If you have lived in the Yucatan for any length of time, you know that every good Yucatecan looks forward to the summer vacations at the beach, known simply as la temporada.
In regular Spanish, the term “temporada” literally means ‘season’, a word that is usually combined with word conejo (rabbit) or venado (deer), and has a special significance for hunters. In the special Spanish spoken only in the Yucatan, the word temporada means summer vacation spent at the beach. Plans for what one is going to do during the upcoming temporada can be started as early as January, when looking at the upcoming year on the calendar. Like city dwellers in Manhattan planning their getaway to Fire Island or the Hamptons, such is the planning and social significance of la temporada in Merida.
And, at the end of August and beginning of September, when Sams Club and Costco are already setting up displays of plastic made-in-China Santa Clauses and WalMart and Mega are featuring inflatable snow globes with “real” whirling snow, the temporada comes to an end. Meridanos who spent their summer at the beach pack everything up and head back to the city.
No more twilight hours watching the sunset while the kids walk the beach for kilometers on end. No more afternoons of entertaining visitors with cold drinks, fresh fried fish from the local fishermen and junk food galore. For the kids, no more easy days of sailing, swimming, snorkeling, fishing, playing in the sand with your ten closest cousins, all of whom are staying on the same beach with their families. For teenagers, no more nights of seemingly endless dancing and partying with hundreds of your closest friends and relatives. For moms and dads, no more morning jogs on the beach or afternoons on a boat or pre-dawn wake up calls to go fishing. For businessman fathers, no more commuting to and from the beach four days a work. And for mothers and children, of course, back to school!
The beginning of another school year means that Yucatecan Moms – and the occasional enlightened Dad – will be lining up at local papelerias (stationery stores like Burrel) to buy their school supplies and books. School starts in late August, and you can’t buy those things if you are still at the beach.
For the residents of upscale and often ultra-modern beach houses, who have vacationed in Chicxulub, Uaymitun and points further east, jet-skis and motorized beach vehicles are hosed off and stowed on trailers. They will be towed back to Merida where they will be stored in the garage until the next beach break, which is usually the two weeks around Easter, or Semana Santa of the following year. Boats of all sizes are taken to marinas to be taken care of over the “winter”. Leftover food, alcohol, hammocks and clothing will be loaded into luxury minivans and unloaded once they arrive back in the city.
For the less economically blessed, temporada is also over of course. Instead of Seadoos and boats, they will load up their plastic chairs, remaining food items and TV’s which they had brought out to again-empty beach rentals. These items will be crammed into and onto smaller, less luxurious vehicles and will, with their owners holding onto rooftop items with their fingertips, also be transported back to Merida.
As they pack up the leftovers of an action-packed summer, everyone is praying the weather cools off. If it doesn’t, they will be missing the cooler temperatures and the ocean breezes that everyone at the beach is privy too, and which are sometimes painfully absent in downtown Merida in July and August. La temporada is a time-honored tradition in Merida, and the ten-to-twenty degree difference in ambient temperature is one of the reasons.
At the beach, restaurants and businesses that had moved their operations to the coast just for the season (including restaurants like La Recova and many nightclubs), will shutter doors, unplug refrigerators and return everything movable back to Merida. Summer at the beach in the Yucatan is not summer without futbolitos, those popular game tables with little plastic soccer players that every Yucatecan teen and pre-teen spends an inordinate amount of time at during the evenings flirting with the opposite sex. These too will be packed up and moved to an upcoming fair or put in storage for next year.
Local businesses, the ones that are on the beach year-round, will reduce their staff and count the pesos they made during the temporada. Their profits will probably be just enough (but not quite, they will assure you…) to tide them over until the next group of vacationers. Those would be the notoriously frugal snowbirds from Canada and the northeastern states, who are set to arrive any minute now, and of course, the cruzeros, vacationers arriving on the cruise ships. They come to spend their winters in the warmer climate of “winter” in the Yucatan and spread around what little and much-appreciated money they bring with them. Local Yucatecans rarely come to the beach in the winter months, but those of us from the northern part of Norte America think those months are a great time to be along the Yucatan Gulf Coast.
Beach houses themselves are closed up in preparation for long term emptiness. This means emptying them of anything of value, unless they are on the rental market for the afore-mentioned snowbirds. If they will be rented out during the winter season, they will be only partially stripped, as a caretaker will probably remain on site to keep things up and running and welcome the renters when they come.
All that packing, storing, towing and hauling activity from all economic levels of vacationers comes democratically together in a sea of vehicles on the Progreso-Merida highway. Thankfully this highway is now four lanes wide most of the way, and beautifully lit with modern and adequate signage. Traffic to Merida, in the last daylight hours of the last Sunday of the last weekend of the temporada, is usually a nightmare. The two stretches of road from Uaymitun to Progreso to the east, and Chelem to the Progreso-Merida highway to the west, are only two lanes and one lane, respectively. Traffic can get as bad as an Los Angeles freeway there as the residents of places like San Bruno and Uaymitun merge with the residents of the lower rent districts of Chelem and Chuburna… all Yucatan temporadistas, all heading home. Years ago, when there was one lane out to Progreso and one lane back to Merida, the last day of temporada traffic was literally bumper to bumper for the entire 20 kilometer drive, with exasperated drivers looking for free asphalt on shoulders and passing dangerously at every opportunity. Those four lanes have gone a long way to relieve that problem.
Upon arriving in Merida, temporadistas are welcomed by the flashing blue and red lights of many police patrol vehicles trolling for drunken drivers. They face the final hurdle of getting back into the city and back into their homes, where washing machines stand ready to process sand-encrusted towels and and empty refrigerators welcome back plastic containers of leftovers.
About now, in mid-September, the sand will finally be disappearing from the laundry rooms and the leftovers have been eaten or thrown away. Schooltime schedules are beginning to be established in homes, and families are looking forward to a winter season full of more celebrations (starting with el día de la Independencia, por supuesto…) and holidays. Because even if the temporada is over, the party that Mexicans call Life just goes on and on and on… Viva Mexico!