Well, thanks to the wonderful advice of so many of you, I can now say that I’ve finally been spending a significant amount of time away from my computer over the past few days, and as one might expect, I haven’t felt this good in a long while. A few swims in the Caribbean Sea and a handful of abnormally long sleeps seemed to have been exactly what I needed. Even when I sit down to work I find that I’m more motivated and focused now that my body and mind have been allowed to relax a little.
However, it does appear that four straight weeks of staring at my computer all day, every day, and barely going outside during that time, has left me struggling to adapt to one aspect of Mexico – the heat.
Normally, I don’t mind the heat at all and I even tend to visit places such as India and Southeast Asia during their hottest seasons, when the temperatures typically hover around 50 C (122 F) in many parts. But these past few days have been insanely difficult.
After walking two blocks down the road, I’m already wanting to take a nap! Within seconds of venturing outside, I’m drenched in sweat, my muscles don’t want to move anymore and I’ve already chugged down the 1-liter bottle of water I’m carrying around. So do I turn around and follow my desire to just crash onto my bed and remain there for the rest of the day? No way! I certainly don’t want to exchange a habit of 90 hour work weeks for a habit of 90 hour sleep weeks, and so I push on, forcing myself to try and get comfortable in the heat.
Just don’t expect me to visit any Mayan ruins, to hike through the jungle or even walk around Playa del Carmen exploring areas that I’ve yet to explore. But that’s okay, as I can still feel as if I’m traveling and exploring Mexico, even if I don’t visit something that one would find listed in a guidebook or that’s considered a highlight of the area.
While such well-known and even lesser-known sights often play a major role of any travel itinerary, sometimes travel is just about being wherever you are and soaking up the atmosphere of a place. You don’t have to constantly be on the go in order to benefit from your travels, and in fact, I think that it’s almost vital to stop every now and then and just do something simple.
So what should you do when it’s too hot to trek up that mountain, too humid to visit those ruins or too sticky to even think about another day of sightseeing? Here’s some alternatives to consider, most of which I’ve been taking advantage of during the past few days myself:
RELAX WITH THE LOCALS: Chances are, if it’s too hot for you, many of the locals are probably looking for a way to escape the heat as well. So why not join them? Perhaps they congregate in air-conditioned cafes, hole-in-the-wall tea stalls, picnic areas in a local forest, comfy pubs, parks or maybe just a shopping center. Wherever it may be, head on over yourself, start a few conversations and keep from overheating while meeting some new people.
FIND A CINEMA: This is one of my favorite ways to get out of the heat while traveling and more often than not, even if I end up seeing a Hollywood film, I’m bound to have an entirely unique cultural experience. Whether it’s enchilada-flavored popcorn, beer included with the price of admission, plush sofa-seating or having to pass through two metal detectors and a full-body pat down before entering the theater, there’s a good chance that such an outing will prove to be more interesting than just an ordinary trip to the movies. And most of the time, the air inside the theater will be cooler than the air outside!
TAKE A LONG RIDE: Jump in a taxi, a rickshaw, a tuk-tuk, on a train, subway/metro or in a boat, hand over some money and enjoy a leisurely ride to nowhere. Who says you need an actual destination? Negotiate with the driver for an hour’s worth of riding around, so that you can just sit back and observe life around you from a different, and shade-protected, perspective. And then keep track of interesting places you pass along the way, so that on a cooler day (or during a cooler part of the day), you can spend more time exploring without fear of melting. *Perhaps this is only a good idea if you’re in a relatively inexpensive country. The cost of an hour’s taxi tour of, say, London, might force you to end your travels early!
GO FOR A SWIM: I’m always up for a swim when the temperatures soar, whether it’s in the ocean, a lake, a waterfall or just a public pool. Also, it’s normally quite easy to show up at any four or five star hotel in the town or city you’re visiting, pay for a day pass and make use of their pool and facilities. If you want something more low key (and cheaper), find a smaller hotel or even a hostel with a pool and they’ll often let you in for the day for just a few dollars. And while public pools may seem somewhat nasty at times, they do tend to offer an interesting glimpse into the lives of a local population, and even dangling your legs in the water will cool you down.
STROLL THROUGH A MARKET: Exploring a market at a leisurely pace is an exceptional way to get out of the heat, as long as you find an indoor or covered market! Roam the aisles, talk with vendors, ask questions about the strange things you find and your day will be filled with memorable moments. And remember that markets are not only for fruits and vegetables. I’ve come across massive flower markets, hand-made furniture markets, religious markets as well as markets centered around local artisans, clothes, spices, musical instruments, books and even a beer market that consisted of several hundred stalls where you could sample and purchase a variety of locally-made brews (it was in Germany of course!). The only danger of spending too much time in these markets is that you just might walk out with a funky desk lamp, colorful candle holder, triangular floor pillow, bag of curry powder and a pair of bongo drums, none of which you’ll be able to fit into your backpack/luggage.
SIGHTSEEING: I know that, originally, I mentioned sightseeing as the thing to consider avoiding when the heat is too much for most people to bear, but if you’re not like most people, this might be the perfect time to do your sightseeing. This is even more so the case if you’re the kind of person who isn’t a huge fan of large crowds. As everyone runs for the cafes, you can have a particular sight all to yourself if you don’t mind having your eyes stinging from all of the sweat! Often times, our experiences and connections to a place intensify when we are able to focus on the views, the history, the sounds and the overall atmosphere without having to push our way through noisy crowds.
And finally, there’s one more thing that you can do when you are forced to slow down due to the heat. You can do NOTHING at all. I’ve spent many a day while on the road doing not much of anything, just sitting on a balcony, swinging in a hammock or plopped comfortably on a sofa in the guesthouse I was staying in. If the heat is sucking the energy out of you, there’s no reason to feel guilty about taking a day or two or three off from your itinerary. While you’re resting up, and avoiding a sunburned face and dehydration, you can chat with the staff at the hostel, the family who runs the guesthouse or just other travelers who don’t want to venture into the heat themselves.
There’s no such thing as a wasted moment of travel and you don’t have to be taking photographs or standing in front of the Taj Mahal to consider a day of travel to be a success. So when the heat arrives, just as it has here in Playa del Carmen at the moment, why not take it slowly and focus on some of the simpler aspects of the culture you’re immersed in? There’s no shame in doing so and you just may discover that such experiences prove to be more worthwhile and rewarding than visiting the must-see sights on your list!
Photo: High Temperature
Any other suggestions you’d like to add from experience?