Casa Del Maya B&B

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The View From There - Chapter 24

Chapter 24


Steve has known Rick since their seminary days.  Don’t try cleaning your ears, I said SEMINARY.
Whereas Steve decided there was no future for him in the Baptist Church – professionally, at least- Rick stayed on and earned his Ph.D.  There have been many years when we have not communicated with Rick, but when we do we just pick up right where we left off.  Rick is a professor at a small, private college in Kentucky, so his proximity to Louisville, my hometown and where Steve also lived for a while, has been the impetus for us to get together over the years.
While we were staying with our friend, Diana, in Chicago, Steve wrote Rick to catch up.  Rick wrote back that he envied our “adventure” (we just saw it as a failure – Rick always sees the positive side of things) and that he had a great suggestion for us that he would talk about when we got together.
So we got together.
Steve and I drove to see Rick and at dinner he said that the college had a program and campus in the town of Mérida, in Mexico on the Yucatan peninsula.  Seems Rick had run the program two different years, so he was pretty well versed on the town. Rick highly recommended the city as a great place to live; he missed living there, himself.
Mexico?  Really??  MEXICO???
We had been studying many exotic locales: Hawaii, several islands in the Caribbean, countries in South America, such as Ecuador, and many warm climes in the U.S.  I certainly did not see Mexico as a viable choice.  I mean, people go there to lose their heads, right?
A look at some websites about Mérida and the Yucatan touted many positive aspects of the peninsula.  There were beaches, cenotes (what’s a cenote?), Mayan ruins (what’s a Mayan and why do they live in ruins?), a growing economy, tourism (so they said), and a quality of life that was said to be healthier and happier. 
Steve and I had made a checklist of what we wanted our next B&B attempt to have:  a warm climate (Mérida, check), a good economy (check), a growing tourism industry (check), affordable (double-check), a government more welcoming to entrepreneurs (check), an international airport, good healthcare, excellent educational opportunities (check, check, check), plenty of culture and a local population who would be glad to see us arrive.
On paper – or on the Internet I guess I should say- Mérida was right on target.  In fact, we were hard-pressed to check off even half the number of our “wants” when we looked at other places around the world, and I’m not certain we quite believed all the great things we were hearing about Mérida.  But it begged a visit, at the very least, so when Rick offered to accompany us on a week-long investigative trip to the colonial town, we all made plans to fly to the Yucatan and give it a once-over.
We all arrived in Mérida the second week of January, 2012.  Steve had made reservations at a few B&Bs in town.  We wanted to experience as many of the existing accommodation venues as possible so as to see what was available and also to help form our idea of what a great B&B should be.
The first place at which we stayed had been open in Mérida for 20 years.  The owners have run the place the entire 20 years and are beginning to look towards retirement.  20 years in the B&B business is like 150 human years; statistically, most B&B operators suffer burnout in 5.  Each of the 8 rooms at this place are decorated in an old-world style, highlighting a famous Mexican artist.  Staircases wind their way up and around to the various rooms, and until you learn the layout you get lost exploring the many nooks and crannies.  We stayed in a room on the ground floor dedicated to the very famous and much loved Frida Kahlo.  There was a double bed with a single bed in a loft overhead.  It was a bit dark for our taste, but interesting.  It showed its age; we stayed three nights. 
The owner is a real character, what we used to call a “Key West character”, and at breakfast one morning we learned that he had actually lived in Key West many years ago.
The second night in town we ate at a very popular restaurant.  Expats, particularly, love it.  We each ordered our own plates, of course, and when Rick offered a taste of his crabcakes, Steve took him up on it.  I did not.  As we were going out the door after our meal, both Steve and Rick were complaining of an oily taste in their mouths.  I did not.  On the way back to our room, the oily tastes in their mouths moved southward and they mentioned a bloated feeling in their stomachs.  I did... yeah, okay, I was spared. 
About 2:00 AM in the morning, I awoke to hear Steve in the bathroom, obviously in distress.  His entire gastrointestinal system had been compromised.  From the loft I heard Rick ask if Steve was sick.
“Yeah, sounds like something is definitely disagreeing with him”, I said.
“Me, too.”
By morning both Steve and Rick were in deep trouble, and without being too graphic, suffice it to say their new best friend was a gleaming porcelain entity that never fails to offer us all comfort in times of distress. 
Everybody sing!:  
“When I find myself in times of trouble,
Porcelain Fairy comfort me,
Seeking stomach freedom
Let me be.”
Fortunately the B&B owners had a doctor in their Rolodex who makes housecalls. (If you know what a Rolodex is we can be great friends.) 
Dr. Castro arrived to our room in less than 30 minutes, quickly and assuredly diagnosed the problem, went to the pharmacy, and returned with antibiotic shots for both our suffering hombres.  This was another check on our list – a doctor who makes house calls.  How great is that?!  Nevertheless, we all spent the next two days cooped up in our room, and even moved to our second B&B on the third day.  Steve and Rick were still recovering when we checked into Los Arcos B&B. We love Los Arcos, and David is a great guy and very talented artist.  He has only three rooms, but he is always full as he knows how to treat guests.  All guests gathered for breakfast each morning at his dining table.  We enjoyed it, but thought that we would probably offer separate tables for guests; that way they can join in the conversation or keep to themselves.
When the guys finally recovered from their bouts, I was chomping at the bit to get out and see Mérida.  And see Mérida, we did.  We walked and walked that town, which I loved.  One of my favorite things in the world to do is walk and hike.  Steve, too.  Whenever we travel we look for hiking opportunities.
We got a fairly good sense of the layout of the town and liked what we saw very much.  Beautiful parks every few blocks with cocina economicas (inexpensive kitchen), fruit and vegetable markets, museums both large and small, historic and modern, restaurants to appease all tastes and preferences, all kinds of Mom and Pop stores selling everything from hardware and paint to appliance parts, piňatas, paper goods, electronics, furniture, candy, food – in short, everything one would require on a daily basis for life in a colonial city. 

At breakfast the next morning our host, David, hooked us up with his friend and realtor, Jim.  Jim showed us several properties that were very interesting.  However, none of them spoke to us that they could be our B&B. 
From Los Arcos we next moved to Medio Mundo, another great B&B in Mérida.  We enjoyed their use of color on the property and knew that was the direction we wanted to go, should we be able to open our own place.  The owners have run this B&B for about 12 years, and it was beginning to show.  We didn’t see much of them.  However, they run a very nice place: clean, comfortable, inviting, with a good staff and a continental breakfast that, if not completely filling, sufficed until lunch.  However, this is where we decided that at our B&B we would offer a full breakfast to our guests and start them on their day ready for anything.
Another thing we liked about Medio Mundo is their gift shop.  They have items from all over Latin America, which is a nice idea and one that we definitely want to include in our own venture.

Our week was over in a flash, but we felt we had a good idea of the city.  On our last day walking around town, Rick asked where we might like to eat dinner.  Since we were so new to the city, we had been letting Rick guide us and make most of these kinds of decisions.  But now he seemed at odds about it.  He stopped and said something about us not liking Mérida and that he was sorry it didn’t work out.
Didn’t work out?  We loved Mérida.
I guess we were so focused on discovering the town that we hadn’t been very animated about it all.  Rick had interpreted our focus and concentration as dislike of the city. 
But we liked just about everything we saw, heard, and did, and had already decided that Mérida would be our next attempt at a B&B.
Back in Chicago we made plans to return to Mérida in March to see if we could find a property that would suit our needs.  We met with Jim again, and he showed us a lot of properties – probably 15 – 20 – I lost count.  After Jim showed them to us in the mornings, we spent the afternoons walking from the Zocalo to each one.  But, still, none of them fit the bill.  One was too far from the Zocalo, another too small to have 6 guestrooms (the minimum number of rooms we had decided upon), some would cost too much to renovate, some flooded during rainy season, some too expensive, etc., etc., etc.  We could tell Jim was a bit frustrated with our rejection of every property and probably thought we were not serious buyers.  But if this was going to be the place we spent the rest of our working lives, it had to be right.  I guess it was too much to walk into the first property and fall in love, like we had in Italy.
On the last day we again saw a few properties and again they were not right.  The last property of the day was in Santa Ana.  We were walking to the property from the car when we ran into the property’s owner.  Jim told him we were about to look at his house.  But the man said the house already had been sold and the realtor had neglected to remove the listing from the website.  We were a bit depressed and started to form plans to return to Mérida again in a few months to look at properties.  But that would prolong our feeling of being in life-limbo.
Then the owner of the house that was already sold said he had another property for sale.  It was just around the corner and he said he had just lowered the price.
Jim looked at us and said we had to see it.  He knew the property, but had forgotten it was for sale as it was not listed on all the real estate websites; it was only listed on the website of the real estate company that the owner worked with.  So the man took us to the property.  It was in Santa Ana, three blocks from the park and four from Paseo de Montejo. 
The front of the place was not very special – just a double door and a window.  Through the front door we entered into the living room.  It was a dull grey color, with grey pasta tiles that had probably been laid in the 1970’s, judging from their pattern.
There was a staircase to the right that led to a second floor, we surmised.  Beyond the living room were a small kitchen on the left that led to the back door, and a dining room on the right that led to another room beyond.  That room was being used as another living room and there was beautiful, old pasta tiles on the floor.  They were probably as old as the house – maybe 100 years.  It had a bathroom off it that was shared with a bedroom beyond.  You could pass from the second living room to the bedroom by crossing through the bathroom.  The bedroom had bright pink past tiles on the floor.  Could we work with these?  There were also two exterior doors to both these rooms off a small vestibule outside.
Beyond the back kitchen door ran a long walkway next to the living room and bedroom to the right.  Beyond that was a patio and then a small garden.  An old cement above-ground cistern was located on the right side, and a small laundry room past that.  The rest of the yard was dirt, save for two medium-size trees and a small square of plantings – mostly succulents. 
The property was narrow – just 7 meters in the front, and narrowed to just under 6 in the rear, but it was long: 69 meters.
The second floor had one large room and a terrace overlooking the street.  There was a very small bath, but we immediately felt we could live in that room, if we had to.
Well, Steve and I both got that excited feeling we had had with Coppo 7.  We felt the property was about as good as we were going to get for the price.  We felt we could afford to renovate it into 6 rooms: the two existing rooms on either side of the first-floor bathroom.  With a little creativity on Steve’s part, we could manage to build four more rooms and put in our requisite pool.
As we had with the other properties we had seen, we again walked from the Zocalo to the house on Calle 66.  Some of the routes weren’t the greatest of walks, but if we guided our guests three blocks up Calle 47 to Calle 60, then they would arrive at the perfect place to either turn right and head South to the Zocalo, cross the street to Santa Ana park, or walk one more block to Paseo de Montejo with its mansions, museums, and monuments.
The street the house sat on is a mix of old and new, pretty much like the rest of Mérida Centro.  Every other property seems to be in the process of renovation.  Three had already been renovated and another was in the process of a first-class upgrade.  Seemed like a great place to locate a business.  Plus, cross the street and you can hop a bus down to Centro and the main market for 6 pesos (A bus ride has since risen to an outrageous 7 pesos).
We snapped photo after photo of the place, made drawings, and already made plans in our minds for renovations.  Suffice it to say we liked the place.
      As all realtors like to do, Jim told us there was another offer coming in on the property and that if we didn’t “jump on it” we would lose it.  Well, we don’t pay any attention to that kind of stuff, but we had already decided that this was the property for us, so we wrote a contract that afternoon.
The owner accepted the offer and we made plans to close by proxy from Chicago.
And so in three short months we had gone from homeless, living off the kindness of our good friend, Diana, to budding B&B owners.  All we had to do was more than double the living space on the property, squeeze in a pool and breakfast terrace, and include a laundry and maintenance space. 
That next phase would prove to be the most challenging, yet. 

Front of house
Living room and stairs leading to second floor
Dining room with second living room beyond
Second living room 
Walkway out back door
First-floor bedroom

Cistern and laundry building

Back Yard

Second-floor room

Second living room

Dining room


  1. You sure chose well! I love your location, in particular your block, which has so many nice houses .. and Bistro Cultural plus Dilan Coffee, so close. The depth of the property is great, too, because you're practically living in a jungle paradise with birds and flowers all around. I can't believe this evolved so quickly!

  2. You know, we can't believe it's been 2 years already. And we love our block, as well. When the renovation across the street is completed, that whole side of the block will be done. Merida keeps getting better and better.