The first leg of my journey was to Merida, Mexico, and I have a lot of mixed feelings towards this destination. There were several things I wanted to make sure I did while down there, such as see one of the 7 New Wonders of the World – Chichen Itza, swim in a cenote, and go to the beach. I managed to do all three during the first week of my two weeks down there and decided that after that I had had enough and was ready to go home. There were a couple different factors leading me to come home early, but I don’t want to only focus on the negative things in Merida, so to start off I will list the positive things of my time in Merida!
- I met a lot of really nice people from all over the world. There are 2 girls I hung out with the most named Ellie, a Bulgarian girl who’s currently living in London, and Lizzie, an Estonian girl who currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. They were both hilarious and fun to just talk to and hang out by the pool with. There were several other girls at the volunteer house as well that were also really nice, 3 of them were also from Canada, and another was from Portugal but is currently living in Belgium.
- The sites and attractions down there are truly amazing. One of the New 7 Wonders of the world is located just short of 2 hours from Merida, and the Yucatan is also filled with natural water sinkholes called cenotes, which are quite beautiful. Merida is also home to the oldest cathedral in continental North America, which is located in Centro. Even though I’m not religious whatsoever, the building was still cool to see since it is such an old piece of history.
- There is a beach very close to Merida call Progresso. If we had just driven there on our own, it would have been about a 25 minute drive, but we had to take a bus to another bus in order to get there. Even though we had to take a couple buses to the beach, the cost of them combined was 49 pesos, which isn’t even $3.
- Stuff in Mexico is cheap. Snacks, drinks, food, buses, clothes, among may other things were so cheap in Mexico. There are also a bunch of different types of restaurants in Mexico where you pay like 45 pesos for a beer or some other sort of drink (which is expensive compared to how much a beer or other drinks cost) and then the restaurant just brings out a ton of different apps and food for you to have with you drink. We did this when we all went to Progresso, all the girls each got a beer and I got this pineapple slushy thing made with coconut milk, and the amount of food we got from just that was insane. Most places you can get a good beer for like 20 pesos, which is just over a dollar, so in comparison the drinks are expensive, but you’re saving tons of money on food since they’re giving you a bunch of apps for free.
- Merida is the safest city in Mexico, and the locals there are very nice. On my second day there, Ellie and I went to Centro where they have markets set up in the morning there on Sundays. She really wanted coffee and I had to pee so we went to the Burger King in the Centro square. I went to wash my hands and couldn’t figure out how to turn on the water. There was this little metal piece hanging out from below the faucet and I was just starring at it like what is this? Luckily there was local standing right next to me that was probably a couple years younger than me and I just looked at her and was like “I don’t know what to do.” And she just smiled and went to the faucet and pushed the hanging metal piece towards the back, which allowed the water to come through. I said thank you, and she said “No problem!” and left. I mean that’s kind of a dumb example of people being nice down there, but to be honest if I was in a bathroom up in Massachusetts and saw someone that looked really confused, I probably wouldn’t even acknowledge them. But she saw me before I even said anything and knew I was so confused, and was nice enough to help me.
- First things first, I managed to get my debit card eaten by an ATM. All the machines down there you have to stick your card in and leave it in there to take out money – whereas I’m used to just swiping my card in and out and that’s that. Luckily I brought some US money with me and was able to exchange that to use for the rest of the week while I was down there.
- My placement wasn’t anything like I expected it to be. Even during orientation they made it sound like it was going to be more interesting than it really was. I went down expecting to help out doing tasks related to Environmental Research, but in reality I just did gardening and manual labor tasks where I couldn’t see the benefit of what I was doing for the facility. Thankfully there were a couple other volunteers from IVHQ there with me otherwise I probably would have walked off the facility.
- It is so dirty in Merida. The neighborhood I was staying in was technically a rich neighborhood but there was trash all over the sidewalks, everything just looked grimy, and it was just gross. Being used to cities and towns that are well kept, this was a hard thing for my culture shock to overcome.
- I’m not sure if this is all of Mexico, or if it’s just parts, and it really wasn’t that odd of a thing to do but was just odd for me, but everywhere I went you weren’t allowed to flush toilet paper down the toilet. I’m sure this is standard in a lot of poorer countries, but it was just something odd/different to me since I’ve never been somewhere like that before.
- The heat is more of a negative positive. I loved that it was hot out, but I could have probably done with a little less of it. It was mostly just unbearable at night since the volunteer house didn’t have air conditioning so it was really stuffy and still in the room when there wasn’t much of a breeze.