Mérida, la música, and life
March 31st, 2010 by robert

Valladolid was hard to leave, but I needed and wanted to shed the car that seems both useful and a hindrance. Once again I entered the cuota highway, but this time with a purpose. I had to get to Mérida in a hurry to make the rental deadline, and with almost no cars on the expensive route, I could go fast. Think autobahn. It was Sunday in Mérida, and I was reminded by many barriers that some key roads are closed to cars on Sundays. This Sunday a key artery was closed, on one side only, for a bicycle ¨race.¨ The result was a major hassle going the last sixteen blocks. There was not a cloud in the sky, and despite full air-conditioning flow, I could feel tremendous heat radiating through the roof and the windows.

Finally I was free of the car, and they even drove me to the central plaza, easily avoiding the blockages. I sought shade, but literally every shady spot was taken, so I went to the Hostel Zocalo where we stayed the week before, dropped my backpack in a closet, and lingered a bit in the relatively cool building.

Ballon Lust

Ten hours to kill before my bus to Palenque departs. I went outside and succeeded finally in finding a spot on a curb in the shade. I felt like the perched vultures you see with wings spread, trying zen-like to cool off. It was 93° F in the shade. Know what? After awhile it felt just fine, and I read my book peacefully as music began playing. People circulated slowly about the zocalo in the festive environment.

A folkloric dance troupe was performing traditional Yucatecan dances, garbed in flowing white dresses and suits. The dancers included a few talented young boys paired with older women, and all the dancers smiled as they performed, despite obvious discomfiture in the torrid sun. I watched for a while, longer than I could a week earlier with boys less interested. Yet after several dances I returned to my book and read for an hour, until a different music penetrated my reading. A traditional mariachi band had replaced the colonial era dancers, and the street where they performed was now in the shade! I relinquished my coveted seat and moved closer for a better view. The band obviously was nearing the end of its performance, but the music suddenly took a different direction, incorporating nuanced traces of hip hop and raggamuffin. The conclusion was a torrid piece where nearly every musician was called out to dance provocatively with a rather large woman, a local celebrity. The packed crowd couldn’t believe the explicitly sexual dancing, and everybody was laughing.

Cumbia Filled The Street

I noticed that at each end of the street, people were building stages as the “traditional” music captured peoples’ interest. As the outrageous mariachi performance ended, another band began to set up congas, keyboards and other gear on one of the stages. Since it seemed there was time before the band could be ready to start, I found the ice cream cart and bought a large mango cone. Eating it in the shade, watching the band set up, was pure pleasure.

At six o’clock precisely, cumbia filled the square as the band tore into it. The street began filling up with people dancing, and I noticed that more than half of the dancers were older than me. The band played for an hour, mixing a few salsa tunes in with the cumbia. Another band was setting up on the other stage. As the first band concluded, nearly instantly the next band took over, keeping the cumbia groove and the dancing going without a break.

This tag-team dance party continued with four bands performing, each more accomplished than the last. The whole street was packed, and people danced throughout the zocalo. It seemed like the whole Mérida community had come out to dance! I tried to estimate the number of people dancing in the street, people of all descriptions having a great time: about 3-4,000. The city sponsors music and performance like this every weekend for its citizens. I began to think about how cool it would be to do something similar in our community, a Moose Dropping Festival for ourselves, rather than for vendors.

Mérida Dancing

The last band was terrific. The drummer was the lead singer, and I could not understand how he could sing so well, while literally pounding out the complicated rhythms. They played several classic Colombian cumbias, including one of my all-time favorites, yet I had to tear myself away. I recuperated my pack from the hostel, and walked for blocks and blocks, cumbia following me.

Mérida Bailando Cumbia This link will take you to a short video clip taken via iPhone (I haven’t figured out how to embed video yet). Enjoy!


One Response  
  • Porter writes:
    April 1st, 20103:33 amat

    Roberto: As Captain Obvious would say, you are having one most amazing trip. We admire your travel elan. Bird on (and on and on…) Cheers, D

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