This past summer, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Mérida, México. Mérida is located in the Yucatán peninsula, which is the furthest country southeast in México. While there, I attended classes, as well as spent time in the city learning the culture. Though there are obvious differences between places like Mérida and Flagstaff, Arizona, I couldn’t help but also notice some similarities.
Culturally, there is not much to say for similarities. People in Flagstaff are very open to new and different ideas, while the people of Mérida seemed to mostly be of Catholic religion and ideals. While I don’t particularly notice many churches around Flagstaff, on every street in Mérida churches stood immensely tall, almost intimidatingly. In the center of town, behind the colorful Mérida letters, stood the largest church of them all, built in the 16th century. Every Friday night, to pay respect to their ancestors who built the church, people of the town would gather in front to play an old Mayan ball game during which players use every body part except for their hands to throw a ball through a hoop.
Flagstaff, as many may know, does not have a wide selection of traditional Mexican food. Ironically, in the Yucatán peninsula, Mexican food is very distinct from other traditional food from México. While in most places, common food such as pinto beans are used, in Mérida, they simply use what is called Yucatecan-style beans. They are of different color and consistency than typical refried beans—not quite black, but not quite brown either, and extremely lumpy. One large aspect of Flagstaff culture is the consumption of locally-grown fruits and vegetables, and Mérida was similar when it came to eggs. Eggs were important to many meals in Mérida—we even went to a restaurant where every single dish was surrounded by eggs. “Papadzules,” Mayan egg enchiladas with pumpkin seed sauce, could be found on the menu in most of the restaurants we visited.
Mérida is well known for being one of the safest cities in all of México. Many tourists were always roaming down the main street leading through all of town, Paseo Montejo, and at night streetlights illuminated the sidewalk. Some parts of Mérida looked uncannily similar to downtown Flagstaff: littered with buildings, one-way streets, and limited sidewalk space. However, one of the few differences is that, as a dark-sky city, Flagstaff has fewer lights so that people can see the stars.
In both Flagstaff and Mérida, people can be very friendly. However, in Mérida, when walking down the street, nearly every person would welcome us by saying good morning or good afternoon. It took me a little while to get used to saying “hi” to people on the street and not awkwardly avoiding eye contact. The people in Flagstaff and in Mérida both enjoy the outdoors lifestyle. Here in Flagstaff, we have places like Mt. Humphreys and the lava tubes, as well as many other excellent hiking areas. In and around the city of Mérida stand ancient Mayan ruins, many of which can be climbed and hiked. Cenotes, natural pits in the ground that expose groundwater, are very popular amongst the people who live there as well as the tourists. Also, every Sunday, the streets in Mérida are closed down so that everyone can ride their bikes along the main streets in order to spend time with their loved ones, explore the city, and exercise at their own pace.
Another thing that I found to be similar in these two places were Flagstaff’s farmer’s market and the vendor market in Mérida. For a large portion of the year, Flagstaff has a farmer’s market every Sunday, where more than 85 vendors can sell their locally grown food. In Mérida, ever Sunday in the center of town a market is hosted, where what felt like hundreds of vendors sell locally made crafts and trinkets. I have attended both markets, and both have a similar vibe as people gather to support their local community.
While they are very different places, Mérida, México and Flagstaff, Arizona have more in common than one might think. It was an amazing experience to see for myself all of the similarities and differences a foreign place can hold. I would strongly encourage anybody to go out and explore and find out how people from other parts of the world are not so different than we are here.