There is really only one way to truly get to know a place, and that is to walk its streets. If you want to know what is happening, or see how people are living, walk the neighborhoods. The city of Mérida, on the Yucatán peninsula of México is a beautiful place and its colonial center is a great place to walk.
The Doors of Mérida
Maybe it was my coming of age in the early 1970’s but I have always loved the old Aer Lingus and The Irish Tourism Office advertisement “The Doors of Dublin”:
When I walk around any city I am entranced by the door ways. I look to see if they are old or new. I notice if they are being maintained or allowed to decay. I feel that I can tell something about the condition of a town by looking at its doors. A family might not have the money to paint and plaster the outside walls, but if they are doing well their door is in good shape. If they have extra money it is special. The door to one’s house is their face to the world.
Another way to learn about place is to visit its market place. Mérida has a huge central market. A short walk from the Plaza Grande or Zócalo, the Mercado Central occupies about 6 square blocks. You can read a little of its history here. This is not a place to go if you are claustrophobic. Its tight passages are filled with stalls selling everything from soup to nuts, from clothes to furniture, just about anything a family could want or need.
The market can be hard to walk through, especially when it get crowded, and I quickly lost track of where the exits were. But it was a feast for the senses. Clothes, food and goods of so many colors were everywhere I looked. The sounds of sellers and buyers fill the space, and the smell of spices for sale and of cooking food made my mouth water. I could have spent hours in the market, and plan to when I return.
Centennial Zoo (Parque Zoológico Del Centenário)
Family life is very important in Mérida, and the Centennial Park Zoo is a favorite place to bring the kids. The zoo has a significant collection of animals. Giraffes and zebras meet you at the main gate, and there are three Bengali Tigers. I can also say that I have never been as close to not one, not two, but three hippos. There are many types of primates and birds. But there are most of all are little kids with smiles on their faces, running from cage to cage, while their parents try to keep up. There is a small gauge train that rides around the edge of the park, and a cable car ride across the park.
If you are used to modern zoological parks like the Bronx Zoo, you might find this zoo disappointing, sad or maybe even abusive of the animals. But if this is the zoo that you have you come and bring the kids, and everyone visiting was having a great time.
Walking around a city is the best way to get a real feel for the lives that people lead. So take the time to leave the tourist areas and explore where people live. You will have some fun and learn more about the day to day experiences of those whom you are visiting.