A Walk through Merida Centro

Check out the other parts of our weekend in Merida:

Breakfast in the Santa Ana market

Looking Up at Paseo de Montejo’s Mansions

Another Wedding in Merida

Sunday Morning Coffee on Paseo de Montejo

 

After Saturday’s breakfast, Jorge and I walked from Santa Ana park to the Plaza Grande: Merida’s main square in the “centro” area. The walk took a good half hour or so, but it was cool to see the historic buildings, hotels, churches and restaurants along the way. Sorry about the grayness of the pictures. It was an overcast morning!

Once we got to the Plaza Grande, we immediately ran into one of Jorge’s cousins (seriously, we can’t go anywhere without seeing someone he knows), then stopped by the immense cathedral to take some pictures. Sadly the cathedral was closed, but I like the outside better, anyway.

The next hour was spent sitting on a bench in the Plaza Grande and doing some people-watching. I’m always amazed at how many people show up to the town plazas in the Yucatan Peninsula just to hang out. In suburban USA, we never go anywhere unless there’s food, alcohol, movies or shopping involved. Big difference.

Is there a popular hangout in your city? Maybe a park or plaza?

 

A Saturday Morning in Merida

I uploaded pics to the Gringation Facebook page all weekend, so my followers are already aware that Jorge and I spent last weekend in the beautiful city of Merida, Yucatan! We went for a wedding, but we also made sure to be as touristy as possible.

Merida is a historic city only 4 hours from Cancun, so it’s easy to spend a weekend there. It’s also where we got married!

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting parts of our Merida weekend here on the blog. (There’s way to much for just 1 post!)

 

We got to Merida at 10 am on Saturday and immediately went to check in to our hotel, the Holiday Inn. Yes, I realize that the Holiday Inn is a boring choice when you’re in a historic city, but it was right next door to where our friends’ wedding would be that night. Plus it’s right on Paseo de Montejo! Convenient!

The Holiday Inn had hacienda-inspired architecture and lots of modern amenities, although we noticed that a few small details like the elevator, the hallway carpeting and our room’s closet and doors hadn’t been updated in a very long time. Still, it was very nice-looking overall and the bed was amazing. If the bed could fit in our small suitcase, I would have stolen it.

The courtyard view from our top floor balcony

Beautiful!

Right after we left our suitcase in the room, we immediately set off in search of Santa Ana market, where we’d eaten once 3 years ago. I knew the general direction, but Jorge was miraculously able to find his way all the way back to the market after all that time! I guess it’s hard to forget such delicious food. Located right by the Santa Ana church, the market has numerous food stands to choose from, but all you have to do is sit down at a table and your waiter will bring whatever you want from the menu. We opted for tortas, tacos, fruit juice and a fruit cocktail, and of course a Coke.

I want to go back already!

Have you eaten at a Mexican market before?

 

Check out the other parts of our weekend in Merida:

A Walk through Merida Centro

Looking Up at Paseo de Montejo’s Mansions

Another Wedding in Merida

Sunday Morning Coffee on Paseo de Montejo

 

Celeb Sightings at Xcaret’s Telehit Awards

Last week I was invited to the Telehit Awards, hosted at Xcaret park, and I had a blast! Telehit is a popular Mexican music channel that’s also known for its comedy shows, and the awards show featured tons of Mexican and Latin American celebrities. The awards had always been held in Acapulco, but the Riviera Maya was so excited to host them this year.

I went straight into fan-girl mode in the press tent on the “blue carpet”, held in Xcaret’s hacienda. (The combination of old hacienda architecture and the high tech cameras and lighting was really cool, by the way.)

Yours Truly in the press area! Thanks to Xcaret for the photo.

The comedians from the show "Guerra de Chistes", one of my faves!

Mexico's famous "Platanito" ๐Ÿ™‚ (If you don't know what that hand signal means, it's best you don't ask.)

Singer Kalimba (love him!) in a blue carpet interview

Nominees Jesse y Joy

Palazuelos, one of the most hated (and tan!) telenovela actors in Mexico

Some of the guys from Panda posing with fans

The actual show took place in the Grand Tlachco, Xcaret’s huge theater. The entire audience wore white, creating a really beautiful visual. The stage itself was impressive! I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

The first group we saw perform was Caifanes, and it turned out to be the top performance of the night. Caifanes is a Mexican rock band that’s been together for decades (maybe like the Aerosmith of Mexico?). Several other popular Mexican and Latin American groups performed as well. Check it out…

Rock band Caifanes

Mexican group Pxndx (pronounced "Panda"), a big favorite of my Cancun friends

New pop group M-15 ... I'd never heard them before, but I was not a fan of this performance.

Jesse y Joy, a crowd favorite

Throughout the night I felt pretty excited to be so close to many Mexican celebs that I see on TV all the time. The Telehit Awards were more of a concert than an awards show, but I think I like it that way.

Have you heard of any of these bands or celebrities?


Sunrises and Swim Caps at the Xel-Ha Triathlon

Never in my life have I wanted to do a triathlon. I’ve never seen one, never even been remotely interested in doing one.

Until Sunday.

I arrived at Xel-Ha at the crack of dawn for the Xel-Ha Triathlon. Despite the early hour, everyone arriving seemed nervous and excited. As I waited for the event to start, the beauty of Xel-Ha’s bay at sunrise just blew me away.

The biggest triathlon event had taken place the day before, but there was still a good crowd for the shorter Sprint on Sunday. The Sprint consists of the following:

  • 750 meter swim
  • 20 km bike ride
  • 5 km run

For someone who can only run 2 km straight, this all sounds very impressive!

The Swim

The swimmers line up on Xel-Ha's floating bridge

Cyclingย 

The cycling portion went through some of the jungle areas and roads around the park. I didn’t catch much of the trail, but it was fun watching the racers transition from the swim to the bike portion!

Run

By the beginning of the run, the racers looked hot and exhausted, but each and every one was still maintaining an impressive speed. I don’t know how they do it. They were given packs of water, which they used to drench themselves and cool off.

Beginner Ladies

Even after seeing these incredible athletes compete, I have to admit that I was most blown away by the beginner ladies group. This year, Xel-Ha inaugurated its first ever category for ladies competing in their first ever triathlon. Participants were trained in a 6-week online program, and 50 brave women showed up for the following triathlon:

  • 400 km swim
  • 10 km bike
  • 2.5 km run

These distances sound very doable for me, and I thought it was a great way to learn all about the transitions and mechanics of a triathlon without all the pressure of racing with experts. I didn’t get to see their bike and run portions, but the beginner ladies swim was beautiful.

Gracias to Xel-Ha park in the Riviera Maya for hosting this incredible event in such a breathtaking setting! You probably won’t see me participating anytime soon (I have an unrational fear of bikes), but it did inspire me to do more 5k races.

Have you ever completed a triathlon? Do you want to?

Foodies for a Day at Taste of Playa 2012

Every year, Jorge and I look forward to the annual Taste of Playa food festival in November. Dozens of restaurants from all over Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya show up to this event and offer samples of their best menu items. This past Sunday we got to go, and it was amazing! I had red velvet cupcakes, carrot cupcakes, fish tacos with chipotle sauce, sushi, a beef and cheese bagel and a torta ahogada… and possibly a very, very strong margarita. We saw tons of other things to try, but we were just too full after 2 hours.

There were lots of people just like last year, but I was glad to see that this year they set up more tables where we could eat and drink. (I’m not a fan of eating while holding plates in my hand.)

Check out the pics! As always, click to enlarge.


Me showing off my press pass!

Our friend Taelyn!

blow torching fruit... awesome.

Jorge took the best picture of the day with the Mayan warrior in the background. LOVE IT.

Have you ever been to a food festival in your city? What’s it like?

A Weekend of Triathlons and Tacos

This weekend is gonna be just a little bit crazy!

Sunday morning I have to leave Cancun at 4 am to go to the Xel-Ha triathlon. No, I’m not participating (I have a fear of bikes), but I will be part of the “press”. (How fancy does that sound?)

In the afternoon, Jorge and I will be in Playa del Carmen for our favorite event: the Taste of Playa Food Festival!!! Bring on the tacos, sliders and sample size margaritas. I’ve been waiting a year for this.

If you like running, swimming, biking or margaritas, you follow along with my adventures this Sunday on Twitter with @CancunGringa or on my Gringation Blog Facebook page.

USA vs Mexico: Education

Readers are always asking me to write more about the day-to-day aspects of living in Mexico, and my first 4 years in Cancun were spent at college. My college experience in Cancun included so many ups and downs, mainly because the educational system in Mexico is so vastly different from schools in the USA.

My Cancun university had a hands-on approach with zero textbooks. I was interning at large beach resorts and giving presentations on luxury travel destinations while my friends back in the States were writing papers and doing homework. But did I graduate with more knowledge than my USA counterparts? I don’t know.

Me and some classmates at an event we organized for a college course

To sort out my ideas, I’m going to go through different areas of study to give my thoughts on which of the two countries has the upper hand in each specific area. Please keep in mind that this is from my experience (kindergarten through one semester of college in Virginia, then 4 years of Tourism Administration and 3 years working in Cancun), and it won’t apply to all areas of the USA or to all areas of Mexico. I’m drawing these conclusions based on the people in my circles of friends and my family, and it’s all highly subjective. You’ll see lots of generalizations here.

Geography and Current Events

The United States is so bad at this that they don’t even realize it. I always prided myself on excellent geography skills… until I moved to Mexico. My college classmates in Cancun knew so much about politics, conflicts and geography that I was dumbfounded. I realized that in the USA, we know a lot about our own politics and geography, but surprisingly little about other countries.

To give you an example, one day at work we found out that me and the other American girl at my office had no idea what the capital of Canada was. However, every single Mexican in the office knew the answer without hesitation. (I later tested my Facebook friends from back in the States, and only 1 of them knew the answer.) Humiliating.

Math

I will give this one to the United States, but with caution. In my experience, my USA classmates were great at math while my Mexican classmates hated it with a passion. However, I was in advanced level math courses throughout high school, while the tourism majors of Cancun aren’t exactly known for their math skills.

My husband Jorge’s great at math and majored in engineering. We should have a math contest sometime. ๐Ÿ™‚

The Arts

USA wins this one by a landslide. American schools are very focused on creating “well-rounded” students, and in Virginia we were always required to take some form of art or music class. Here in Cancun, when they incorporated an art history class into my school, my classmates petitioned to have it taken away because it “wasn’t useful”. I’ve also never heard of a choir class, art class or band class here in Cancun, although I do know lots of musicians and singers!

That being said, Mexicans will always be better dancers. Sorry America. We’re not sexy.

On a class trip with my classmates to Xcaret

Business

Mexico wins. By a lot.

Remember how USA schools love well-rounded students? Well, that has a downside. We spent so much time in Virginia high school building all kinds of knowledge in different subjects that we never learned how to actually do anything. My first semester of university in Cancun, many class conversations went way over my head because my Mexican classmates had been taking business-related courses since they were 15.

I also see tons of people my age in Cancun starting up their own businesses. The USA also has many talented entrepreneurs, but not nearly as many as I’ve seen in Mexico.

Language

Mexico wins here, but let’s remember that I live in Cancun, where almost everybody has to speak some level of English. English language classes in Mexico (at least up until high school) are atrociously bad… many Mexican friends have taken 5+ years of English and can barely hold a conversation. However, once they’re thrown into the working world, they pick up the language impressively fast. Back in Virginia, most students didn’t seem to want to learn more than a conversational level of any language, even though the classes were great, but that might be from lack of necessity.

Spelling and Grammar

I’ll be honest, I used to think Mexican schools in general must have horrible spelling and grammar programs. My Cancun college classmates often asked me (the gringa) how to spell words in Spanish, and it’s common practice here to replace periods with commas. I also have many Mexican friends who misspell everyday words on a regular basis. My mind changed when I began working as a copywriter in an office with many Mexican copywriters, all with flawless spelling and grammar, not to mention great writing skills.

The invention of Facebook also made me realize that Americans don’t spell very well, either!

All that being said, I still have to give the win to the USA in this category.

On a class trip with my college buddies to the state of Chiapas

It looks like the two countries are pretty even in the score (3 – 3), and I received a great education in the USA and Mexico. I feel the USA focuses more on “book learnin” while Mexico has a more “real world” approach. I feel truly blessed to have experienced the strengths of both educational systems.

The main point of this post isn’t so much to enforce my own views (which are constantly changing), but to create a dialogue and hear the school experiences of Americans and Mexicans alike. How do you think your education holds up to other countries? What did you like? What would you change?

 

 

Underground Adventures at Rio Secreto

How do Cancun companies do teambuilding exercises?

By sending their employees into a pitch black cave!

Friday afternoon, I got to go with 30 of my coworkers to Rio Secreto, located just south of Playa del Carmen. (By Xcaret and Xplor, for those who are familiar with the area.) Covering miles and miles of caves, Rio Secreto is part of the Yucatan Peninsula’s immense underground river system. We strapped on our helmets, wetsuits, water shoes and lifejackets while our guide instructed us not to touch any of the cave formations. Let me tell you… it’s hard to go cave diving without occasionally grabbing onto a stalagmite for balance!

Rio Secreto was discovered in 2006 and opened to the public in 2008. They only give tours of 10% of the Rio Secreto cave system in order to maintain the underground river in its natural state.

I saw some amazing things down there: crazy stalactite formations, numerous bats, tiny fish, floors made entirely of calcium deposits and even ceilings made of fossilized coral.

The following photos are from Rio Secreto. Cameras aren’t allowed, but they do have a photographer following you around on your tour. See if you can spot me in all of these!

The rest are some of Rio Secreto’s official photos, so you can get a better idea of just how beautiful this place is.

If you’re ever in the Riviera Maya, I highly recommend Rio Secreto. The grounds are beautiful, the guides are great and the underground river is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Xcaret’s Festival of Life and Death

While all my American friends were celebrating Halloween last week, here in Cancun we were enjoying some Day of the Dead festivities. I’ve blogged in the past about Day of the Dead in Cancun, like events at Parque Las Palapas and altar items sold at Market 23, but this year was quite different. Jorge and I went to Xcaret park in the Riviera Maya for their Festival of Life and Death. I’ve been dying to go for a few years, and this time we finally made it.

The night we went (Friday, November 2) was ridiculously busy. I was told they had nearly 15,000 people at the park that night for the Festival of Life and Death, probably because it was the final day, a Friday, and the day that most locals had off of work. It was an amazing event, but we made a mental note never to come back on the last day of the festival again. Parking was… interesting.

Part of the crowd gathered for a show

Crazy crowds and parking on the highway aside, we had a great time and the festival was STUNNING. We saw catrina face painting, tons of shows, a beautiful cemetery and incredible scenery.

Festival Decor

Anyone who has been to Xcaret knows that it’s a feast for the eyes, with lush jungle, great beaches and amazing animals. The Festival of Life and Death was no exception. The park was adorned with torches, candles, costumes and marigolds (“flor de muerto”, a Day of the Dead tradition) and it was beautiful to see.

Altars
During Day of the Dead, many Mexicans set up an altar in their home to honor deceased loved ones. These altars are adorned with marigolds, crosses, candles and the food and drinks the deceased enjoyed during their lifetime. Xcaret had a large area dedicated to altars made by local communities from across the Yucatan Peninsula. It was fun to see how different each altar was while still incorporating many of the traditional elements.

The Mayan Ball Game Show

After touring the park, we managed to see one of the many shows for the Festival of Life and Death. Held at the park’s Mayan ball game court, it was about the ancient Mayans fighting the people of the underworld in the famous game.ย  It was CROWDED (we almost saw a fist fight between two ladies over not being able to see), but I still managed to get a few pictures from far away.

The people of the underworld had the best skeleton costumes. This is the best picture I got!

Playing the Mayan ball game

My favorite part ๐Ÿ™‚

ย The Cemetery

Xcaret has a reenacted Mayan village as well as a colorful cemetary set in levels all around a hill. It’s cool to look at during the day, but even better at night! The lower levels of the cemetery have smaller gravestones, and they get more elaborate the further you go up. Most have some kind of small room or ornate miniature house. Each was adorned with candles and marigolds in celebration of Day of the Dead. Really interesting to see…

Underneath the cemetery

If you’re ever in Cancun or the Riviera Maya for Day of the Dead, I highly recommend Xcaret’s Festival of Life and Death. Magical ๐Ÿ™‚

Have you ever been in Mexico for Day of the Dead?