"Have Fun in the Arctic. The Snow Zone, a Frozen Novelty," a promotion reads. The juxtaposition in this photo of a polar bear, a penguin on an igloo, and a palm tree, to say nothing of the elderly couple walking by, the señor in guayabera and señora in her traditional Yucatecan huipil, is a bit of a stretch for more than one reason. However, for the Yucatàn State Fair, held annually at X'matkuil, near Mèrida, novelty and excitement are the keys to a good time.
Folks going to this year's fair can watch an ice show, build snowmen and have snowball fights in the "Zona Nevada," or Snow Zone, as well as get their picture taken riding an innertube down an icy slope. It may not look like much to northerners used to real cold, snowy winters, but to some of these kids who have never felt cold weather, seen snow, or touched ice other than in a drink or popsicle, it is a small miracle.
This fair is no longer a backwoods event. Started long ago as an agricultural fair, X'matkuil has evolved into a 24-day spectacular with events and exhibits of interest for everyone. The traditional livestock exhibits, horse shows, midway rides and games are there. Anyone who grew up in the States and attended state or county fairs will feel right at home.
Organizers of X'matkuil are determined to keep people coming back. Other events include: concerts by nationally and internationally famous artists (Gloria Trevi is one this year); a dolphin show housed in a huge salt-water tank; a circus and clown festival; a boxing tournament; horsemanship and roping shows; Yucatecan music and dance events. A polo tournament, bodybuilding shows and group wedding are also on the calendar. All varieties of food are available, from simple tacos, pizza and sandwiches to fancy multi-course dinners, and beer gardens with live music and dancing run from afternoon until late into the evening.
Go carts, puppet shows, dance and martial arts displays and lessons, a display of birds of prey, other wild animals, orchid and edible and medicinal plants shows, a huge variety of traditional crafts and food items of Yucatàn, Mayan language recitals and a great deal more goes on during the fair. It's too much to take in on one visit.
Despite all of the fancy events, I enjoy the old-time stuff. I have the most fun wandering through the agricultural exhibits, where you can look at the latest in farm equipment, feed, irrigation technology, tractors and trucks, household goods, and all of the practical stuff that farmers and ranchers like to look at when they come to the fair. This is how it all started, and these displays remain a key function of the fair.
More than anything, I like looking at the livestock: cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks and tilapia (yes, fish farming), along with displays of horses and ponies and other show animals. The owners are usually around, and it is possible to ask questions, approach the animals, and maybe touch or help feed them if you want to.
There are a few displays of wild animals of Yucatàn. I'll end with this short video of ducks, because they are lovely, and I would like to have someone help me identify them. I am told they are indigenous to Yucatàn, but don't have a lot of other information.
This is just a quick overview of X'matkuil. There is lots more to see and do there. I went in the afternoon because I wanted to take pictures, and because I prefer to attend when the crowds are thin. On weekends, tens of thousands of people flock to the fair. Going out to X'matkuil is a good way to learn a lot about this region, and appreciate many of its unique qualities.