The Fading Glory of Merida

Jeanine Kitchel

If you’ve ever read Dickens’ Great Expectations like I did in high school, the ghoulish side story of Miss Havisham probably lingers in your imagination.  No doubt you recall she was a bride jilted by her groom at the altar, and forever after, refused to remove her wedding  gown, barricaded herself into the parlor with all the wedding trimmings – presents, bouquet, cake – which decayed along with her til she gasped her last breath.

I just came back from a three day trip to Merida, and the fading glory of the city struck me like a hammer.  I have to admit, Merida bore a distinct likeness to Miss Havisham’s slow decline.  I’ve traveled to Merida countless times in the past 15 years, for business and pleasure, and always take delight in the metropolis, in part because it bears no resemblance to the beaches of Quintana Roo where I live,  and  because of its colonial city grandeur.  But the grandeur is fading.

I’ve noticed in the past few years that many small hotels and restaurants, some tried and true staples, have passed on and even some good handicraft shops (though believe me, Merida is not lacking in shops!) are gone, as well. In the past certain parts of the city were always in need of paint, but this time, it seemed almost everywhere was in need of a little spruce-up. Even on grand Paseo de Montejo, every other mansion was for rent, for sale, or vacant.  Alack and alas, it saddened me, as I truly do love Merida.   In years gone by there was always enough new white wash to make up for those faded gems, but this time, the faded gems won out.

Decoration aside, we still ate our way through the city. We tried La Tratto on Paseo Montejo for the first time and enjoyed it immensely, returned to El Argentino for great Argentine food, and could have bypassed Slavia, also on Paseo Montejo, except for its flare and ambience -Thai and Hindi art, glass chandeliers, velvet lampshades, Greek statues, golden Buddhas, silk throw pillows.  Go for a drink, but don’t bother dining there.

If you’ve never seen Merida do make it a stop on your Mexico itinerary, as it really is unparalleled. It may be showing some wear at the seams because many tourists now come only to the Riviera Maya;  in the past it had a good slice of the tourist pie.  The old world charm is still there, along with the teaming streets, a  gigantic market where you can literally buy anything, and the cheapest hammocks in Mexico.  Worth a visit.