Winding Down

This week marked an important event – we booked the very last accommodation we’ll need until we leave. No more trawling through listings every few days, no more comparing prices and amenities and weighing up the best option. Looking back over our trip, we’ve stayed in eighteen AirBnbs and twelve hotels. That’s quite a lot of moving around!

The other significant difference from this point on is that we’ll be staying in the same place for five days, and then an entire week. Up until now, the longest we’ve stayed in one place is when we arrived at our first destination in Tokyo and stayed for four nights. While the camper vans housed us for three weeks each, we still moved on every two or three days. Considering that we’ve maintained this impressive pace for all these months, it’s not surprising that we’re going through a winding down phase at the moment.

Travelling a lot can mean making new friends

In Australia we covered nearly hundreds of miles. In New Zealand it was close to the same. By the time we got to Chile, we confined our trip to the area around Santiago and the Lake District, while Costa Rica helped us out by being a pretty small country anyway.

Here in Mexico, we were confronted with a tricky decision. The country is enormous (it covers almost 2 million square km) and includes everything from deserts to forests to beach resorts. If we’d come across this wonderful diversity at the start of our trip, I’m sure we’d be zooming all over the place and fitting in as much as possible. Seeing as we’re nearing the end, our needs are a little different.

The Palacio de Belles Artes in Mexico City

While we’ve had the most amazing experiences since we’ve been away, they don’t necessarily fall into the category of a ‘holiday’ in the traditional sense – sitting in the sun, going to the beach, eating out and generally not doing very much.

Perhaps that’s why we decided to limit our experience to a few days in and around Mexico City, and about two weeks on the Yucatan Peninsula, home of the ‘Mexican Riviera.’

By some people’s standards it hasn’t exactly been a quiet and relaxing time. We’ve still only stayed in each accommodation for a maximum of three nights, sometimes just one, and we hired a car to take us around. For us, it’s been pretty tame. There have been at least three or four whole days since we’ve been here that we’ve sone nothing at all. A rare happening for us when we’re abroad.

A bit busy but lovely just the same

Last week we headed to a beach on Isla Mujeres and stayed there, not bothering to take a taxi to the south end where there was apparently better snorkelling because it seemed like too much effort. A few days before that we were in Valladolid and all we managed was a walk around the town square and a leisurely lunch. No epic day trips to archaeological sites (although we did that at Chichen Itza), no visits to museums or churches, just a bit of time absorbing the atmosphere.

I find myself conflicted. Seeing as we’ve been going for so long, it just feels like too much effort to undertake long journeys and all day trips. But there’s also something tugging at my conscience. We are in such a beautiful, exciting place, surely it makes sense to experience as much of it as we can? Especially seeing as we will be home soon.

The amazing architecture at Teotihuacan

However, at the moment, the urge to take it easy seems to be winning. Just the other day we went to Teotihuacan, an astonishing ancient city with huge pyramids and extensive ruins. While we intended to get there early to avoid the crowds, in the end we got there three hours after it opened. It wasn’t too packed, and it meant we didn’t need to prepare the day before or rush around in the morning getting ready.

I suspect that the human brain can only take so much novelty before it starts to lose its impact. Well, at least for us. It seems as if her little grey cells are more than happy to keep absorbing new things.

She just keeps enjoying new things!

A measure of my ability to cope with new situations arose last week after a trip to Rio Lagartos. We’d been at the tiny seaside village to see flamingoes and other wild birds on a boat tour. The night before we’d had a rare moment alone together after the baby had gone to asleep on a gorgeous rooftop terrace. Sipping cocktails and watching the sky dim, we mused over various aspects of our trip. I appreciate these moments all the more now they don’t come around very often.

Unfortunately, this tranquility didn’t extend to the following day. While the tour was fantastic – stilt-legged pink birds wading in water sparkling in the sun – the drive to Cancun afterwards was less fun. It was a fiercely hot day, and my stomach had finally succumbed to the onslaught of Mexican food, so I was feeling sick and dehydrated.

The sun was too bright to get a good shot!

The roads and driving conditions in Mexico have to be the worst we’ve encountered. There are speed bumps in the middle of highways, often without signs to warn you of their approach. You need to swerve to avoid the various potholes and dents, and the road markings are barely visible, which makes staying in your lane a challenge.

And then there are the drivers. Overtaking, undertaking, anything goes, so you have to keep your eyes on all sides of you. Speed limits seem to be a suggestion more than anything, with cars whipping past your car and the three in front of you at breakneck speed. It’s rather disconcerting to have this happen in the opposite direction – the front of a truck heading straight towards you on your side of the road, the metres being quickly eaten up.

I’m sure the roads were more sedate 2,000 years ago

For any dangerous or hazardous manoeuvres, the universal signal is simply putting your hazard lights on. This has been used to warn us of stopping in the middle of the road, reversing into oncoming traffic and performing a U-turn in the middle of a busy street. When someone starts doing it, we’ve learnt to slow down and stay out of the way.

Needless to say, after three hours of this I was feeling rather frazzled. We were almost at our apartment when there was a police check. Many people we’d met up with had ended up giving cash to the police in situations like this, but we’d been lucky so far.

They were lying in wait for us…

I was just about to congratulate us on our continued good fortune when I saw one of the men in uniform waving me over. I had been speeding, he said. Didn’t I see the 40 sign? Well, frankly, no I hadn’t, because it didn’t exist. Because we’ve heard horror stories, I’ve always made sure to stick to the limit, and found it ironic that of all the cars roaring past us, I was the one that had been pulled over.

A long exchange later, he casually dropped into conversation that there was a way to avoid going to the police station the next day and paying a large sum. Knowing that delaying the situation further would help us out in terms of the amount we paid him, we continued to act dumb. Eventually we got my licence back for about £20, which was a lot better than some of the experiences we’d heard about.

Where I wished I was rather than being on the road…

As if that weren’t enough, the address we’d been given took us to a street but not an address, so we had to sit in a hot car waiting for a reply and to figure out where we were going. The first place we parked the car led to us getting yelled at by a disgruntled shop owner, the actual parking space was pretty much a builder’s yard, and the place itself was dingy and didn’t have any toilet paper.

All I could think of was the next set of nights to book, the ferry we were going to take the following day, the four flights still to go, all the packing and re-packing still to do, the fact that we had no food or water so would have to go out again, and the microwave, hotplate and plastic knives and forks that were all we had to make dinner.

I’d had enough. I didn’t want to go anywhere else. The thought of carrying on made me want to cry. I wanted to go home.

This dinner cheered me up considerably

Of course, once we’d ditched the scummy flat for a nice restaurant and had a walk by the sea things didn’t seem so bad. There is now no need to trawl through websites to find places to stay, and the biggest time difference we will have to deal with is a mere five hours on our way back home.

I think this is why our pace has slowed. Perhaps we’re not seeing as much of this country as we did the others, but there’s something to be said for spending more time in a smaller space. While the cause might be fatigue and overstimulation, the end result is that we are wallowing a bit more in the places we do see.

Taking it easy? I’ll drink to that

With only two weeks and one country left, our trip has become something very different from when we first began. It feels a bit more like a ‘holiday’ and less like a grand adventure. And I think, for now, considering my stress levels, that’s for the best.

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I'm a writer, teacher and drummer based in London. Short fiction and reviews are my main staples, along with some dabbling in novel writing.

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