Cholul: Go for the 16th century church, stay for the roast chicken:
Cholul is the roast chicken mecca of Merida. Just as London would vanish each evening beneath the coal smoke of tea time fires, every afternoon Cholul, once a vast sisal hacienda, now devolved into a small town, five minutes north of downtown Merida, is awash in a succulent barbecue fugue. Every house sells roast chicken.
In our rented and plucky 1990 Nissan Sentra, we rocked through mud puddles into town behind a glossy Mercedes from Mexico City. In parade, we made our grand entrance by going the wrong way round the shady church square. Ludicrously, both the Mercedes and we, after passing the second one-way sign and two police officers leaning on their car, we realized our mistake simultaneously, slammed on our brakes, then stepped on the gas in unison veering out the first side street. Luckily, city-slickers who couldn't read street signs were so common they elicited no great surprise, and the shady square was quiet, ringed with, on one side, a venerable colonial building fronted by a stone cloister facing the 16th C. church, which is now chained shut, but handsomely built if moldy. We only glimpsed a blur of the other sides, escaping in shame as we were, where there were the equivalent of the Family Dollar, a grocer's, and a pawn shop. Interestingly, very different than Mexico's southwest, the Yucatan is full of pawn shops.
The square was empty except that, round the battered flanks of the old church, a fair was being set up for the evening, and truly piratical-looking people, whole families, were uncrating the rusting go-carts and stopping to eye us appraisingly and picking their teeth with the crow bars.
The little street down which we fled was lined with the tidy, concrete, flat-topped houses of modern Yucatan: like Kleenex boxes in magenta, teal, and aqua, a concreted yard relieved by a mat of bermuda grass, and possibly a palm or hibiscus and a concrete lion. Propped on the gate post at each house was a hand-written"Pollo Asado" sign, which was extraneous since smoke billowed from every car-port or undershirted dads stood in driveways wielding spatualas, turning dripping spits of skewered birds. This was a horror for us who are incapable of making even the smallest decision. We circled and bickered, "Do you like this one?" "No. You said you like that one." "He thinks we're stopping." "Honey, which one do you like?!" "Just choose!" until we were faint with hunger, embarrassed go around the square again, and afraid of the piratical circus families, we stopped at a house from which Nortena music thumped and a young brother and sister team in the concrete car port, manned the grill and the volume knob. She turned the birds and mopped them with sauce and took orders. The woman ahead of us, lived down the street, and had called her order ahead and waddled away lugging four grocery bags of steaming loot. We ordered two chicken halves and paid $40 pesos. The boy flung smoking poulty onto a splintered block, hacked it expertly into four chunks, piled them into a styrofoam box along with a knotted and swollen baggie of chipotle salsa, another of vinegary cole slaw, and, inexplicably, a sack of spaghetti. Maybe this jaunty pasta was pitched to a more global demographic.
In the little car, we ate on our laps with no utensils sloshing chipotle like ox blood right from the sack onto the luscious, tender birds charred to a barbaric crunch, pinching cole slaw from the bag to top the chicken with a cool tang to foil the smoky chipotle, we sucked our fingers and gnawed the bone knobs gazing at the church and the pirates. Only I ventured into the body-temperature spaghetti which was tomatoey and sweet. Returning to Merida to hand in the car, Jorge, the Avis rental car guy said, "Sure. Cholul for roast chicken all week, but on Sunday, everyone in Merida goes to Cholul for roast pork. It's a tradition. Tomorrow you should go." But we would be gone. For that, I was sorry to leave Merida.