Gran Museo del Mundo Maya (and Lots of Searching), Mérida

A lot is closed in Mérida on Mondays so when I learned that the newish Gran Museo del Mundo Maya (Great Mayan World Museum) was open, it made sense to head there today. I knew that it was quite a ways north from Centro, so I’d have to take a bus or a taxi.

I went to the Paseo de Montejo tourist kiosk to ask about the bus.

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I just thought it’s kind of cool to be so near Cancún, a popular holiday destination for Quebecers.

The lady told me to go on Calle 60 in front of the Hyatt and take a green or yellow bus marked Siglo XXI, Gran Plaza, Francisco de Montejo, or Liverpool, and that the cost is just $7. The Hyatt was just a block or two over.

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I can’t believe that there is a Chili’s in Mérida! I also saw a Boston Pizza (!!!!!!) and a TGI Friday’s!

I arrived to find a bus waiting at a red light that not only had most of those things written on it, but also Museo Maya! That was easy! Like in Maz, the driver had change.

It was standing room only at first, but I eventually got a seat. As we drove further and further from Centro, I realised that I really want to live close to the Zocalo. Campestre, a runner up neighbourhood, seemed clean and quiet, with easy proximity to both a Soriana and a Mega, but it’s definitely the suburbs.

The drive to Gran Plaza was probably 15 minutes. I could see the museum in the distance and waited to see how close I could get to it before getting off. I ended up overshooting by two blocks, not bad!

 

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The museum looks rather like a Borg cube from a distance.

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It’s an imposing structure, but there is not much upstairs. The museum itself is all on ground level. Very surprising.

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The museum opened on 12/21/12, “Year of Mayan Culture” and coinciding with the Mayan end of the world date.

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Mérida is the “city of peace.” It is considered one of the most harmonious countries in the world.

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There was an exhibit about an old-style wooden sailing ship and its voyage. Two crew members shared their stories. One was from Winnipeg…

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And the other was from Mazatlán!

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Entry for “extranjeros” (foreigners) was $150. Holy smokes!

First stop was a movie called “Armageddon” about a meteor that landed in the Yucatán and wiped out the dinosaurs. I caught a lot of what was said and between the language being very poetic and the music being so sad, I was practically sobbing when it finished (LOL). My favourite bit was near the start when the narrator speaks of a new normal day rising and how ordinary it is and shows all the animals going about their business. *pause* The only thing extraordinary about this day is that it is the last day. What would you do on your last day before the world ends? Then boom and all those critters perished. Heartbreaking stuff, I tell you! 😀

The movie ended with a quote by Albert Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

I then moved into the museum proper. There is a lot in English, probably close to 95%, and it is decently translated, so that just about justifies the very high cost for foreigners to visit. I stuck to Spanish mostly, just for practice, but was glad the English was there to verify words I didn’t know.

The Armageddon exhibit is a temporary one and was fascinating, giving lots of insight into prehistoric Yucatán. I learned that there is a new scientific branch of study emerging, that of the Armageddon, or mass extinctions.

 

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There were some interesting dinosaur skulls on display.

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And fossils.

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And more skulls.

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And a partial skeleton. Can you see how the back end has muscle and skin while the front is just the skeleton?

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The next exhibit was about Mayan culture. The museum is very poorly laid out with no directional signage whatsoever. I had to ask a guard at the end of each exhibit where to go next.

I learned a lot about Mayan civilisation over the next couple of hours. They were as advanced a civilisation as, say, the Greeks or Romans, with cities, governments, a fully developed concept of mathematics (including zero), and a rich oral and written language.

One of the things that I notice about a culture is whether or not it has a sense of aesthetics, as that speaks a lot to how far beyond subsistence the culture is. The Mayans made a lot of beautiful things. I love the embroidered dresses and blouses. These are made with cross-stitch, an embroidery style I practice and never thought to use on clothing.

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This part of the museum had beautifully tiled floors.

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Of course, the museum eventually had to move on to the ugliness of the European conquest. It is estimated that when the Spaniards arrived, there were 800,000 people in the region. A few hundred years of massacres, famines, and epidemics later, only 20% of those people remained.

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I enjoyed an exhibit about the Mayan ball games, which are still played today. There were giant stadiums, or courts, built to play these games publicly. I am boggled that this culture was considered primitive by European standards.

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The ball itself was pretty impressive, made with a primitive vulcanization process (ie. it was essentially rubber) and it could bounce!

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One of my favourite parts of the museum was these interactive touch screens. There were a lot of them. Some had Q&As, others had quizzes, and some had games. They were available in Mayan, Spanish, and English!

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One of the last ones had this game that taught me the very confusing Mayan counting system. Here, I managed to count to 83,187 in Mayan, no easy feat!

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At the end of the exhibit, I was let out into a courtyard with photographs of famous sites in the Yucatán. This church is stunning!

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All told, I was at the museum about 2.5 hours. I felt that I got a lot for my $150 and that the museum has very good information that is well laid out. They just need to solve their navigation issues. So this is a must see in Mérida and, again, the bulk of the museum has good English!

From the museum, I headed off in direction of where I thought I could catch the bus back to Centro. I passed the monument commemorating the 100 years of Korean immigration to Mérida. I did not know that Mexico had a strong Korean expat community and urge you to go read more about it.

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A bus marked Centro pulled up to a bus stop at the same time as me. Talk about timing! I got off the bus a block from the restaurant where I wanted to have lunch, but they were closed. *sighs*

I walked around my general neighbourhood looking for an alternative place to eat lunch. Pickings were very slim on a Monday. It wasn’t even a case of waiting till 2PMish (it was noon when I arrived back from the museum), which is closer to the time Mexicans have their largest meal of the day.

Walking around, I noticed some gorgeous architecture:

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And some funny translations:

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I gave up on finding lunch near home, didn’t want to go eat my leftovers (which would have meant having to find groceries to make dinner too), and needed a hat for tomorrow’s plans, so I schlepped down to the area of the Zocalo and the mercado. Food choices were also dire in this area, but I finally found a chain diner-type thing called Trompos that was open. Reader Colm mentioned eating there.

By this point, it was almost 2:30, I’d been ready for lunch since 11:00, and I’d walked a lot. I ordered a cold beer and what looked good without really thinking of the calories I’d about to take in. They got me at “al pastor” and “salsa verde,” but I ignored the guacamole, sour cream, wheat tortilla, and bacon. OMG, what did I do?! My “ke-burro” was very good, though. I was disappointed that it was not “bathed” in salsa verde as promised, but then the server came back and gave me some more, saying the chef hadn’t been sure I’d want the usual portion. Funny because it wasn’t spicy.

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Lunch would have been very reasonable if they hadn’t charged me TWENTY-EIGHT PESOS FOR A BOTTLE OF WATER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I buy the same bottle at Oxxo for $6! I know restaurants have a markup, but it’s usually about $15 for water. This was highway robbery. I would not go back to Trompos because of this. I did like their weekday afternoon beer price of $25.

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I then wandered around looking for a hat. It was hard because Mérida is known for its “Panama” hats and so there don’t appear to be many cheap hats available. Since I now knew how to get most of the way home on a bus, I was happy to wander for a long while. Centro was more vibrant than yesterday, especially around the mercado.

Did you know that Mérida’s cathedral is one of the oldest in North America? It was completed in 1598.

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There were a lot of vendors today and people doing some serious shopping!

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So. Many. Shoes in the mercado. This is just a tiny portion of them!

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Here’s a Maya Museum bus, but coming from it. Take a bus on calle 60 to go north, calle 62 to go south (most streets here are narrow and one way).

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I had passed the Chaya Maya at one point after eating and a greeter tried to lure me in. I told him I’d eaten there already. Well, I ran into the same guy an hour or so later in front of the cathedral and he wanted to know more about me (nothing pushy or invasive, just wondering how I’d liked the food, how long I was in Mérida for, and we also compared Mérida and Maz). We chatted a bit and then I asked if he knew where I could find a cheap hat. He gave me directions to a shop and it had what I wanted! Unbelievable!

The hat shop owner wanted to know where I’m from and I said Saskatchewan, Canada. He proudly said that he knows where that is because he lived in Mississauga, ON, for a time! He’d moved to Canada for the promise of a “better life” and said that he made a lot more money working there than he did running his hat shop in Mérida, but he couldn’t get ahead, buy a house, or send his kids to good schools. So he came home, happy to have had the experience so that he can better appreciate how good life is here despite all of Mexico’s problems. He thinks I’m really lucky to be able to live in Mexico on a Canadian (actually U.S.) salary. YES. That is a huge deal! I would be just as broke here as back home if I was making Mexican wages!

My hat was $150 firm when we started chatting, but $140 when I finally paid him. Not a huge difference, but appreciated!

I then went to calle 60 to get a bus. One marked Hyatt came by almost immediately and I tried to flag it Maz-style (sticking my arm out) since I’d seen other people do that, but he drove by me. I decided to try with the next one, also marked Hyatt, and this one stopped!

I wanted to get off at the corner of 60 and 35 (a block or two before the Hyatt) and look where I landed:

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Not a bad first couple of experiences riding the bus in Mérida! Home was about six blocks east and north from there, including having to cross the Paseo de Montejo.

Oh, look here’s a picture of my hat. The rose has to go. 🙂

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It wound up being a very full day even if it doesn’t feel like I got much done. One thing I’ve learned is that this neighbourhood sucks for food beyond fast food such as tacos (and there are no carts that I’ve seen yet), tortas, and the like. I have yet to find a restaurant that is open past 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. The only sit down restaurant I found today that was open was a very pricy Italian place and some Gringos told me that they’d waited more than 30 minutes to even be acknowledged when they sat down. I wasn’t in the mood for pasta, so I gave it a pass. I’ll definitely need to get closer to Centro. Having a choice of eateries is important to me. I work from home and sometimes the only thing that motivates me to get out is not having to cook!

Tomorrow, I’m heading out of town. Spoiler: Mayan pyramids, here I come!

 

11 thoughts on “Gran Museo del Mundo Maya (and Lots of Searching), Mérida

  1. WOW… what a great day, except the bottle of water 🙁
    You’re always good at sharing what is in the museums & explaining stuff.
    How much farther is Centro from where you are?
    Tomorrow sounds exciting… 😀
    Thanks

    • The water isn’t a huge amount of money, but it’s the principle of the thing!

      I’m actually in Centro, but the part I’m interested in, with the Zocalo and Mercado, is only about 1 1/4 miles. Not far round trip, but pretty tiring if you’re walking all around there, too!

      I’m stoked about tomorrow!

  2. Will you be driving down next year, or in other words, will you have a car? Yes, I remember you saying you were wanting to buy one down there. Is it there, you’re wanting to buy it?
    Silly questions… :/

    • These are pertinent questions, actually. 🙂

      It’s a pain to bring a vehicle into Mexico and impossible if you’re a permanent resident or citizen. Since my truck is ancient and I plan to be a permanent resident, then citizen, that makes my decision to NOT drive down next year easier. So the plan will be to bus, walk, and use taxis until I have enough saved up to buy a vehicle here. I may start with a cheap used beater if I miss having a car too much, then get what I want. I’m still planning on a Ford Transit Connect to be converted into a camper van. That may change, of course.

  3. So you are finding your way around but are also finding some things comparatively expensive or hard to find. Lack of nearby dining is a concern. Museum, lunch and a hat = 500 pesos. Expensive day!

    Looking forward to tomorrow’s adventure!

    • The water not withstanding, I find restaurants here quite reasonable. I haven’t tried any of the cenaduria-type places, thought. $31 to $35 for a beer at a bar feels outrageous, but it’s still way better than in Canada. Beer at a shop does appear to be cheaper than in Maz, though.

      I feel that I got a lot for my day. The really expensive part of it was the museum, but I still feel that I got a lot of value for my money. I would have paid about the same for my hat in Maz. I could have probably found something cheaper at Walmart, but would have missed out on that conversation!

      Don’t forget the $21 for the three bus trips! Maz’s regular buses are $7.50 now, so buses are cheaper here. Still haven’t tried out the taxis.

      The verdict so far is that Mérida has things I like and things I don’t, same as Maz. It’s not better or worse, just different. I think I’ll like it just fine.

  4. My Transit Connect was made in Turkey (they are made in Turkey, Romania, and Spain). I am told to import a vehicle to Mexico the vehicle must be manufactured or assembled in a NAFTA country.

    I LOVE my Transit Connect – but after driving it down with a load of household goods I will return to the border and sell it. Too, I will be in San Miguel and not need a vehicle as it is such a delightfully walkable city.

    • There are HEAPS of TCs in Mexico! There are more options than if you buy one in the US or Canada, including the manual tranny I want, and they are about 10k cheaper here. It’s ano brainer to buy here

  5. I’m aware that you know about the Arab influence in Merida. Have you tried queso relleno, morcilla, cochinita pibil but cooked in a pit covered with banana leaves and served in a torta, and more? Lots of dishes with nutmeg, nuts and raisins.

    • Well, the Arab influence is evident all over Mexico. No on all those foods. Nutmeg, nuts, and raisins sound good!!! I do want to try queso relleno at some point. I think I’ve had enough cochinita pibil, however it’s cooked, for one week…

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