Culture in the Yucatan

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Prior to my solo trip to Mexico in May (2015), I had visited Playa del Carmen three times previously with my family. But staying at an all-inclusive resort, you don’t really get a feel for the culture and the “real” authentic side of Mexico, so I hadn’t noticed many cultural differences before. Traveling solo to Mexico definitely changed that! I was always observing my surroundings, how people interacted with each other, how the locals lived their daily lives, and how various systems (transportation, bartering/haggling, etc.) were very different from the “norm” that I was used to in Canada. Traveling helps you to realize that what we (as Westerners living in developed countries) consider to be normal in our societies, doesn’t even apply to so many developing and under-developed countries in the world. We often don’t realize how truly blessed we are compared to the vast majority of the world, until we visit a developing country and observe what their realities and norms are, and what life is like for them. After visiting Mexico and seeing how little they live with (yet how warm, friendly and happy they remain), I think twice before complaining when my Wi-Fi is slow or stressing when my iPhone doesn’t work. Complaining about these “first world” problems is silly. I am learning to be grateful for what I have and think about those living with less in the world.

I really enjoy learning about different cultures. Traveling has broadened my mind and widened my perspective and I have realized that just because another culture or group of people does something differently than in your country, doesn’t mean they’re wrong. I have developed a new appreciation for cultural differences and have learned not to criticize or complain when things are done differently, but instead seek to understand why other cultures/countries do certain things the way they do and in turn, appreciate them. Differences are what make life interesting, right? If we were all the same and did everything the same way, we wouldn’t be able to learn from others, understand them and appreciate them.

Here are some cultural differences and observations that I made during my recent solo trip to Mexico. I am sure when I travel to Mexico again in November, I will have more to add to this list!

1. The Pace of Mexican Life – Mexicans are rarely in a hurry. In Mexico, time is slow. I got the sense that the word “busy” was not a common way to describe their lifestyle or their work. I never saw Mexicans rushing from one place to the next, or multitasking in order to get more accomplished and it seemed like they always made time to enjoy life and spend time with their friends and family. Locals would stay out late on week nights at the main square/park, enjoying the evening festivities and sometimes performances, and chatting with one another. This is very different from Canadian culture, where the emphasis is on being productive and as much done as possible through multitasking. Our culture glorifies “busyness,” to the point where if you say you are not busy, you are sometimes viewed as lazy, inefficient or unproductive. Not in Mexico. The atmosphere is laid-back, relaxed and slow-paced. Things get done when they get done, and there is no rush or hurry to complete even simple tasks. Mexicans operate on a different time schedule, and everything and everyone is usually later than times specified or agreed upon (except the ADO buses. Nothing is ever on time. They were always on time, down to the minute!). When I would walk through Tulum and Valladolid during the afternoons, I would see locals taking siestas; sleeping in hammocks in front of their houses or on public benches in the park, always trying to find that little bit of shade. Local shop owners would stand or sit on the street outside their shop and chat with friends or family, have a smoke and overall just relax. I loved this slow moving culture (although I would probably have a different view if I had needed something to get accomplished as fast as possible) and the relaxed and laid-back nature and attitude that the locals embraced.

Afternoon siestas at the plaza

Afternoon siestas at the plaza

Sleeping in the shade

Sleeping in the shade

2. The Language Barrier – You might assume that because Mexico is a popular tourist destination, that you will have no problems finding locals who speak English. You would be wrong. Mexico is a Spanish speaking country and many Mexicans do not speak English. There are some places where it is very likely you will find an English speaking local (ie. hotels, resorts, restaurants, hostels, tourist attractions, and airports). But there will also be many times where you will have to practice your Spanish, which is a good learning experience! Most ADO bus terminals, even those in touristy cities/towns like Playa del Carmen and Tulum, have few to no English speaking staff. I got really good at practicing how to purchase a bus ticket in Spanish by the end of my trip! The further you travel away from the touristy areas, the less likely you are to find someone who speaks English. In Valladolid, the only locals that spoke English were at the hostel I was staying at. During my stay in Valladolid, I was in need of band-aids and a nail clipper, but none of the pharmacy staff spoke English. I made an assumption, didn’t come prepared and didn’t know the Spanish translation, so I had to act out some charades for the staff and thankfully, they understood what I was looking for. Even in Tulum, which is a semi-touristy town, it was difficult to find English speakers, especially if you want to eat at small family-owned hole-in-the-wall restaurants off the main road that runs through town. I ate at these kind of eateries most of the time (the food was so delicious and authentic and I enjoy supporting local businesses) and although I could successfully read the menu and place an order in Spanish, I was unable to answer any questions that the waitstaff attempted to ask me, instead saying to them, “No hablo espanol.” The menus at restaurants are usually written in Spanish only (unless you are eating at a tourist-driven place, or in a main tourist area) and the street signs are always in Spanish (there is no English translation). In small cities, towns and villages in the Yucatan, like Valladolid and the surrounding area, Yucatec Maya is the first language for many locals, with Spanish being their second language (so you might even have difficulties finding Spanish speakers!). In my experience, bus drivers (ADO buses) do not speak English and taxi drivers are hit and miss (in Playa del Carmen and Tulum, some of them spoke English, but definitely not in Valladolid).

I love the Spanish language and I enjoyed navigating the language barrier. It was challenging and fun, and forced me to practice my Spanish. Being immersed in the language and hearing it around you constantly, you learn some things and start to pick-up on it pretty fast.

3. Dining in Mexico – Mexicans eat at very different times than I am accustomed to eating at in Canada. At home, I would usually eat a small breakfast at 7 AM or so, decent lunch between 11:30 AM and 12:30 PM and large supper between 5:30 PM and 6:30 PM. In Valladolid, a group of friends from my hostel and I decided to go for lunch. We showed up at a restaurant called Mr. Taco, only to realize that it was closed. This happened again when I wanted to go for supper at one of my favourite lunch-time eateries (Loncheria El Amigo Casiano) and then saw that it was closed. I asked the hostel staff about why this is and they explained that a lot of restaurants in Mexico are open for lunch-only or dinner-only. The restaurants that are only open for dinner, usually open after 6 PM and the lunch restaurants are only open until early afternoon. On a different day in Valladolid, some friends and I walked to the restaurant La Selva and arrived at exactly 6 PM, when they opened. Since Mexicans eat dinner later in the evening, we were the only ones there until about 8 PM or so when business from the locals picked up. I also noticed this in Tulum; some restaurants are only open from 6 PM onwards and most small family owned eateries are only open for lunch. Keep this in mind when you are planning where to go out to eat in Mexico!

The eating habits of Mexicans are very different from my own in Canada. Typically, Mexicans eat “El Desayuno” (breakfast) between 7 AM and 10 AM. Breakfast can include coffee, huevos rancheros, sweet bread, tropical fruits, yogurt and granola or toast. “El Almuerzo” (brunch) is a heavy breakfast or brunch usually eaten between 9 AM and 12 PM. It can consist of an egg or meat dish, a dish made with fried tortillas and a spicy sauce such as chilaquiles or enchiladas. “La Comida” (lunch) is served between 1:30 PM and 4:00 PM and it is the main meal of the day. It consists of an appetizer, soup or salad (sopa or ensalada), the main course (guisado) (including some or all of the following: seafood, vegetables, meat, rice, beans, and corn tortillas) and a dessert (postre). Dessert could be flan (custard), fresh fruit, or arroz con leche (rice pudding). “La Cena” (dinner) is usually eaten between 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM (hence why we were the only ones eating dinner at 6 PM when the restaurants opened!). This is usually a light meal and consists of soup or “antojitos” (snacks) like tacos, sopes, tamales, tostadas, or panuchos, either from a restaurant or street stand. All Mexican meals are accompanied with fresh hot corn tortillas! They go well with everything. Tacos are often accompanied by an array of salsas, some mild, some super spicy (beware of the green sauce that looks like guacamole… it is the spiciest sauce! Don’t make the mistake I did by lathering it on your tacos and then your mouth feeling like it’s on fire), radishes, red onions, black bean paste, pico de gallo (chunky salsa), peppers, and limes. Popular beverages include aguas frescas (various fresh fruits blended with sugar and water), tequila, or beer.

4. Communication – When Mexicans communicate, they make every effort to be polite and not to disappoint. I experienced this almost immediately when I stepped off the plane in Cancun. I exited the airport to a crowd of people holding signs for with transportation companies, hotels and peoples’ names. I briskly walked past and ignored them, in search of the ADO bus stop. According to my online research that I had done previously, it should have been located no far from the terminal, on the right hand side. I kept walking right for what seemed like awhile, with no buses in sight. I finally asked an airport staff member, “Donde esta ADO (the bus company in Mexico)?” They replied in Spanish, that is was “just to the right a little ways.” I kept walking. It was definitely more than just a little way, but I did finally find the bus stop. You can’t miss the large buses. Once I boarded the bus, I laughed to myself about this. Mexicans do this often and I find it amusing, but it can also be frustrating, especially if you’re looking for something in specific. They tell you that something is nearby, even if they don’t really know, just so they don’t disappoint you. They will never tell you, “I don’t know.” If they don’t have an answer, they will make one up. They will confidently provide you with a wrong answer to your question, even if they know it is wrong, because they want to help and be polite. It is common to be told that things are possible when they are not, that something will happen which never does, and to be given an answer even when one is unknown. I can see how this would be frustrating if you are asking someone for directions, only to receive a wrong set of instructions.

If it’s an important matter that you need an answer on, get multiple opinions and ask around before accepting one person’s answer.

5. The Nature of Mexicans – Mexicans are very helpful, polite, laid-back, warm, welcoming and friendly people. When you walk down the street in a small city or town, the locals smile and say “Buenos dias” to each other as they pass by. If you are lost or need help, they will help you (although if you need directions, they might not always be correct – see above point). Mexican men are very charismatic and charming. The kindness and generosity of the people is what makes Mexico so appealing.

I was walking down a residential street near my hostel in Tulum, when I walked past a house with a stand in front of it advertising fresh coconut water. I stopped and bought a fresh and delicious coconut water from the man, Felipe, who lived there. He then invited me to sit on a lawn chair on the cement pad in front of his house and we chatted (he spoke great English) about where I was from, what I do for a living, and why I am in Mexico. He told me that he was a scuba diving instructor at the nearby Dos Ojos Cenote and on his Mondays off, he sold coconut water from his house. His elderly mother also joined us outside. He was so inviting, open and friendly and I am glad that I was able to have this experience through meeting Felipe. I can’t imagine many people in Canada just inviting a complete stranger into their house or yard for a chat.

6. Politics – I visited Mexico at the end of May, which I quickly learned, was during their election time with the nation-side elections taking place on June 7th. I came at the height of the political candidates’ closing campaigns. It was actually a very interesting time to be in Mexico because I learned a lot about their political system.

Upon arriving in Tulum and walking around town, I would notice cars and big pick-up trucks driving slowly up and down the streets with large speakers on the roof or back of the truck, blasting upbeat, catchy and loud music. I was curious and asked someone at my hostel, and they informed me that this was how political candidates promote themselves (I realized after that the vehicles had the candidates’ name on the side)!

When I was in Valladolid, I attended the closing campaign party for one of the local candidates from the “Azul” party. When I was wandering the main square in the evening, I originally thought that there was going to be a concert… The stage was huge and chairs were lined up all the way down the streets around the square. There were tonnes of locals there, and people even came from the nearby villages in big tour buses. It was such a fascinating experience, and very memorable! I was one of the only tourists in attendance. Nothing ever starts on time in Mexico. I waited in the main square for hours, asking different locals when it was expected to start. They all told me different times, and none of them were correct. But still, I waited until about 9:30 PM when the production began, and I am glad I did!

People stood and waved flags and cheered as the candidate’s theme song was played loudly and continuously on a loop for at least half an hour, before the party members began speaking on stage. This candidate even had a corresponding dance to his very catchy song, and a group of dancers performed it on stage.

In the moment, I thought it was cool that so many Mexicans cared about politics and participated in events like this. The atmosphere was electric and vibrant and it was exciting to be immersed in such an interesting cultural experience.

Later on that evening, we met a group of young Mexicans from Merida at our hostel and told them about our experience at the political event. Unfortunately, we had been very naive. They informed us that politics in Mexico are very corrupt. Candidates bribe locals to paint their houses with the candidate’s name and party symbol, and to attend rallies in exchange for movie tickets, money or restaurant coupons.

It was a little disappointing to hear this, but it was very interesting to learn about the political system and take part in an event, nonetheless.

The closing campaign for a local political candidate in Valladolid

The closing campaign for a local political candidate in Valladolid

7. Police – In Canada, police carry revolver guns in their holster on their belt. In Mexico, it is very common to see a group of police officers sitting in the cab of large army-like trucks, all of them carrying high-powered rifles and machine guns slung across their backs, as they drive up and down the streets. I was surprised that I saw this more in Tulum, which I would consider to be a quiet and relaxed small town, than I did in Valladolid, a vibrant small colonial city in the middle of the Yucatan. As I walked throughout the town streets of Tulum, I often saw police officers carrying machine guns and rifles across their shoulders and bodies, walking through a public park or children’s playground where children and parents were present, and nobody even taking a second look! It is normal here. In Valladolid, the police presence was much less intense. I even observed quite a few female police officers in Valladolid. The officers there did carry guns, but there were small revolvers (like in Canada) holstered to their belt. I noticed that some of them only carried batons, and no guns. They were often seen directing traffic near the main square. It’s interesting to note the differences even between towns and cities only a couple of hours apart in Mexico.

8. Family is Important – Mexicans are very family-oriented and family is of the utmost importance in Mexican culture. It is common for extended families to live together. When I would walk around Tulum and Valladolid, especially in the evenings, I observed lots of Mexican families spending time together in the main public square and at the parks. On Sundays, Mexicans get free admission to the Mayan ruins and cenotes. I visited the Tulum ruins on a Sunday and I was one of the few tourists there, with most of the visitors being Mexican families. Sundays are a day when families spend quality time together and free entrances to tourist attractions helps to facilitate this family time, which I think is great. Families are generally larger than Canadian families and family members are very close with one another and they love to spend time together.

I admire how family-oriented Mexicans are. I think it’s great how much value they place on spending time with their families and friends. Their loyalty to their families and their communities is of utmost importance. I also think it’s very important. After all, relationships are the only thing you can take with you when you leave this Earth and they are all that matter in the end.

9. Wi-Fi is not widely available – In Canada, you can find free Wi-Fi pretty much everywhere. Businesses, shopping malls, clothing stores, restaurants and hotels advertise when they have it. In Mexico, free Wi-Fi is hard to come by. Most hostels and hotels have relatively fast and free Wi-Fi. However, most restaurants and obviously, locally owned businesses do not. There was only one restaurant that I ate at that offered free Wi-Fi: Yerba Buena in Valladolid, an adorable, colourful and healthy restaurant near the Convent, had the fastest Wi-Fi that I experienced anywhere in Mexico. It was fast enough for me to even make a Skype phone call. This was rare in Mexico. The internet was usually good enough to upload photos, send an email or text and update social media, but Skype calls were often delayed and choppy and the video calls never worked.

I actually didn’t mind not being able to access the internet everywhere. It was refreshing to be disconnected during the day and just experience the present moment without distractions of social media and texts. I could then update everything and contact family in the evenings at my hostels.

10. Local businesses are thriving – Aside from in Playa del Carmen where you will find a Wal-Mart, Chedraui, Home Depot and other chain department stories, in most other Mexican towns, local businesses and individuals are more prominent. In Tulum, the main avenue is lined on both sides with locals selling handicrafts and souvenirs. The further you get off the main avenue, the more authentic local businesses and restaurants you will find. In Valladolid, the only chain restaurant I noticed was Domino’s Pizza, located on the main square. Other than that, all of the stores, restaurants and services are local. It was very refreshing to not be bombarded with billboards and advertising everywhere, like in Canada! Most of the shops in Mexico are specialty stores, focusing on only one item, such as paleterias and neverias (ice cream and popsicle shop), floreria (flower shop), tortilleria (tortilla shop), ferreteria (mechanic/hardware shop), papeleria (paper/stationary shop), zapeteria (shoe shop), abarrotes (convenience/small grocery store), novedades (souvenirs/gift shop) and many others. In Canada, pretty much every store you pass is either a chain department store or prominent name brand.

11. Mexican houses are very different from the typical house in Canada – In Mexico, the houses are typically made of wooden panels along the sides, with a rubber or tin-looking roof, and cement flooring. When I would walk through residential neighbourhoods, I was able to see many of these types of houses. Most of them have no doors and the interior consisted of just one big room, with hammocks strung across and basic kitchen facilities, but not much else. They live with very little, yet the locals that I encountered were always so friendly, cheerful and warm people. There were nicer houses that I observed as well, complete with doors, a nice gate in front of the house which was often painted in a beautiful and bright colour, and a few of them even had a small patch of grass in front of the house (but most had just cement, often covered with garbage and tall weeds/grass growing around it). Seeing the kinds of places that the Mexicans lived in, really helped me gain a new appreciation for the things that I often take for granted, living in Canada. I realized how blessed I truly am. I think that our culture needs to learn how to be content living with less “stuff,” be grateful for what we have and the kinds of opportunities they we have available to us, and to realize when we have “enough” and stop desiring more at that point.

House in Tulum

Houses in Tulum

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12. The Road Rules and Driving – Driving in Mexico seems to be a system of organized chaos, if that makes any sense. It’s chaotic and people are driving all over the place, but they all seem to understand the system that they have going on. I took taxis where the driver wouldn’t even brake for a stop sign; he would just blow right through it going a steady speed, like there was nothing wrong with doing that! The norm seemed to be, that road signs are merely a suggestion. The ADO bus would often drive in the middle of the highway or on the shoulder, allowing cars to pass on either side. It also seems like nobody pays attention to the speed limits. I rode in a taxi colectivo from Valladolid to Ek Balam, where it felt like the driver was going at least 140 km/hour when the speed limit was 100 km. I was sitting in the front seat and it felt very fast (but my estimate could be wrong) and made me a little nervous! Plus, their cars are so old that you never know when they might break down. I heard from another traveler I met that they were in a taxi and the taxi just broke down in the middle of the city. I noticed while riding on the buses, that drivers would use their left signal to give the car behind them the okay to pass them, if they wanted to. I thought was very courteous. But in short, pretty much none of the locals follow the road rules. It’s amusing to watch sometimes.

13. There is culture and history everywhere – Especially in Valladolid and more inland in the Yucatan, the Mayan culture is still thriving and very prominent, and can be seen especially in the clothing that they wear. Women wear the traditional Mayan dress, known as the “huipil,” which consists of a white short sleeve top and colourful skirt. There are still many Mayans living in the Yucatan and for a lot of them, Spanish is their second language while Yucatec Maya is their primary language. Every city and town, ruins site, building and cenote has so much history behind it. In Valladolid, there were information signs posted everywhere around the city at various buildings and sites, explaining their historical significance. It was very interesting to read! The history behind the various ancient ruins is also fascinating. Everywhere you walk, there are interesting and often colourful buildings, with beautiful and intricate details.

14. Animal Slaughter – When I was on the ADO first class from Valladolid to Playa del Carmen, I was looking out the window when I saw a group of men gathered around an unidentified animal right along the side of the highway. They proceeded to slaughter the animal right there, in the open. It was a little shocking and quite unexpected. But, this is normal in Mexico. I think I was the only one on the bus who found this surprising, as all of the locals and even those outside the bus didn’t even take a second look.

15. Bathroom Procedures and Toilet Paper – The plumbing system in Mexico is pretty poor. As a result, you have to get used to their toilet procedure, that is very different from what we do in the developed world. In Canada, you simply flush your used toilet paper in the toilet when finished. In Mexico, you cannot do this. Used toilet paper is disposed of in a trash can sitting beside the toilet. Kind of gross, right?! It was so hard for me to get into the habit of doing this. I felt so bad, because on numerous occasions, I would instinctively throw my toilet paper in the toilet and then realize what I had done as I would stand up. At that point, I am not going to stick my hand in the toilet and fish it out, so I would flush. I am sure that I was probably responsible for some sewer system back-ups…

You don’t realize your habits until you are forced to do something different! I still couldn’t master this by the end of my trip, and I had to be consciously thinking about it in order to remember.

16. The Topes – Topes are Mexican speed bumps. Mexicans are very serious about their speed bumps! Topes come in a few different styles and they can appear anywhere along highways and when driving through towns, often without much of a warning. Some topes are just a deep hole in the pavement, some consist of raised steel humps, and some are large indents or plateaus in the road. All of them would be very hard on your car if you went over them too fast. Even going 40 km/hr would be too fast for these bumps! The Mexicans always know where they are and they slow down to about 20 km. They don’t risk ruining their cars on these crazy bumps!

17. Retro VW Beetles are everywhere – There are old school VW Beetles in a variety of unique patterns and colours everywhere! I saw ones painted bright pink, in leopard print designs, and more. They made for really great photos!

Beetle on a colonial street in Valladolid

Beetle on a colonial street in Valladolid

Retro Beetle against a mural backdrop in Tulum

Retro Beetle against a mural backdrop in Tulum

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18. Menus – Menus at local hole-in-the-wall eateries were always printed in Spanish only and a lot of them were only displayed on the wall. There would be a colourful poster board posted on one wall, with the menu either hand printed with a felt marker or typed onto the poster board. You would look at the menu and then place your order. It was a different system, but I liked the simplicity behind it!

Menu in a small family owned eatery in Tulum posted on the wall

Menu in a small family owned eatery in Tulum posted on the wall

Menus are usually painted directly on the wall in Spanish or written on poster board

Menus are usually painted directly on the wall in Spanish or written on poster board

19. Stray Animals – They were everywhere! Dogs, cats and chickens could be found roaming on the streets, laying on the streets and underneath cars to get some shade, and relaxing in the parks. On one of my morning walks around the town of Tulum, I found a really cute stray dog on the street. I gave him a pet and we became friends instantly. He followed close behind me on my entire walk through town that morning. It was so cute, but I felt so bad for the animals. Some shop owners would leave bowls of water and food on the sidewalk for the dogs, and some locals had dogs as pets (but often chihuahuas, not the stray dog type). I heard a cat crying as I walked by an abandoned lot over-grown with tall grass and noticed that the cat was stuck inside the fenced lot. It was so sad, and I would I could have rescued it somehow.

The lonely dog that followed me along one of my morning walks through Tulum

The lonely dog that followed me along one of my morning walks through Tulum

20. Dirty – There is garbage everywhere, on the streets, in amongst over-grown tall grass abandoned lots, and in between and in front of houses. I don’t think Mexico has designated street cleaning teams…

Garbage found in front of people's houses

Garbage found in front of people’s houses

Garbage can be found everywhere on the side of the streets

Garbage can be found everywhere on the side of the streets

21. Construction – I noticed in Tulum, that construction of the main avenue was only being completed using hand tools. The workers were chipping away at stones and cement. It seemed like it would be a very tedious process, and I am not sure if this is the norm, but I definitely found it interesting.

22. Street Systems – In Mexico, the main square is usually at the centre of the city, with the streets designed in a grid pattern stemming out from the square. It is easy to figure out where you are most times, because the street names consist of a numbered system that makes sense. Streets going from east to west and north to south, are named by number and then the direction they are going, all relative to the main square. It makes it very hard to get lost, because you know that the lower the number, the closer you are to the main square, at which point you can get your bearings and look at a map.

23. Where’s all the cars? – It appears that many Mexicans prefer to drive mopeds and pedal bicycles as opposed to cars. I can’t blame them… The driving system in Mexico is a little chaotic and parking seemed like it would be ridiculously difficult to find.

24. Transportation System – Mexico has a top-notch amazing bus system that is safe, comfortable, convenient and very reasonably priced (cheap compared to Canada). The ADO bus company operates most bus lines in the Yucatan, including platino, first class, and second class (Oriente and Mayab bus lines). The only difference between the first and second class buses is that the former have Spanish movies playing on TVs throughout the bus, are air conditioned and have a washroom at the back of the bus. The buses all operate on a fixed schedule and they leave on time. However, second class buses will stop for anyone standing anywhere along the highway or in a small town or village.

Colectivos are 12 passenger white minivans that zoom up and down Highway 307 between Cancun and Tulum, picking up and dropping people off anywhere they want to go along the way. They are cheap, air conditioned, safe and convenient. There are also colectivos in Valladolid that take you to Chichen Itza and the towns in the surrounding area. Colectivos have no set departure times and they leave when they have enough people. You can often be stuck waiting around for up to half an hour sometimes until the van is full. Colectivos have set places in cities and towns where they start from (usually random parking lots. In Valladolid, the colectivo stop to Chichen Itza was located behind the ADO bus terminal in an abandoned parking lot. In Playa del Carmen, they are on Calle 2 at Avenida 15 and in Tulum, you can catch them anywhere along the middle boulevard on the main avenue). Warning: they drive pretty fast and seatbelts are not a guarantee, so hang on!

25. The Markets – The Mexican markets are amazing and colourful, and such a cool experience! This is where all of the locals shop for their fresh produce, meat, and other random things like clothes, shoes, makeup, toys, flowers, and personal care products. They have everything, there is much variety, the food is fresh and you are supporting the locals. Hardly anyone shops at the supermarkets. The markets are usually surrounded by cheap local eateries serving delicious authentic food as well as fresh aguas frescas and licaudos (milk-based smoothies), so they are also a good place to go for some traditional cuisine. It is really cool for the locals to be able to buy your things from other locals, so they often know who is producing and making their food and other things they buy. The markets are bustling and full of activity and energy, especially first thing in the mornings! There are lots of small and large markets everywhere, and they can usually be found on the sidewalks.

Local women dressed in traditional Mayan clothing at Valladolid's market

Local women dressed in traditional Mayan clothing at Valladolid’s market

The meat aisle at Valladolid's market

The meat aisle at Valladolid’s market

The central market in Valladolid, where all of the locals come to shop

The central market in Valladolid, where all of the locals come to shop

Street-side fruit market in Tulum

Street-side fruit market in Tulum

Produce market on Calle Sol in Tulum

Produce market on Calle Sol in Tulum

26. The main square/park is vibrant and exciting – Most Mexican cities, towns and villages have a similar street set up. There is a main public square, which usually consists of a large park, in the centre of the city. The park is a peaceful place to relax, read and take in the culture around you during the daytime. The square in Valladolid had a water fountain in the centre, which was calming to listen to while people-watching and observing the lives of the locals. In the evening and night-time, it is a place where all of the locals gather to socialize with each other and chat about their days. There are often dance and musical performances in the evenings at the main square, and vendors selling ice cream, clothes, snacks, candy, shoes, books, and souvenirs set up here in the evening. I visited the Tulum square one night and there was a mime and magician performing a show for the local kids. I also tried some Mexican candy, which was…. interesting… I didn’t love it. It was weird because the candy was spicy and I am used to eating sweet candies. In Valladolid, the public square is where the political closing campaign took place. It is also where I found a dance performance celebrating Valladolid’s culture and history one night as well. These squares become vibrant and alive at night, and the energy was amazing. In the daytime, they are quiet and peaceful, and you can often find locals sleeping on park benches in the shade or just visiting with each other.

The fountain at the centre of Valladolid's public square

The fountain at the centre of Valladolid’s public square

Valladolid's public square

Valladolid’s public square

Valladolid's public square during the day

Valladolid’s public square during the day

Dance performance on the streets beside the square in Valladolid

Dance performance on the streets beside the square in Valladolid

The evening vendors and entertainment at the Tulum main square

The evening vendors and entertainment at the Tulum main square

27. Mexico is so diverse and has everything – The landscape is so diverse and in Mexico, you will find mountains, desserts, cenotes, ancient Mayan ruins, waterfalls, forests, jungles, and beaches. What more could you want? Mexico is a huge country and there is so much to explore.

Mexican culture is fascinating. Although Mexico is physically located very close to the United States and Mexico, the culture is so different! I love how every world culture is so unique and I don’t consider any of them to be superior or inferior. I am always striving to understand and appreciate different cultures, instead of judging and criticizing them for “doing it wrong.”

I hope that through this post, you will also come to gain a better understanding and appreciation for the Mexican and Mayan culture.

I hope you enjoyed reading about the culture in Mexico and you can look forward to more posts like this after my next trip to Mexico, as I am sure I will have many more observations!

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14 thoughts on “Culture in the Yucatan

  1. ditajessica says:

    Beautifully written post. I particularly enjoyed the story of when you bought your coconut water. In Western culture, especially urban areas, it is likely that a connection like that would never be made. Happy travels.

    -Dita

    • Brittany Maria says:

      Thank you so much for reading Dita! I’m glad you liked that story 🙂 I agree with you. I feel like people in other cultures are more open to meeting and connecting with strangers than in Western cultures, where everyone keeps to themselves and have their faces buried in their smartphones. Happy travels to you as well!
      – Brittany

  2. fabiolaofmexico says:

    What an interesting post!! You know, I have been to many places in my own country but never to the Yucatan peninsula, and there’s many things that I find are different over there compared to where I live. For example, I have never seen an animal slaughtered by the side of the road either! Anyway, it just goes to show how huge and diverse Mexico really is.

  3. mariannegv says:

    Hello Brittany! When I started to read “The Pace of Mexican Life”, I wondered what part of Mexico did you visit, but while I continued reading, I understood. If you visit Mexico City, you will see that we are always on the rush on working days, because the City is so big and the traffic so intense that for most people it takes more than an hour to go to their jobs, that means we don’t have time to eat at our homes, and we don’t take siestas or relax, although Sunday is a family day too. Here in México City all the Museums are free on that day, and that’s so cool. As you said so, there’s a lot of cultural diversity in Mexico, and reading your post makes me reinforce that fact. It would be interesting for you if you visit Mexico City some day.
    Kind greetings,
    Marianne

    • Brittany Maria says:

      Hi Marianne,

      I visited the Yucatan of Mexico. I can understand that the pace in Mexico City would be much different, as it is a large city! I think that is really awesome that the museums, and other attractions are free for you on Sundays! What a great way to entice families to get out and spend time together.

      Mexico City is definitely on my list of places to visit. I would love experience more areas of Mexico 🙂

      Thank you for reading and for commenting.

      Brittany

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