It was my first night in Mérida, and I eventually convinced myself that even if I’m not hungry then I should at least venture out in search of food, if only for the adventure.
Walking through the humid evening, I pass a couple of bars that look like they’re frequented by locals — but I’m after food rather than a drink. And I have a destination in mind.
The Mérida streets are busy, filled with people coming home from work, and as I pass through the busy downtown streets with department stores I could really be anywhere.
I try not to use my phone too obviously in public. It’s not flashy or expensive, so nobody would see it and think I’m rich, but I also don’t want to stand out and look like I don’t know where I’m going. Luckily, Mérida’s streets seem to be a tightly organised gird.
As I pass one corner, a random guy tries to get my attention. ¿Cómo está? I ignore him. He tries again in English, and gets nothing more from me than a brief glance. There is nothing he could say to me that I’d want to know, other than maybe your shorts are about to fall down.
This is not the restaurant you are looking for
I don’t know if I find the restaurant I’m looking for, as right about where it should be a small group of are standing. Apparently, in the evening, various women take to the streets to sell brightly coloured fabrics and blankets.
Instead, I keep walking and guess I must have missed the place. Thanks to Mérida’s grids, I am able to navigate back to a different restaurant I’d seen.
As I’m greeted at the entrance, I use my very best Spanish yo quiero una mesa para uno, por favor. The waiter seemed surprised that I was dining alone. I have no friends, I told him in English, and I don’t think he understood.
I was able to negotiate ordering some water, even if I wasn’t clear what the waiter was asking. Perhaps with surprise and disappointment he was asking no beer? nothing stronger? I then ordered Mayan chicken fajitas.
To their credit, two separate waiters warned me that the skillet was hot when it out. I like to think that even if it hadn’t been visibly sizzling, I’d have got the gist — I know the word caliente.
The food was good, and among the accoutrement were two small bowls of unidentifiable liquids. I tried using both in my first fajita. That was a mistake. With the next, I avoided them both and used only lime juice and beans.
Having established the spiciness wasn’t in the chicken and was in the liquids I’d used so liberally, I resolved to just alternate between them, despite being no clearer what these salsas were.
With the meal finished, I asked for the bill. Maybe I was unclear, or didn’t speak loudly enough, and the waiter asked me if I wanted postres. The word was familiar but I didn’t immediately remember what it was, so just told him, sure, yeah, that. I figured that was probably the word I was looking for.
It felt like the waiter was gone for a while, and in the time he was gone I remembered that the word meant dessert. It still seemed like a long time to be finding a dessert menu, when the restaurant was fairly quiet.
At one point, a waitress stopped by the table to ask me something. After struggling to grasp what, I had to tell her no entiendo. ¿no español? She asked me. Hablo un poco, I replied. I still have no idea what I was being asked.
Instead of a menu, when my waiter returned it was to present me with four fresh desserts to choose from. I hoped that I hadn’t accidentally agreed to eat all four — but luckily they seemed satisfied with me just choosing one.