Our friend Joanna is good for many things, and one of those things she does is make sure we get the heck out of El Centro once in a while. Whenever we visit, our time is so short and there’s so much to learn in the historic center of Mérida. We love to walk about. Somehow, it takes a good bit of prodding to lure us elsewhere.
But Joanna did. Shortly after we settled, Joanna whisked us away to the Eco Museo de Cacao, which is set up on a real cocoa plantation in Tikul, about an hour-and-a-half from the city. After admiring some exhibits we encountered a young man in costume who wordlessly gestured for all us to follow. He led us to a clearing with benches and what appeared to be an altar. As he sounded his conch shell, several other actors in native garb approached, barefoot, down paths from the woods behind the altar. After the reenactment, the leader guided us to a hut where (English-speaking) docents explained the cocoa-making process, and we were finally given samples of hot cocoa and seasonings like chile, allspice and cinnamon with which to experiment. (I went overboard with the chile, ruining my drink). Another visitor took this video.
As a souvenir, I bought a T-shirt, and some chocolate to take home. The chocolate had almonds and oregano mixed in, and it tasted like … what you’d expect. It’s an interesting flavor, not revolting but not quite something I’ll crave in the future.
Mid-trip, we were delighted when another good friend, Yucatango, got us to enjoy a Thai restaurant in the north-east of town, and to experience the Alta Brisa shopping mall, where “Sale” signs are in English, and the Prada store is across the way from a store called Baby Upscale. Then we went to City Center, where the very spiffy La Europea makes life in Yucatán more tolerable for wine lovers. It’s probably a trap to opine about the malling of a city that’s marketed as a charming Maya time-warp of simple, unpretentious living. Here, we really see a glimpse of an aspirational middle class with disposable income. It is what it is, and it puts the Centro in context. And I’ll probably be driving to Europea then and again, especially if I ever feel homesick for Fairfield County.
Fast forward to our last night in Mérida, when our hearts were heavy, and we wanted to mark the occasion with something memorable. I was thinking of some light fare in the Centro, maybe at Rosas y Xocolate. But Joanna and Jorge had another, less tourist-y idea: Tacos PM, which turned out to be shorthand for a very popular mini-chain in town: Los Taquitos de P.M. (P.M. stands for poca madre, the meaning of which I won’t go into).
Delicioso. And a perfect choice overall. Here we were among the first to be seated (we had an early flight the next morning) along the Prolongación Paseo de Montejo, well beyond our Centro walking zone. The place filled up pretty quickly with attractive couples and families. Paul and I were the only gringos there. And the food was outstanding. We had the tacos al pastor on flour tortillas (Joanna recommended that over my normal corn tortilla to better complement the meat.)
Across the street, there’s a rockin’ place pushing wings and burgers, playing American football on video screens, plus another (empty) restaurant featuring salads. The whole scene seemed to foreshadow our trip back to the States.
And the next day, there we were…back in the U.S., and happy to have seen a little more of the growing suburbia north of El Centro.