Pok ta Pok in the Plaza



Living in Mérida we have been a little overwhelmed by how much there is to see and do. There is a free cultural or family activity every day of the week, but the one that was at the top of our list was the ceremonial ball game played by the ancient Mayans, Pok ta Pok. The city offers visitors and locals alike a chance to see the game played every Friday night, and we couldn’t wait to experience a game in person.

Hero Twins

Before going, we brushed up on our Pok ta Pok mythology by reading the excellent graphic novel The Hero Twins: Against the Lords of Death: a Mayan Myth. It retells the legend of the Mayan hero twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque and their journey into the underworld to play Pok ta Pok against the Lords of the Underworld. This is a very accessible adaption of one of the greatest work of indigenous American literature, the Popol Vuh.


Instead of the more traditional ball court we saw at Palenque, this game takes place right in the middle of Calle 60, closed off to traffic for the evening. The event starts with Mayan rituals of prayer and incense. Then, the game itself is pretty intense: using their hips and legs, each team tries to hit the ball past the other team. For especially skillful shots, players aim to send the ball through an elevated hoop. The players definitely had no easy task, flinging themselves onto the street with only leather pads to protect their hips and legs.


The large ball is traditionally made from rubber, and we enjoyed watching the players skillfully bounce it into the air and at one another. For the final match, though, the players parted with tradition and brought in a whole new ball. We watched in awe as they lit the ball on fire and used hockey sticks instead of their bodies to play the game. The players didn’t seem to noticeably hold back, and many definitely ran through a sea of sparks and dodged the ball as it came quite close to their bodies. At the end of the match, the players received a well earned round of applause and all the Fives’ respect. Without a doubt, this was an experience we will be talking about for a long time.


Fives’ Facts about Pok ta Pok in Mérida
When and Where:
Pok ta Pok is held every Friday at 8:00 PM in the main plaza, in front of the Cathedral (Calle 60 between 61 and 63).
No Tickets Needed: Just show up and enjoy the free show.
* Get There Early: About half of the seats are occupied by 7:00. If you get there later than 7:30, finding a seat might be very difficult.
Vendors Galore: Many food vendors make their rounds through the stands, so you can enjoy some peanuts, popcorn, and other treats without leaving your seat.
* Enjoy the Parks After the Show: Mérida’s parks are a treat to visit at night. They are very safe, and the evening coolness is wonderful. The playgrounds are too hot to use by day (at least for us), but on a Friday night they are ideal.

When It’s Too Hot for Oatmeal…There’s Mérida Muesli

We are an oatmeal family. Just about every morning, we grind up oats and make an oatmeal on the stove top. However, during the summertime, especially here in the heat and humidity of Mérida, oatmeal doesn’t always seem so appealing. Five Spice tinkered with a few different creations to come up with a refreshing solution: Mérida Muesli.

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The Recipe

4 cups oats, slightly processed in a food processor
1/2 cup toasted amaranth
3/4 cups almonds and pecans, processed
1/4 cup ground coconut
1/4 cup chopped dried cranberries
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds, processed
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, processed
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup sweeter (we use a mix of agave and piloncillo syrups)
3 tablespoons coconut oil

Mix all the dry ingrendients together, then stir in the wet ingredients.
Thinly spread the muesli onto a greased baking sheet.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 325 degrees, stirring half way through.
Note: We process many of the ingredients in the food processor to make it more kid-friendly. Skipping the processing can make a heartier muesli more appealing to adults.

 ¡Buen provecho!

But No Elephants: A Day at Mérida’s Centennial Park


From tigers to train rides, playgrounds to paddle boats, Mérida’s Centennial Park (located at the corner of Calle 59 and Avenida Itzaes) is an outstanding family-friendly experience for those traveling on a budget. And that is saying something for a city like Mérida, which is known for its wealth of free cultural events and recreational activities for families with children.

Centennial Park really has it all. It is best known for the zoo located within (free admission), with a variety of birds, monkeys, reptiles, and large cats, but to Grandma Tildy’s relief, no elephants. We tend to avoid zoos, but the chance to observe some of the Yucatan’s native animals close up was too tempting an opportunity to pass up. The zoo, though, is only a small part of what Centennial Park has to offer. The rest of the park is made up of a large playground, picnic areas, several ponds where families can rent boats, a bike path, and plenty of vendors and equipment to rent (such as bikes). The biggest attraction (after the animals) is the popular train that runs around the whole park. The line at the “train station” can get pretty long, but it is a great opportunity to relax and take in all the park’s sights.

Fives’ Facts about Centennial Park
The park opened in 1910 as a place for the public to enjoy trees native to the region.
* The train started running in 1962.
* The Century Tree (Arbol del Centenario) was planted in 1910 and still thrives to this day (despite being blown over in a hurricane).
* The park hours are 6:00 AM – 6:00 PM, Tuesday through Sunday.
* The park is closed on Mondays and on some holidays.



The Garden of Vegan Delights


All dressed up for our big night on the town.

We Fives are pretty spoiled. Traveling around the world, we always have an amazing cook and travel companion right there at our side, creating amazing vegan dishes and baked goods with an unpredictable supply of ingredients and cooking appliances. To her credit, Five Spice has made some of our favorite dishes in the most unforgiving of circumstances; St. Anthony Sliders came from having only chick peas to work with as a protein in Northern Newfoundland and Microwave Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies arose from having no oven to bake with in San Cristóbal de las Casas. The only disadvantage of her great cooking (if there is one) is that visiting restaurants can be somewhat disappointing. No matter how good the food is, we usually end up concluding that we have just spent extra money on something Five Spice has already made or could make at home. Much to our delight though, we have just found an amazing restaurant here in Mérida that provides an incredible dining experience worth every peso.


This unassuming entrance (on Calle 55 between Calle 64 and 66) is home to the best restaurant in Merida (#1 on TripAdvisor) and our new favorite place to dine.


The lush courtyard opens up to an ideal spot for relaxed dining: a patio garden surrounding an inviting swimming pool.

 Lo Que Hay Cafe is unlike any restaurant we’ve had the pleasure to encounter in our two years of travel. It came onto our radar through TripAdvisor, where it is #1 out of over 340 restaurants in Mérida (not too shabby for a restaurant that has an entirely plant-based menu). Intrigued, we knew we had to check out Lo Que Hay Cafe for ourselves. We were surprised to learn they have a different fixed menu each night highlighting a certain country’s cuisine (check out their Facebook page for the current offering). We worried a little about how the kids would do with not being able to order their own particular dish, but the fact that we went on a Friday when they had two different options (Indian and Mexican in our case) convinced us the kids would have enough to choose from.


The view from our table.


Five of Hearts savoring every bite of her favorite food, tacos and guacamole.

DSC04479-picsayFrom the moment we rang the bell at the street entrance, a truly magical evening unfolded. After ensuring the kids would be okay with the menu format (no special orders or kid’s menu), the host led us through a beautiful courtyard to a lovely patio, open to the evening sky and surrounded by fruit trees. We took a table a little removed from everyone else and settled in as the waiter brought us the night’s themed beverage, a refreshing cardamom drink over ice. We soon ordered, and within minutes the first courses arrived (a corn, ginger, and coconut cream soup from the Indian menu and a vegan ceviche from the Mexican menu). We were astonished at how quickly the food arrived (definitely a big plus when dining with hungry kids), but our astonishment did not stop there. Our waiter struck an amazing balance between keeping the dishes coming out, without ever being intrusive or making us feel pressured. The food was truly out of this world, expertly prepared by chef Cecilia Loría Mafud. Left to our own leisurely pace, we ended up spending hours enjoying the amazing cuisine in the wonderfully relaxing environment.


Enjoying some family book time by the last rays of daylight (we find packing books is always a good idea wherever we go).

Our time at Lo Que Hay Cafe could not have been more perfect. It gave the Younger Fives a chance to try out some new dishes and the Older Fives a chance to relax and unwind (which doesn’t happen too often during mealtime, at least in our house). We were treated to some great conversation with the restaurant’s owner, who spent quite a bit of time at our table asking about our travels and telling the story of how the restaurant came to be. And, as with any meal, the perfect ending was dessert, a mango sorbet made with the fruit of the 100-year-old tree growing right in the patio. As the evening came to a close and we said our goodbyes to the fantastic staff, it was Five Ball who put it best; he turned to the owner and exclaimed, “This is the best restaurant I’ve ever been to!”

And the Winner Is…


While millions around the world were tuning into the World Cup Finals, we also had our eyes set on a second epic contest: which Five would win the Making Our Picks Challenge? Five Ball was in the lead after group play, and he only pulled away more in the second round. He even picked the eventual winner of the World Cup, Germany!


Five Ball has some big plans for his Amazon money, including renting the Lego Movie and buying an Avatar graphic novel for Kindle. We all congratulate him on his great picks, and the rest of us take comfort that we also have some Amazon money of our own (albeit less) to spend. For those of you keeping score at home, this is how the final results panned out (each match in the entire tournament was worth 1 point, with the final being worth 3 points).

1. Five Ball (39 points)
2. Five of Hearts (30 points)
3. Tie between High Five and Five String (29 points each)
5. Five Spice (27 points)