It’s easy to get lost in Merced, the largest of Mexico City’s markets and its commercial hub since the 17th Century. There are countless twisting and confusing passageways densely packed with whatever is the specialty of that particular corner – we plunged into one narrow alley and entered the artificial flower section which led, not entirely naturally, into kitchenware (everything including sinks of course), tinware, woven baskets and onto the chilli section – where some of these fiery dried red gems looked like they’d pack a mean punch. Merced is so densely packed with shoppers and vendors alike (plus countless little urchins running around at knee height), that you really couldn’t move other than incrementally, so it’s not for the faint-hearted, the claustrophobic or those with any measure of mazeophobia (real word) – it’s too easy as in the rest of the city to lose any sense of direction. Unbelievably we didn’t encounter any other ‘tourists’ so we were stared at and in some cases followed, and since we didn’t have a guide we abandoned all thoughts of penetrating the heart of Merced, the food market – where spice merchants, vegetable and fruit sellers rub shoulders with food vendors hawking everything from tamales to Tarantulas, crispy deep fried of course.
We walked to Merced, located in the far south east corner of the Centro Historico, along roads heaving with horn-honking traffic. As we got closer the streets become grubbier and ever more crowded and then we began to notice the scantily clad ladies idling with their phones at almost every shopfront. Apparently Merced is a ‘tolerance zone’ for prostitution, meaning that the police don’t intervene, leaving it all I guess to the pimps to control. According to one website I found (really) prices can be as low as 80 pesos for an ‘encuentro’ or 50 pesos for a ‘single act’….needless to say, we avoided eye contact and hot-footed it out of the barrio. When they say you can get absolutely anything at La Merced – they mean it.