|S P E C I A L F E A T U R E S |
Tales of Merida : Land of Siestas and Sombreros
by Mike Riniolo
Dozing in my living room chair checking out the backsides of my eyelids, I was awakened by the flute-like call of the knife sharpener with his single wheeled cart.
Not needing any knives sharper than they already were, I continued to check out the old eyelids only to be jolted by the sound of “mooing”.
Just the milkman passing, selling his fresh milk - don’t need any. Back to the eyelids.
Couldn’t have been 5 minutes when I heard the call of the Mayan woman selling fresh fruits and veggies door-to-door. Knowing I had plenty of both in the fridge, I continued my eyelid study.
Almost immediately, the tantalizing bell of the ice cream man rung out.
I even thought I heard the bell calling my name. (A siesta can do things like that to a person!) Now, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, I could almost taste one of those great refreshing ice cream cones that waited for me, but through strength and much fortitude (emphasis on “much”), I resisted.
These, and many more, are the typical sounds of the city here in Merida.
I VIVIDLY RECALL MY VERY FIRST TRIP TO MEXICO.
I vividly recall my very first visit to Mexico. It was in mid 1965, and I was a 20 year old American stationed in San Antonio. Neuvo Laredo and a magical, foreign country was a relatively short drive away. I decided to take that drive.
As soon as we entered the bustling border town, the sights and sounds of a very busy city struck me like a bolt of lightening! The fragrant aromas of the seemingly endless food and taco stands filled the air. Music could be heard from every tiny tienda and booth in the main shopping bazaar.
Mariachi bands strolled the streets competing with trios strumming their guitar shoping to find an enamored couple who would hire them for a few serenades. Wow, Mexico’s version of Woodstock I thought!
Night lights shone brightly enhancing the oranges, greens, reds, blues and other bright colors of the shops and bazaars. They were as shining as the smiles on the faces of the Mexican people who cooked the food and tended the stores hawking their handmade goods to the multitude of tourists who came looking for fun and adventure.
It was at that moment that I first connected to this multicultural land I now call home. There were many more visits and shopping sprees to Mexico while I was still living in San Antonio, and I relished every minute I visited there, always learning and longing for more. I had the dream of some day living in Mexico and never abandoned that dream.
IT ALL CAME TRUE FOR ME
It all came true for me 30 years after my first trip to Mexico. In 1995, after many extended visits to Mexico, I chose to settle in Merida in the Yucatan Peninsula. A well-preserved and enchanting colonial city,it beckoned to me. I retired from the US Federal Government after 30 years of service, and packed up and drove down from St. Petersburg, Florida.The trip took one week and I covered 3,000 miles.
I first settled in a rental house to get to know the area better, subsequently building a small hacienda style home on one acre of land just outside of a small pueblo, only 15 minutes from Merida.
It was a happy place in the country, and reflected some of the
same bright colors and magic that originally attracted me to Mexico.
I over-saw the construction of pools, patios, fountains, courtyards, and
several separate “casitas” (small houses/rooms), typical of a colonial style hacienda. Natural building materials were readily available and were used to extremes. The lush, tropical landscaping was inviting and relaxing, adding even more charm and excitement to the completely walled-in complex.
Unfortunately, for health reasons, I had to sell the home I had built from ground up, including clearing the land. But not to fret! I purchased a “fixer-upper” in the center part of Merida. The house has about 2,500 square feet of living space and has now been restored and given new life.
Because I already had the experience of building one home from scratch, I again opted to be the on-site engineer, architect, contractor, designer, and all around doer of whatever needed to be done! As head “Gofer”, I’d go fer this and go fer that, and go fer what ever building materials we needed for that moment. I managed to save a considerable amount of money by remodeling in this fashion.
My remodeling costs were approximately$15.00 US per square foot. It was tiring and often trying, but well worth it.
I NOW LIVE IN THE OLD PART OF OF MERIDA
I now live in the “centro”section of town which is designated as an historic district. My street isn’t overly busy or noisy, and bus service is available every few minutes on either corner.
Restaurants, theater, shopping, churches, the main square (zocalo), and parks, are well within walking distance and I can find that “magical attraction” all over again any time I so choose. Hospitals and clinics are nearby as is the international airport.
In my new location I have all the modern conveniences of a home in the US or Canada. Shopping malls abound and we here in Merida, as in many other parts of Mexico, enjoy the convenience of“back home” department stores, pizza parlors and restaurants, thanks to NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). You could easily eat in a different restaurant every day of the year.
Mexico is coming into its own, and emerging from its traditional “second world country” image. While the quaint charm of many colonial cities is being carefully guarded by protective city fathers, Mexico is definitely modernizing at every opportunity, gracefully blending the old with the new.
Market places and bazaars still play an integral part in the every day lives of many of the locals, and you’ll often find me wandering around one of the local markets, still playing tourist after all these years. I think some of the vendors in the markets are on to me though, as they call me by my first name.
Language isn’t much of a problem for me,as I speak fluent “Spanglish”! Many of the locals here in Merida as well as other parts of Mexico are bilingual and are eager to practice their broken English on the unsuspecting gringo or tourist. I always accommodate them, as they do me. It works. And of course, hand gestures are a very important part of the Spanish language and culture, and even the local Mayan language.
Living in Mexico is often touted as being very cheap. There are even books and folks who proclaim that you can live comfortably on $400.00 a month. Perhaps all that was true many years ago, but that’s a stretch of the imagination today.
MEXICO IS DEFINITELY A BARGAIN
Mexico is definitely a good bargain, and you can easily live here more comfortably for less money than you could in the US or Canada. The days of “cheap” are pretty much gone, but the days of “reasonable and very affordable” are upon us. The cost of living here in the Yucatan is quite affordable, and considerably less than where I came from in the Tampa- St.Petersburg, Florida area.
The basics, food, clothing, and shelter, are all well within reach of even the tightest budget.
Utilities are much less here, and there is little to nothing that you can’t find in the supermarkets or department stores. And don’t discount the local markets and bazaars! Basically, you definitely get a bigger bang for your dollar, so to speak.
Health care is abundant and you can find many modern medical facilities staffed by US trained physicians and technicians.
This provides me a sense of security should the need arise. There seems to be a pharmacy on every street corner and medications definitely cost less here. You don’t need a prescription for most medications unless you are trying to buy extreme pain killers or psychotropic drugs.
And for years, many foreigners have traveled to Mexico to have their dental work taken care of. Friends have reported savings of up to two thirds of what it would have cost “back home” and are anxious to brag about the excellent care and attention they received from their Mexican dentist and his associates.
Content in my adopted country I always keep an eye out for that little Mexican guy with the large sombrero, having a siesta while seated under a cactus while his donkey looks on in awe.
Haven’t seen him yet, and I’ve been looking since 1965. Should you come to Mexico and find him, take his picture and send it to me!
Mike Riniolo aka Merida Mikey lives in Mexico and can be contacted at: meridamikey at yahoo.com
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