A new trend, and an old problem, on Mérida’s sidewalks

cinderblockNo, I’m not done bitching about the sidewalks in Mérida. It’s just insane. Look up to admire the work being done on the facades in the Centro, and you risk twisting your ankle on the crumbling sidewalks or gaping potholes that are all around.

Here’s something brilliant: Outside this one popular cantina on 62, the crack in the sidewalk is marked with an equally hazardous cinderblock, right where you’d step outside after a few beers. Look up to admire the beautiful new facades, and you’ll risk missing the obstacle course below. Elsewhere, a stick or a piece of pipe, maybe with a rag attached, is what warns drivers to avoid a pothole. If they’re not going to fix this, the city should at least hand out free orange cones to anyone who asks.

Mérida's sidewalks are a hazard, but you need a permit to plant a tree.

Mérida’s sidewalks are a hazard, but you need a permit to plant a tree.

We are building a house in Santa Ana, and being responsible for the sidewalk, we had to build one ourselves. There is a “green” movement in the Centro to plant black calabash trees along the sidewalks.* We approve! We will plant one outside our street window, but we first needed permission to cut a hole in the sidewalk. So there are times when the city is intently interested in the condition of the sidewalks. But dangerous gaps and cracks that I’ve been skipping around for years don’t seem to be anyone’s responsibility or concern.

I’m taking my elderly parents here soon, and I’m going to have to call a cab just to take them 20 feet. I’m glad I don’t have to worry about violence in the streets, except for the violence implicit in falling into a hole or into the path of a motor vehicle.

OK, now I’m done bitching about the sidewalks in Mérida. Back to happy talk.

The black calabash tree, like these on Calle 53, is an increasing presence in the Centro Histórico of Mérida.

The black calabash tree, like these on Calle 53, is an increasing presence in the Centro Histórico of Mérida.

*To learn about the Amphitecna latifolia, walk by the big blue house, No. 513, on Calle 53 between 62 and 64. There is a row of the trees there and elsewhere, and a note on the door explaining their suitability to our narrow sidewalks. In short, the leaves stay green and don’t drop on the ground, and the sidewalk doesn’t get uprooted. I’m starting to see them everywhere, the result of a grass-roots campaign, so to speak. Mérida’s Centro is greener these days.

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  1. lee and paul,

    Just read your blog and I am really happy for you. It’s hard to imagine that i was right there when you were both just looking for the perfect location and home to fulfill your dreams. It’s amazing how much you’ve accomplished. I can’t wait to see the photos.

    Best wishes for the holiday season from idaho.


    • So great to hear from you, Sam! How are the slopes so far? We’ll be happy to show you through Casa Nana if we’re all ever in Merida at once again. You really should see the Centro again. The whole area is developing quickly. You’ll be amazed at all the reconstruction going on everywhere.

  2. It’s not just Mérida, the entire country’s sidewalks are one long disaster zone. I’m normally SUPER vigilant when walking around, but one day accidentally stepped into a puddle that was about five inches deep. I only got my shoe wet, but the instant I felt my foot fall, I had visions of falling into an open manhole.

    As for the idea of somehow fixing things, I think it’s somewhat analogous to streets in Boston. People here have no idea how bad the streets are because they’ve never seen anything different. So they don’t complain.

    Alas, that’s what you buy into when you go to Mexico. A lot of stuff that seems like it should be easy to fix is just left the way it is.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we keep hoping the street department will adopt some kind of minimum standard for the quality of repairs to streets. We’re not holding our breath.

    • When I was a kid, there was a commercial that showed people stepping off a curb and into what looked like a shallow puddle. Some skipped gaily across the water, and some fell in and disappeared into the brink. I think they were demonstrating lightweight luggage. I wish I could find that on YouTube. It’s funny to flash back to 1972-era US television when you’re in the here and now, trying not to lose a limb on the sidewalks of Merida.

  3. Hola Peter,
    We must be neighbors. We own the red and gold home directly across the street. The one Omar recently completed. We were lucky enough to meet Lucinda. She owns the home with the green facade just down from you. We just returned from Merida on 11/29. I hope we get a chance to meet the next time we are in Merida.
    I would love to plant trees but as you mentioned earlier the sidewalk needs to be wide enough and we don’t have that luxury. Saludos.

  4. I believe we were the first to plant trees in the sidewalk areas over 3 years ago.
    We live on Calle 54 between 49 y 51 and we put 3 trees in after repairing our sidewalk
    Now much of the street is planted as well as many of the houses intersecting our street.
    I don’t believe one needs approval to do this….just a sidewalk wide enough.

    • I know our architects got official approval. They wanted to plant two, but in the end are planning for just 1. I’ll look for your row of trees next time I walk by! What kind are they, if I may ask?

  5. I see this problem as rather like defensive driving, but let’s call it “defensive walking.” Just as one should not sight-see while driving, I’m teaching myself to avoid looking up from the pavement while walking. Instead, when I want to look around, I stop walking, THEN look at whatever, and proceed when done gazing. Similarly, while driving, if I want to look at the sights, stores and such, I pull off the road and do my looking.

    A broken collar bone taught me a lot in this regard. I agree with you–your aging parents should be taxied, since they haven’t had time to learn these extra needed precautions.

  6. Always enjoy your blog – I really like the idea of the Black Calabash trees, but after doing a bit of ‘extensive online research’ it appears that they can get quite tall and wide when mature. This might be a problem on narrow sidewalks and with heavy winds blowing them over ?

    Are there any examples of more mature sidewalk trees in the centro, I wonder ? Or maybe their growth will be stunted under those conditions and not be a hazard.

    • They do need to be trimmed back, and apparently they take well to some pruning. The ones in the photo show evidence of extensive pruning. Time will tell!

  7. I was just a victim of these sidewalks. I was stepping up to the door of a taxi we had hailed when suddenly my world changed. I fell and sank forward with my head a few inches from his front tire. I looked down to see what the hell happened and I had sunk into a hole up to my hip with a gaping cavern below. This was on the small patch of pavement between a bus stop and the road. My partner helped pull me out and helped me fall into the back of the cab, wondering how bad it was. Luckily there was nothing but bruises but it hurt and I was shaken, almost in shock. It could have been so much worse, big gashes or something broken. What could happen to people gettting on and off the bus? How does this continue? Why is no effort made to protect the safety of the citizens? Elderly and children could be devastated. We can do very little as guests here but why does no one else raise a fuss?

    • Erich Briehl just wrote an op ed for the Yucatan Times about the poor behavior of bus drivers. Maybe someone would like to contribute something about the sidewalks!

    • That’s got to be one of my worst nightmares. How awful and traumatic. When that happens to a person who’s a little better connected, the hole will be fixed, I’m sure. As for our being guests, I still think we’re allowed to raise our voices now and again.

  8. Wearing heels is too much of a challenge there.

    It is freezing over this way. Came home from a Mexican beach vacation to 27 degrees here. If I were you I’d just wait till Spring to think about coming back.

  9. We are told there is a movement, perhaps called “Merida Verde”, supporting the planting of these trees along the sidewalk. If so, I see another cause in our future. I’ve not googled it yet. Does anyone have any contact information?

    • I’m researching the green movement in Merida and I’ll write something when I’ve gathered enough information. The signer of the letter is Paulino Simã. Also, there was recently a congress in Merida to discuss sustainability, long-term planning, etc. All positive signs, if a little vague.

  10. I have visions of you walking around with a bucket of cement repairing the holes as you find them. You’re right though, you have to be vigilant while walking and gawking.

    As for black calabash trees…I’m afraid my sidewalk is too narrow to get approval. It is wonderful to see them being planted though. While house hunting last September in 104º heat I was desperate for shade!