I woke up like this, I woke up like this…
in a hammock. Quick check: no spiders in my mouth, no puffy eyes or other signs of mosquitos, that lost their minds and decided to bite me in the last appropriate spot, no cat eating my bra in the corner of the room either. Everything seemed to be absolutely fine, and so was I, after a night spent gently swaying from side to side like a baby in a crib.
I pushed the ground to make the hammock swing a bit more and decided to wait for the girls to wake up before I would even consider getting up – it was sooo comfy!
…but how the hell did I get there?
A couple of days earlier.
When the Big Day was just about to happen I asked my host where should I go. Surprisingly, living in Cancun for 4 years already, he admitted never seeing something like that. Ooooops – red light started flashing in my head- Cancun, the tourist oasis, it was possible they didn?t do much of traditional-and-creepy holidays. That was when I said sorry to the uncle Google and started browsing like crazy.
After hundreds of messages I?ve sent on Couchsurfing mercilessly harassing people all over Yucatan I?ve found that actually, I was already late. All the parades in southern, more touristy part of Mexico were shifted for the weekend and where the proper celebration was about to happen, was next to Mexico City. Shit! So I had two options: either should I magically appear in Oaxaca, within a few hours, or go back in time.
Days were too short, wallet too empty, so a heavy belt of regret squeezed my stomach and I started quietly repeating ?don?t worry, next year, don?t worry? along with looking for the most acceptable way to spend those days.
Meticulous investigation with an invaluable help of poor harassed couchsurfers resolved in choosing a place with a beautiful name that will always remind me of half-legal weight loss pills – Merida.
Exhausted with the whole research I didn’t even want to think about spending any more second in front of the computer, so my decision of where I was going to sleep was absolutely random.
“Hey, thanks for the info, I guess I’m coming, could you please host me as well?” – I asked the last Couchsurfer I was messaging – “Sure” – he replied. And that was enough. Why should I be bothered to check where and with who was I going to spend the night with? I’m afraid the older I get- the more YOLO I act.
Oh, his name was Carlos.
Armed with a camera, charger, toothbrush and some other 2-days-trip-must-haves I jumped on the ADO bus to spend in it next 4 and a half blissful hours reading a book about pregnancy and labour – the only English book I?ve found in Cancun.
The city of Merida.
You know this feeling, when after some longer period time spent on a bus, half reading, half dozing, half wishing it was already over, you finally get off: dazzled and confused.
Wandering the streets between a station and the Old Town I quickly realised something: ?I don?t belong here? I thought ?It?s clearly visible, that I don?t belong here…? Congratulations Sherlock! With my piercings, tattoos, fluorescent nikies and torn shorts, I definitely couldn?t even pretend to be local. ?Where are any white people?? I asked myself, but there were none.
Luckily, after an hour or so, Carlos finally messaged me back saying he would meet me at the Cathedral in 5. Yay, the idea of sleeping rough under the stars drifted away. I still had no idea that it didn’t drift too far…
Birds singing, horses harnessed to little carriages and a faint smell of pane muerto floating around it all. I made myself comfortable on a bench in front of the Cathedral knowing, that 5 minutes would rather equal 5 Mexican minutes, which is more like 20 of them. A wide smiled guy with a guitar emerged out of nowhere then approached me on his wheelchair cheerfully shouting into the sweet air:
– Why are you sitting here alone Hermosa?
– Um, just waiting for a friend of mine – I replied. (Yeah, a friend of mine whom I haven’t seen ever in my whole life and whose name I was nervously checking on the phone not to forget it. I?m just really bad when it comes to memorising names.)
– Then let me play you a song!
The man started to sing and when his old and tired fingers (wheelchair, duh) touched the strings a beautiful melody previously kept in a guitar wooden box came out…
?Holly shit it feels like a movie? romantic girl inside of me whispered and that was it, because 20 minutes passed, and Carlos was already there to pick me up.
Once upon a time Forrest Gump said, that life is like a box of chocolates- you never know what you?re gonna get. I would modify that a bit, claiming, that Couchsurfing is rather like Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and it can surprise you waaaaay more than a regular box of chocolates
?This white house is mine? – my host announced.
?Wait, where? I don?t see any white house? ran through my mind but I was already led by my host through a small gate to a tiny, kind of terraced house. Inside – as long as I live I?ve never seen anything like this before. Pretty spacious…hmm..I guess I should call it a living room, with an open kitchen and….yes, absolutely open – missing a whole one wall that was replaced by a patio, or rather a piece inside the house but missing a roof and some walls. Backyard connected with the kitchen. Backyard with a hammock and a makeshift table made out of bricks and a piece of wood at which were sitting 3 other girls.
“Cosy!” I smiled to them unable to prevent my eye from blinking.
They were from France, Couchsurfing in Merida for the same reason as me – Hanal Pixan – and just like me, they were late.
Hanal Pixán? Waaaait, you said Dia de Los Muertos…
Yes. Hanal Pixán is the name given to the Day of the Dead in the Yucatan Peninsula. This name can be literally translated as “food of souls” in the Mayan language. And so people prepare traditional dishes and beautiful altars to feed the souls of their deceased relatives each year from 31st October till the 2nd of November.
“Well, I hope we’ll be given to see at least something” I summed up the short conversation we’d had and turned around to enter one of the hovels semi-attached to the house. Four walls, floor, ceiling, ok. I threw my Kurt Geiger leather bag on a sketchy hammock dangling in between the walls, took a deep breath, then exhaled “Dear princess, I guess this is your chamber for tonight!”.
But before I shoved my tired limbs into the stringy crib Carlos took us for a night out. Local dance performance, local tiny, a bit hipstery pubs, local beer, local nachos. The guy turned out to have a heart of gold: he told us a lot about the Hanal Pixan traditions, about Merida, about him, asking every 5 or 10 minutes if we were ok, entertained, not tired, not bored, etc. I swear, if he had started feeding me with those nachos I would have sworn that was my grandma in a tiny Mexican boy disguise. This is another side of Couchsurfing and you won’t get it in any hotel, no matter how many stars you would pay for.
Ok, so back to my lovely hammock and Tuesday morning. I swang a little bit longer waiting for the French Trio to wake up. Carlos had to work so we were supposed to have fun on our own. Where would young girls like to go on a beautiful sunny day? Butcher section of the biggest market in town (Mercado Lucas De Galvéz) and the cemetery!
Starting with the market – all vegans, vegetarians or even people who are just sensitive when it comes to animals: DON’T GO THERE. In most of the cases I simply do not care, switching my perception from “I’m actually experiencing seeing this” to “I’m just watching a movie”, but I couldn’t stand this place. Cow’s heads hung on the hooks, whole birds missing most of its feathers dangling limply above the dirty stalls and countless animals in cages. Just nope.
Cemetary turned out to be a much happier place to be. Welcomed after an hour-long march by the colourful graveyards and nifty statues of Virgin Mary we sadly found out that everything was there, besides what we were looking for: no symptoms of Hanal Pixan at all!
After a few small talks with cemetery people (those alive ones), we caught a bus back to the city (like a boss) and hurried to meet Carlos who was supposed to finish his job already and wait for us at home. Probably starving.
And here comes another advantage of Couchsurfing: getting a traditional under-the-counter food from the befriended restaurant. This time of the year, ladies and gentleman, let me introduce to you: The Pib.
The restaurant was already decked with traditional altar: pane muerto, mezcal, tiny marzipan pumpkins and different wooden and rag dolls.
Pane muerto – the dead bread. It’s a kind of a sweetened soft bread that, what I was told, believe me, or not, is spiced up with anise seeds, and other times flavoured with orange flower water or orange zest to make its taste remind people of their deceased relatives. Yes, the bread that smells like dead people. I won’t argue. And I’ve never tried a dead person but the pane muerto is ridiculously delicious.
Mezcal – booze! Distilled alcoholic beverage made from any type of agave plant. Still didn’t try it in my half-sober world.
PIB: actually mucbipollo or pibipollo, depends on what it’s stuffed with: a large tamal, with chicken or pork, annatto seeds and a thick maize dough called kool on the side. The whole thing is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked underground. Yes, underground. You simply dig a den where the fire is built, then allow it to burn down to a smoulder. Next, the food is placed there and covered. Few hours and – ready!
Short stay in Merida was about to end. And even if I had a great time, even if I fell in love with the fairy tale vibe there I had to admit that besides one skeleton willing to take a selfie with me who I had met in the market square the mission totally failed. “Next year Sophie, next year”
But it was just the very beginning of the Whole Universe showing me its middle finger….