Land of the Mayans

This is such a difficult period I’ve put off writing. However, in the spirit of thinking about happier times …

I went to Merida, Mexico for a solo week returning March 5th, right before the world as we know it ended. En route, about thirty minutes from Cancun, (where I was to get a bus to Merida), suddenly the flight crew appeared in oxygen masks. We were told nothing except that there was “a smell like nail polish up front.” Perhaps the co-captain felt the need for a different color?  Regardless, the plane turned back and deposited us in Ft. Lauderdale to await a new carrier. The net net is that I arrived at my Merida destination, the Villa Tievoli, at 4:30 AM to find one of my hosts standing on the street awaiting me.

That was the first of many signs that I’d picked a winner, (thanks, This B&B is right in the historic Centro but away from the noise and bustle. A beautifully renovated old house, it has a lovely garden-and pool, three large, comfortable guest rooms each with a big bathroom complete with gigantic shower, and serves terrific breakfasts.

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Breakfast on dishes from Patrick’s huge collection

Tievoli is owned and run by Patrick and his husband Wendel, two of the most helpful hosts ever.

Merida (population just over one million) is a lovely colonial city with lots of restaurants, museums, markets, parks, colonial mansions now repurposed for organizations and free concerts, dance performance and other diversions every evening, many in the Plaza Grande, about a ten minute walk from Tievoli.

With Patrick’s help I worked out three day trips: one to Uxmal where I’d been in the 70s, but remembered little; one to Celestun where the flocks of pink flamingos were stunning

as was a very large, nasty-looking crocodile on view as my boat navigated into the mangrove swamps and one to a hacienda. The hacienda highlight was intended to be learning how sisal –known locally as henequen or “green gold” as it comes from a type of agave plant– was made in colonial times.

Sisal before it’s spun into rope

The demo was very interesting but for me the high spot was swimming in the property’s cenote.  Geology interlude: a ceneote is a natural pit resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes water underneath. There are about 6000 all over the Yucatan, many connected by underground rivers.

This cenote had a small opening to the sky, wooden stairs leading down to the water and was a Goldilocks temperature—neither too hot nor too cold. I stayed in for a long time “chatting “with seven women from Verona and only the thought of a Margarita brought me out.

A cenote very like the one I swam in

Besides a lot of truly fabulous Mexican food, Merida is big and sophisticated enough to have restaurants of all kinds. I went twice to Oliva, an Italian restaurant that could stand up against almost any Italian restaurant I’ve ever been to. One night I had the the pasta D’avillo with five huge grilled shrimp on top; the night before I left I ate TDF pork-filled tortellini. Oliva has a great wine list as well. More on other adventures anon.

Meanwhile, my recipe for guacamole. It’s a total cheat and not like what’s served in Mexico where it shows up at many food spots (almost always with other dips and fresh, housemade tortilla chips) but not at high end restaurants.

Mari’s Manhattan Guac

1 ripe avocado (the flesh should give when you push it)

About ½ cup of salsa from a jar. (The amount depends on the size of your avocado and assumes you can get to the grocery store wearing your latex gloves. Your call as the salsa’s level of spice. In Mexico guacamole usually isn’t spicy.)

Juice of ¼ lemon

2 Tbls. Chili powder (more if you prefer. Taste and see.)

Take avocado out of shell and mash. (I like guac that has small lumps in it but that’s personal.) Add other ingredients. Some folks add onion and/or cilantro but not me. Put the end result in an appropriately sized bowl. If you want to hold it for later, cover tightly with plastic wrap and put in the fridge.

Serve with tortilla chips (bought unless you insist on making your own, in which case send some my way) or slather on good bread for a version of avocado toast which makes an excellent breakfast or lunch.

Assuming it‘s not breakfast drink Negro Modelo, , the beer of your choice or whatever beverage strikes your fancy.  Thus far I haven’t heard my hero, Dr. Fauci, say that alcohol kills the virus but who knows? In this world of social distance we won’t clink glasses. A small, hopeful olé.

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