In a way, I have fallen in love with Mexico. The experiences will always bring smiles to my face and light to my heart.
Fifteen of the last 20 months in my life were spent in Mexico: Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Campeche, Sabancuay, Mahahual, Chetumal, Mexico City, Rosarito, Tijuana, Guadalajara, Ajijic, Chapala, Puerto Vallarta, Yelapa, Huatulco, Puerto Angel, Puerto Escondido. That’s not including day trips to other cities and towns like Coba, Xcalak or Ciudad del Carmen. There were a few weeks spent in Belize and Guatemala, and a few months back home in the U.S., but the majority of my time by far has been in Mexico.
I anticipated a tan and fun in the sun, beautiful Caribbean beaches and Pacific Ocean sunsets, culturally important cities and Mayan ruins. I didn’t expect to be internally changed forever.
Yes, Mexico has its issues – doesn’t every country? This isn’t a cultural contrast and I’m not declaring Mexico better than my homeland. I’m simply saying my experiences here have changed me for the better, in many ways. Here are some of them.
My self-confidence has increased
I’ve always been a fairly confident woman, but my self-confidence has been boosted as I continue to live in a foreign country and interact with its people. It takes a certain kind of courage to travel around in a foreign place and not know the language – especially when traveling like a local, using conveyances unheard of in America, such as combis or colectivos, which are shared taxi rides that are either passenger vans or pickup trucks. Taking a bus across a part of the country was, at first, a confidence tester. (Don’t listen to all the negative news. We’ve had great experiences with this so far.)
Deciding where to live for a month or more at a time takes much planning. My spouse Tedly and I are slow travelers, so we generally stay in a city or town a month, though not always.We research an area we want to visit, Tedly usually finds the Airbnb options and presents them to me and we review them together to make a selection. When we get to an area we’ve never been to before, we hope for the best. So far it’s worked out, and that’s building our confidence for when we hit areas outside Mexico, which will happen later this year.
Communication with everyone who doesn’t speak English can be a challenge, but I’m still slowly plodding along with trying to learn Spanish. Some days I do well and can have a light conversation. Other days my brain just doesn’t want to work in anything but English. But, with every single interaction, I try to learn (and retain) something, and I get a little more confident in my ability to accomplish basic communication.
These are just a few of the larger confidence-building experiences I’ve had. There are countless more smaller examples that serve to build on my incredibly lucky experience of slow travel in early retirement.
Humility is more important to me
I learned this a long time ago, but I don’t know if I lived it as much as I do these days. In Mexico, so many people have helped me – with directions, with knowledge of neighborhoods, with understanding electricity bills – and on and on. I don’t proclaim to be an expert about Mexican culture, or an expert on living here as an expat for several months at a time. But I do know this: I will always remain teachable so I can learn and grow. To remain stagnant and self-important with a giant ego is a sure way for me to get knocked down a peg or two (or three) by the Universe. That’s not the kind of person I am today. It helps no one. When I take the time to learn something from someone else, maybe I am boosting their self-confidence in minuscule way. I want to remain open to new experiences and learning new things all the time.
It seems I’ve developed a level of humble confidence I never had before. I’m more flexible and mutable, receptive and intuitive – and these qualities sweeten my life.
Today, I live (mostly) in the now
This is something I started practicing about seven years ago – to be more present in the present. Sure, it’s good to have a plan for the future, but it’s not good to live in tomorrow. I first heard the following saying from an old friend in Cleveland (who is now deceased, rest her soul): ‘With one foot in yesterday, and one foot in tomorrow, you are pissing on today.’
Mexico has taught me that’s all there really is – right now. Have some pesos in your pocket and hungry enough to use a snack? Grab a chair at a restaurant and refuel. Hot and tired in the noon day sun? Take a siesta to relax and rejuvenate. And there’s nothing like enjoying the cool night beach breezes after a long and stifling hot day.
I try to make a plan for the day after my morning exercise. Sometimes it’s necessary to make a plan the day before. But in my past, I used to have every minute of every day for a week or longer all planned out. Living in the now is fun, non-stressful and exciting. When I sometimes start to slip back to my old way of living – the controlling, planning, hyper-organized old Ellen – I remind myself none of that matters, and I try to just be. It’s progress, not perfection.
Slow and low, that is my tempo (and sometimes, late!)
This goes along with living in the now. When I take things slowly, I’m more comfortable and relaxed and can better enjoy the now. Part of the reason is because everything in Mexico seems to go slower than in the U.S., especially in the hotter climate areas. What’s the point of rushing from point A to point B if you’re going to be soaked with sweat? Why not take your time and maybe even enjoy a break in the cooler shade?
Siesta time in Mexico is simply awesome. I’m generally an early riser, and by 11:00 a.m. or noon, the heat starts to wear me down a bit. I take a siesta to relax and I reappear in the day around 1:00 p.m. or 2:00 p.m., once the sun passes its peak. Then I’m ready for the rest of the day. Many businesses even shut down for siesta, but it’s usually after the lunch hour, in the mid-afternoon hours.
A casual meeting time is general. If you tell a friend you’re going to meet around 4:00 p.m., that means 4:00 p.m. or later – not 3:50 p.m. or 3:55 p.m. like in my old life. I used to be early for everything. It’s just one of those cultural differences. Maybe you have to take public transportation to the meeting spot, and it’s not on time and out of your control. Or maybe it’s just too hot to walk too fast.
Tedly has always been habitually late – he has had no trouble adjusting to Mexican time. I still try to be generally on time, but I don’t freak out if I’m ten minutes late instead of ten minutes early.
Of course, professional appointments are treated with a bit more rigidity. If your appointment with the dentist is 9:00 a.m., you are expected at that time, or shortly afterward.
Now, back in the day, I worked in TV news. You know how fast-paced that is. Deadlines all day every day, week in week out. Lounging around during the midday hours, or being late (!) for some casual meeting is a reversal from the hyper news cycle. This life I live now – the slower life – is much better for me. I’m happier not worrying about time all the time, and that helps my effort to live in the now.
I smile more 🙂
This one is pretty simple. Since I smile more, strangers smile back. This makes me more at ease, and hopefully puts others at ease. I like to think that I’m more approachable now, compared to when I had a colder, no-nonsense air as I lived and worked in the U.S. Gosh. That seems like such another life.
I am now more grateful my soul was born as an American
I had career opportunities that are not as easily found in Mexico – especially for women. My soul’s path has afforded me the means to travel and explore places outside my home country with relative ease so far.
Enjoying my last month in Mexico, for now
All of my interactions with Mexican people have been wonderful. They are kind and friendly and they want visitors to have a good time. Don’t believe all the crap you read or watch in media. I know I will return to Mexico in the future.
We are in Mexico one more month before we head to Guatemala for three months. It’s possible we may return to Mexico for the summer, to the San Cristobal region because it’s much cooler in the mountains.
After the summer, we’ll keep heading south, likely leaving Mexico behind for quite awhile. I’ll be a bit melancholy when we eventually leave this country, but I’m also excited for new adventures in new places – new experiences and new learning opportunities to nurture my soul.