Chef Alex continued to impress with his sumptuous breakfast array on our second morning at Hotel Julamis. This morning’s spread began with vibrant fruity colours in a martini glass, slices of kiwi fruit cupped a mound of raspberries and blackberries, topped with a gigantic strawberry, a little icing sugar, passionfruit and an egg-noggy cream creation spiked with mescal – the cognac of México. The freshly baked, still warm croissants and cinnamon scrolls flaked their way to our mouths in buttery goodness as prelude to the main course. What followed was the breakfast dish that Alex is famous for (guests rave about this on all manner of review sites) and which only usually appears on Sundays. Now, it wasn’t Sunday, but I had read about this dish and commented on it, so Alex did it for me. It was a salmon-lover’s dream: salmon filled omelette; asparagus wrapped in smoked salmon and sprinkled with sesame seeds – black, violet and wasabi; two halves of perfectly baked potatoes and the most wonderful truffle, hollandaise sauce I have ever tasted!
With full bellies we loaded ourselves into our guide’s car, and we set off for a big day of new experiences on the Yucatan. Our driver and guide, Genner (pronounced ‘Henner’), first drove us south to a small town called Uman. The morning markets were in full swing, with stalls displaying their specialties interspersed in apparent randomness – colourful produce was piled in little pyramids along side stalls selling baby chicks and the second hand clothing racks.
Crossing the road to the church of St Francis of Assisi, Genner stopped the busy morning traffic to assist an elderly man in a wheelchair negotiate the darting cars and bikes. There was no honking of horns from impatient drivers or angry words, such a change from the road rage at home. Drivers waited, and Genner’s kindness was met with the wrinkling, smiling eyes and grateful nod of the old man.
At the church, Genner waved to the caretaker and chatted, and soon the locked wrought iron gate that led to the roof was opened. It was an easy climb to reach the sloping stuccoed vantage point that overlooked the town market and nearby park, squinting into the sun not dulled by the thin veil of cloud. Full of gratitude for life and health, I thought of the man whose restriction to a chair prevented even this simple pleasure of a beautiful morning view from the top of a church.
From Uman, we drove to the Hacienda Yaxopoil, which is a dignified old hacienda in the small town of its name (only 1,200 residents). Genner was particularly pleased that we wanted to stop here, as it was his hometown, and he was very proud of it. We toured the hacienda, which was undergoing massive restorations and furniture was moved for cleaning, but we still got a feel for what it was like in the boom time of the sisal manufacturing industry.
It was such a bonus to have Genner showing us around, sharing his tales of growing up near this gorgeous country house and the life of the town in its heyday. The second bonus was the fact that his aunt has a tortilla factory in the house where he was born; hot, hard work, but the tortillas were delicious! Genner fixed us a plate with some refried beans, and the stray dogs hovered as we shovelled, ready to spring forth in case our speed led to clumsiness.
Our third Mayan ruin experience for Mexico awaited us in Uxmal, which is much smaller, but older, than Chichen Itza. There were hardly any people there, always a bonus, but what made it really lovely was the serene vibe of the place – peaceful, even spiritual. Genner said that when Mayan elders visited there, they talked about the ‘good spirit’ of the place. Like our previous guide at Chichen Itza, Genner was Mayan, and having someone with this heritage and strong connection to culture and land leading us on our tour enhanced our whole experience.
Genner ensured that there were plenty of moments of pause under trees, where benches provided perches from which to gaze at the perfectly created mathematical structures. For the animal lovers in us, there was the added diversion of iguanas – they were everywhere, choosing sun where the humans chose shade.
Evening in Mérida
The drive back to Merida provided optimum napping conditions, which revitalised us for dinner in Santa Lucia at Apoala (a find on TA, but also recommended by both Genner and Chef Alex). Manuel was our waiter, and both his service and English were excellent – always an asset when working in a town with a high number of ex-pat residents. We started with a mescal cocktail, followed by an ‘okay’ bottle of chenin blanc from California. The wine was upstaged by the food; seabass on new potatoes, soft-shelled crab tacos and stuffed zucchini flowers.
An ample dinner prompted the need for a walk, and the Paseo de Montejo provided the colours and sparkle of a place that knows how to celebrate Christmas! It was a popular choice and we were surrounded by loads of people, locals and tourists alike, in the spirit of the season making the most of the horse-drawn carriages and photo ops of the brilliant light displays.
I saw an old guy who might have been homeless sitting on a bench, greeted him with a ‘buenos noches’ and put a few coins in his hand (nothing really) and wished him a ‘Felice Navidad.’ On a nearby bench, another stranger, a regular bloke, smiled at me and nodded, recognising a kind act.
Back at Hotel Julamis, Alex was relaxing and ready for a chat; he is such a raconteur! We enjoyed a night cap over more tales of his adventures before he handed over two paper bags of packed breakfasts for us to pop in the fridge until the morning. Our final night’s sleep in Merida was restful, for which we were grateful – a 5am departure for the morning bus was no fun at all. Alex waved us off as we took a cab to the bus station, teasing us with the woes of inconvenience of him having to rise at such an hour. When we opened our specially prepared ‘care package’ breakfast from our chef, we grinned. The museli bars of fellow passengers were no match for our homemade raisin and oatmeal cookies, poached pears, yoghurt, and smoked salmon, cream cheese, pickled cabbage and capers croissant. Perfect…again!
Read our full Merida story here:
Part 1: The City and Hotel Julamis
Part 2 (current): Uman, Hacienda Yaxopoil and Uxmal
Merida Accommodation: Hotel Julamis
Tour Company: Lawson’s Yucatan Excursions