On Sunday morning, we decided to check out from Don Luis Hotel where beds were hard, the hallway noisy and the room cold. We found another hotel, San Clemente, conveniently located just at the corner of the zócalo.
While Feng was parking the car, I stopped by the cathedral where the mass was starting. “It starts early!” I commented to the father of a boy Mark was playing with. “Early? It’s 9 a.m.! This is the second mass of the day,” he replied. “The first one is at 6 a.m.”
Wow. I’m not exactly an expert on Mass but I think in France the traditional Sunday Mass is held at 11 a.m. And it certainly doesn’t draw the crowd as it did in Valladolid!
Feng felt sick with the plague—or more likely a common and benign cold—and it soon became obvious he was out of service. I might have complained that I had given birth without painkillers and that he’d better drag his ass out of the bed (with a few expletives thrown in) but it didn’t work.
“Alright Mark, let’s go explore the city.”
It was still early and I didn’t feel like having breakfast anymore. Perfect time to head to the market, I thought.
We walked all the way up to Calle 59 & Calle 32 and the atmosphere grew progressively more chaotic, from empty sidewalks to street corners packed with people, turkeys and chickens. It was noisy, smelly, dirty and oh-so-fun. The indoor market had stalls selling fresh veggies and fruits, including bananas, coconuts, mangoes and dozens of kinds of chilli peppers, as well as meat and seafood. Other stalls sold clothes and shoes—a local obsession apparently, considering the number of zapaterías.
Markets used to gross me out, especially the food section with all the meat on display but I don’t mind it anymore. It’s actually comforting to see fresh food! Nowadays, pre-packaged products with their endless list of preservatives scare me more.
I fed Mark some bananas and yogurt, conveniently bought at the market (seriously, who needs sterile Gerber food?) and we walked back to the city centre.
Valladolid has some of the friendliest people I have ever seen and Mark, with his spontaneous grin, is an easy icebreaker. As he waved at people or run toward other kids, I found myself chatting with locals about the weather, education methods, our toddlers’ respective quirks and life in Mexico versus life in Canada.
It sounds like a tourist brochure gimmick but as a traveller, I enjoy immersing myself in the country I am visiting, even if only briefly and superficially. On this trip, despite being in a touristy part of Mexico, I felt treated as a friend rather than a stranger with dineros to spare. Part of the reason why I dislike Thailand so much was because I felt locals resented tourists and would always try to scam them or take advantage of them—it was really an “us vs. them” world. In Mexico, as long as you try to blend in a little bit (i.e. if you are not sunburnt, drunk, wearing a sombrero and saying “yo quiero Taco Bells”).
On Sunday, the zócalo was packed. There was a band, a bouncy castle for kids, food stalls, a small market and many other activities. Mark and I hung out there for a while, absorbed in our favourite activities—picking up stuff from the ground and chasing pigeons for him, taking pictures and chatting with people for me.
In Valladolid, people’s lives seem to revolve around food. They grow it, they sell it, and they eat it. They drink too, considering the number of cantinas around…! And walls have messages such as “say no to drugs,” which is probably why the city looks a bit rough at the edge.
I kept on exploring the streets. The busy shops, selling leather goods, shoes and clothes, the chaos of street food around the bus station… it was fascinating. Shops seemed to open and close at random hours. The panadería that came highly recommended opened at 5 p.m. but the one by the zócalo closed at 3 p.m., while some restaurants were simply closed for the day, as shops reopened after 3 p.m. What a strange “Sunday schedule”!
I visited the “house of chocolate” where Mayan chocolate is made and I sampled it. I visited the “tequila house” and learned more about the drink (but didn’t sample… I had to be responsible with Mark!). And I walked everywhere, chatted with half of the city and enjoyed this fun Sunday.
At night, the fun didn’t stop. People lingered at the zócalo and there was live music. We stood there, on a balcony above the square, observing people having fun.