Not only food but real estate was also inexpensive in Yucatan. Our food tour guide Jose said that a nice, modern, two-bedroom, one bath apartment rented in Merida for about the equivalent of $315 a month. A few days later we met an American couple at the ruins of Uxmal. They had retired to Merida and bought what they described as a nice house with a pool on the outskirts of Merida for $135,000. (The two were gay and had moved from Galveston, Texas. One said that Merida was the most gay-friendly place he had been. Yucatan does not have gay marriage, but it recognizes single-sex marriages from other places.)

Merida is the increasingly sophisticated capital of Yucatan with a population of about one million people. All this seems to indicate that Merida should be a good place to set up a base, but it would not be for me. A desirable city must be good for walking. Many people did walk in Merida. Getting lost was not the issue; the city’s layout is easy to learn. But the sidewalks in central Merida are narrow. Two people could barely pass by each other. I could not linger and look in shop windows or study menus or look at architectural details of buildings because this meant disrupting the pedestrian flow. And nothing separated the sidewalks from the street. Small and large vans and buses zoomed and belched a matter of inches from my shoulders. I did not feel in especial danger, but all that noise and gas fumes left me jangly. I could get around on foot, but it was not an enjoyable activity. I don’t want to spend long times in a place where I don’t enjoy walking.

Merida sidewalk. Photo by the NBP

And the climate is not my cup of tequila either. For me, Merida and Yucatan in general were hot and humid. I could not walk more than a few steps without feeling sticky. As a brief respite from New York’s January, it was fine, but I would not relish that weather on a longer term basis.

Of course, there is the chance that if I regularly encountered the climate, I would adjust. Several Yucatecans said that the weather in January was cool for them. They were bundled up, and I even spotted people with handwarmers. When any found out I was from New York, the first reaction was to mention that it was cold up there. The food tour guide said he thought of living in Canada for a while to improve his English, but he almost immediately said that he was concerned about the weather. (He was also concerned about his ability to learn English in Canada, and not because of the French-speaking areas. He had considered working on a Canadian farm, but then he heard that it was likely that most of the farm workers would be Spanish speakers.) Jose would have preferred to come to the United States to improve his English, but he said that since Trump took office, it had become harder for Yucatecans to get even tourist visas to the U.S. 

This was one of the few political comments that we heard on our trip to Yucatan. I had asked the couple from the Netherlands whom we met on the food tour whether everyone there did, in fact, ice skate. They said yes, and the man smilingly said that speed skating was, of course, the most important all the sports. When I said something about short-track speed skating, he said that the Dutch were getting better at it. I asked if people skated on the canals to work, a practice that seems appealing to me. He laughed as if that had never existed but went on to say that with global warming, the canals often now don’t freeze. I asked whether the Dutch blame America for that, and he quickly said he blamed the whole world for not caring.

The most amusing comment with a political content, however, was said by a man outside of his souvenir shop on the way into the ruins at Tulum. His huckster voice said, “Come into my shop so I can rip you off. We need the money so we can pay for that wall.”

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