Even on Vacation

Photo by Bazaart Arte & Galeria.

I still have dirt under my fingernails from gardening in Mérida, Mexico.

On New Year’s Eve, I rang in 2019 at a small party. The host, Laura, gushed about her upcoming trip to the Yucatán. “Roseann and Douglas have a spare room at their Airbnb,” she shared. “You should come!” Frozen rain spit on my windshield as I drove back to my apartment. I decided – creo que , I need to chase summer. New Year’s Day, I purchased my first plane ticket in nine years.

Laura and I poured over pictures of the Airbnb. “Us … here?!” We couldn’t believe it. The U.S. Dollar goes a long way in Mexico, to a restored vacation rental in the historic center of La Ciudad de la Paz, the City of Peace.

Airbnb in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico
Our Airbnb in Mérida where the locals are restoring their heritage and architecture.

The night before our flight from frigid Newark to sunny Mérida was a New Moon. When I, at last, hovered above the Gulf of Mexico, only a few stars dotted the sky. Yet below, a line of light came into view – la luz of the longest pier in the world, at Progreso Beach.

Moving forward, our aircraft descended into the glow of Mérida, my new home for the next two weeks.

We welcomed a warm breeze through the car windows. A blur of street bulbs and billboards passed us by. Roseann guided me to my suite. The bedroom door opened up to the courtyard, the bathroom to the pool in the open-air common area.

planting bourganvilla in merida mexico
Prolific bougainvillea pours over this wall.

Mid-morning, I unlocked the windows and revealed the most prolific bougainvillea bush I have ever seen. Hot pink, prancing through the courtyard of palm trees and dracaena. Este era el cielo. This was heaven.

As the four of us gathered by the pool, it became clear that I had little to no plans for this trip. Fortunately, Roseann and Douglas know the lay of the land. Our religion, Baha’i, has a center nearby with a garden that needs a lot of love.

A garden nursery is just a few blocks away – Lucio’s Vivero. Perfecto! While the Baha’i Center prepared for their Friday night dinner, the moon smiled upon us, a Waxing Crescent, and I daydreamed of planting an herb garden so that we could cook with fresh basil.

I also studied conversation starters in Spanish (Cuál es el nombre de esta planta? Necesita sol o sombra?) and certain plant names to speak of at the Nursery:

  • Basil / Albahaca
  • Parsley / Perejil
  • Lavender / Lavanda
  • Rue / Ruda
  • Rosemary / Romero
  • Mint / Hierbabuena (literally “a good herb”)

Kicking dust and brushing my fingers along the pastel painted doorways, I found the Vivero tucked on the corner of an urban street.

Lucio's Vivero in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico
Angela at Lucio’s Vivero in Mérida, Mexico.

Scents of lemon, lime, and orange trees filled the space. I kneel to smell a cluster of lavender bushes and behind me are what I know to be house plants – poinsettia for Christmas, peace lilies, and pothos vines. In Pennsylvania, we maintain them on our window sills, yet here in Mexico, they run free. Even snake plants, aloe, agave, and henequen (more on that later) run wild.

A woman named Angela poked her head out from the greenhouse, entertained all my questions and shared that she, too, has a garden and a cat. For the first time on this trip, I comfortably held a conversation in Spanish. Funny, “plant people” just get each other, despite cultural and language barriers. Zones knew no boundaries in this scenario.

Orchid vine in Yucatan
An orchid vine!

She explained that the native herb “epazote” aids in digestion, and I recognize it as the garnish on one of my recent dinners. Among the basil, parsley, lavender, rue, and mint … this epazote and a pink Corona de Cristo were additions to my repertoire. I even discovered an orchid vine (!).

Just as I would at home, I picked up pot after pot, hierba after hierba, joking that I want to buy it all, “Quiero comprarlo todo!”

Usually my first plant shopping spree of the year wouldn’t happen until April, maybe even later after the frost. But here, in Merida, my spring started in February.

The night of the Baha’i dinner, I showed up with a cardboard box of plants. Shoreh, our amazing cook, made a Persian eggplant-zucchini dish with rice and bottom-of-the-pan potatoes, tadigh. A few of the herbs found their way into the fruit salad for dessert, and I realized my fantasy of gardening by moonlight.

Under the Waxing Gibbous Moon, a little boy bounced around the garden’s borders and played in the dirt, and his sister wandered through the space seeking purpose. I ticked at the ground with a pickaxe … tink, tink, tink. Soon, I collected enough rocks and tiles to possibly make a new patio floor.

Garden at Baha'i Centro in Merida, Mexico
Arriving at Centro Baha’i with herbs and a new flower friend.

This niño and niña noticed I was having more fun than they were. He stopped banging a shovel on the concrete and chose to hold a light by my side. I encouraged him, “La luz es muy importante, muchas gracias” as she crouched near and tossed the rocks into the proper pile.

We dug the last hole together, for the rosemary. They settled the root ball and we took a step back to admire our creation. I imagine these kids will proudly pick herbs for many dinners to come.

This bit of the garden was meant as a gift for the Baha’i Center, yet it was also a gift for me to garden in the dead of winter.

baha'i centro in merida mexico
Centro Baha’i in Mérida, Mexico.

Overwhelmed with gratitude and the realization that my time in paradise was coming to an end, I caught the gardening bug again … and scooped up many more plants at the same nursery:

  • Salvia
  • Dracena
  • Chifleras
  • Coleus / Coleo
  • Caladium / Caladio
  • Vinca / Vicarias
  • Pink Poinsettia / Nochebuena
  • Pothos Vine / Pothos Hiedra
  • Orange Tulipan, which is in the genus of Hibiscus, but reminds me more of a dinnerplate dahlia.
dracena, coleus, vinca, and caladium in the yucatan
A ceramic planter of dracena, coleus, and vinca.

Lucio made a good point: “Are you going to need a delivery?”

On my last day, a tour group came to the door and offered a ride to Chichen Itza and I politely declined. Even on vacation, I garden. Potting flowers that would otherwise be dead or dormant at home, I created a temporary sanctuary for me, and what I hope is an ever-growing place of peace for the people of Mérida. Esa noche, the Full Moon of February beamed on all the Wonders of the World, including ours.

For the prelude to another gardening adventure in Montreal, check out Reclaim the Sky: How Flying and Gardening Help Me Stay Grounded.


9 thoughts on “Even on Vacation

  1. Enjoyed reading this article very much ❤ We are all travelers in this school of Life, and you know how to travel dear Sienna Mae!


  2. Oh Sienna, you described perfectly our special odyssey. It was definitely a piece of paradise here on Earth. What a joy it is to relive our exquisite moments. Thank you for our experience together and for your blessed gift of writing.


  3. Dearest Sienna,
    I so very much enjoy your writings, your writings always me feel so good inside. Your latest is so inspiring, I’m going to share it with friends. It is very hard for me to realize your are going to be 30 years old, you have grown into a very fantastic woman. I’m not sure any of us really ever get rooted in complete acceptance, but it is journey I will continue to work at.

    Liked by 1 person

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