Colonial Charms – Merida & Campeche

Historical Merida, a four-hour bus ride from Cancun. I was surprised that we were stopped at military and police checkpoints 3 times, still deciding if that makes me feel safer or unnerved? Anyhoo, we arrived safe and sound.  Merida is not a normal touristy town, in fact other than the Lithuanians in our Air BnB (Casa Tolok, lovely hosts and cheap as chips $21) I didn’t see another tourist throughout our stay here.  Well, not that stood out as much as Nea and I do with our English rose complexions.  

Being a Sunday, I investigated English church services. Yes! I found one, so I thought (in theory, yes, but in reality…not a chance.)  Instead, I attended two masses at the Merida Cathedral in Spanish and was in awe of this place, such a formidable building.   The oldest cathedral on the continent, with construction commencing in 1561, although not completed until 1598.  It feels like a stamp of authority on the town by the conquistadors whom introduced Catholicism to this Mayan land. This church and others, utilising Mayan slave labour to build and boldly even using the stones from destroyed Mayan sites.  Inside, I felt a much calmer and peaceful vibe.  I have heard the word of Jesus preached in many languages.  Thai, Malaysian, German, Indonesian, Gaelic, Filipino and now Spanish, just to name a few.  To me, it really doesn’t matter what is said.  The feeling of belonging I have in the house of God, continues to inspire me to be the best I can be.  To be kind and loving to my neighbours and follow the path that has been laid before me.  This place was no different, to be part of something greater than anything I can imagine. It is a feeling of contentment in times of joy and solace in the challenging times.  In the evening, I headed to the Iglesias de Jesus Church, I went for mass but ended up in choir practice instead.  The magnificent surroundings echoed with the lull of harmonies of classic hymns sung beautifully in spanish. It was a much livelier experience then the mass I was expecting. 

Churched out, we decided to explore three Cenotes (sinkholes) that were raved about in the Lonely Planet and by other travellers we had met. They were not wrong!  Not only were these places natures finest, the trip to get there was half the fun.  We jumped on the local bus to Cuzama (24pesos). On arrival to this dusty and rural town, a mototaxi took us to the next stop where the access to the Cenotes actually are (maybe 10 mins from where the bus drops you (50pesos). Then the exciting part,  a very rustic horse-drawn cart on mini railway lines takes you the rest of the way, all through luscious green forest.  Brilliant!   These lines are in place from when the Henequen plant was harvested and taken to the machine house to be processed on this network, centuries ago.  Now a quirky and novel tourist transport system to explore the nearby Cenotes. So we bridled up Barbie (our horse) and Lorenzo our fabulous guide, Nea and I set off.   

On the railway line about 10 minutes in, we came to the first Cenote.  A dainty cave about 15 metres down was awaiting us.   I won’t lie, I was a bit apprehensive about jumping in and ended up just wading about assuring my self I would dive into the next one.  Next was a much deeper cave, climbing ladders and very steep makeshift stairs to get down, it was precarious at best.  This cenote was 25m deep and the water looked like a black hole and the temperature, definitely fresh.  Oh Dear, we’re in! Lastly was the Piece de Resistance.  Back on the cart, Barbie dutifully carried us another 10 mins down the jungle track.  This place is what dreams are made of!  I truly can’t describe the colour of the water, it was enchanting.  It was like looking through glass, you could see to the rocks of the bottom of this Cenote easily and I needed no convincing to dive in, it was paradise.  Nea and I floated about, just smiling at each other thinking how lucky we were to be here in this hidden oasis.  A memory I will always cherish.  I could literally write pages and pages about this spot, its one of the worlds treasures and my favourite place so far on my Mexican adventure.  If you ever have the chance to come here. Do it!

Next stop Campeche, only two hours from Merida and a delightful surprise.  A colonial town surrounded by city walls built in 1540 by the Spanish conquistadores.  5 gorgeous churches for me to explore (Sorry Nea). We just walked the colourful streets all day, stopping at beautiful coffee shops, exploring the sites as we stumbled across them. Even squeezed in a spot of shopping, this town is adorable.  The streets like a scene from a movie, I  wondered if the locals realised how lucky they were to live in such a magical place.  I ducked into all five churches that we came across.  The cathedral of course the most impressive with a quaint little garden come cemetery out the back littered with plaques of people passed.  I  stopped to say a prayer for the world, the family and for love ones lost.  It was definitely the most architecturally beautiful being the centrepiece of the city.

However, just outside the city walls, a couple of block back from the Esplanade I found the intriguing  Templo De San Roman.  Intriguing because behind the altar hangs a large crucifix, as is normal but on this cross lies a Black Jesus.  A feature unique to Central America and Mexico, I later discovered with a series of “Christo Negro”  shrines dotted across the region and even as far as the US.  Apparently the reason behind this is an original wood carved crucifixion in Guatemala that blackened over time and is said to be  miraculous, thus starting a following and development of  similar shrines.  It oddly reminded me of the “Like a Prayer” film clip Madonna brough out in the late 80s which caused all sorts of drama with her controversial story line and Saint Martin de Porres (a Peruvian), played by a black man, often confused to be playing  Jesus.  I pondered this outrage for a length of time, sat beneath this version of the crucifixion that I have never encountered before and thought.  Why is it so offensive for Jesus to be depicted this way? It’s not like he was a freckly, blonde from Sweden, scripture tells us he was born in the middle east.  Chances are he looks closer to this image than anything else,  Ahh modern-day prejudice how your ridiculousness humours me.

This town has much more to offer, unfortunately I got hit with a nasty tummy bug on the first night and was bed bound for the rest of the stay.  We don’t need a blow-by-blow of that, so just read the link below for some other beautiful features of this town that you may want to explore and maybe I’ll get back here one day too.

12 hours to our next stop and the first overnight bus in Mexico – with a yukky tummy.  This should be fun.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/mexico/yucatan-peninsula/merida/sights/religious/catedral-de-san-ildefonso

https://www.airbnb.es/rooms/9508005

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/mexico/yucatan-peninsula/campeche

Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim

 

2 thoughts on “Colonial Charms – Merida & Campeche

  • Mum would have loved this Post Therese! She had always been interested in this part of the world and its historical, religious influence! What wonderful memories you will keep of this Time! xx

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