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The Railway Museum of Mérida

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Once upon a time, the Yucatán had a popular and far-reaching network of passenger locomotives. Today, most of the train stations scattered across the peninsula are little more than ruins. Mérida’s, however, has been converted into a museum dedicated to the machines that once chugged through the jungles.

Train Museum Merida

If you’re a train fan, you’re going to love this museum, which asks for just a small donation on entry. And even if you’re not big on trains, you should still have a good time. The old locomotives are beautiful and you can climb into many of them. A couple have been refurbished, but most are still in their original, half-decrepit condition.

Unfortunately, the museum doesn’t provide information about any of the trains. So if you’re not the kind of person who can confidently tell a 4-4-0 locomotive from a 4-6-2, you’re not going to know what you’re looking at. But the photo opportunities are great and you don’t need special knowledge to enjoy exploring old trains. This museum will especially appeal to kids and, should you have any questions, the knowledgeable manager is usually around.

Location on our Map

Our Visit To The Train Cemetery In Bolivia

Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
Train Museum Merida
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February 14, 2014 at 3:08 pm Comments (0)

The Caste War Museum in Tihosuco

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The Spaniards may have conquered the Yucatán with relative ease, but destroying the spirit of the Maya proved a far more difficult task. From the very beginning of the conquest and up into the twentieth century, the Maya fought back against their oppressors, bending but never breaking. The stories of their struggle are told in the Museo de las Guerra Casta, in the village of Tihosuco.

Caste War Museum in Tihosuco

The Yucatán is a large peninsula with vast stretches of jungle, and it provides plenty of cover for those who know the territory, which explains in part why the Maya resistance proved so troublesome to the Spanish (and later, the Mexicans). For centuries, attacks flared up, cities were taken and re-taken, semi-independent territories were established, and vicious retaliations inflicted. The Conquest of the Yucatán is not a story of a docile, vanquished people, always the pitiful victims. The Maya were not to be trifled with.

During what’s come to be known as the Caste War, one of the most successful indigenous uprisings in the history of humanity, the Maya very nearly succeeded in taking back the entire peninsula. In 1847, Maya troops who had been stockpiling arms in Quintana Roo set out on the march. They took Valladolid. They took Izamal. They marched within 24 kilometers of Mérida, gaining momentum and support every step of the way. The white landowners and clergy were in panic, and those who could had already fled. There’s little doubt that, had they proceeded, the Maya would have conquered the capital and won the war. But then the rains came.

The rains! At the very heart of the struggle for independence was a respect for ancient traditions, which had been under attack for centuries. And these traditions called for men to return to the farm during the milpa, or corn harvest. Although victory was within grasp, the men abandoned the front. By the time they were ready to rejoin the fight, the Yucatecan troops had been bolstered with reinforcements from Mexico. The tide of the war had turned irrevocably.

The small museum in Tihosuco does a nice job of illuminating this story with paintings, artifacts and a top-notch guidebook in multiple languages. Tihosuco itself played an important part in the war as the scene of a major early battle. The church in the town square, the Iglesia del Niño Dios, is still in ruins, and serves as an evocative reminder of the conflict.

It’s not near any other touristic sights, but an excursion to Tihosuco is worth the considerable effort of getting there. If you’re feeling hungry after visiting the museum, ask around for Doña Nachita’s, near the church. The “restaurant” isn’t anything more than a table in her living room, but the food is great.

Location of Tihosuco on our Map

For This Trip We Rented A Car From Sixt

Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
Caste War Museum in Tihosuco
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February 13, 2014 at 4:02 pm Comments (4)

The San Bernardino Convent in Valladolid

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The Calle de los Frailes, or the Street of the Friars, cuts diagonally across Valladolid, completely ignoring the otherwise strict grid-plan. A little fresh, but we’ll allow it. This is one of the Valladolid’s most historic streets, home to specialty shops and popular restaurants, and it ends at the steps of the San Bernadino Convent.

Valladolid Convent

Construction started on the San Bernardino in 1552, under the auspices of Franciscan monks who had settled in the newly-formed city. Local Maya laborers were politely asked to help build the immense convent, and were happy to do so, as they were well-paid for their efforts. (Or, was it that they were obligated to work like slaves, and then forcibly converted to a foreign religion under threat of torture… I can’t remember.) Today the convent serves as both a church and a museum.

During the Caste Wars of the nineteenth century, the San Bernardino was repeatedly attacked and lost much of its priceless artwork. But inside, you can still find a few surviving paintings, as well as weapons from the war recovered from the large cenote that sits directly underneath the building. The water of this cenote was used in the convent’s kitchen and bathrooms, and was extracted using a large stone waterwheel which can still be seen in the unkempt back garden.

In front of the San Bernardino is a large flat park which, when we visited, was being used as a soccer pitch by a group of local kids. It was early in the evening, and the whole place was conspicuously quiet, especially in comparison to the jam-packed Plaza Grande of Valladolid. The convent is apparently just far enough outside the town center to discourage most tourists, but don’t let the distance discourage you. This was among our favorite places in the city.

Location on our Map

-Where we stayed in Valladolid: Casa Hamaca

Valladolid Convent
Valladolid Convent
Valladolid Convent
Valladolid Convent
Valladolid Convent
Valladolid Convent
Valladolid Convent
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Valladolid Convent
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January 30, 2014 at 11:36 pm Comments (0)

The Casa de Los Venados

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The largest privately-held collection of modern Mexican art in Mexico can be found in the home of John and Dorianne Venator, in Valladolid. The couple have been indulging their passion for over 35 years and have packed their house, one of the city’s most historic properties, with over 3000 individual pieces.

Casa de Los Venados

Casa de los Venados, or “Home of the Deer”, is both a play on the Venator surname and a nod to the importance of the animal to the region and to the ancient Maya. Though this is a private home, the Venators open it daily at 10am for tours. They’re originally from Chicago, but after John made a fortune as the CEO of a non-profit organization, they chose to settle down in Mexico.

The villa is found just meters away from Valladolid’s main plaza, and stepping inside can be a shock to the system. Almost every conceivable inch of wall and floor space is occupied by a piece of contemporary Mexican art. The famous skeleton figure of the catrina makes frequent appearances, as does Frida Kahlo (not her works, but her likeness). There are amazing chandeliers, one-of-a-kind paintings commissioned by the Venators, strange pieces of furniture and colorful modern sculptures. I half expected to peer around the backyard and see a team of enslaved artists working on new pieces.

The Venators made sure to grace our tour with their presence, so that they could point out their latest purchases and tell us about upcoming acquisitions. They don’t seem to be pausing their obsession anytime soon, so if you’ve got a sweet tooth for Mexico’s colorful modern art, don’t pass up the chance to peek inside the doors of their one-of-a-kind house.

Location on our Map

Framed Photos From The Yucatan

Casa de Los Venados
Casa de Los Venados
Casa de Los Venados
Casa de Los Venados
Casa de Los Venados
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January 30, 2014 at 6:29 pm Comments (0)

The Casa-Museo Montes Molina

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Most of the mansions along the Paseo Montejo have either fallen into a state of disrepair or been converted into banks. But the Casa Montes Molina is a fortunate exception. Owned by the Montes-Molina family for generations, visitors can today tour this amazing house, or even rent it out for special events.

Casa-Museo Montes Molina

The mansion was built in the early twentieth century by Don Aurelio Portuondo, a Cuban businessman who fell in love with a local beauty. Don Aurelio was in Mérida supervising construction of the Peon Contreras Opera House, and was so pleased with the results that he hired the same architects to design his home. After a couple decades, when his fortune had dried up, Don Aurelio sold his mansion to Don Avelino Montes, a Spanish banker who had also fallen for one of Mérida’s young lovelies: Maria Molina Figueroa. (One of the city’s prime products seems to have been its marriageable maidens).

The Montes-Molinas moved in, made some additions to the house, and established themselves permanently on the Paseo Montejo. Today, nearly a hundred years later, the family still owns the property. The furniture is all original, with exquisite chandeliers, mirrors, floor tiling and everything else you might expect inside the mansion of a fantastically wealthy twentieth-century family. The great-granddaughter of Don Avelino and Doña Maria stays here when visiting from Mexico City and, incredibly, a couple servants who waited on the family over thirty years ago are still living in the basement.

During our tour of the house, we saw one of these women scrubbing the linens by hand in a washing basin. The scene fit so perfectly with the spirit of the house, we weren’t even surprised. This place is as authentic as you can get. We’ve been to quite a few historic homes during our travels, but never sensed the spirits of those who actually inhabited them so strongly as in the Casa Montes Molina. The personal items, such as toys and old LPs on the shelves, really bring the place to life.

If you have a chance, make sure to stop by. There are a limited number of tours every day, and just a couple in English, so it’s worth calling in advance to check on times.

Location on our Map
Casa Museo Montes-Molina – Website

Great Hotels In Merida

Casa-Museo Montes Molina
Casa-Museo Montes Molina
Casa-Museo Montes Molina
Casa-Museo Montes Molina
Casa-Museo Montes Molina
Casa-Museo Montes Molina
Casa-Museo Montes Molina
Casa-Museo Montes Molina
Casa-Museo Montes Molina
Casa-Museo Montes Molina
Casa-Museo Montes Molina
Casa-Museo Montes Molina
Casa-Museo Montes Molina
Casa-Museo Montes Molina
Casa-Museo Montes Molina
Casa-Museo Montes Molina
Casa-Museo Montes Molina
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Casa-Museo Montes Molina
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Casa-Museo Montes Molina
Casa-Museo Montes Molina
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January 29, 2014 at 2:41 pm Comments (0)

The Anthropology Museum in the Palacio Cantón

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Not only is the Palacio Cantón one of the loveliest buildings on Merida’s Paseo de Montejo, but it’s also home to one of the city’s best museums: the Museo Regional de Antropología de Yucatán.

Anthropology Museum in the Palacio Cantón

The palace’s original owner was Francisco Cantón Rosado, one of the most important men in Yucatecan history. Having distinguished himself as a general in the Caste Wars against the Maya, the arch-conservative Cantón earned riches as a railroad baron, and was elected governor of the state. After retiring, he moved into the palace which he had constructed with materials imported from Europe. Decades after his death, the Palacio Cantón was sold to the state and, in 1950, transformed into a museum.

Anthropology Museum in the Palacio Cantón

Having already admired its Beaux-Arts facade, we suspected that that palace’s interior would be stunning, but the Anthropology Museum it hosts was a real surprise. We had recently visited the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, dedicated to the same field, but the Palacio Cantón offered the superior experience. It’s smaller and less comprehensive, to be sure, but the displays are more thoughtfully selected and presented. There’s not as much space, so each piece has to be compelling.

The first floor of the Palacio Cantón is dedicated to the pre-hispanic Maya society, bringing together rare carvings, masks, fabrics and detailed information about their society. Temporary exhibits are presented on the second floor. We saw an excellent collection which fused modern photography with Maya myths, in a way meant to bring the tales to life.

Even if it didn’t host an incredible museum, the palace would be worth visiting just to see its interior. Italian marble, Doric columns, a spiral staircase… the splendor just accentuates the delicious irony in hosting the Anthropology Museum here. What would General Cantón think, after all, if he knew his retirement palace was being used to celebrate the very people he built his career fighting?

Location on our Map

Anthropology Museum in the Palacio Cantón
Anthropology Museum in the Palacio Cantón
Anthropology Museum in the Palacio Cantón
Anthropology Museum in the Palacio Cantón
Anthropology Museum in the Palacio Cantón
Anthropology Museum in the Palacio Cantón
Anthropology Museum in the Palacio Cantón
Anthropology Museum in the Palacio Cantón
Anthropology Museum in the Palacio Cantón
Anthropology Museum in the Palacio Cantón
Anthropology Museum in the Palacio Cantón
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January 28, 2014 at 10:16 pm Comments (2)

Other Sights in Campeche

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We had circled the path of the old fortifications which once protected the city, and taken a trip into the jungles of the interior to visit Maya ruins, but it wasn’t until our final hours in Campeche that we spent much time exploring the city itself.

Campeche Church

Comprising a five-by-eight grid of streets, the center of Campeche hasn’t changed much since the fortifications were erected in the early 1700s. We ambled along the roads, climbing up onto the exaggeratedly-elevated sidewalks when a car would pass by, and directed ourselves to a few of the city’s sights.

First up, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which took nearly two centuries to complete. The baroque facade is impressive, but inside it’s much the same as any cathedral. It does, however, have a small museum full of macabre religious relics, the best of which is a black wood and silver coffin holding a Jesus corpse.

Mansión Carvajal

Nearby the cathedral, we stopped in at the Mansión Carvajal. This baroque residence was built by one of the city’s most important businessmen and is today home to government offices. Visitors are free to wander through, although there’s nothing specific to see here, apart from the interesting architecture.

San Jose Church Campeche

Across town, we sought out the Ex-Temple of San Jose, which is most notable for the lighthouse sticking out of its roof, and for the blue and yellow tiles of its exterior. During our visit, this former Jesuit convent was hosting an exhibit of modern art.

On the southern side of the Plaza Grande, visitors can tour the Centro Cultural Casa 6. This colonial-era home doesn’t have the most inspiring name, but it’s filled with authentic period furniture and does a good job of illuminating how the upper crust of the eighteenth century lived.

We only had a brief taste of Campeche, and were left wanting more. Its cobblestone streets, colorful houses and colonial architecture are hard to dislike. To experience the city at the relaxed pace that it seems to encourage, you’d need at least three or four days. Perhaps even 91.

Locations on our Map: Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception | Mansión Carvajal | Ex-Temple of San Jose | Centro Cultural Casa 6

List of hotels in Campeche

More photos from the Cathedral
Campeche Church
Campeche Church
Campeche Church
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Campeche Church
Campeche Church
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Campeche Church
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Campeche Church
Campeche Church
Campeche Church
Campeche Church
More photos from the Mansión Carvajal
Mansión Carvajal
Mansión Carvajal
Mansión Carvajal
More photos from San Jose
San Jose Church Campeche
San Jose Church Campeche
San Jose Church Campeche
San Jose Church Campeche
More photos from the Centro Cultural Casa 6
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January 26, 2014 at 10:13 pm Comments (0)

The Ramparts and Museums of Campeche

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At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the construction of Campeche’s fortifications rescued the city from the devastation of unrelenting pirate attacks. Three hundred years later, the surviving walls and fortresses have shifted their focus to tourism, and are presently home to the city’s best museums.

Seven of Campeche’s original eight bastions are still standing, and a satisfying tour of the city can be had by simply following their circular path. We started at the Baluarte de Santiago, which today hosts Campeche’s Botanical Garden. A walk about the small and attractive garden requires very little time, and costs next to nothing.

A bit farther west down the coast, we visited the sea-facing Baluarte de la Soledad which is home to the Museo de Arquitectura Maya. Spread across the bottom floor of the old fort, the museum introduces visitors to the basic concepts of Maya architecture. Each stele, or carved stone column, is accompanied by a point-by-point description of all the elements and glyphs, along with their probable meaning, which really helps in understanding the cryptic art of the Maya.

Next up was the Baluarte de San Carlos and the Museo de la Ciudad. With all the pirate attacks, Campeche has had a more colorful history than most cities, and this museum presents some of its more exciting and blood-soaked episodes. While I was in the bowels of the fort, reading up on the exploits of buccaneers and swashbucklers, Jürgen was on the roof snapping pictures of the city.

On the other side of Campeche is the Puerta de Tierra, a bastion which served as the city’s main entry point. Today, it’s most well-known for its light-and-sound show, performed three times a week. We arrived early for a performance, but didn’t know that a ticket was required. And by the time we realized our error, the show was sold out. Frustrating, because it’s supposed to be rather good.

Fuerte de San Miguel

All of these bastions were impressive, but for the best fortress and museum, you have to travel a couple kilometers outside of the city and scale a tall hill to reach the Museo de Cultura Maya inside the Fuerte de San Miguel. From the top of this fortress, you can enjoy an excellent view over the sea and city. The museum is spread out across ten rooms, with exhibits that focus on archaeological finds from around Campeche State, including some priceless pieces like a glowing jade mask in perfect condition.

Cheap Accommodation in Campeche

Locations on our Map: Baluarte de Santiago | Baluarte de la Soledad | Baluarte de San Carlos | Puerta de Tierra | Fuerte de San Miguel

More photos from the Baluarte de Santiago
More photos from the Baluarte de San Carlos
More photos from the Puerta de Tierra
More photos from the Fuerte de San Miguel
Fuerte de San Miguel
Fuerte de San Miguel
Fuerte de San Miguel
Fuerte de San Miguel
Fuerte de San Miguel
Fuerte de San Miguel
Fuerte de San Miguel
Fuerte de San Miguel
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Fuerte de San Miguel
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Fuerte de San Miguel
Fuerte de San Miguel
Fuerte de San Miguel
Fuerte de San Miguel
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Fuerte de San Miguel
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Fuerte de San Miguel
Fuerte de San Miguel
Fuerte de San Miguel
Fuerte de San Miguel
Fuerte de San Miguel
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January 25, 2014 at 6:26 pm Comment (1)

The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya

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The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, found on the nothern outskirts of Mérida, is one of the Yucatán’s largest and most popular new museums. From the glories of the past right up into the modern day, the museum takes visitors on a comprehensive journey through the history of the Yucatán’s original inhabitants.

El Mundo Maya Museum

Aimed to coincide with the famous Maya doomsday prophecies, the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya opened on December 21st, 2012. Not exactly the best timing… why open a museum about the Maya on the same day that worldwide interest in them was set to evaporate? But it doesn’t seem to have mattered, because the place was packed when we visited on a Saturday afternoon, despite the high ticket price and an inconvenient location outside the city.

The museum begins with an exhibition about the living Maya, instead of delving right into their illustrious history. I appreciated this; the word “Maya” conjures almost exclusively the images of an ancient race, but this is very much a modern-day people. By starting with their contemporary faces and an explanation of their current situation, the museum doesn’t allow you to forget that.

With the size of the crowd, it was difficult to experience everything the museum has to offer… the interactive exhibits, such as mapping your birthday to Maya astrology or learning how to count with their vigesimal numeric system, had long lines behind them. And it’s no fun to read detailed accounts of archaeological finds, when the impatient people waiting behind you are sighing.

So we didn’t stay as long as we would have liked, and were rather agitated by the time we left. The lesson, though, isn’t to avoid the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, but to choose a weekday, when the number of other visitors will be manageable. This is the kind of place which warrants at least a couple hours of your time.

Location on our Map

Great Hotels And Haciendas In Mérida

El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
El Mundo Maya Museum
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January 23, 2014 at 7:24 pm Comment (1)

La Música Yucateca

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One of the Yucatán’s defining characteristics is its love of music. From the daily free concerts in the plazas around Mérida, to the Mexican pop blasting out of every tiny shop and the kids walking around with their smartphones on speaker-mode, music is an inescapable fact of life. So we weren’t surprised to find a museum dedicated to Yucatecan music, right in the center of town.

La Música Yucateca

Found near the Plaza de La Mejorada, the Museo de la Canción Yucateca takes visitors on a tour of the peninsula’s musical history. The first room introduces ancient Maya instruments, but the exhibits quickly veer into celebrating the twentieth century artists responsible for bringing a golden age of Yucatecan music. For people such as ourselves, without any prior knowledge of the subject matter, reading the backgrounds of people we’d never heard of wasn’t terribly absorbing. It would be like visiting Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame without knowing Elvis Presley from Little Richard.

We were so quickly finished with the museum that we startled the lady from whom we’d bought tickets. The building and its courtyard are beautiful and the entrance price minimal, so it was a pleasant visit, but not an experience we were thrilled about. However, that didn’t stop us from making a return trip two days later. On a balmy Friday night, the museum was putting on a concert paying homage to the some of the peninsula’s greatest artists.

Now this was the kind of introduction I could get behind. For an hour, the talented lads of El Trio Ensueño took us through a musical crash course of the Yucatán’s most popular artists. Cirilo Baqueiro, Manuel Merodio, Guty Cárdenas … I’ll admit that I’m just copying these names from the program, but I really did love the music. Personal favorites included “Si tu no estás aquí” by Sergio Esquivel and Armando Manzanero’s “Somos novios”, the latter of which might be recognized by fans of Perry Como.

In 1971, Perry Como released an English-language version of “Somos novios” called “It’s Impossible”. Naturally, Mr. Manzanero’s permission hadn’t been sought, nor was he offered any compensation. Como and his studio simply translated the song into English, turned it into a massive hit, and even picked up a Grammy for their troubles. It was as open-and-shut a case of copyright theft as has ever existed, but a shameless US court ruled against the Mexican.

Now that I know some of the songs and artists, I’d probably be more receptive to the exhibits inside the Museo de la Canción Yucateca. But regardless of your knowledge of the peninsula’s music, don’t miss out if you happen to be in Mérida while the museum is putting on a show. You don’t need to know the names of the songs to enjoy their rhythms.

Location on our Map

Our Photos In High Resolution

La Música Yucateca
La Música Yucateca
La Música Yucateca
La Música Yucateca
La Música Yucateca
La Música Yucateca
La Música Yucateca
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January 23, 2014 at 5:57 pm Comments (0)

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The Railway Museum of Mrida Once upon a time, the Yucatán had a popular and far-reaching network of passenger locomotives. Today, most of the train stations scattered across the peninsula are little more than ruins. Mérida's, however, has been converted into a museum dedicated to the machines that once chugged through the jungles.
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