Making a Splash in Mérida

The first scheduled event on my recent five-day visit to the Yucatan Peninsula and the beautiful metropolis of Mérida with my travel-mate Bruce was to have pizza with his ex-pat friends Deb and Eric.  After dinner, we strolled to an elegant restaurant where an artist friend of Deb and Eric was displaying his work.

It was night. The restaurant’s dim lighting was intended to create a romantic ambience. It may have been romantic, but it also was shadowy.  When I was told I must see the unusual art in the men’s and women’s bathrooms, I bolted toward them through the subdued light. The restrooms were along the wall at the far end of a raised dining area.  My focus was on the goal, seeing the art; I wasn’t, I realize now, 100% focused on my environment. As a result, I was unaware of details. I was aware that to get to the bathroom I had to climb a step or two and walk across a slatted wood pathway to the men’s room. Spaced on these slats were several small tables. Chairs were scattered around the tables. I also was aware that wrought-iron railings were atop the few steps I climbed, but I did not really notice what they surrounded. I was focused on the art in the bathroom, the art that “I must see.”

When I reached the men’s room door, I noticed a display case housing two white eggs. Aaah, symbolism, I thought. I wonder what will be in the doorway of the women’s bathroom. I stepped out the entryway, turned to my left, and, in the shadowy lighting, promptly stepped off the walkway and into a lily pond. To my surprise, the entire raised dining area sat over a lily pond! And the exposed areas in the rear of the pond did NOT have wrought-iron railings around them.

So there I was, knee-deep in a pond, stumbling forward, trying to maintain my balance, poise, and dignity. With each step my feet sunk deeper in the muck at the bottom of the pond. With each step more silt spun around my legs, coating them like brownish gray calf-high dress socks. But, thank you Jeeesssusss, I did not fall down. My shorts, which contained my wallet and cell phone, did not get wet. As I steadied myself and climbed out of the mire, applause and cheering erupted around me. I had made a splash in Mérida.

My shoes and socks, obviously, were now foot-sized sponges. I did my best to wring them out and then walked barefoot to the women’s restroom where I laughed at the display case full of tiny eggs, ova, if you wish. My shoes, once dried out, were salvageable, but the silt stained socks were not. I had to throw them out, which, advantageously, made room in my already over-packed suitcase for three touristy T-shirts.

This experience became the fodder of many jokes between Bruce and myself over the next few days. I realized, after the umpteenth joke, comment, or retelling the tale, I had used the word “silt” more in those few days than I had in my entire life. I also realized I had used another word beginning with an “s” and ending with a “t” quite a lot through that experience.

The remainder of the trip was wonderful. The city of Mérida is beautiful, lively, and exciting. The archeological sites of Dzibilchultun and Chichén-Itzá were fascinating and awe-inspiring. Bruce and I had hoped we’d be able to say “It’s a chicken” as we stood at the Chichén-Itzá KFC counter. But, alas, there was none. Not even a Popeye’s.

The underground water-filled sinkhole-like caves called cenotes, provided us with four breathtaking opportunities to swim in environments I can only describe as other-worldly. The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya (The Great Museum of the Mayan World) was eye-opening and educational. Our hotel was lovely. It was a wonderful trip.

The only negatives we experienced, I believe, were that the two-hours we spent at Puerto Progreso on the Gulf of Mexico were disappointing due to poor planning and priorities by the guide; our meals throughout the trip were hit-and-miss; and, although I didn’t see them, Mérida mosquitoes had a field day biting my lower legs over the five days. At least I think they were mosquitoes. They might be silt bites.

One of the oddities I noticed at or near Mérida’s plaza were T-shirts with the “F” word boldly printed across them. By the end of our stay I had counted six. I wasn’t offended by the shirts or surprised to see young men wearing shirts with English on them as that is quite common in Mexico. I was more curious why they didn’t blare the Spanish equivalent of that word; that would have been much more “in your face,” much more daring and rebellious. I understand young people’s need to wear clothes with shock value, clothes that challenged established norms. I just thought it a bit of a cop-out to flaunt an English obscenity in a Spanish-speaking nation. What percentage of the passers-by, I wondered, got it? I thought about the T-shirts often while in Mérida. Then, on our last day there, after I realized I had spent too much time and energy thinking about the misguided fashions I had seen, I took a deep breath and told myself to relax, to let it go.

I finally told myself to “Fuck this silt!”

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