Monday, February 26, 2018

No debemos olvidar...

Lived in shorts and short sleeves for a month.  Heading home soon.  Posting this as a future reminder that warm weather is out there...

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Mérida Unplugged - Santiago park, Friday night

Other end of musical spectrum in Mérida. Up till about 9:00 a guy gives guitar lessons to local students.  After 9:00, a group of amateur musicians and dancers practice and perform.  Though they take donations, it's pretty clearly not a commercial thing -- they are in for the fun.

Dancers provides the percussion.  Combination of flamenco and tap dance?  On wooden pallets that serve both as a dance floor and an acoustic amplifier.

Guitars are really interesting.  Very small body acoustics, generally short scale lengths, but up to 12 nylon or gut strings.  Mainly a rhythm instrument.

And a jawbone / stick combo for rhythm also.  Called a "quijada" or "charrasca".  Made from jawbone of a donkey, horse or mule.  Makes a cool buzzing sound when you run the stick over the teeth.

Video clip:

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Low rent rock and roll

Corner about two blocks from our house.  By day a decrepit old store, for sale.  After dark, a music studio where six musicians practice.  We walked by a couple nights ago, heard them playing blues classic "Bad Bad Whisky".  Last night, Stones "Wild Horses" and "Jumping Jack Flash".  Hope they are practicing again tonight!   Short video clip with sound, below.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Can probably sense from last post that I wasn't happy with Valladolid.  I wasn't.  It was a place with an overall bad feeling, and our apartment was infested with black mold, and Katie lost a personal item.

Day to day I'm pretty much a skeptic on supernatural.  But this a true story (a happy one!) from Valladolid.  It is the kind of thing that makes the hair on back of neck stand up a bit, since the odds of it happening seem to be on the order of say 1 zillion to 1... or essentially impossible.

One of us had a cough.  A few days earlier honey had been recommended as a treatment (hot water, honey, squeeze of lime).  But we had no honey.  We were wondering where we could find a store that sold honey.  We were sitting in a little lunch counter kind of place, when an older woman walked up.  She seemed to speak no English, with Spanish only as a second language -- she spoke local Yucatecan as primary language.  She had one very small bag, from which she pulled a recycled 12-ounce bottle filled with honey, along with two smaller bottles of honey-based spice mixture.  That was her total inventory.  She asked us "Mielo? Setenta pesos?"  We said no thank you pretty much by reflex and she walked off.  We then said to each other "Did she just offer us a jar of honey??"  She walked back, and said "Sesenta pesos?"  And we bought it.  It was terrific honey.

When was the last time you were looking for something so specific as a jar of honey, and a stranger walked up and asked if you would like to buy hers?  Just does not happen.

Valladolid was that kind of place, but not all the vibes were so positive.  So we followed our instincts and left.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Back from Valladolid

Planned 3 nights in Valladolid, but returned to Mérida after 1.

Valladolid has a terrific cenote! 
Other than that... well... this post may be short.

 Semi-subterranean cenote, you walk down into a cave...

Sunday, February 18, 2018


An excellent archeological site very close to Mérida, with a terrific cenote for swimming and cooling off.

Name means "place of the stone writing" in Mayan, but the name is a tongue twister.  No disrespect intended, but as Katie and I were talking about it and planning a visit, we had to find a name we could pronounce.  So in place of Dzibilchaltún we call it BzBzBz (pronounced bzzbzzbzz). 

Short thumbnail history.  Dzibilchaltún is only ~15 miles from Mérida, the largest city in Yucatan. And the site is huge: 15 square kilometers, with more than 8000 Mayan buildings identified since its "discovery" in 1941.  Only half a dozen buildings excavated so far -- much of this site is nearly pristine, still covered in vegetation.  How did this happen???  How did it stay unknown until 1941?

Answer is ironic.  It wasn't unknown.  It was forgotten.  Conquistadors began "development" of the area about the same time as Mérida, early 1500s.  In this case, "development" meant granting this huge piece of land to one family, who immediately began to tear down the most convenient Mayan buildings and use the stones to build a church.  But here is the kicker: after a few years the family decided that Mérida was where it was happening, so they moved to the city... and left their land grant (Dzibilchaltún) essentially abandoned and ignored for the next 400 years.  Yes, a time capsule, made possible because some conquistador said "Jed, Mérida's the place you ought to be..."   Meanwhile, they abandoned construction of the Christian church they had begun on their hacienda... so it became a ruin, among the older ruins.  The site then sat unmolested for 400 years.

Katie and Mimo
We benefited from the knowledge of a terrific guy (nickname, Mimo) who was available as a guide.  So glad we met him.  He had, for example, photos he had taken of sunrise on the solstice shining through the window of a key temple building.  Doesn't sound like much but it is pretty beautiful.

Plus, a wonderful cenote.   
In simplest terms, cenote is Spanish for swimming hole.

Katie, Mimo and Pyramid
Ruins of the abandoned Christian church project...


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Stone Recycling

Good building stones are hard to come by -- they are heavy and take a lot of work to prepare.  And they don't generally wear out.  Prime candidates for recycling.

Mérida had 5 stone pyramids in 1500, before los conquistadores arrived.  We don't know exactly what they looked like since nobody took a photograph.  By 1600, Mérida had zero pyramids but a new cathedral, a house for the family of top conquistador, a house for the governor, and a big town hall forming the borders of a central town square.

So, it seems the sacred stones of the pyramids became the sacred stones of the cathedral (and the secular stones of some other nice real estate).  Lot of hard work involved, and my guess is the conquistadors took mainly a supervisory role.  And I get the impression that fair wages were not a consideration.

Today, once a week the faces of the cathedral and of the conquistador house serve as screens for amazing light shows.  The shows are beautiful, technically tough (they have to have really tight registration of the laser projection on the features of the walls), historically informative and kind of spiritually uplifting. 

From the show "Sacred Stones", projected on the cathedral.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Great vocabulary that you don't use everyday...

Imagine my delight to see this product and have the vocabulary to recognize it!

  I knew guano from some ultra boring junior high geography lesson ("... the key export of ____ is seagull guano...").  And of course Lamborghini makes the Murcielago, named because it goes like a bat out of hell.  

But finding guano de murcielago as a commercial product? Is this what Stephen King uses to grow his characters from slightly neurotic individuals to batshit crazy ones?

For my inner 13 year old, language study just doesn't get much better.


In addition to brain workouts with Spanish class, turns out we've also been getting some serious walking workouts on a daily basis just strolling around Mérida.

Katie has a 'Fitbit' that tracks steps.  We've been averaging 12-15,000 steps per day.  Estimating 2.5 feet per step, that is somewhere between 30,000 and 37,500 feet per day -- more or less 6 or 7 miles of walking per day.

Not all that much, but the surfaces here are all hard -- stone, tile, concrete.

My feet are sore.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Life is short / school is long

Katie and I (independently and in consultation) reached the conclusion that we have enjoyed just about all the school we can, heads are full, so we will graduate this Friday.  Frees up next week for us to go spend a few days in Valladolid, a town that several people have recommended.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Sunday on Paseo de Montejo

You can tell a lot about a city by how its animals are treated.
And also, to a lesser degree, its bicyclists.

On both counts, Mérida is among the most civilized of places I've been.  You just don't see many feral street animals -- essentially zero street dogs, and just a handful of street cats.  I'm told that this isn't true of all neighborhoods, but it is in the old central city.

Spent Sunday morning riding our beach bombers on Paseo de Montejo.  City closes it to traffic and opens it as the "biciruta", or bicycle route.  Lots of bikes, and lots of people running or just strolling also.  Lots of families, lots of kids.  And lots of dogs!  All of them living the good life, many riding as passengers when they get hot or tired.

And for those that don't have bikes -- free loaners, courtesy of my cellular service provider here!  Tip: watch out for the riders on loaners, many are learning and their cycling is kind of random!

Custom bikes, unusual rides, or just snaps I liked...

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Bus trip to Progreso

It is as I remember from when I was a kid: a week in school really does make you appreciate the weekend.

Mérida is about 20 miles from the coast.  Nearest beach town is Progresso.  There is a great bus service between the two -- AutoProgreso -- with comfortable modern buses every 10 minutes or so.  Trip takes a bit less than an hour.  Round trip cost, $1.80

Progreso was founded in the early 1880s as a port for the export of henequen (sisal).  Today, maybe most famous for having a super long pier stretching out to water deep enough for cruise ships: 
almost 4 miles long!

Lot of construction going on in town.  Picture of the shoes tells the story.

Progreso isn't going to make the list of the worlds top 10 beaches, but it is really nice as a beach getaway from the city.  We swam some, sat on the beach under an umbrella, enjoyed drinking cold carbonated water -- then took the bus home.  Nice day!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Progress Report

Wrapped up first week of school today.  Fun week, and way challenging.  Improved my Spanish some but still have a very long way to go.  Thought I might drop out of class at this point, but am planning to return on Monday.

This guy is an architectural grill on the utility box of a house down the street from school, a rehabilitated old colonial wreck.  I'm guessing that the owners made this to celebrate their slow but steady progress in the rehab project over 4 years from 2004 through 2007?  But it's equally appropriate as my student totem:

Also, some proof that I'm not making this whole study thing up.  Me, with first cup of coffee and my current favorite book:
 501 Spanish Verbs (not much of a plot, but lots of action!).  Remember... it's on the internet, so it must be true.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Our address

Couple days ago I wrote about the 'cuadros' system of mapping.

After clocking some miles walking around our neighborhood, we've found out what our address is within that system.  There are two 'cuadros' signs close by, one a very short distance to the west, one equally close but to the east.

So our address is:  "entre La Honradez y Los Soldados".

It's good as an address, but would be terrific as the title of a novel:  Between Honesty and The Soldiers

Serendipity on the La Honradez photo.  Took it in the evening, and the hand shadows were cast by a car coming down the street behind me.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Hats off to language teachers

Katie and I were talking on the walk home today:  how do language teachers do it? Specifically, how do they make sense out of the gibberish students spout and keep the class on track?
A roomful of students, each grappling with Spanish in a hodgepodge of murdered tenses, mis-pronunciations, wrong word choices, bad accents, random articles and pronouns sprinkled wherever, improbable constructions, you name it.  They must think"...Steve's lips are moving and sounds are coming out of his mouth...  this is a Spanish class so I know he must intend it to be Spanish... yes, I'm right, that word was almost certainly Spanish... I wonder what he thinks that means?  he can't possibly mean that... hmmm... maybe..."

Hats off to language teachers.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Ok, another selfie...

The mid-day sun here is really strong.

And in a town near Mérida they make some really nice hats.

We went out to a dance demonstration last night in the main square.  
The local dancers and orchestra were great, and wear their hats with real style.

So who could resist?

Gary Larson nailed it...

I may be in a bit over my head regarding comprehension. Much of the time in Spanish class, I'm like Ginger.
El professor speaks to me, and what do I hear?
blah blah blah Estaban blah blah.  Estaban?  Blah blah...
But like Ginger, it is kind of fun when I recognize my name.  Would wag my tail if I could.  Will go back tomorrow and see if I understand a bit more.

Woke up mumbling en español...

Katie tells me I woke up this morning mumbling in Spanish, maybe something about a great day?

Started the day by doing homework with breakfast.  Yes, homework.  Don't know about that.

School was fun yesterday.  They encourage zero English within the walls.  Guess it is the best way to learn.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Domingo en Mérida

Mérida closes some of the major streets to traffic on Sundays -- at minimum, Calle 60 (normally a busy street) and the Paseo de Montejo, which is a pretty grand avenue, sometimes called the Champs-Élysées of Mexico.  So after a nice slow morning, we headed out on bikes.  Single-speed foot-brake bikes.  Took a few blocks to get used to them.

Reached Paseo de Montejo and found that there was a triathlon happening today!  There were lots of athletes riding fast on hi-tech carbon bikes on the road, and us on our beach bombers riding on the sidewalk.  We wanted to be part of the event, so we did the best and obvious thing -- took a break at Starbucks for refreshment while we watched them in an encouraging way.  It was an awful hot day for a triathlon.  When we got home we popped into our freezing little plunge pool to chill down

Stopped at Parque Santa Lucia on the way home.  Dance band playing, lots of people dancing... Katie and friends included!

Modern Art / Falling Pieces
Walking around town this afternoon, took a photo of a pretty much typical scene here.  Any block here might have a couple of buildings like this for sale, another actively undergoing some kind of restoration, a couple of houses for rent, a couple full, a small business or two.

Katie asked me to take this.  It is the wall of a building a couple blocks from here on Calle 70.

Later tonight, walking back from the ice cream store, we met a couple of the winners in their classes from the triathlon.  Nice people in great shape, carrying their trophies home, good for them!

School starts tomorrow.
What was I thinking?
Vamos a ver: es posible a transformarme en un estudiante?

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Parque del Santiago

Most local park, was naturally our first 'discovery' here, and a frequent destination for open-air shopping for dinner stuff or just sitting and enjoying.

Park was busy today (Saturday) around noon.  Nice to see parents and grandparents with their little kids, who seemed to love
feeding the pigeons.

Escalera al Cielo

Mesoamerican architects made terrific stairways, but never seemed to include bannisters.

Tradition carries on here at the house:  great stairway, but no bannister.  Going up or down these concentrates the attention wonderfully!

At the top is a lovely second story, very open air, big lounge area and bedroom.