Latin music blasts overhead, fighting to be heard over the dozens of scattered fans whirring in symphony, much like a jumbo jet’s roar before takeoff. Saturday afternoon has summoned madding crowds, mostly local Mexicanos, to cool down from the hottest part of the day.
La Negrita Cantina has legendary status among the bars of the world. Not just here in Merida, Mexico, but world-wide. This is one of the Greats. One year shy of its centenary, its rickety doors first swung open in 1917. If doors could talk, these would tell stories of drunken writers and locals, marriages and divorce-spawning fights, love lost and won, hearts broken along the way, fall-down stumble-off battles of bravado. They’d tell of potentially millions of litres of tequila consumed by slurring masses under a sweltering Yucatan sun.
Today I’m testing the yester-year’s drunk-driving campaigns lecturing the TV-bound masses to “know your limit” as I stare down a litre jar of mojito. I may soon be as muddled as the mint in my cocktail. If that’s not how you do Saturday brunch in Mexico, then clearly I’m doing it wrong. But if it is, then I know exactly where I’m pinning my gold star – just as soon as I’m sober enough to handle dangerous things like pointy sharp pins.
Mexico’s End is Nigh
Not catastrophically-speaking. I mean that I’m looking at 20 days left in Mexico. It’s my first time in this storied speakeasy but unlikely to be my last.
It’s safe to say I’m nigh tuckered out on Mexico, but I will make a valiant effort to bid farewell properly as I see my time ticking down.
My worldview has changed a lot in the last week, thanks to finally finding more work to boost my income. With light at the end of my financial tunnel, I’m breathing deeper, sleeping better, and feeling more optimism than I have in about a year.
Sitting here in this swirl of tequila and fans, with rich brassy Latin music blasting, I’ve never felt so far from home. And not in a bad way right now. I’ve got a funny half-smile as I think about my life. With a more promising financial future ahead, my travels will be more enjoyable.
A fear and sadness has tinged my travels since December of last year. I’ve tried to enjoy myself, but with money woes looming constantly, it was hard not to feel guilty about having fun. That’s fast changing.
Sizing Merida Up
This town is different from the rest of the places I’ve been. It’s less touristy, but probably because it has less to offer on a grand scale, but lifestyle-wise, it’s great. San Miguel and Guanajuato are gorgeous cities. This one isn’t. There’s one main drag that’s filled with wide streets and huge sidewalks on both sides that have trees on either side of the sidewalk. So that’s four rows of massive trees running the length of Paseo Montejo. It’s a striking, beautiful road to travel or walk.
Beyond that I haven’t seen a lot that’s amazing yet, so I understand the nomad who told me he showed up, spent a few days, then bolted. I’ve been told by Mexicans that this is a much more “Mexican” city. Despite being a famous bar, this one is packed with at least 80% Mexicans, maybe more. Are they all local? Likely not. But it’s still their country, their town, more than it’ll ever be mine.
Living in places, of course, is different than travelling through them for two weeks. I’ve written on that often. Like the apartment I have now rented would likely be perfect for most travellers, but I’m left grumbling there’s no spatula for making eggs or strainer for making pasta. That aside, I’ve got the Holy Trinity for any digital nomad: A great shower, a great bed, and the fastest internet I’ve had in Mexico. That ain’t bad!
A Nomad Moment in Time
When I think about the next six months of my life, it’s crazy. Made of awesome and gratitude and luck. More Mexico, Canada, the Czech Republic, Greece, then either Morocco or a return to Croatia, but I think Croatia is more exciting for me right now because I would have an idea of what I’m getting myself into.
Man, I’m lucky. Days like today, sitting in a fascinating bar, watching the life unfold around me, it’s a pretty magical life I lead. Sure, most days I’m working too much, but girl’s got to pay for this, right?
Recently, I’ve been overwhelmed by homesickness, if I’m honest. It might sound silly to anyone who’s not Canadian, but my favourite band’s lead singer has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and he takes the stage for the last time tonight. It’s being aired on CBC and I’ll be able to livestream it from Mexico, but I think there will be few times I’ve felt so lonely, and far from home, as I will when that gig airs tonight.
So Far From Home
It’s times like these I realize what all I gave up when I turned in my keys for my apartment and adopted this life as a traveller. Birthdays, my niece learning to walk, friends’ weddings and births. Illnesses and death. Social and cultural events. Collective experiences, like blizzards or storms or Indian summers.
It’s not often that sort of thing weighs HEAVY on me, it’s just something I’m constantly aware of. I’m trying to process it still, 11 months later. In my next chapter, I will cope with it by having occasional video calls with friends beyond my family. When I leave Canada, I’ll start my travels with a new mindset of finding people to connect with when I travel. I’ll join nomadic groups, post messages to them in Facebook with shoutouts looking for connections in any given city.
The thing I want to avoid is over-connecting with people of my kind while I travel. I like how I get forced to deal with the local culture. I wish I was as social and outgoing as others I know who have travelled and connect so easily, no matter where they are. I’m not, I don’t. But it doesn’t mean I don’t connect at all. I do. I love it.
Like the Old Song Says: More Than Words
Sometimes those small, few connections are even more special when neither of you speak the language of the other yet you somehow reach commonality. On my cab ride here, just telling the driver “La Negrita Cantina” resulted in a knowing chuckle and a playful “Si, si… La cantina.” We connected over the sweltering heat, that it’s Saturday, and where else should one be but in a cantina?
Travel is less about the experience as a whole but more about the moments that stand out. If you’ve got bright moments, singular experiences you can remember on their own, then that’s all it takes. I have those in every city I’ve seen. Most of my troubles in places have come down to lodgings. In Oaxaca, something was brewing in the air for my final weeks there, and that tainted my experience. Aside from that, from the Azores to Zagreb, everywhere’s had something memorable for me.
Unfortunately, my recent depression and stresses have made me less charismatic in talking to strangers this year. That will likely change too. Getting one’s mojo back is no small accomplishment. Mine? It’s en route.
For now, I’m happy to be the odd white girl nursing a huge mojito and typing, while the rest of the bar bustles and laughs and chatters.
Making My Peace with a Mojito
Would you believe this is the first bar I’ve been in for all of Mexico? It’s true. So many of them are dark and foreboding-looking, I’ve avoided them. But this one is too famous not to come in, and so chill and casual, with no one bugging me, that I wonder what took so long.
The next country I drink in is the Czech Republic. Canada doesn’t count. I have a lot of practice in drinking in Canada!
Hey, you know something super about Mexico? Hardly anywhere has smoking. Even in public squares, I’m seldom near a smoker. It’s one thing I dread in returning to Europe, but what can you do? They love their cigarettes.
It’s Day 110 in Mexico and finally I am a wee bit day-drunk. I blame this place’s great mojito for it. The Paloma was a let-down, but if you’re ever in Merida, Mexico, and you want a cocktail, come have the mango mojito at La Negrita Cantina. You could tell them Steff sent you, but they’d just blink and furrow their brow.
Merida: Got Whatcha Need
In the end, Mexico has been the place I needed it to be. I needed to be disinterested so I could work and fill the holes in my finances and my career. I needed safe places to hide out and pursue what matters, I needed sun to keep me happy, cheap access to medical care and medicine. Ultimately, I needed exactly what this place gave me.
It’s like the Rolling Stones sang, you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you’ll get what you need. For me, Mexico may not be what I wanted when I signed up but it gave me everything I required. From personal growth to financial reckonings, I found ‘em all under the Mexican sun.
I’m almost certain I’ll be back one day, to see how the place has changed, but more importantly, to see how I have changed in the face of it.
For now, Merida is the place I begin my long goodbye. It’s been swell, Mexico. You’re complicated. I’m complicated. We’re complicated together. It’s been a crazy ride.
Thanks for the tasty beverages, by the way.
Post-Script: I staggered home at about 4pm, just over 1km, where the “feels like” was 44 degrees. One does not walk fast when it “feels like” 44C/112F. It was my first time not wearing a wide-brim hat in Mexico, and I burned bad. I got home, passed right out, and spent the next day trying to rehydrate. Lesson learned: Call Uber.
Post-Script Two Years Later: Ahh, hindsight’s a bitch. I couldn’t have known when I wrote this in Merida, Mexico, during my day-drunk glee that my father would be dead a month to the day. He was. That happy-end to troubling times I thought I was on the cusp of was still some way off. Life’s going in a great direction now, and has been since a couple weeks after my father’s death, but it saddens me he never got to read this. OH, how hard he would have laughed! He would have given me such a teasing about this. A bit of a safety lecture, too, but mostly he would’ve laughed and laughed and laughed. So, this one’s for Dad, wherever he is.