Hello Carl and Lorena;
Your book (The People’s Guide to Mexico) helped me on my very first trip through Mexico almost 30 years ago as a very naive young man. Later, I passed it amongst my family and friends who read it like a novel (and all enjoyed it thoroughly). I still have that original copy in surprisingly good condition. My cousin had it for eight months and didn’t want tot return it to me. In the end her sense of justice prevailed.
You are probably aware of these resources, but I thought I’d share them anyway.
This book is fascinating. While explaining Mayan culture it teaches the reader the “ABC’s” of glyphs, and promises a basic understanding of them. It’s just full of information ad so difficult to put down. Even if one doesn’t master the glyphs it really does add to a holiday to be able to recognize a few glyphs and to know more about Mayan scribes and the culture of glyphs.
Last Christmas in Merida, in the Central Plaza I found two beautiful resources. These are both in Mayan, Spanish, English, French, Italian and German. For about $2.50 Canadian is a large cardboard (almost 12″ by 12″) four page Maya Calendar and an Aztec Stone of the Sun. A colour print is on the front cover, and inside are good explanations of how to read the Calendar and the Stone, respectively.
These go well with Ronald Wright’s Time Among the Maya: Travels in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico, where the writer is researching the Mayan calendar both as remembered and as used today. I am not advocating a mastery of the Mayan calendar (I sure am nowhere near this!). Reading these resources before a trip, though, will add an extra dimension of interest and appreciation.
By the way, Coe wrote a lot about the Maya (as you know) but I have not read any of his others books. Judging from what I have read, I’ve no doubt his other works are equally as fascinating.
If anyone is in Merida please do visit the bookstore in the Central Plaza. They have a good selection of both English and Spanish history, anthropology, and culture. Otherwise I use Merida as a jumping-off place. It is expensive and touristy, and the food is not very good and over-priced near the centre of town.
I took a day trip to the town of Mani from Merida. In the local bus station ask for a ticket to Mani. You will pass through rural Mexico and see beautiful countryside. The bus passes through Tepich, Tepenonich and Acencah (you may choose to disembark here; there is a Mayan pyramid in this small town and and a couple of good places to eat. If you want a real rural Mexican experience stay at one of the small local hotels and continue your trip the next day).
Should you choose to continue on and not disembark at Acencah, the bus will continue on through Tecoh, Telchaquillo, Tekit, Moma and finally Mani. Each town is worthy of visiting and has some hospedaje or hotel, and a place to eat. This is real rural Mexico and these towns are safe and quiet. Mani is a miniature Merida. It is more expensive than the other small towns mentioned.
The monastery is opened on Thursday afternoons and is worth visiting. The cruel history of what the monks and Catholic Church did to the Mayans happened everywhere in Mexico, but it is good to be able to put a face on it, and to make it personal.
As you walk along the main road, where the bus stops, is “El Restaurante El Principe Tutul-Xiu”. You can find less expensive places, but this is part of what travelling is about. Handsome waiters and beautiful waitresses, in local Mayan dress, serve local specialties such as poc chuc and pibil pollo. The bill for two, with two poc chuc, two bottled mineral waters, two ice creams and two coffees with a tip was $28 Canadian.
This place has a thatched roof and a beautiful stone floor. Everything is made on the premises and the servings are authentic and generous. They will pack up left-overs for you; there is no way that you will be able to finish. Home-made chips and salsas with a plate of fresh vegetables are included in the price. Consider having an appetizer, splitting a main, and then going ahead with the home-made cocoanut ice cream and coffee. One can eat much cheaper elsewhere in town, but this is an experience for all the senses and ought to be done once.
Afterwards stroll and admire the embroidery, for which the town is well known.
Catch the 5:00 or the 7:00 bus to arrive back in Merida at 6:30 or at 8:30. You can get a cab from the bus station to the Central Plaza for about $3.50 Canadian, but the bus is perfectly fine and about 35 cents Canadian.
On the theme of general extravagance, in the Central Plaza are carriages in a row, and also driving around to entice customers. If you have 450 pesos, do indulge. You will be helping the drivers out and the carriage ride is romantic and interesting. You visit five plazas, and the drivers really do know their history. Engage them in conversation, and just enjoy driving through beautiful Merida at night. Remember to tip the drivers as this is how they make their living; they must rent the horse and carriage by the day. These drivers have a lot of tips about good places to eat, stay and visit. Ask about economical places; they will know.
Lastly, don’t forget to visit the worthwhile Museum of Anthropology in Merida. Also the many churches and the Cathedral in the main square.
The bus to Mani will stop in some local pueblos where guyaberas are made, and they will be about 1/4 to 1/3 less than in Merida. More importantly, all of the money will go directly to the tailor.
You are in Mexico. Spend time on the local buses and enjoy wending your way through small towns. Disembark from the bus and spend a night somewhere.