Street in Mérida’s historic colonial center

By Andrea Pauw ’13

“Es un calor que nunca has sentido,” (“It’s a heat you’ve never felt before”), our co-worker explained to us, the four Davidson Impact Fellows working in Mérida, Yucatán. This was the first description of Mérida’s heat I heard from someone native to this tropical city. “Es un calor que nunca has sentido.” Indeed, this powerful combination of humidity and direct sunrays produces an enervating heat that I had never experienced. Since my main form of transportation is walking, I’ve become quite familiar with Mérida’s weather: a mix of suffocating humidity, sudden downpours in which using an umbrella is more cumbersome than helpful, and gentle dusks punctuated by the humming of mosquitos and muffled radios.

Indeed, navigating Yucatán’s capital city for the past two months represents a significant part of my experience as a Davidson Impact Fellow. Along with Mel, Whitley, and Andrea B., I’ve traversed many colonial streets, applied copious amounts of sunscreen, and been drenched by the ubiquitous afternoon storms. For me, these daily adventures are at once cathartic and challenging—a constant reminder of the foreignness of my life after Davidson and also a way of working through this transition into the “real world.” For instance, one thing I’ve come to appreciate more since living in Mérida is walking—not rushing or hurrying, but rather the simple pleasure of strolling comfortably and observing, thinking, and smiling at others who pass by. After about 5 pm when the sun is not so strong, walking around the city is the perfect time to reflect on the workday and be mindful of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes: the friendly hello from an old man who repairs bikes on Calle 47, the enticing aroma of a pastry shop, the heavy huffing of combi bus engines, the grin from a fellow pedestrian caught in a rainstorm, the unique taste of refreshing maméy fruit sorbet sold in the Plaza Grande, and passing snippets of rapid Spanish all form the backdrop of my days in Mérida.


Sunset during an evening stroll

Paying attention to these sensory details while meandering around the city gives me a newfound gratitude for walking and J.R.R. Tolkien’s words, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Sometimes this quote is more applicable than not (since figuring out the convoluted public transportation system has yet to be accomplished), but in general my wandering provides me with time to grapple with the challenges of living abroad and the transition into life after college. The tranquil evenings in Mérida instill a sense of patience and peace in me that I experience through snapshots of Yucatan daily life—comfortable reminders of normalcy amidst the strangeness and unfamiliarity of a new city, new job, and new stage of life. The slow calmness of wandering Mérida contrasts with the fast changes and urgency it’s easy to feel in wanting to figure everything out: the desire to improve my language skills, make headway in work projects, and finding a comfortable routine. What I’ve come to realize is that navigating this uncharted territory is done best without hurry and worry—giving ample time to notice the ever-present moments of peace and calm in Mérida, even in the heat.