This year, we just *had* to go down to the Zocalo to see the Day of the Dead altars. We had heard or read that they would be there Saturday night. Well, for the third year in a row, we got there too late and they were all taken down. There were a few guys still disassembling things, a few piles of rocks and something burning… but we had missed the altars yet again.
So we decided to salvage the trip by continuing on to the mercado and picking up a few sugar skulls and other cute candy things for our own Day of the Dead altar. The city has recently opened a brand new 3 story building for a new mercado. We were pleased to see that they have NOT evicted people from the old building. Instead, all the people who had stands on the streets and in the squares are now in the new building. So the streets are much easier to walk and drive on. And the little plaza in front of the mercado is actually now a nice place to sit.
Inside the old mercado, things are a little less crowded but relatively unchanged in the area that we frequent. We like to go up the two or three main aisles where the Mayan ladies in their huipiles sit all day, selling their wares. They sell fresh flowers from their gardens, home made Mayan food, masa (the dough made from cornmeal), veggies from their garden and other seasonal things.
On this trip, we decided to start by buying some flowers for the altar. We bought marigolds, the traditional Day of the Dead flower, and a bunch of purple flowers whose name we don’t know. Two bouquets cost $10 pesos (about $1 USD). Then we moved on to the food section of the mercado. We love looking at the vegetables but didn’t need any. What we did need was honey. We found a tiny little stand – no more than a closet really – where a very nice older woman was sitting watching a very tiny TV. Her wares were stacked up on a counter at the front of the closet. She seemed to have some honey there. “Miel?” We asked, pointing to a Coke bottle full of dark stuff. “Si! Está muy bueno! Puedes probarlo…” (Yes! Its delicious! You can try some…) and she proceeded to pour some very dark brown honey on the back of an our outstretched hand. Yes, it was delicious!
So we parted with $24 pesos and put the bottle in a bolsa (bag). We have bought honey in Coke bottles, babyfood bottles and even tequila bottles. It’s fresh from the countryside and muy delicioso!
On to the candy stalls… a special treat this time of year. A lot of the stalls have the same thing: various sizes of white sugar candy skulls with people’s names on them on a little slip of paper. We found a stall that seemed to have a larger selection of different things than most, and spent about ten dollars on various things. Candy skulls, a candy coffin, a candy ghost holding a beer mug, some marzipan corn and peyote buttons (we’re pretty sure that’s what they are…). And our favorite, four skeletons dressed in ponchos, holding up a casket with a skeleton inside, and everyone holding a very tiny bottle of Corona beer. This one is made of plastic and cloth and will undoubtedly grace my altars in the years to come.
On the way home, at dusk, we stumbled upon the beginnings of a Day of the Dead parade. We’ve lived here for four years and didn’t know they had a parade! As you can see in the photo, there were women and men dressed up in traditional Mayan dress, with their faces painted to resemble calaveras (skeletons). There was a four-piece band that sounded pretty good, and was playing music reminiscent of New Orleans. There were a few people dressed similarly, but on stilts, and old men lighting firecrackers. Everyone was carrying candles, and the parade was led by some of Merida’s calesas (horse-drawn buggies) as they wound their way, dancing and laughing, down Calle 60.
It was a sight to behold. We went right home, set up our own altar, with candles, the flowers, all the candy skulls and other goodies from the mercado, and pictures of our loved ones who have passed on. We completed the scene with a glass of scotch for Working Gringa’s grandma and a glass of red wine for Working Gringo’s dad.