Photographs by Richard Leo Johnson
Around the corner is an early 20th-century movie theater refashioned into someone’s home. Over the back wall is a new home with sleek, white modern walls and endless gardens under development. Down the street are a famous photographer and a longtime local real estate agent who grew up in London, as well as a master gardener who gives tours of his well-landscaped property.
But it’s the hacienda property that stands out most from the street. Its façade sits squarely along the sidewalk, although there’s more than enough space inside to escape the noise from what little traffic goes by.
Ed Zielinski, who is originally from Goshen, New York, and his Yucatecan partner Josue Bacab, divide their time between their contemporary home in Mérida’s Centro and the tiny village of Tepakán, which is about 45 miles east. For restaurants and basic necessities, the closest city is Izamal.
It’s a relatively easy drive between the two places, and they enjoy decompressing from busy Mérida at the place they call Quinta Zazil (quinta means a “country house,” and zazil is Mayan for “light.”)
Ed’s first home-away-from-home was a beach house, but during a country weekend with friends, he was inspired to find a getaway in one of Yucatán’s pueblos. He found his classic centuries-old hacienda, which, compared to his beach or city home, has much more space — much of it verdant.
“Every time you come up here, it’s another tree. There’s a new flower coming up,” Ed says. “It changes every time you come up here.”
That wasn’t the case at first. The property, as Ed first encountered it, had no grass, only dirt and weeds. So, his gardener brought in around 350 plants and 70 loads of topsoil. He ripped out the kitchen and put in a Smeg range, a marble-top island and traditional fixtures, blending effortlessly with the rest of the house.
The discovery of an old branding iron in the backyard is a pretty strong clue that it was once a much more sprawling property with cattle.
The neighborhood offers little in the way of coffee shops and restaurants, but it’s well-suited for a stroll in the park or a trip to a bakery where a 100-year-old wood oven produces excellent crusty bread. A fishmonger delivers door-to-door twice a week and the mercados in nearby Motul sell fruit and vegetables.