It’s approaching midnight and Genoveva de la Peña, an art teacher turned bee conservationist, is making a toast. “Each of you has been special for me in a lot of ways, and right now it’s important to choose with whom you share your life,” she says, raising a glass of red wine to the mishmash of stylish friends seated around the sturdy farmhouse table: a sculptor from Mexico City, a ceramicist from Germany, an American textile designer who lives in the nearby pueblo of Telchac, a Japanese pianist from Amsterdam, a former New York ad man who did spots for Kodak, and John Powell, our host and Mérida’s unofficial town mayor. “I love that all of us come from so many different backgrounds, but find that we have a lot of interests in common,” she adds. As two of Powell’s dogs—a hairless Xolo and a plump Jack Russell—are running between our legs, we all clink glasses, and I wonder how I can move here and crash parties like this all the time.
I had first heard good things about Mérida from a friend, when trying to figure out where to go on my honeymoon—no pressure as a travel writer. My wife and I wanted to do Mexico City, but since we live in New York, we didn’t want to spend a whole week stuck in traffic and chasing impossible-to-get restaurant reservations. A friend suggested we split our time, adding a few days in Mérida, a smaller city filled with incredible villas that rent for next to nothing and where the only thing we’d be stressing over is which taco place to hit for lunch. We booked a five-bedroom colonial that had preposterously high ceilings, a giant kitchen with traditional pasta-tile flooring and plaster walls, a master suite that recalled Philip Johnson’s Glass House, and a lap pool in the manicured courtyard. The place cost us $134 a night. Within a day, we were looking at real estate listings online and considering how to keep our jobs while working remotely. Or maybe we’d just quit! “Sixteen years ago, when I first moved here, it was only retired school teachers on a budget or ex-CIA guys who have all disappeared into the jungle and died,” says Powell, who, in addition to throwing great dinner parties in his restored mid-century modern home, runs Urbano Rentals, a small property-management agency in Mérida. “Now things are much more interesting.”
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