For those of you constantly whining about how this or that is not the ‘real’ Merida as if all Yucatecans had to wear starched white clothing, clunky sandals and balance a tray with bottle and glasses on their heads for your amusement, here is another unreal Yucatecan activity that you too can participate in!
There are tried and true Merida traditions, like frijol con puerco on Mondays, visiting the family home en masse on Sundays, and spending the summer months at the beach, that you are probably quite aware of. But there are also newer, more modern traditions that you may not be aware of or that are being crafted in our lifetime, right now! One of these is the cultural event that occurs almost nightly at Merida’s airport.
Each night at the Manuel Cresencio Rejon airport (who the hell was that guy anyway) here in the formerly white city, around 9 PM, a crowd gathers at the arrivals gate to welcome the passengers arriving on the almost-daily Continental Airlines flight from Houston, USA.
It’s always a fine cross-section of Merida’s population with all the socioeconomic groups represented.Look carefully!
There are the well-off Meridanos from the clase acomodada, awaiting the arrival of a tia or tio or perhaps a student – mi primo – returning from a semester in the US where they went to study English with all the chicanos and instead learned to appreciate the value of their muchacha as well as the recreational qualities of marijuana. These folks gather in small groups, often based on age groups, because they know each other and ask ‘a quien vienes a buscar‘ which is then followed by a lengthy conversation on the life of the person they are waiting for. This is also a good time to catch up on local gossip once the initial conversation has reached a saturation point and/or flight 1842 is late landing on the tarmac.
Also present is some sort of gringo element in the form of a single man or perhaps a couple, who have come to pick up one of their kind who is coming to visit or stay for an extended period of time in their newly renovated house. These people, wearing garb that ranges from monied and downright elegant to scraggly shorts and a wrinkled guayabera topped off with Felix the Cat facial hair and a bedhead do, are often standing alone and will keep to themselves, even in the presence of other gringos unless of course they are on speaking terms in which case they will make light superficial conversation about life in “Centro”.
There is almost always a family or two of people who fit into neither category, gringo or clase acomodada, and who probably live in one of Merida’s “popular” neighborhoods, “popular” being the local term for the poor and low income people that make up the vast majority of the Yucatans population. These people do not mingle with the aforementioned clusters and arrive in large familial units complete with a gaggle of children accustomed to unusual bedtimes and often with an hipil-clad abuelita in tow.
A fun activity is to try matching the passengers escaping the baggage claim and semaforo area with the people waiting. One can get the occasional surprise when, for example, the low income family with the hipil-clad grandmother is the group that welcomes open-armedly the solitary gringo with one carry-on piece of luggage. Hugs and backslaps from the males, polite handshakes from the women and shy smiles from the many children accompany the lucky gringo (you should consider yourself lucky to get such an enthusiastic reception) to whatever form of transporation is waiting outside.
While enjoying this entertainment, I recommend getting a pretty awful cup of coffee which costs about half a minimum daily wage 😉 at the place next to Burger King, or perhaps ordering some hot french fries at BK itself so you can munch or sip while watching the goings-on.
Look around folks, and welcome to the real Merida.