Slowly but surely I’m beginning to feel my way around Merida. I am still very surprised that there are only 4 students at the institute. I’m told that over the summer there was a group of 30 students but with it being off-season now they don’t expect to have more students enroll until December or January. It could also be that Mexico is considered a dangerous place to visit (US government put a travel advisory against Mexico earlier this year) and a lot of Americans and Canadians are staying away. I read an article in the local paper a few days ago talking about how tourism in Yucatan/Mexico has dropped considerably since 2007. I was a bit hesitant to visit Mexico myself but my research showed how Merida is one of the safest places in Mexico, a lot safer than Puebla where I spent a month in 2005. People really have been telling me that Merida is THE safest city in the country and my guide/conversation partner told me that those who run these dangerous drug cartels that are responsible for so much of the violence in Mexico have their families live in Merida. It’s ironic but also made sense to me that the safety of Merida has these thugs putting their families here to live, which also prevents them from committing any criminal activities.
In any case, Merida is a quiet and peaceful town with extremely friendly people. You rarely hear voices being raised or cars honking, there are very few pedestrians outside of the main square (zocalo) in the center of town, and in some ways it’s like living in a semi-American suburb. There are 4 Wal-Marts here (I’ve already made a trip to the nearest one), countless Burger Kings, Subways, branches of HSBC, Sears, Costco, Sam’s Club, to name a few. The other day I even watched an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” on TV (with Spanish subtitles). I was eating a bowl of corn flakes this morning and told my Mexican Mom that I didn’t need to bring anything from the States at all, that with all of us buying and using identical American things we may as well be just one country. She said why not, as she handed me some acetaminophen for my headache from a white bottle I recognized as one from Target…
Of course there are some big differences between the two countries, and one of the reasons why I chose to come to Merida was to see and learn more about the Mayan culture. But with this being my first week, I’m taking my time getting adjusted to my schedule and to my environment. Actually, I can’t help but take my time moving around because it is just too hot and sunny here. I’m not a big fan of A/C but I’m thrilled that I requested to have a room with one (my room has an A/C unit, a ceiling fan, and a portable fan). Day time temperatures routinely go up to 90+ degrees and with humidity levels hovering around 60%-80%, it feels like it’s well over 100 degrees everyday. To add insult to injury, for the first few days I was getting eaten alive by mosquitos both at home and at school (I even got bitten inside Wal-Mart!). I couldn’t understand how or why people here can wear jeans and/or long sleeves and pants in this oppressive heat but maybe they all know to protect themselves from vicious mosquito attacks? I’ve resorted to wearing long pants myself (they’re the same long cotton yoga pants I wore in India for 4 months) and the two pairs of shorts I packed will probably not see the light of day… I have yet to see anyone in Merida wear shorts so mosquitos or not, I won’t be wearing them anyway.
Luckily I’ve been mosquito bite free for two days now I just got two mosquito bites while sitting in the kitchen; I’m hoping that the Mexican mosquitos will soon get used to me and won’t bother me so much , but I have a feeling that it’s probably because it hasn’t rained in 4 days and there are just less mosquitos around. I’m praying for some rain to cool things down but rain also means more mosquitos- argh!
My routine here is simple but tight.
06:00 to 07:00 morning yoga practice
07:00 to 07:45 get ready for school
07:45 to 08:00 breakfast
08:00 to 08:30 in transit (via bus) to school
09:00 to 13:00 4 hours of classes with one 15 minute break at 11:00
13:00 to 14:00 lunch
14:00 to 16:00 2 hours of one on one conversation
16:00 to 18:00 free time at school, return home, etc
18:00 to 19:00 evening yoga practice
19:00 to 20:00 dinner and shower
20:00 to 23:00 homework, reading, etc
During the 2 hour one on one conversation time I can visit museums and other landmarks in the city with my guide but this week I opted to stay close to school, trying to limit the heat exposure and not to tire myself out. I knowingly signed up for this (the schedule here is identical to the one I had in Puebla), but the last two days were especially tough because the other student in my class was absent, having to return back to the States to attend a meeting. With all the attention on me all the time, I’ve had to focus, concentrate, and really search the back of my brain to dig out all the Spanish words I’d forgotten. They are trickling back to me and moving forward… too bad they are taking such shy little steps.