Mérida – Spices, Mayan Ruins, Cemeteries AND Dining!

I’m still obsessing over Mérida, Mexico! Mérida is the capital of the state of Yucatán, in the far east of Mexico. The Maya people have survived invasion, enslavement, disease and oppression and make up a substantial part of the population. Situated in the north east of the flat Yucatán peninsula, this can be a stop-off from the Caribbean beaches several hours away, and is close to the world-famous Mayan Indian ruins at Chichen Itz and Uxmal. It is a city of narrow streets, shady park squares, concealed courtyards and crumbling colonial buildings.

One mustn’t miss the Central Plaza with the charming park square. Plaza Mayor, which is flanked by some of the city’s oldest and most impressive buildings, is closed off to traffic on Sundays, except for horse-drawn buggies and tourists riding in cycle rickshaws. Elderly women and young teens queue to sit at simple cafes and eat warm tortillas stuffed with blackened turkey, refried beans and salsa. On hot afternoons, patrons line up at the oldest ice-cream shop below the shaded colonnade.

Not far from the Plaza Mayor, don’t miss an exploration of Mérida’s main market, a massive covered, but not air conditioned, market. In two immense joined halls plus rows of ancillary stalls around the periphery, more than two thousand vendors sell their wares. It’s an interesting collection of vendors, from freshly hacked-up cows, pigs and fish to hand-tooled leather shoes and bags to numerous varieties of spices, vegetables, fruits, and home housewares; truly an exotic collection of everything a local might need, all under a massive covered field of small stalls. Arrive before noon to avoid the heat and to see the most abundant piles of vegetables and fruits. It is massive and should be explored with a guide if you have a particular need in mind. I always search for local spices or honey.

Spices from Mérida’s main market

The Mayan ruins of Uxmal

The Mayan ruins of Uxmal

And, of course, a few hours out of town lie some of the country’s most spectacular Mayan sites. I spent a few days with the most amazing guides and driver – one day wandering Mérida and the new Mondo Maya Museum, the winding brick lined streets of the old town, lunching at an authentic restaurant and perusing a few local shops. One day should be devoted to seeing the ruins of Uxmal and then perhaps lunching and swimming at a nearby private Hacienda.

As we drove to the Plaza Mayor, we slowly passed through a vast cemetery, the  oldest Cementerio General. If you like moseying through old cemeteries, this one is a particular treasure. It is the largest and oldest in Mérida and is graced with a few very spectacular headstones and mausoleums of wealthy Hacienda owners. One surprise was the grave of an intrepid American woman, Alma Reed, who had a love affair with Governor Felipe Carillo Puerte. He, a Socialist, doing much to reform the and improve the lives of the Mayan workers, was assassinated with some of his brothers and Socialist colleagues. Alma who was a writer for several New York and San Francisco newspapers, was in San Francisco buying her wedding dress when he was assassinated. Crushed by the death of her lover and fiance, she asked to be buried near him. Her grave is across the street from his, lovers separated by a wide road. Her story is quite unique, I encourage you to  find her story online or in the several books published about her life. Fully post on this amazing Cemetery.

Mérida is also becoming a capital for foodie’s. Roberto Solis who cooks at and owns Nectar has trod the kitchens of famed Noma, Per Se and traveled to Japan to work under the famed Chef Narisawa. His small restaurant is big on creative delicious cuisine, described as The New Yucatecan Cuisine, incorporating local spices and regional specialties. Highly recommend!

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My Kenyan Safari

My end of year overland journey was filled with wild adventure, local culture, first class amenities, a luxury lodge and a wonderful portable tent camp in the migration path in the Maasai Mara on the banks of the Sand River.

In the last few weeks, the herds have arrived to the Serengeti, with half a million wildebeest competing for grazing with herds of zebra, all will eventually cross the Mara river.

It goes without saying that we provide the best guides and in our portable camp, Stormin’ Norman, the indomitable bush camp chef, turns out soufflés, exquisite appetizers and bountiful banquets. Eventually you beg him to stop serving more food, he doesn’t understand NO!

Our private charter flight sets the stage, a low pass over the Great Rift Valley escarpment spotting herds of Zebra on the plains; we landed softly on the strip not far from Ol Doyno Lodge, which is situated where the Chyulu Hills stretch out to meet the plains.Wedged between Kenya’s Tsavo East and Amboseli National Parks in the heart of the Chyulu Hills, this is a place of timeless wild beauty presided over by the magnificent summit of Africa’s greatest icon – Mount Kilimanjaro. Small but luxurious, the lodge only accommodates 20 guests.The lodge itself was rebuilt in 2008 and sits in thick woodland on a gently sloping hillside with views out over the plains to a distant Kilimanjaro. Designed to merge outdoor and indoor living, a series of unique suites and villas (no two are the same) appear to emerge from the arid landscape on either side of a palatial lounge and dining area. The structures are open to the spectacular view, no walls stand between you and the wild terrain. Eight of the ten private cottages have their own swimming pool while all enjoy roof terraces where intimate “star beds” can be set up, allowing guests the thrill of sleeping in style under a canopy of endless stars. The hide is a delightful viewing spot and the perfect location for sun-downers. Set amid a jungle of fallen trees on the floor of the plain, wild animals meander by mere feet from your perch amid the hide. The watering holes below many of the rooms are filled with recycled water, thus the Elly’s and Zebra know it is a reliable water source and visit, even after dark. As you fall asleep on your star roof, a quiet slurping reminds you that a thirsty elephant is visiting for a moonlight drink.This is cat country, moments after landing, we watched a cheetah mom teaching her five young cubs the stalk and hunt.An authentic Maasai village is nearby for visiting and the Ol Doyno lead guide has family in the village, thus you enjoy a very personal visit.

 Luxury accommodations, exciting game drives, leisurely poolside lunches, afternoon plunge, sun-downers in the hide or atop the tallest rocks in the plain…followed by a gourmet dinner and after dinner drinks in the main salon…Civilized Safari!There is nothing like the broad expanse of a Kenyan horizon. It’s not too late to begin planing an unforgettable African Journey!