In the news these days, everything Mexico is calamitous. The migrants piling up at the border. The drug cartels. I realize all that is true, but I fear it can obscure another Mexico, a normal country with lots of problems, to be sure, but a country with millions of kindly people doing normal things.
That other Mexico was on display at the Yucatan State Fair. I was visiting Merida, the capital of Yucatan, and the fair was going on in Xmatkuil (pronounced Eesh-ma-kweel as best I could make out), a suburb with a Mayan name to the south of the city.
I took a cab, and the driver and I discussed tipping customs in Mexico and north of the border. Cab drivers, I know, have a vested interest in tipping, but I think this guy was honest with me. He said American visitors to Merida tend to overtip, at least in relations to the tips from Mexican locals. Americans may tip 15-20 percent, but Mexicans max out at about 10 percent. I so enjoyed the conversation and the apparent candor that when we arrived, and the fare was 250 pesos (about $12.50) I gave him 300 pesos and told him to keep it--just like the stereotypical turista gringo.
I passed the group at the top of this post as I entered the fairgrounds, having paid for my 30 peso ($1.50) ticket. Why they were waiting there I do not know. And, yes, the pictogram above them identifies toilets for women.
It was daytime, and the carnival rides had yet to open. The pleasures available were simpler, like the mockup of ET on which kids could pose with their grandmothers and dissolve into giggles while mom took pictures with her cell phone.
My big disappointment of the day was Marbella, La Mujer Lagarto, or Marbella the Alligator Woman. As the picture shows, Marbella has the head of a human and the body of an alligator. A chance to gawk at her was very reasonaby priced at 25 pesos, roughly $1.25. And apparently, this price included a look at other phenomenal animals.
But I had my camera with me, and the woman taking tickets (not Marbella) told me that photography was prohibited. I was miffed. I felt the need to defend the rights of photographers. So I stuffed my 25 pesos back in my pocket and walked away.
It was time for lunch. I picked a table on the verandah of a restaurant called Eladia. My waiter suggested something in rapid Spanish, to which I could only nod. It turned out to be a lot more food than I needed. Nevertheless, I cleaned my plate.
I heard a band start to play and I went inside. My visit to the fair was on the day after Mexico, by beating Saudi Arabia by only one goal, failed to advance to the knockout round of the World Cup. Though that day's game was on the big screen inside Eladia, most of the patrons, understandably, weren't paying much attention. Some of them got up and started to dance to the band. I took a picture, and then moved toward the livestock exhibition area.
My understanding is that Yucatan's state fair (like, I suppose, Iowa's) was originally a celebration of the cows and pigs and sheep that the Yucatecas raised. Nowadays, the animals seem to be a bit of a sideshow. They're literally off to the side of the fairgrounds, while the main avenues are given over to rides and booths that sell cheap souvenirs.
And it's true that when I visited, the animals didn't seem to do much, compared to, say, a roller coaster. They stood in their stalls or lay on the ground, switching their tails against flies. Their guardians sat around makeshift tables, drinking Coca-Cola.
The guy in the picture above right was grooming an animal for an exhibition or contest, using a vacuum hose to suck dust and dirt from the animal's coat. I didn't wait for any later shows. I headed back to Merida.
On my way toward the exits, the two women at left caught up with me and stopped me. I'd taken their picture in the livestock area. They wanted to know if I could send them a copy. (I got Officer Ilse, on the left, to scribble her email on a scrap of paper, and I tried to send it to them. But to my chagrin, the email bounced back. If by chance you see this, officer, send me an email via this website. I'll get you your pic.) Like most North Americans, I guess, I'd been led to try my best to avoid Mexican cops. Now, when I think of the police in Mexico, I will think of these two women and their beautiful smiles.