When I mentioned my upcoming visit to Mexico City's La Merced, a friend responded disapprovingly. "You'll get lost if you go by yourself."
I crossed my arms against my chest. Oh, really? Challenge accepted.
I love local markets. They offer everything I need in a tourist stop: the ability to explore, check out the goods for sale, and be surrounded by locals doing their everyday, local market thing. La Merced provides all that... and the adrenalin that comes with the unknown: as the largest market in the D.F., it's a micro-city within one of the world's largest cities, full of claustrophia-inducing turns, barking vendors, and at the time of my visit, eager shoppers hunting for deals on dia de los muertos food and decorative offerings.
I spent nearly 6 hours over two days at La Merced, which seems like an excessive time to ogle produce and piñatas, but given its size and labyrinthine paths, I barely scraped the surface. I'm sure I passed the same shoe vendor a few times in the 15 minutes it took to locate the subway. I was rendered nearly blind and directionless by its endless rows of sparkling aluminum kitchen supplies. I spent time recovering in a church I found en route to the bee-infested rows of calabaza en tacha (candied pumpkin). I was blockaded in the butcher section, where almost every man felt compelled to stop, point out that I was Chinese, and attempt to get my life story. But this was the beauty of it all: along the way, I was constantly meeting new people who just wanted to chat and actually asked for their photo to be taken without needing to pose the question myself, which, as a photographer, is a pretty sweet dream.
So yes, I got lost in La Merced. But I'm happy about that; considering I'm one of those people who yawns after 30 minutes in a gallery, getting lost in the market's visual and aural chaos certainly shakes things up. Travel complacency? Completely obliterated.
Look forward to getting lost again.