By Renee Langmuir
It is common knowledge that seniors have been greatly affected by the recent pandemic. Of course, the greatest tragedy was the number of vulnerable older folks who died or were isolated in assisted living or medical facilities. A much less significant issue was the fact that several years of travel were impossible for my aging cohort. At the time, this sounded like a narcissistic complaint (which it was). The facts are, however, that as one ages, travel becomes more challenging every year. The few years lost were years of greater physical hardiness. Sandwich in the pandemic with its requirement of staying home around the clock, and the idea of leaving the house for destinations unknown feels quite daunting.
Leaving the house
My husband and I decided to test the waters in October 2022, about three years since an exuberant trip to Vienna. Working down the now-shortened bucket list, we went on a five-day excursion to Iceland. Prior to the trip, I was wracked with anxiety, though not especially about catching Covid. Losing a night’s sleep, traveling to a vastly different, dangerous locale, and all the choices that needed to be made had me wondering whether this was worth the struggle. I felt like I was just going through the motions.
Although the scenery was definitely worth the effort, the snafus immediately post-pandemic were in the double digits: being stranded in the cold with the wrong clothes upon arrival, no record of hotel reservations, being left at the bus stop for the first tour, and most, terrifyingly, being swept off the roadway in a giant tour bus by an errant Arctic wind.
Post-pandemic Round 2
Recently, when my husband pulled out the bucket list again, he was championing a trip to the Yucatan over this past Easter. Being a veteran world traveler (before he met me), he always appreciated the spirituality of the holidays in Spanish-speaking countries. I nervously agreed to go. In retrospect, there was a “sign” that this would be a very different type of excursion. Being long stuck in a PTSD loop for a variety of familial reasons, I was astonished to learn at an optometry appointment days before our trip that my vision had improved significantly, and my current glasses were now useless. What was going on? I didn’t know how to deal with good news. But this trip got me up to speed immediately.
An exotic excursion to Mexico
We were traveling to the Yucatan, specifically to the area around Merida, Mexico. From take-off to landing, we were in a state of constant amazement: things went remarkably well and we felt like we stepped into another realm.
This was no “all inclusive” venue. Most of the time, we were the only non-Mexicans anywhere. Spanish was the requisite language and it was close to 100 degrees daily. The cities and towns did have exquisite “bones,” but almost all buildings were in some state of neglect. However, our home base was a luxurious, historic sisal hacienda complete with a private outdoor room with a plunge pool, and cuisine available round the clock which was creative, healthy, and very Yucatecan!
Our first day’s outing was to a small town that enlists the locals in authentic costumes for a reenactment of the crucifixion. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a platoon of pedicabs ferrying the residents to the town square. We spent the morning meandering around outdoor stalls, eating ceviche, and jockeying for any small spot of shade we could find. Immediately, we noticed the quiet, gentle manner of the people, their friendliness to these two obvious outsiders, and how everyone was part of a family.
As the week progressed, we wandered around Merida, marveling at its colorful market which showed no signs of modern technology, observed the Spanish colonial architecture everywhere, sometimes hidden under years of neglect, and enjoyed entertainment free of charge, just for the delight of the residents. We swam in underground cenotes, pristine cave-like swimming holes, and passed by a parked ox on the way to a local restaurant in a thatched building in another small town.
Over the week, we enjoyed the sights of unusual birds and animals, the warm touch of the sun, and the beach where all the locals go to swim and eat great food. But I didn’t discover what made this trip so unique until I got home.
An alternate universe
Where in the world does one find courteous people on the roadways? Many poor Mexicans ride small motorcycles. All hug the right-hand lane near the shoulder to let others pass. Where are all the cell phones? Why does everyone encountered in a shop, restaurant, or hotel give their undivided attention and assistance? Are the people who are dressed so well on the streets the same ones who live in the houses we see everywhere, which look somewhat uninhabited?
An explanation can be found in the Internations.org Expat Insider 2022 Survey. The reason why so many people choose to live in Mexico is because of the same enchantment we found: the friendly attitude and ease of making friends. Even with the famous corruption, violence, and high poverty, Mexico is 24th out of 156 countries on the 2018 Happiness Report. In this society, relationships are most important for happiness. There is a noticeable lack of emphasis on material values, but rather, an abundance of quality opportunities for relationships with family, relatives, and friends. Large extended families provide opportunities for loving care of the niños and elders.
Our recent holiday is still in my bones. When I was younger, after traveling, I used to count the number of days it took to return to my “set point” in life. I haven’t done this counting in quite some time. At the age of 70, there have been so many life events that have taken away my sense of wonder. I am happy to report that traveling to the Yucatan has exhumed feelings of connection with the natural world, its people, and the feeling of jubilance. I am still living well above my usual “set point.”
Miriam Beard, a women’s history archivist and author from another era reminds us, “Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” If you haven’t traveled in a while, give it a try!
Renee Langmuir has been an educator for 34 years in Pennsylvania public schools and as Director of Student Teaching at a local university. Several years ago, there was a perfect alignment of personal, family, and work-related issues which resulted in a very abrupt and unplanned retirement. Because the teaching of writing to children was a lifelong passion, and professional writing was always part of her job description, Renee decided to chronicle the transition from the world of work to the world of retirement in a series of personal essays. As each challenge arose, research was done, and an essay was penned. These musings are now housed on the website, www.therookieretiree.com, for the benefit of the growing cohort of the newly retired. Renee is the mother of two adult children and lives with her husband in Chadds Ford, Pa. Besides writing, she spends her spare time as both a livestock and garden volunteer.