Episode 396 – It’s Not All Perfect

Every city, and country, has its own issues. To be fair, when we’re only in a place for a couple of weeks, or in a port for a day, on a ship, we tend not to see them. The dis/advantage to living somewhere for a month or more at a time is the chance to really learn about the place in which you’re staying.

Lest we look back at our time in this amazing place through rose-coloured glasses, I thought I’d document some of the less positive things about Mérida and the state of Yucatán. I’m not going to talk about the other Mexican states, except to mention that the Yucatán is not known for drugs or cartels. That’s mainly the Mexican states bordering the USA, and to a much lesser extent nearby Quintana Roo, home of “party city” Cancun, where the tourists drive the drug trade. (More info here: Yucatán as an Exception to Rising Criminal Violence in México – Shannan Mattiace, Sandra Ley, 2022)

That said, here’s what we’ve noticed in our extended stay are the “big” issues:

City infrastructure.

Mérida is a centuries old city (the historic city centre is the second oldest in the mainland western hemisphere) and built on solid rock covering underground rivers and cenotes. Roads in the centre of the city are made of polished stone slabs that continue to withstand vehicular traffic just as they managed armies on foot and horseback during colonial times. Modernizing anything that requires wires means stringing them above ground. Modernizing anything that requires pipes means cutting (often by hand!) into the city’s rock foundation. It’s no surprise, then, that there are wires everywhere, and that piping is only a few inches below the sidewalks.

But those sidewalks! Ted has enjoyed hours of entertainment photographing the sidewalks in the city centre (Centro). We’ve learned to walk single file because they’re so narrow, and to always look down to avoid tripping or falling into a randomly located hole. Unfortunately, that sometimes means colliding with a store awning, electricity meter, or protruding air conditioning unit or decorative window grate; those would be above most Mexicanos’ heads, but not ours!

It’s not a city for stiletto-heeled shoes! It’s worth noting that sidewalks are the responsibility of each individual property owner, so angles, surface finishes, and even sidewalk height can vary considerably.

Lest you think the city is in ruins, there are also some perfectly good sidewalks, mainly around the Plaza Grande, up Calle 60 (the main tourist shopping street), and along the iconic Paseo de Montejo, but that’s about it in the historic centre. Calle 56, our street, had long stretches completely torn up when we arrived, but has been largely replaced with new walkways. In general though, for better maintained sidewalks, you need to be in the newer neighbourhoods.

Government priorities (and honestly, where in the world isn’t this an issue?).

While at Uxmal we learned about – and saw – the current Governor’s pet project, the 1500 km /930mile long Tren Maya/Tsíimin K’áak (Mayan Train), connecting the states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo. The website for the company building it touts that “4000 direct jobs and about 7,500 indirect jobs will be generated with this project”. Certainly, many many people employed on the project have become huge supporters of the Governor. The website also says that the new train line will provide “a unique opportunity to boost economic growth in the southeast region by creating jobs and support for local manufacturing, while preserving natural areas, ecosystems and the environment, promoting tourism and safeguarding local indigenous cultures.” (https://www.alstom.com/mayan-train-projecthttps://www.alstom.com/mayan-train-project)Critics say it’s really a tourist train, as evidenced by things like luxurious sleeping cars. Environmentalists and indigenous leaders say it is hardly preserving natural areas when its route crosses cenotes and runs right through archeological dig sites (which we saw firsthand at Uxmal).

Treatment of the indigenous people.

We’ve been extremely impressed with the integration of Mayan language and culture into the mainstream here in the Yucatán. Unlike the area around Mexico City, where the Aztec culture was wiped out by the Spanish, here in the Yucatán the Spaniards (despite trying really hard) were unable to eliminate the Maya. Today there are around 6 million Maya living in Mexico and Central America, with the largest group being about 300,000 Yucateca. Maya words have been incorporated into Mexican Spanish, Maya foods into the everyday cuisine, and Mayan is taught in schools so that the language is maintained. We hear Mayan spoken at every cultural event, and see it written (phonetically) on the signs in every museum and gallery.

Yet that inclusion does not mean there’s no leftover prejudice from the time when the Maya were enslaved as workers for the colonial Spanish. As our Canadian tour guide said to us last month, “any country where you can readily buy skin whitening creams hasn’t eliminated racism”.

In just one example, in January the Maya ruins at Chichén Itzá were closed due to protests related to the director of the site “prohibiting vendors from speaking in Mayan. They say he has banned local cooperative farmers from using their own land as parking lots for tourists, and that he employs the National Guard to enforce these policies.” (Protesters block tourists from entering Chichen Itza in Mexico | Semafor).


Mérida is an industrial powerhouse within México, exporting jewelery, precious metals, and turbines (propellors, engines, jets) to the tune of 0.5 billion USD annually, but manufacturing is only just over 8% of the economy. Retail, temporary accommodation and food prep comprises more than 50% of the economy. Mérida: Economy, employment, equity, quality of life, education, health and public safety | Data México. What does that have to do with how the police react and behave? Well…. Mérida is full of international tourists and their cellphone cameras. While we’ve seen several protests headed for the Governor’s Palace in the centre of the city, we’ve only seen the state police acting as traffic and crowd control around those events, even when the protestors are spray-painting walls and statues. However, I read the Diario Yucatán, the daily state-wide newspaper, online, and see the articles about much less peaceful methods of “crowd control” during protests outside the city. What we as tourists experience is not necessarily reflective of the wider reality, and police brutality is an issue here (as in just about any country where abuse of power is possible).

Environmental issues.

It’s interesting how often, as is the case in Canada too, environmental and indigenous issues coincide. This week on International Water Day (March 22) we witnessed a large noisy protest headed to the Governor’s Palace, with hundreds of people chanting “agua si, cerdos no” (water yes, pigs no). The issue is an industrial pig-raising complex for 50,000 pigs operating in the Maya pueblo of Sitilpech. The industrial complex is allowing toxic sewage runoff to drain into the cenote system upon which the inhabitants rely for clean water. (Pig farms, guilty of water scarcity in Yucatan: Biologists | PorEsto) (https://genv.org/sitilpech-an-indigenous-mayan-village-confronts-the-ecocide/https://genv.org/sitilpech-an-indigenous-mayan-village-confronts-the-ecocide/)

Several of the Maya protesters wore little more than a loin cloth and body paint, and carried conch shell horns (although the chant leader obviously had a megaphone).
You can clearly hear the chant here.

Women’s rights.

The Mexican National Supreme Court of Justice ruled on 7 August 2019 that rape victims have the right to receive abortions in public hospitals. Girls younger than 12 need parental permission. The Supreme Court further declared in 2021 that abortion can no longer be considered a crime, meaning that even in states where it is still illegal except in cases of rape or risk to the mother’s health no one can be jailed for having an abortion. However, there continue to be women in pre-trial detention for murder due to the spontaneous miscarriage of a pregnancy induced by rape, so it’s far from being a closed argument.

Women still perceive themselves as being treated differently under the law than men.

“In 2021, 79.8% of men over 18 years old in Yucatán perceived security in their state, while 64.6% of women over 18 years old shared this perception. At the sociodemographic level, both men and women belonging to the upper sociodemographic level perceived greater security, 89.2% in the case of men and 85.8% in the case of women.” (Mérida: Economy, employment, equity, quality of life, education, health and public safety | Data)

The pictures here are a very few examples of graffiti that appeared on one of the main streets. Several of the stores were busily repainting, but there was still a big cleanup job that needed to be done. As more and more of the places were treated to a fresh coat of paint, it becomes apparent that Merida Centro has the potential to be an absolutely stunning city centre with all the brightly and variously coloured facades. It is a shame that so many of the places look pretty shabby on the outside.

International Women’s Day (March 8) has notoriously been a day of protest in Mexico’s large cities. In Mérida, many statues of male politicians still bore 2022’s graffiti, and more was added this year – mostly (in Spanish of course) “no means no” and “Mérida is not the white city (referring to its tourist slogan based on the colour of stone used here) if it condones femicide”. There were also posters plastered onto walls bearing the names and photos of pedophiles and rapists who had been given lenient sentences by the courts. Again in a common thread to Canada’s MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women), there was a theme of crimes against Mayanwomen being treated less seriously than those against “white” Mexicans.

The beautiful Motherhood statue remained untouched by paint. Handprints on the walls were often accompanied by the slogan “we are all women”.


We had a bit of excitement here last week when firetrucks arrived to a blaze 2 doors down where we’d assumed (correctly, it turns out) that there were squatters living. Fortunately, with all the construction here comprised of feet-thick stone walls, it was contained to the one small space, and no one was hurt.

For a few days, piles of charred clothes and furniture blocked the sidewalk (just one more sidewalk hazard in Mérida 😂), but it’s all been cleaned up … and it looks like the squatters moved right back in.

Apparently it’s almost impossible to move them unless the building’s owner either sells it or renovates it, so empty shells are “fair game”. Sadly, there are lots of empty places; some due to businesses that didn’t survive Covid, others due to absentee owners, and a growing proportion due to owners who want to sell but are playing a waiting game watching prices rise as expats bid up properties in attractive locations. An acquaintance here told us that on her street – quite a distance out of downtown- the mix of housing is about 1/3 owner occupied, 1/3 airbnb, and 1/3 squatters.

For the urban core of a city of almost 1 million people, there are relatively few homeless people or beggars on the streets. Those that are there are left undisturbed by the police (municipal, state, or tourist), but whether that is the case when tourists aren’t present we don’t know.

Overall, our memories of Mérida are going to be overwhelmingly positive, but we know that it’s wise to keep some realistic perspective when looking back at our travels.


  1. That was super interesting!! I love the way you inform and connect. You make the world a smaller place by introducing the commonalities we share and -in many cases – endure. Don’t make us wait the long!


    Liked by 1 person

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