Mérida’s historic downtown, known by locals as “El Centro” and by the many expats buying and restoring homes there as simply “Centro,” is once again open and busy. You will notice crowds of generally masked people out and about, lining up at the Fernández hardware store, and outside banks and clothing stores, which now permit only a limited number of patrons at a time thanks to the ongoing pandemic.
The welcome is uniformly the same in each establishment: the obligatory sign printed or hen-scratched indicating the Obligatorio use of masks and sanitizer. Usually, this signage is placed near a small table that holds a bottle of gel, manned by an employee who points a pistol-thermometer at each patron’s head or neck, as they try to fit their feet into the already dried-up sanitization mat on the floor.
Notably absent are scenes of irate citizens refusing to wear masks and arguing with employees about their rights, as one can observe in news reports from our neighbors to the north.
There are two very visible changes that you will immediately notice are different from your last visit to Mérida. The first thing, as you shall see when strolling around in the very heart of Mérida’s Centro Histórico, is the amount of people standing around signs announcing bus stops. As part of the state and municipal governments’ efforts to enforce COVID-19 social distancing requirements, the regular bus stops, all normally concentrated within a small area, have been spread out to ensure that people keep a safe distance from one another. Obviously there have been many complaints, not only from those who now have to walk a significant distance to switch buses, but also from the store owners who have seen their business decline, thanks to less people thronging around outside their shops.
The other thing you will note is that there are now planters in some of the streets in the very heart of Mérida, converting two lanes into one for vehicular traffic, and expanding the sidewalks which have always been far too narrow for Merida’s ever-growing population. The idea is to help keep people from bunching up and as an added benefit, reduce the amount of vehicles on those streets. If you must drive on those streets remember that you will be slowed to a crawl for many blocks, so make sure you have set aside extra time! Use the time spent waiting in traffic to count how many passing pedestrians are using their facemasks incorrectly. There are surprisingly few.
Shops in general are almost all open, with a few exceptions like the small bars and Cantinas that were unable to disguise themselves as restaurants and were thus unable to score the necessary permit to reopen. Also, a few actual restaurants have had to close, the most notable of these being Pancho’s, a venerable institution for decades on Calle 59, has closed its doors forever.
Most of the events that are usually held around the city have been cancelled for the time being. This includes the Sunday events for Mérida en Domingo on the main square, Noche Mexicana at the Remate de Paseo de Montejo, and to everyone’s great disappointment, the Hanal Pixán or Day of the Dead festivities this past November. However, two of the city’s video mappings recently took up again: Piedras Sagradas and Diálogos del Conquistador are both taking place on Saturday evenings.
In and Around the Plaza Grande
The main square or Plaza Grande is open once again and people are able to walk through and around, although not linger, after what seems like an eternity of being shut off to pedestrians and cars alike. Vehicles had been forced to make a one block detour to get past the confluence of Calles 60, 61, 62 and 63, which frame the square.
Nearby, the Pasaje de la Revolución, sandwiched between the Ateneo and the Cathedral, contains an art exhibit that one can observe from the outside. You still cannot enter or walk through this space, much to the chagrin – I suspect – of those unlucky enough to have a shop there.
You will see commercial activity up and running as usual in some of the other neighborhoods such as La Mejorada, Santa Ana, and Santiago. You might even be able to sample a Marquesita (from a cart) in some of the squares in these areas.
Near La Ermita, a recently announced art project includes some wall graffiti-murals and art on the actual street to make your strolling a little more interesting. You’ll find this area particularly fascinating if you are of the photographic bent and enjoy photographing colonial houses in various states of disrepair and restoration, colorful street art, and/or an old church or three.
If you enjoy graveyards, you can spend a few hours strolling through Mérida’s cemetery just off Calle 66, south of the main square. There, you can find a great number of photogenic angels and mausoleums, along with the tomb of one of Yucatán’s most famous governors: Felipe Carrillo Puerto. This statesman was a charismatic defender of the Maya and the romantic love interest of one Alma Reed, the American reporter whose remains are buried very close to those of her beloved.
You will feel El Centro de Mérida a little different, a little more subdued and perhaps less enthusiastic than it usually is, but don’t think that because you can’t see anyone’s whole face, they’re not smiling behind those masks. Mérida’s citizens are, for the most part, an optimistic and content collection of people and we’ll be overjoyed to see that you have come to visit and spend some time in our hometown.
Editorial by Ralf Hollmann
Author of Modern Yucatan Dictionary
Founder of Mayan Xic
Director of Lawson’s Original Yucatán Excursions
Photography by Yucatán Today for use in Yucatán Today.
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