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Mérida's Moment

Powell and I continue on from Izamal, winding along unmarked roads. Our attempt to visit Ochil, an old hacienda with an artists' community, meets with little success. The place is closed. We hop the fence. A landscaper meets us. "When will it reopen?" Powell asks, rising to his responsibility as a guide.

"Más tarde."

At Temozón, one of the Starwood haciendas, we find the front entrance closed to nonguests. "No problemo," Powell says in his finest dude-gringo drawl. He whips the jeep around and drives to a hidden back entrance, where we breeze in and wander about. The 26-room Temozón is enormous and so authentically decorated that it feels a little stuffy. We drop by the other Starwood property at San José Cholul, 18 miles east of Mérida, which looks more like a small village, with 11 tropical-mod rooms in the main hacienda and four thatched-roof huts on the grounds.

It is sunset and still blazing hot when we emerge. A quick trip to the seaside seems in order. Progreso, a tiny port north of Mérida, on the Gulf of Mexico, announces itself with a sharp smell of salt and fish even before we have parked. At an oceanfront restaurant, we sample ceviche, cerveza, and Coca-Cola while a procession of young ladies from Chiapas who have been riding in a bus for hours offer to sell us tourists beads, bags, and clothing. It is cool enough to need a long-sleeved shirt, so I buy an embroidered cotton blouse from one of the strolling salesgirls. The bell-shaped sleeves drape comically into the salsa.

The next morning, it is time to leave. Powell offers me a ride to the airport. No hurry, he says, there are never any lines. I ask him to make a stop at Casa de las Artesanías for just a few more souvenirs. We make the airport with 20 minutes to spare, and the flight connects through Mexico City, so customs isn't an issue.

Tell that to the ticket agent.

"Cerrado," he says.

Closed?Why isn't the flight still boarding?There's time.

"Orange alert," he says.

And when will it be possible to get on another flight?

I know the answer before he gives it: "Más tarde."

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