Many historians consider Merida to be the oldest continuously occupied city in the Americas. The colonial city was begun in 1542, but it was built on the site of a Mayan city and many of the buildings were erected using stones taken from the earlier Mayan edifices.

Today it is a bustling city of some 750,000 people. The roads are busy with cars and buses all day long and the sidewalks were built in a time of horse and cart, that is to say they are very narrow, so it is often hard to walk along the street without needing to hop into the road to get past a thong of people. There are some interesting museums here, especially the Anthropology museum, housed in a mansion built in the turn of the century for a hennaquin (sisal) baron and designed by an Italian architect in classical style.

The museum itself houses a good array of artifacts, including many jade and other pieces recovered from cenotes, or fresh water ponds that dot the region. Except for the very south, the Yucatan has no natural surface level rivers. This being a limestone area, there are however many subterranean caverns and these were the principal fresh water sources for the Maya (along with artificial reservoirs they dug and lined themselves). The cenotes were also places of veneration and sacrifice and so archaeologists have recovered human bones, jade pieces, pottery, and even carbonized fabric scraps from them. Much of this was on display for us to see along with good explanations in English of the way of life and day to day activities of the Maya.

One of my favorite pieces was a mask (pictured here) that was made from some large seashells and reminded me somewhat of a hockey mask.

We’ve now visited several Mayan museums and they have all been different, each adding to our understanding of the Maya way of life.

The Mayans had surprisingly large trading networks and even warehouses and remote agents, not too dissimilar from modern import/export business. Essentially trading networks were broken down into relatively local trading which was well established between communities, and long distance networks that might pass through several hands and reach as far as the southwest of today’s United States for turquoise, or as far south as Honduras and El Salvador.

Merida has a very large market which we explored over several hours. The variety of goods on sale is huge. We enjoyed watching the making of fresh corn tortillas starting from large bags of fresh corn, then milling it into masa, rolling it into balls, feeding it into a machine which flattened them and dropped them on a rotating hot plate from which they made one circuit then popped off in a stack. Elsewhere we say them selling large balls of masa dough which looked like giant matzo balls (maybe them sell them as masa balls?)

Habanero peppers are a stable of the diet here and virutally ubiquitous. Every restaurant has a bottle of hot sauce made with habanero, one of the hottest peppers in the world. At one stall, a vendor offered me one to try (obviously wanting to have some fun with a gringo), but thankfully I knew better! Not sure I’d want to shake the hand of this guy in the market bagging all those habaneros!

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