The best way to see a city is on foot, and Mérida is no exception, especially in the downtown or Centro area. Walking, not only can you interact with locals; you’ll also see, hear, and even smell things you can’t from a car.
The first installment of this series took us around the block made up by 60, 63, 65, and 62.
Today’s walk? From Calle 61 at 62 to 64 to 63 and back to the Plaza Grande at 62!
We start at the corner of Calle 62 and 61, in the shade of the Olimpo, a cultural center built on the site of the original Olimpo, lost in the 1970’s thanks to a mayor desperate to convert a historic mansion into a taxi parking lot. His excuse? It was falling apart. The good news is that the new Olimpo was built to fit in with the surrounding buildings and doesn’t clash too harshly with its neighbor, Mérida’s municipal hall.
Walking west, pass Burger King and Bisquets de Obregón on your right, franchises both. An entrance opens up on your right, you can see the space once occupied by this large mansion once home to gardens and all sorts of life, now a much-needed parking lot.
On the south side of the street, next to the tattoo shop with the requisite pot pipes on display, is the prettiest item on this block: a semi-circular pink two-story with white trim and a ton of character. Notice the bronze statue on the right standing on a safe. There are also lots of plants, a fountain, and limestone basins.
Across the street at the Capricho Mexico City-style taco stand, the taco guy insists that actual people do live in that house, even though the many imposing padlocks on the gate might suggest otherwise.
There’s also a bubble tea shop next to the tacos if you are in the mood for dessert, with an adult toy store called Sexópolis next to that. Beside the pink statue-filled scene above is the 1970’s LAMK building. Lamk, from what I could glean, is a Lebanese surname.
On the corner, the Bar Campeche, a once-thriving Cantina, now sadly for rent or sale, another victim of the pandemic perhaps? Turn (south) onto 64. Traffic is now coming towards you. On the right, as you walk, the pale-yellow building is home to the offices of Grupo Plan, who run several Yucatán haciendas – Temozón, Ochil, Santa Rosa among others – owned by the Mexican banker Roberto Hernández. After that, all your beauty supply needs can be had in the store in the blue building, decidedly not colonial or Porfirian with an interesting roof treatment visible if you glance upwards.
Several unremarkable buildings make up the rest of the street, mostly 1970’s modern, and not worth a second glance. On the right (west) side of the street is an ochre building: it is what’s left of the Monjas convent. Once a huge property with an entrance way off on Calle 66; revolutionary forces expropriated most of the building and much was torn down and replaced with commercial or residential space, including La Casa de las Artesanías.
On the corner, a peculiar art-deco influenced building with glass blocks and interesting tile work now housing an Oxxo convenience store under its Edificio Monjas moniker.
It is here – Calle 63 – where you turn left (east) to make your way back to the Plaza Grande. On your right (south side of the street) as you walk, notice the Hotel Lord, an unlikely place for any lord of repute to lay his royal cranium; the new Cristian Bravo restaurant, Matilda; and at the end of the block, the red brick building known as the Casa de Ladrillos. Under it is a parking lot and there, the remains of colonial-era tunnels. Legend has it that these run from the convent to the San Ildefonso Cathedral thereby potentially connecting male and female religious types, but others maintain that these are merely storage areas under the buildings in question. Between Matilda and the brick building is an older edifice with lots of small storefronts. If you see a sign at one of the openings that advertises Se Rentan Cuartos (rooms for rent) go in and look around. The ambience uncannily reminds me of a documentary I saw on Cuba just recently.
The other (north) side of the street has a few holes. Where there was a historic building is now a municipal office and parking lot. Notice the old stone wall that indicates what was there. See the motorcycles? Notice a walled-in entrance or doorway. Still on that side, there is another hotel with a gated entrance to a set of stairs going down. More tunnels? No, this was the entrance to a nightclub (called discotheques back in the day) featuring a cenote…
Finally, you’re back on the square. Walk north again and past the Dairy Queen tucked into a colonial columned archway, past and under the municipal hall and you have arrived exactly where you left off, at the Olimpo building on the corner of 62 and 61.
Reward yourself in the shade with a coconut sherbet at the Sorbetería Colon, a local favorite since 1907, right there on the square.
Editorial by Ralf Hollmann
A Yucatecan born in Germany and raised in Canada, with a degree in Hospitality and Tourism from the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Ralf has experience in leisure tourism, journalism, research, editing, writing, and creative writing. He’s also a musician.
Photography by Ralf Hollmann y Alfredo García for use in Yucatán Today.
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