opening the bar area when we arrived, but the food stalls wouldn't be opening for another hour or two. We had a drink and decided to move on. We were hungry. That meant we went to my choice, across the street and on the corner, Micaela Mar & Leña.

Now, one drawback to this is that it is more of a seafood restaurant, and Angie very much dislikes seafood. She agreed to be a soldier and find something she'd be willing to eat because Ivan very much does like seafood. It was such a fantastic experience. It quickly became Ivan's favorite restaurant of the trip. I highly recommend a trip there for dinner if you're in the area.

I know, so far it sounds like all we've done is eat, hang by the pool, walk a little, eat, sleep and repeat. I said we'd do other things, and, dang-it, we did!

I didn't want to rent a car the entire time we were there. It seemed like it would just be wasted most of the time and I'd spend more time driving around finding a parking spot than anything else. So it was planned that we would rent a car for two days, and we would cram as much stuff into those two days as time would allow.

Renting the car was a pretty quick and painless affair. I'd rented in Mexico before from one of the major car rental companies and it felt like an incredible hassle, bordering on a scam. This time we went with a more local company and they were much better and upfront with all of the pricing.

The only problem we had was something I didn't notice right away. Angie and I went in the morning and rented the vehicle and then drove it and parked it while we waited for Ivan and Amanda to wake up and get ready. When we all got to the car and started driving, the tire pressure  warning came on and pressure was going down on one of the tires pretty consistently. On the way out of town we stopped at a service station and had it filled.

But it would always start to lose air as the day went along. It never went totally flat, but it was a little concerning. Ultimately, it ended up never being a real issue, it was just one of those things that blinked on the dash and nagged me the whole trip. Note for next time, check those gauges before leaving the lot!

Day 1 and we were off to Izamal, the yellow city. We climbed up to the convent and then wandered the side streets and scrambled up Kinich Kakmó pyramid. We strolled through the market and got a few snacks for the road.

I plotted a course that would wind us through small villages on the way up to the coast. We approached the coastline through the Laguna Rosada where we stopped to buy salt at a roadside stand that is frequented by tour buses and flamingos. We took photos of the flamingos.

by Ivan Miller
From there we turned west and hurried our way to Reserva Ecológica El Corchito in Progresso where we boarded one of the last boats out to the reserve. We walked through the mangroves and past the cenotes where locals were swimming. None of us were prepared to swim, and we were getting very hungry by this point, so we didn't linger long.

Back in the car we hustled to the beach before the sun could sink too low. I served as shoe and purse watcher on the beach as Angie wandered and took photos and Ivan and Amanda searched in the surf for seashells.

As we returned to the malecon to brush the sand from our feet and legs, we started searching for a restaurant that might be approved by all of us. What we found was probably a restaurant, Crabster, that caters more to tourists off the cruise ships, but it served our purposes and the staff was pleasant and the food was good.

On the way back into Mérida, we decided to make a stop at one of the new malls that are springing up on the fringes of the city. La Isla is a very high-end mall with a man-made lake. I'm not going to get into a lot of detail, since we were there for just a quick stop.

We didn't wander too far in the mall. It was getting late and we were all full of sand and getting tired after a long day. We bought some ice cream and then shuffled through traffic and made it home. We knew we had to be up early the next morning for our next excursion. 

And the next morning we were up bright and early with the sun and on the road to Uxmal. I chose Uxmal over Chichen Itza for a couple reasons. Firstly, because Angie and me hadn't been there, so it would be new to us as well as Ivan and Amanda. But also because of how crowded Chichen Itza has become over the years. Which is probably good for the area and people to get a lot of tourism dollars floating in, but I am not a crowds person. It was another reason to get up early and make it to Uxmal as they opened. Beat the crowds and the heat.

It turned out to be a great choice, it was a beautiful morning and we were almost completely alone as we wandered through the ancient city. It was a serene and peaceful time to be there and by the time some of the crowds and schoolchildren started to file in, we were on our way out.

I had planned to take us to a cenote after Uxmal and had read about one in particular that sounded fascinating. You needed to make a reservation to go to it, so I reached out through WhatsApp and using my worst Spanish, wasn't able to confirm a time until after 1 p.m.

This was a problem, because we were done with Uxmal by 10:30 a.m. and the cenote was only a 45 minute drive away. In order to kill some time we stopped at the lodge next to the entrance to Uxmal and had brunch outside.

Next to the restaurant was a dirt parking lot with an entrance guarded by a rather beefy speed bump. There was one vehicle inside of this parking lot, a large tourist bus, the likes of which I had never seen. It looked like a tourist bus but also appeared to have bunk beds in it? At any rate, it was loaded and they were ready to make their way on to their next destination. The beefy speed bump had other ideas.

Now, how they got that behemoth into the parking lot in the first place is a mystery, because getting it out seemed like something that wouldn't be happening. The bottom of the bus skidded and scraped in a horrendous noise. Then there was a loud explosion, likely something with the hydraulics breaking, which dropped the belly of the bus firmly onto the speed bump like a beached whale.

We watched as people filed out of the bus and sat themselves on the grass and watched as a small crew tried different methods to free the stuck titan. Nothing seemed like it was going to have success short of a crane. With no hydraulics, the wheels were off the ground slightly, the mighty speed bump holding its prey like a trophy on a pedestal.

Did it ever get unstuck? Well, after about half an hour of watching, we decided it was time to go, and so I will never know. That bus could still be stuck there to this day, for all I know, a new and permanent fixture for future visitors of Uxmal to wonder at. At least, that's what I'm going with.

We slowly were on our way to Hacienda Mucuyché to visit their interesting cenote.

While we sat at breakfast and throughout our drive, I debated if we should go to the cenote or not. Was it worth sitting around for hours just to swim in this cenote? Should I just find another random cenote to go to that doesn't require reservations? I had anxiety building, I didn't want to be seen as a terrible tour guide who was wasting their vacation!

I hadn't told anyone else in the group about this cenote, I wanted it to be a surprise to everyone. They had no idea what to expect or what they'd be missing out on.

I asked the group if they minded waiting or if we should skip it. Amanda had said she saw a cenote the day before (at the reserve in Progresso) so it didn't matter to her. Now, in fairness, I knew that this cenote and most cenotes are nothing like the small round lagoons in the reserve, but the rest of them didn't really understand that.

Ultimately, we decided we didn't have anything else more pressing to do, so we'd stick it out. It was a wise decision.

The cenote at Mucuyché is on an old Hacienda that is currently in the process of being restored into some sort of small resort. It's a beautiful place and the cenote is actually one of two on the property that are semi-connected by a hand dug canal that you swim through. We were led on a tour through the property and the cenotes by our tour guide, Anoop.
Canal connecting cenotes
I won't get into the history of it or much more beyond that because I never know how much I should trust the history of a part-time tour guide. The second cenote is underground in a cavern lit with lights from below. The entire experience was magical.

After leaving the cenotes, there is a large heated pool on the hacienda grounds. (I want to say it was a saltwater pool, as well, but I'm not completely sure if I remember hearing that correctly.) Nearby, they were constructing a restaurant for visitors.

We lounged in the pool for a while longer, this truly was paradise. It was probably the highlight of the trip for Ivan and Amanda and I was so glad we stuck it out and went there.

We will definitely be bringing people here in the future for a cenote visit. It's much more expensive than most of the other local cenotes, but it was a great experience that I definitely want to share with others.

We did many other things including visiting the market in Mérida and a lot of walking, but I feel like I'm getting a little long winded and I want to finish with the end of our trip, which was interesting.

We always fly through Houston to Mérida, which requires us to take an extra flight to get to Houston, but it's easier than taking a bus ride or renting a car in Cancun, which we've done before. There is only one flight, currently, out of Houston which usually leaves in the late afternoon, arrives in Mérida and then leaves the next morning back to Houston.

The morning of our departure, I woke up to a troubling alert on my phone. The flight to Houston was cancelled.

I went through the house to wake everyone so we could get ready and get to the airport to figure out what our options were. At the airport, we waited in a line for a long time with people all wondering the same.

As the man at the counter is making copies of our info and searching for flights to get us home, he tells us we need to go outside and get in a van that will take us to Cancun. He doesn't have anything booked for us yet, but we have to leave now to make the 3 hour drive and by the time we are in Cancun, he assures us, we will have boarding passes and a way for us to get home.

We waited for the vans outside the airport. 15 minutes away we were told. Everyone decided to go get coffee, maybe a snack for the road. I stayed and watched the bags by the curb.

"Change of plans, we're going to put you in the van over there," said a man with a wrinkled and folded sheet of paper, pointing to a van in the parking lot, "everyone grab your stuff, we need to be going!"

Crap! I do my best to lift everyone's bags and carry them to the new van location. I'm texting and calling like crazy, telling them to get back, nobody is answering.

Everyone is loading their bags into the back of the van. I am holding back, not loading anything. I don't want the bus leaving with our bags and not us. Still no word from anyone.

I pick up the bags again and I start running towards the airport, and inside, trying to find everyone.

I see Ivan with coffee and tell him the situation.  He goes to gather everyone up and return to the van to wait. The back of the van is full as the driver attempts to squish the bags in and make them stay. Our bags still aren't in. The group finds me and walks over. The van is full.

"It's okay," the man with the paper tells me, "there's another van coming in fifteen minutes."

He leads us back over to the curb and the van full of squished luggage and squished people departs for Cancun.

He checks on his folded list and asks our names. "Oh, you were supposed to be in that van, some people with later flights than you must have taken your seats. But don't worry, we will get you there in time."

A van pulls up and the four of us load into the van, along with one other gentleman. We have the entire van to the five of us. Thank you to the people who stole our spots in the squished van, as we have all the room to spread out nicely in this van!

Three hours later and we were in the Cancun airport. Everyone had boarding passes. Well, everyone except me.

So, I had to stand in line at the Cancun airport, the clock ticking on when the flight was set to leave. I finally got to the front and was given a standby ticket. Is this the universe telling me that I am not supposed to leave Mérida behind? Probably, and I am okay with that message, universe.

I did end up getting a seat on the plane, I was upgraded to the fancier economy plus section, while everyone else was back in regular stinky economy. I didn't get to sit with the group the entire flight home, but I got to enjoy some extra legroom and first dibs on the snack cart. It was a fair trade-off.

It was a long day and we were finally home, but I was already wondering when were we going to be back in Mérida again! Turns out, it wouldn't be too long.