A Region Rich in Culture and History – Day 8, Merida and Progreso
On Friday morning, I woke up to my stomach’s gentle reminder that although I was eating like one, I wasn’t, in fact, a local. Heard.
So, Rustin and I gave our stomachs a break and decided to go on a driving adventure today, taking in the richness of Merida. Our local friend had suggested the ruins on the outskirts of town – they were small, but you also got access to a cenote. Excited, we headed out.
As we left town we missed the turn (hard to see even when you’re laser focused on finding it) and ended up in the beach town of Progreso. Sitting about 30 minutes north of Merida, Progreso is a little town with a long beach stretching for miles and the feel of a small Mexican tourist town in hibernation. It was a hot day and there was a long beach, so we couldn’t help ourselves, we had to take a dip in the salty waves. And nothing goes better with the ocean than an ice cold beer and a snack – both of which we wanted to promptly have after toweling off. So we sat down at a little beach shack to do just that. All of a sudden the staff or owners arrived with free snacks . . . a lot of them. We hadn’t yet experienced anything quite like this – although we should have expected it! Merida is the snack capital of Mexico, after all. Before we knew what was happening we had multiple different plates of food. “Gracias. No mas, por favor,” we said as we were unsure how much more was coming. There was a big variety of snacks: pickled vegetables of all sorts, three kinds of enchiladas, flautas, the freshest ceviche, and a few other fried treasures. We did order some of our own choices from the menu, and the shrimp empanadas were my favorite: Light and fluffy masa pockets filled with shrimp that had been stewed in tomato and onion. The acidity of the tomato with the sweetness of the fresh shrimp and the onion was just right.
On our way back to Merida, the signs for the ruins were nice and clear – we found the parking lot with no issues. For an easy $9/ person (feels so much cheaper than $10!), Rustin and I wandered around the grounds of a former Mayan Village. A mini museum near the entrance told the village’s story of the Spanish taking over the village and surrounding lands. As we read the inscriptions, we gained a better understanding of how Merida, and really the whole of the Yucatan Peninsula, was one of the first landing points for the Conquistadors. Merida is not only the snackiest town in Mexico, it is also one of the oldest. We walked through the ruins of the ancient city and admired the two temples, half of an old and beautiful church, and the exterior walls intended for protection.
Next up, the cenotes. Many Americans are now familiar with them, and they always impress. Cenotes are fresh water wells that were often the only source of water for the villagers. They are usually rather large and they are said to interconnect through underground tunnels or caves. This cenote was no different, measuring about 1,500 square feet and ranging from 2 feet deep on one end, and with a deep, dark cave on the other. Rustin was able to borrow some googles and dive in to determine there was a cave, but we had no idea how deep or far it went.
Locals now use the cenotes as local swimming holes, and I can attest that the water is so pure and clean that it inspires a magical feeling as you dive of the rocks into the crystal clear water.
Back in Merida, Cade and his wife had taken the day to explore the local market and source everything needed for a home cooked meal: Chicken legs, white cucumbers, tomatoes, avocado, habaneros, and hard boiled local eggs. All mixed together with chicken livers, it made for some incredibly delicious tacos on fresh tortillas. These experiences are special in the sense that you are going back to the basics. Chicken grilled on charcoal and seasoned with only the bare essentials; a salad made from the freshest produce, using the simplest flavors and spices. Cooking like the locals allows one to better understand the soul of the cuisine.
We spent the evening laughing the night away while smoking local cigars and sipping on tequila. This home cooked meal shared with friends was well in order after a week on the road.