The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya is best known for its permanent exhibits highlighting the beauty of contemporary and ancient cultures.
But a new temporary exhibit delving into the history and cultural significance of bicycles in Yucatán has recently opened to the public.
“The exhibition is designed to raise awareness of the historic importance of the bicycle in Yucatecan life,” said Noemí Villanueva of Yucatán’s culture ministry.
The exhibit is titled T’ íinchak’ balak’ ook, which in the Yucatec-Mayan language translates to “push with the foot to make it turn.”
Nobody knows when the first bicycles came to Yucatán, but by the late 19th century they had become a popular transportation method, work tool, and recreational gadget — quite advanced for its time!
Mexico’s most recent national census found that nearly 40% of homes in Yucatán had at least one bicycle, the highest per capita number nationwide.
One of the highlights of the exhibition includes artifacts loaned to the museum by Mérida’s city museum and other institutions such as the state university.
One of the most immersive aspects of the exhibition is the use of recognizable audio samples of bicycle bells and whistles used by sweet-bread and fruit vendors as well as junk collectors.
It is surprising how nostalgic and engrained the sound of a sliding whistle can be. In Yucatán, it’s a sure sign of the proximity of a bicycle-mounted afilador, or a door-to-door knife sharpener.
Bicycles also have taken on a religious dimension in Yucatán and across México and even have their own widely venerated Catholic saint, San Germán.
As is the case with all exhibits at the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, the museography is excellent and makes effective use of multimedia presentations.
But aside from simply exploring the past, this exhibit also actively promotes the use of cycling as an alternative to automobiles and motorcycles, as well as promoting Mérida’s new bicycle lanes.
The exhibit also displays several infographics detailing safety rules for drivers and cyclists alike.
As a sport and recreational activity, cycling is now more popular than ever in Yucatán, with dozens of active groups, teams, and clubs.
The temporary exhibit is open from Wednesdays to Sundays and is included in the 100-peso general admission ticket to the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya. Entrance is free on Sundays for residents of Yucatán able to present an INE or driver’s license.