A marching band, or what sounded just like one, woke me up on Sunday morning. I’d celebrated my husband’s birthday with him in downtown Merida the night before and although the brassy wake up call was early, I was happy. We’d been serenaded by a beautiful Spanish-style guitarist and classical singer at a restaurant just hours prior. When the waiter realized it was my husband’s birthday, he brought out giant sombreros for us alongside a candlelit piece of cake. Everyone I’d met in Merida had been filled with an unmistakable warmth and an earnest affection for foreigners. Everyone I’d met had been curious and kind. If these people were to be any indication of the kinds of people I’d meet at Merida’s Sunday Market, having woken up early was a privilege.
I sprayed myself with sunblock, donned the only hat I had, took out cash from the ATM and walked over to the Plaza Grande, overwhelmed and unsure of which direction to go first. All along the perimeter of the plaza were food vendors. Mexican, Yucatec Maya and general fried foods created an oily scent that wafted through the entire area. Coca-Cola, an eerily ubiquitous drink in the Yucatan, seemed to accompany every meal at every table. My husband purchased one as I wandered up the stairs and into the elevated area of the plaza wherein the vendors sold the non-edible.
%Gallery-174496%The first booth, and many that followed, sold jewelry. Intricately beaded bracelets, bright silver necklaces, large amber stones adhered to rings and coconut shell earrings were sold by most vendors. Other vendors sold traditional Maya clothing, thick with threading and vibrant with color. All of the clothing, Maya or not, was lightweight and primarily white. White dresses and shirts flapped in the wind, barely hanging onto their respective stands. Pipes and masks had been carved locally by hand and brought out to the tables for sale. Artwork, purses, vitamins and teas were for sale, too. A live band and a comedian entertained a huge crowd that had gathered on the other side of the Plaza. Every few minutes, I could hear a swelling uproar of laughter from the kids who were there and most interested by the show.
Unlike so many other markets I’ve been to, I was surprised when I found no vendor pushing me to purchase. Relaxed and seemingly carefree, the vendors at the Sunday Market were more interested in general conversation than sales. The products, if desired, would sell themselves, I suppose – and they did. I walked away with a decent stash of jewelry and presents for family members. But what left a deeper impact were the stories I left with.
One man with fair skin and light-blue eyes identified with me, both of us standing out among the crowd filled with dark complexions. He was Mexican, however, and told us a story, spawned by my appearance, in Spanish. It wasn’t a feel-good story, but as he told it with tears in his eyes, I understood that it was important to him that he tell us. He described a Doberman he’d once taken in from the street. Unsure of how to treat dogs, he mostly left the dog outside and fed it scraps. He didn’t bother to train the dog, rather, he seemed to just kind of let the dog live on his land. A young girl, around age 15, came through his property one day. She looked like me, he said, as he scanned my face up and down, almost trembling. Looking the way I look, the way this man looks, is rare in this area of the world, he said. It’s exotic. The dog, seemingly without cause or warning, mauled the young girl’s face. She lived, but her face, which was such a rare beauty for the region, was destroyed. The man’s eyes flooded as he told the story. He didn’t know anything about dogs and because of the attack, the dog was put down. He takes the time out to train his dogs now; he now seems to better understand the relationship a dog needs to have with its master. We walked away from his booth with heavy hearts and empty hands.
Indeed, the Sunday Market in Merida isn’t just for shopping or entertainment. No matter what you buy, no matter what you see, the people at this market make the experience complete.
Read more from my series on the Yucatan here.
[Photo Credit: Ben Britz]