Sunday, December 4, 2011

Living Here: Quiet Moments at the X'matkuil Fair

I always go to the Yucatán fair held each November at X'matkuil, on the outskirts of Mérida. Typically I go during off-hours, when there aren't too many people in attendance.

I drove out to the fairgrounds Friday afternoon just a little ahead of the crowds that would mob the place on this, the last weekend before closing. I like to avoid the jostle and crush. The razzle-dazzle of lights and noise, the midway, huge crowds, and the throbbing music of the beer gardens, concerts and other attractions just aren't my style.

What I like about X'matkuil is the old-time country fair aspect: prize animals, agricultural displays, crafts and the horse-riding events. I enjoy wandering and observing in the nooks and crannies of the fair, away from the the bright lights, big noise and clamor.

One of the beautiful things I saw late Friday was this pair of lovely horses. I am not a horse person, so I can't say what kind these are or describe them in accurate horsey language. One was white with gray spots, with a deep brown-red "cap" on it head that flowed like a cape down its back, and strands of reddish mane that hung down its face. The other was a soft silvery gray, with wonderful chocolate-brown freckling all over its body.

The horses were well socialized. They both noticed me and moved closer as I began to take photos. Then, at once they moved together toward the division between their separate stalls and took turns stretching their necks across the divide to nuzzle and caress each other. All the while, they maintained eye contact with me, as if posing and communicating, "See, here's my good buddy."

I enjoy watching displays of horsemanship, roping and riding, so I moved on to the arena to see what the charros, cowboys in traditional dress, were doing. I witnessed a moment of pageantry as teams of competitors entered the arena to the rhythm-heavy clamor of a four-piece band. It was great to watch the riders salute as they rode their beautiful animals around the arena. It was moving to participate moments later as the competitors and audience removed hats and applauded for one minute in memory of a fellow competitor who had recently passed away.

I visited the butterfly exhibit, a large screened-in area full of native and non-native species. It's fun to be able to walk among hundreds of free-flying butterflies, who seem to be unafraid and go about their business. In this exhibit it's possible to observe various species up close, and also to watch butterflies hatch before ones' eyes. If you stand still, it's not unusual here to have a butterfly land on you. One perched on my forehead for a moment (leaving no time to get a picture, unfortunately) before fluttering on its way.

It is interesting to see so many exotic butterflies close up, and great fun to watch the children react to the situation. Many school groups were in attendance this day, and the younger crowd is particularly enchanted by the sight of so many of these colorful insects up close. They were equally fascinated by the fish in an artificial pond inside the butterfly area.

Then there were the pigs. What can I say? I like them, especially the native Yucatecan cerdo pelon, or hairless pig. They are small, dark and bald, and I enjoyed watching a group of them rapidly vacuum up a large container of leftover tortillas in about half a minute. This is a species utilized by the Maya and that was once ubiquitous on the penninsula, but whose numbers had fallen drastically over the years as many pork producers shifted to larger, faster-growing commercial breeds. However recent efforts to revive pure genetic lines of this native animal, which is perfectly adapted to the climate and forage available in Yucatán (reducing the need for small producers to buy expensive commercial feed), seem to be successful. The population is growing, and efforts to market products from these animals as specialty items appear to be paying off.

Those are a few highlights of my afternoon at the fair. I did get into the crowds some and enjoyed a bit of the music and high-energy activity, but these quiet moments were the ones I appreciated most. X'matkuil offers something for everyone, and tens of thousands of people attend the fair and find much to enjoy. I am completely content to forego many of the big attractions in favor of exploring the smaller exhibits and quiet corners of the fair.

Here's an earlier post about the fair at X'matkuil, Yucatán in the Snow Zone.


  1. Thank you so much, Marc, for this coverage. I wasn't able to go this year, and I must admit I was dissuaded by the news coverage about the massive traffic jams. (Next year, I'll try harder to figure out when is a better time to attend.)

    The photos are moving. I love horses--the one "pet" I've always yearned for, but never had, was a horse. ( Ah well…) I'm also glad to know that there were "quieter" spots, if one searches.

  2. Alinde, I have never had much trouble with traffic, but I like to go mid-week and during the morning or early afternoon, when possible, which is fine when mostly you want to look at the cattle, other animals, and things like the orchids. Traffic is never a problem earlier in the day, except maybe for weekends. And there are always the buses that leave from centro for X'matkuil, and from the fair returning to centro, every few minutes. The bus is more relaxing, saves parking fees, and if you get tired at the fair or decide to drink a beer, you don't have to worry about driving home.

    I am glad you liked the post

  3. hi marc,

    i believe the horses are appaloosas. they are beautiful and look to me like one is nibbling the other's ear or sweetl whispering "i love you." those are great shots. it does look like they're posing for you.

    teresa in nagoya

  4. I thought pigs came over with the Spanish?

  5. Teresa, thanks for the information. It occurred to me that they are Appaloosas, but I wasn't sure. I am glad you like the photos.

  6. Great pictures Marc. We went in the evening and were really surprised how orderly and well organized the traffic and parking were. We'll probably go in the morning or afternoon next time, looks a little more relaxed.

  7. Norm, thanks for bringing that up. The first pigs are said to have been brought to the Americas by Columbus. I have corrected my text, removing the word "ancient" when describing the Mayas who have used the cerdo pelon.

    I looked it up. The cerdo pelon is also referred to as "cerdo criollo," meaning that it is originally from elsewhere, but born or adapted to the New World. This is much the same terminology as was used for the descendants of the early Spanish who were born in the New World and referred to as "criollos," or creoles. Apparently these pigs arose from Spanish stock, adapted here, and now after hundreds of years are considered native to Mexico.

  8. Sara and Ty, you're right, it is well set up. However on the peak days when tens of thousands attend, traffic going and coming can be slow, and things can creep along a bit. I still love the off-hours at the fair best.

  9. I ran into some stinky little pig like creatures, called peccary, once while walking around out in the jungle. I think they are native to the Americas. I smelled them long before I laid eyes on them...
    The Yucatan State Fair is on my bucket list.

  10. Norm, when I Googled native American pigs and confirmed what you had commented, I also noticed some of the sites in the search results were about peccaries. I guess they were the wild pig-equivalent in the Americas before Columbus brought a few porkers across the Atlantic.

  11. Great to bump into you at the feria, Marc. I wish I had seen the butterflies, too. We did find the birds in an aviary; and also enjoyed the animals.

    Too bad about the blasting volume at some of the displays which made it intolerable to spend any time in that area.



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