When driving, walking, or busing around Mérida, it’s good not only to know the lay of the land, where the landmarks are (see our December 2021 edition), and be able to differentiate north from south, but also to be familiar with some of the local expressions that you might hear when asking for directions.
“Todo recto” might sound a bit proctological (sorry), but rest assured, it is not. It simply means to keep on going, straight. En línea recta = in a straight line.
These terms, some of which incorporate Maya terminology, are completely and absolutely Yucatecan, and to get around you will find it helpful to understand them. Here are a few more.
A “manzana,” technically translatable as an “apple” is a city block, around which you can “dar la vuelta” – or go around – to head in the opposite direction.
In Yucatán, if you are turning right, say, on a street, you are “doblando a la derecha.” “Doblando,” in this case, is not to be confused with the word for “folding”
A handy navigational tip for driving here is being aware that, at stoplights, vehicles in the right-turn lane are allowed to make the turn ONLY if there is a sign with a right-turning arrow and the word “opcional” underneath. The “opcional” of course means optional, as you can opt to continue straight and ignore the chorus of honking, angry Yucatecan drivers behind you. Rest assured you don’t HAVE to turn right but you CAN. If there is no sign, you cannot make the turn until the light turns green. This is the opposite of Canada, say, where you can always turn except when there is a sign indicating that it is not permitted.
If you are looking for a friend’s house in Yucatán, the person giving you the address may write out what looks like a mathematical equation, using the multiplication or division signs to indicate “between” like this:
Calle 39 #483 ÷ 54 y 56, Centro
This enables you to pinpoint the exact location of the house (a qué altura) without necessarily having to look for the often non-existent numbers on the houses as you make your way slowly down the street thereby angering impatient, epithet-spouting motorists behind you.
Now that we have mentioned “a qué altura,” we should explain that this literally means ‘at what height’, but since Yucatán is flat as a pancake, this does not refer to actual feet above sea level, but to a reference point. The entrance to the Club Yucatán La Ceiba golf course is at the “altura” of the Coliseo, the round venue directly opposite on the Mérida-Progreso highway.
And still on the subject of “altura”, we should also mention the terms “subir” and “bajar” refer to upwards or downwards. These are not literal either but refer to North and South. You would be “subiendo” for example, if you were heading towards the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya from the Plaza Grande. If, after your visit to the aforementioned museum, you were returning downtown to eat dinner at Rosas & Xocolate or Matilda, you would be “bajando”. Sort of an uptown/downtown kind of situation.
While it can seem daunting, it is my sincere hope that this partial list of Yucatecan navigational eccentricities will help you get around comfortably and purposefully, without looking like a completely lost tourist. Have fun out there!
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 Una Stefanovic and Jorge Zapata for use in Yucatán Today.
Esta entrada también está disponible en: ES