Written by Stephanie Carmon
Ya’ax Hotel Boutique is one of Merida Centro’s newest elegant accommodations which combines traditional Yucatecan sophistication rich in its Mayan roots with modern design and comforts that lets the visitor feel the true essence of contemporary Merida. As you enter through the front door into the lobby or walk into Cho’oj restaurant, run by renowned chef Carlos Olvera, you take a step back into 19th century colonial Merida. There are high beamed ceilings and walls constructed with the adhesive resin of the chocum tree, historically used by the Maya for building.
This resin gives the finished walls a marbled pinkish-bone colored effect. Continuing through to the stylish outdoor patio, eating and lounging area you will find a guest spa, with eleven individual uniquely themed rooms – each with its own aroma of precious wood and state of the art accommodations. Continue down the pathway lined with chaca trees of Mayan legend and you come upon a relaxing outdoor pool area built against a tall stone masonry barrier. It’s a peaceful retreat hidden in the heart of the city.
I sat down with owner Farid Estrada last week, a Yucatecan entrepreneur, he told me about the passion he and his team poured into the restoration of this building and his dream of making this a destination for both local and foreign tourists to enjoy luxury mixed with the historic roots of the Centro. Like many of the edifices of a bygone era in the Centro, this colonial building on Calle 57 between 52 and 54, has an enchantment that makes the inquisitive mind wonder about the countless stories, lives and scandals its walls have undoubtedly kept secret.
It took Estrada over 5 years to restore the building and create this hotel. It was important to him to keep some of the history alive. Estrada came upon this residence because his distant cousin, accomplished Yucatecan painter and sculptor David Sierra, had been renting and using it as his house and art gallery.
He bought the property in order to keep it in the family and when Sierra decided to move, Estrada decided to renovate and transform it into a boutique hotel. What is now the reception and lobby was the only part of the house occupied by Sierra which he used as his living area and gallery. To keep that tradition alive, artwork from Mexican artists are for sale and continue to decorate the lobby area. The rest of the place had been completely abandoned and overgrown.
Little by little Estrada began working away at cleaning the large property. With each overgrown shrub and fallen down wall they hauled away, a fascinating story was slowly unveiled of the colorful characters that had lived there over a century ago.
This had been a residence to three generations of a family who bought the house in the 1923. Curious about the original owner of the house, I asked Estrada to investigate. A few days later, he stumbled upon documentation from the Land Registration office that documents the sale of the property. The house was bought from the son of the extremely high profile Olegario Molina Solis. However, the property did not belong to Molina Solis’s son, it belonged to Olegario Molina Solis himself who was unable to be present at the sale because he was in self-exile in Cuba.
If you have studied the history of Yucatan, you probably know that before the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920 arrived in Yucatan, there was a very small group of elite Yucatecans, the Henequen Hacienda owners. These elites were part of what was later called the “Divine Caste” by revolution general and Governor of Yucatan from 1915-1918, Salvador Alvarado. Olegario Molina Solis was the most conspicuous character of the Divine Caste. This group dominated the government, the banks, the trains, the education, the Church and even the social parties of the high society.
Nothing happened in this state without the consent of the Divine Caste. Molina Solis was twice congressman, twice governor of Yucatan and finally, he served Dictator Porfirio Diaz as Secretary of Economic Development. This oligarchy demanded the protection and intervention from the authorities in order to conserve slavery at the haciendas of Yucatan. The night before the fall of Porfirio Diaz, Molina Solis fled to Cuba where he died in 1925. Of course, what is now Ya’ax Boutique Hotel was only one of many residences of Molina Solis. Nevertheless, it is yet another example of the history that surrounds us in the Centro of Merida.
The hotel’s restaurant Ch’ooj Gastronomic Gallery offers a delight of original dishes using locally produced ingredients. The menu changes with every season of the year. The kitchen is run by Chef Carlos Olvera who has extensive experience including working under Chef Santi Santamaria whose restaurant Can Fabes in Spain holds 3 Michelin stars. A couple of weeks ago they were honored to invite decorated Chef Italiano Massimo Bottura as a guest for dinner. He dined at Cho’oj after his talk at MeridaFest 2018.
Centro, Calle 57 461 x 52 y 54 centro, Mérida, Yucatan, 97000, Mexico
Telephone Number+52 999 286 6511+ 52 999 2 85 9049
Chooj Galería Gastronómica: facebook.com/choojmerida/