I’ll trade my place for yours…wherever it is! Well, almost! I’m interested in covering a little more of eastern EU, China, S. America, India or Africa. But if you have something else available, I’m open to it. My dates and durations are flexible.

Just email me at mail@CasaLaBarenda.com.

Hmmmmn…What Should I Pack?

September 18, 2011

Ahhh, yes…the dreaded pre-trip packing dilemma!

Many travelers simply tend to pack too much wherever they go. Travelers from colder climates tend to have an even greater difficulty with this, especially if they are returning to their home when it is still cold—they need to bundle up to get out-of-town, and bundle up to get back home. Travelers coming from these colder areas might consider renting a storage locker at the climate-controlled airport to store their heavy clothes. Once in the airport, you can put on a lighter jacket or sweater to take with you to Merida.

Try traveling with a carry-on bag, check it in and consider buying anything you might need locally.

Knowing I don’t have a bunch of heavy bags to lug around at each leg of the journey makes the trip that much more enjoyable. In fact, once I drop my bag at the casa I still have enough energy to walk to the exotic, rustic and tropical-feeling Pauncho’s for a cocktail—it’s my arrival ritual and sets the tone for my stay!

Taxi’s are easier to hail too. Most taxi’s here are small and struggle with room for big bags. You might find yourself waiting for a larger vehicle to arrive if one is not readily available. Even worse, you might end up hiring two cabs–one for you, and one for your bags.

If you need or want something in the way of clothing, say shoes, leather jackets, belts, pants, dresses, shirts. It’s pretty much gonna be available at a fraction of the price you are likely used to. Of course to get the best prices you must shop outside tourist zones. Know too, that your purchases will be appreciated and help contribute to the well-being of the local community.

I’ll add too that you can do your laundry here for a very reasonable price. You can have it picked up and delivered to the casa too. Or you can just walk to the park and drop it off yourself, then explore the park and surrounds, have lunch, shop or do whatever and pick it up later. You can also do your ‘little’ clothing items at the casa–take them with you in the shower or use the sink. There is a clothes drying rack available in the Terrace closet.

As an aside, I take my shoes to MX to be resoled for about $12 dollars versus $70 dollars in the San Francisco, Bay Area. Now that’s more like it!

So between buying local and doing laundry you really only need a few days worth of clothes.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself prior to, and during travel. Get plenty of rest. Hydrate while flying. Go ahead, grab the cocktails, but follow it up with H2o. Be aware of fatigue and the lingering effects it may have in a warmer climate than you are used to. Check the weather before you go and pack accordingly. And if you have to take a USA connected route on your way down, don’t forget with the dreaded TSA, less is more. Things that go BEEP are bad and cost you valuable time and energy.

Please feel free to chime in with your luggage, packing and travel ideas…

Till next time…safe and happy travels!

If I mentioned that you could have some of the most delicious food at the best prices anywhere, would you mind if the décor was a little funky or plain?

The best values in Merida can be found at Cocina Economica’s! Little Mom and Pop restaurants in the neighborhoods all over town. A lunch for two might set you back about 8 to 10 bucks. That’s not a misprint! Here you’ll find hearty, three to five course home-cooked meals. Mom will be in the cocina (kitchen) cooking away and working her magic while a family member will be out front greeting, seating and serving you. Service is prompt and the food is always good–the ultimate fast food! Most cocina economica’s are nondescript and take a trained eye to see. But once you know what to look for and you’ve tried a few, you’ll see them everywhere. In fact, you’ll start to WANT to see them everywhere! They can be spotted by looking for informal hand-written signs, or wooden clapboards on the sidewalk. You might also find a simple paper post at the front entry too. Look for an open front, possibly roll-up doors or sliding doors. You’ll notice about 3 to 5 usually plastic tables and chairs inside, and some with tablecloths. Most serve about 1 to 3 items for the day and the food changes frequently. Lunch is the only meal of the day served and hours vary from roughly 11 am to 3 pm. Cocina economica’s work double-duty as both a home and business. When you are walking around and stumble across one one that looks good to you, it is best to just remember the address. And while that might seem obvious, addresses are a little tricky in Merida. Different Barrios can have different numbering sequences. One constant is that even numbers run north to south and odd numbers run east to west. It’s best to get oriented before venturing out–get both cardinal directions to find your way back. Remember which Barrio you are in. Take a picture with your phone camera too…It helps!. And when you find a favorite, you’ll find your way back, I’m sure.

Don’t be shy…check what’s on the menu and have a seat…you will not be disappointed! You don’t need language skills either, but what a great place to practice!

One of my all-time favorites is “El Cangrejito” just a couple of blocks from Casa La Barenda. See what I wrote about it in this Blog…

Cheers!

Yes, it’s true that on December 21, 2012 the Mayan calendar ‘runs out’. But does that mean it’s the end of the world? Well there’s certainly no shortage of opinions out there…and no fewer concerns.

How will it look on this day…a flash of light…a ball of fire? A huge alien ship to fill the sky in the early hours of dawn? Perhaps Hollywood’s ‘2012’ has it right featuring earthquakes, meteor showers and a tsunami dumping an aircraft carrier on the White House.

At Cornell University, Ann Martin, who runs the “Curious? Ask an Astronomer” Web site, says people are scared. “It’s too bad that we’re getting e-mails from fourth-graders who are saying that they’re too young to die,” Martin said. “We had a mother of two young children who was afraid she wouldn’t live to see them grow up.”

Archaeologist Guillermo Bernal of Mexico’s National Autonomous University suggests that apocalypse is “a very Western, Christian” concept projected onto the Maya, perhaps because Western myths are “exhausted.”
And author John Major Jenkins says his two-decade study of Mayan ruins indicates that “If we want to honor and respect how the Maya think about this, then we would say that the Maya viewed 2012, as all cycle endings, as a time of transformation and renewal,” said Jenkins.

A significant time period for the Mayas does end on the date, and enthusiasts have found a series of astronomical alignments they say coincide in 2012, including one that happens roughly only once every 25,800 years. But most archaeologists, astronomers and Maya say the only thing likely to hit Earth is a meteor shower of New Age philosophy, pop astronomy, Internet doomsday rumors and TV specials such as one on the History Channel that mixes predictions from Nostradamus and the Mayas and asks: “Is 2012 the year the cosmic clock finally winds down to zero days, zero hope?”

It may sound all too much like other doomsday scenarios of recent decades – the 1987 Harmonic Convergence, the Jupiter Effect or Planet X. But this one has some grains of archaeological truth.

One of them is Monument Six.

Found at an obscure ruin in southern Mexico during highway construction in the 1960s, the stone tablet almost didn’t survive; the site was largely paved over and parts of the tablet were looted.
It’s unique in that the remaining parts contain the equivalent of the date 2012. The inscription describes something that is supposed to occur in 2012 involving Bolon Yokte, a mysterious Mayan god associated with both war and creation.

However – shades of Indiana Jones – erosion and a crack in the stone make the end of the passage almost illegible.

Archaeologist Bernal interprets the last eroded glyphs as maybe saying, “He will descend from the sky.”
Spooky, perhaps, but Bernal notes there are other inscriptions at Mayan sites for dates far beyond 2012 – including one that roughly translates into the year 4772.

And anyway, Mayas in the drought-stricken Yucatan peninsula have bigger worries than 2012. “We have real concerns these days, like rain.”

The Mayan civilization, which reached its height from 300 A.D. to 900 A.D., had a talent for astronomy.
Its Long Count calendar begins in 3114 B.C., marking time in roughly 394-year periods known as Baktuns. Thirteen was a significant, sacred number for the Mayas, and the 13th Baktun ends around Dec. 21, 2012.
“It’s a special anniversary of creation,” said David Stuart, a specialist in Mayan epigraphy at the University of Texas at Austin. “The Maya never said the world is going to end, they never said anything bad would happen necessarily, they’re just recording this future anniversary on Monument Six.”

If it were all mythology, perhaps it could be written off.

But some say the Maya knew another secret: the Earth’s axis wobbles, slightly changing the alignment of the stars every year. Once every 25,800 years, the sun lines up with the center of our Milky Way galaxy on a winter solstice, the sun’s lowest point in the horizon. That will happen on Dec. 21, 2012, when the sun appears to rise in the same spot where the bright center of galaxy sets.

Another spooky coincidence? Hmmmm…

Where ever you will be on this fated date, you can be sure the Yucatan, home of the Maya will likely be an exciting place.

Excerpts of this article appeared on page A – 13 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Merida is a beautiful city by every measure—but she is also very REAL. And while there are tourists here, Merida is not touristy. If you are looking for the pop and sizzle of a resort town, skip-it, this isn’t it. Merida is not an in your face, action-packed sort of place. Merida is a large city of about one million people that feels small yet is still generally unknown and off the radar. And that’s one of the reasons I like it!

Still some visitors complain and subsequently leave confused or disappointed. But why is that? Perhaps some didn’t do their homework prior to coming to the city, or maybe they read a fluff-piece that did not adequately cover all of Merida’s ‘realness’. Perhaps the weather was too hot and humid when they arrived. Or perhaps they were expecting the conveniences of home, or a hotel while staying at a colonial house. The reasons could be infinite.

I come to Merida to enjoy the culturally rich heritage, history and uniqueness…the differences! I come to Merida to explore the ancient and mysterious Mayan culture, the pyramids, the Spanish and french influenced architecture, the Cathedrals, Museums and the Cenotes, the wildlife, the people, the food and the music—-all of the elements that breathe life into this gentle and friendly city.

The ugly truth about Merida is that in all her beauty she can also be noisy and gritty. Some sidewalks are narrow and broken. Buses can rush by inches from your face on bus routes. Trucks spewing exhaust in heavy traffic can periodically crowd streets with noise that can distract and frustrate. In various areas of the city overhead utility lines still hang and cross-route everywhere. And while that may sound off-putting to some, it’s absolutely what attracts me to this place. It’s real! Merida works! This is a functioning, thriving economy where people from all over the world make their way in life. Merida is a dichotomy of sorts that can be beautiful and unsightly; clean and dirty; refined and coarse all at once.

But Merida listens and she is constantly improving.
Now on weekends in the Historic Centro traffic is rerouted and free for pedestrians to roam the streets. Streets and parks are well-manicured and clean. Overhead lines are fast disappearing underground and bus and truck routes are being rerouted to minimize congestion. Though Merida is not perfect, nor is she gentrified. And while tourism is an industry here, Merida does not depend on tourism to make it work like so many others.

But the best way to see and appreciate Merida and surrounds is to toss your schedule! To really ‘SEE’ Merida, you have to ‘get-slow’. Slow down and feel the rhythm of the city. Start by sleeping away the afternoon and stay up late in the Historic Centro. Relax and enjoy the plazas and parks where they are alive with activity reminiscent of Europe. Sit for awhile and watch the world go by. Merida has heft and she has soul and you can feel it in the air…but only if you can slow down.

So please do come to Merida… Come for the differences! Come and ‘get slow’ with us. We’d love to have you stay at Casa La Barenda too. (email: mail@casalabarenda.com)

I am a fourth generation Californian, traveler based in the San Francisco, Bay Area. I’m fascinated by ancient advanced culture where from the oldest Sumerian writings that speak of other-worldly visitations, to Atlantian myths and the Mayan connection with lost treasures beyond—the Yucatan plays a world-class role. While visiting here for the first time in 2003, I discovered even more.

Merida is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city that retains much of its French and Spanish colonial charm. While travelers whisking through the city will see it, others taking their time will feel it as they begin to sync to her rhythm. Underneath the hum of the city, Merida is subtle and elegant. Like peeling away the layers of an onion, Merida will reveal herself to you slowly. And like much of the city, the people here are gentle and warm.

Of course since the Mayans (and Aztecs) discovered chocolate over 3000 years ago, its only fitting that I have a home here. You’ll find that the chocolate crafted locally will delight.

And the food you will be happy to know, is as diverse as the people…from the Maya, Spanish and French fusions to Lebanon and beyond. While any review is worthy of separate posts I can tell you here that at least the local cuisine is subtle, textured and sophisticated. Just for starters you’ll taste local spices such as achiote paste made from annatto seeds that are earthy, savory and mouthwateringly delicious. From the freshest seafood to fire-pit roasted pork, it’s my new soul-food.

Evening comes alive in the Historic Centro and neighborhood parks are often the hub! Its the place to see-and-be-seen where something is always going on. You’ll hear a wide range of music genres from 4-part Cuban-influenced Trova bands with expert harmonies and acoustic guitars singing ballads and love songs, to modern Latin rhythms and jazz to the thumping, throbbing music of the discotechs. You’ll see artisans displaying their wares, street food carts and restaurants spilling into the streets. Mimes and story tellers too. It’s all here, and it’s just an evening stroll away.

Best of all, Casa La Barenda is right in the middle of it all in one of the most charming historic districts, Santiago. Casa La Barenda makes an excellent base to explore the many Archeological sites and natural wonders of the region. And if you are anything like me, you might be thinking Merida makes a terrific location to jump to other areas on the planet too. Think Cuba…

If you’d like to learn more about the many things to do here in Merida, check out the Activities page: http://casalabarenda.com/activities.html

Tell me what you think…

It’s off the charts delicious here!… I have to sit down just to talk about this place. El Cangrejito is a tiny restaurant that specializes in seafood tacos…and as a good friend says, ‘just the best, hot habanero natural sauce’.
You’ll want to take your time with this local fast food delight. Tortilla’s are hand-made and topped with the catch-of-the-day fish, delicately prepared and mixed with onions, avocados, tomatoes, salsa and cilantro. A seemingly simple amalgamation of freshness, yet so complex! Served two or four to a plate, these Yucatecan tacos are heaped with pride…and this is real love baby, real love!
While you’re enjoying lunch, you’ll want to study the eclectic décor spanning what looks like about 60 years of family memorabilia, Matadorial fame and lore. And of course while you have a few of these terrific Tacos, you’ll want to wash them down with your favorite beverage. And just to round out the afternoon, you can saunter home to Casa La Barenda just a block away from the restaurant for a long siesta—a sure-fire way to bring a smile to the day and courage to face the evening hunt for an equal or better value for dinner.
Typical of these small, great value family owned establishments, El Cangrejito is non-descript and hard to find. Good thing it’s close to the Casa! El Cangrejito is on Calle 57 #523 between 64 and 66 and is usually open serving lunch from 1 pm to 6 or 7 pm. It’s about mid-block on the north side of the street and about the only thing to look for is the brick-red colored awning.

Ahhh the life…enjoy!

P.S. Go on Tuesday just to be able to say it…’Taco Tuesday’!

It’s a good news/bad news situation for believers in the 2012 Mayan apocalypse. The good news is that the Mayan “Long Count” calendar does not end on Dec. 21, 2012 and the world will not end along with it. The bad news for prophecy believers? If the calendar doesn’t end in December 2012, no one knows if it will end at all, when it will end, or if it already has.

A new critique, published as a chapter in the new textbook “Calendars and Years II: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient and Medieval World” (Oxbow Books, 2010), argues that the accepted conversions of dates from Mayan to the modern calendar may be off by as much as 50 to 100 years or more. That would throw the supposed and over hyped 2012 apocalypse off by decades and cast into disrepute the dates of other historical Mayan events. (The doomsday worries were based on the fact that the Mayan calendar was originally thought to end in 2012, much as our year ends on Dec. 31.)

The Mayan calendar was converted to today’s Gregorian calendar using a calculation called the GMT constant, named for the last initials of three early Mayanist researchers. Much of their early work used ambiguous dates recovered from colonial documents that were written in the Mayan language in the Latin alphabet, according to the chapter’s author, Gerardo Aldana, University of California, Santa Barbara professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies.

But according to Aldana, Lounsbury’s evidence is far from irrefutable.
“If the Venus Table cannot be used to prove the FMT as Lounsbury suggests, its acceptance depends on the reliability of the corroborating data,” he said. That historical data, he said, is less reliable than the Table itself, causing the argument for the GMT constant to fall “like a stack of cards.”

No one has any answers as to what the correct calendar conversion might be, preferring to focus instead on why the current interpretation is wrong. Looks like end-of-the-world theorists may need to find another ancient calendar on which to pin their apocalyptic hopes.

Article From The Trans Caribbean Times Dec.08, 2010

Most seasoned globe-trekkers will likely agree they have experienced helpful, compassionate, kind and gentle people in their travels—local people that are willing to give what might seem like an enormous amount of their time. People that provide something you need, that can’t be found at the local store. Or even volunteer a place in their home for you to sleep because your plans somehow changed. There are countless other examples that likely occur every day all over the world—all without expecting compensation.

Remember too that you find what you bring. Attitude is important!

To some, this abundance of goodwill might seem shocking and hard to handle. A typical first reaction is to get their wallet out and pay for it. Even worse—to overpay for it!

Recently I was reading a story from a publication who periodically publishes notes from traveler’s and their experiences. Most are informative and enjoyable to read. This one story however generated some thoughts about how a local might see a traveler.

In apparent amazement of the low costs at their destination, the writer of this story was feeling magnanimous… He “took a taxi from the hotel to dinner one night and the fare was $1. He offered the driver $2 and the driver refused. Only after the passenger insisted that he understood the price and that the extra dollar was a tip, did the driver take it”.

The writer continued… “In a small pharmacy, we asked for a needle to sew on a button. They didn’t sell them but the proprietor gave us one from her own sewing basket and refused to accept payment”.

What’s wrong with this you might ask? One of the quickest ways I know to spoil a culture is to import your own value system. At home something might cost 10 Euro or 8 usd, and where you are visiting might cost a fraction of that. Your culture might show appreciation by giving money; theirs might be how you treat someone.

Think about what you might do if you saw someone from ‘out of town’ struggling with directions, language or accommodations. Would you help? My guess is you would, and then afterward they offered you money. How would you feel? Insulted perhaps? You helped because you could—and it made you feel good. Instead of creating some puzzling, uncomfortable moment that ended awkwardly, you might have made a new friend or two!

But more importantly, and I hesitate to say this, the quickest way I know to ruin a local economy and watch things get more and more expensive is to do things like offer to pay double the cab ride for a ‘tip’. Imagine you are in New York City and your cab ride is $50.00 usd and you pay the driver $100.00. He’s going to think many things about you and few are likely to be favorable. Over the long term, if this occurs with any increasing regularity, it might have the strange and insidious effect of causing disdain and disrespect for the visiting culture. And fare’s might also increase more rapidly than they otherwise would.

There’s a better way to show appreciation than by just giving money.

So how might a person better handle this abundance of goodwill; this benevolent demonstration of humanity? In a word…graciously!…warmly, with a smile, a thank you in their language, and perhaps a handshake in the local style or friendly touch.

However some cultures simply cannot receive without giving. And in the case above, that person might have bought something at the Pharmacy since the giver was also the store owner. Another idea is to carry small items for ‘trade’ when these wonderful moments occur—and with any luck they will. Try pens or pencils, they are easy to pack, needed and can be personalized with a message in the local language too. Your message might say ‘Viva Mexico, greetings from (name), (country) with contact info if you wish. Who knows, you might just develop your own international network this way.

So please keep in mind that when traveling, you are an ambassador of sorts to your country. And money is no replacement for grace and appreciation. Read up before you go and lead with your heart not your wallet.

P.S. A fun link to get a feel for local currency differences is the Big Mac Index, check it out here:

http://www.economywatch.com/economies-in-top/big-mac-index-big-mac-ppp.html

Better catch this one before it gets popular! At these natural caverns, you will find breathtaking beauty and crystal clear sapphire blue water to cool off in.
And not only do you get to see three amazing Cenotes in one location, but your journey begins by hiring a ‘truck’—a cart pulled on narrow-gauge rail by a horse with a driver. The truck is a reconstructed relic from the local 18th century hacienda used to transport harvested henequen from the plantation fields to the processing plant. The truck will take you to each of the three Cenotes where you can spend as little, or as much time as you like.
Each of the Cenotes is distinctly unique from the other and well worth your time. I don’t want to spoil your discoveries and tell you everything, so I’ll just give you the highlights… At two of the cave entrances, you’ll see Swallows navigating dense cross traffic above you as they expertly fly in and out of the caves. You’ll see huge vertical columns of roots cascading down 30 meters from the exposed limestone surface that tap into the crystal clear pools of water below. You’ll see stunningly uncommon geological rock formations and millennia’s-old stalactites above while you peer through the watery depths to see their ancient stalagmite counterparts below. This is a primitive, other worldly experience as you descend from the teeming wildlife sounds of the hot, humid jungle interior above into the relative cool and silence of the caves below.
I couldn’t help thinking this was a scene right out of an Indiana Jones movie. The trucks look and feel a little rickety, like a very slow, flat terrain version of a ‘woody’ roller coaster complete with the ‘clankety-clank’, scraping metal sounds. You’ll hear strange forest sounds off in the distance and feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. And that’s what makes it so cool…you are!
I know there’s treasure here somewhere!
Access to the last Cenote is straight down a ladder—hand made out of cut-tree limbs placed through a cylindrically-shaped, goose-bumps producing, claustrophobicly small rock hole at the surface into the deep, dark cavern. This experience is great fun…and your eyes will adjust…but you might want to bring a flashlight!
As it turns out, I did find treasure here…it’s the Cenotes at Cuzama!
Catch the Chelentún, Chansinic’che and Bolonchoojol Cenotes at Cuzama today as it is rapidly ‘improving’ to accommodate an ever increasing number of visitors. Several trucks are available for hire at about 100 pesos per truck. Each truck holds up to four persons.
A trip to Cuzama is about a 40 minute drive from Casa La Barenda. You can rent a car a few blocks from the Casa or ask our manager to arrange a private tour.
Environmentally speaking…please no protective body sprays or creams if you plan on swimming. Pack out whatever you bring in. Take only pictures…leave only footprints.