Slow Travel, Mexican Style


Girl floats in water wearing black vintage bathing suit.

Photo by Jenny Hannah Roche

Every day we ride out to the beach. We bring a cooler bag filled with ice, water, tangerines, and six whorehouse coronas*. We bring our books.We bring sarongs and floppy hats and sunglasses and sunscreen.  The road to the beach is hot, even in morning, and we wobble over potholes, past tangled bougainvillaea that trails along the guardrail. We pass abandoned houses, shady in the palm grove.

At the beach, we walk two miles to the very end. There, around the red rocks, a man named Tony has built a secret cabana, the only shade structure. Tony likes to come to watch the sunrise. We make sure to come a little later so as not to interrupt his routine.

We drink our beer in the shade and watch the pelicans run trick formations over the tips of the waves.

We know about Tony and his sunrise habit because we are not day trippers. We are every day trippers.

Like good mezcal, Mexico is best enjoyed slowly.

I often get letters from readers wanting recommendations. They let slip the itinerary: “We will be flying into Mexico in January for a 7 day trip.  We’ll land in Mexico City and proceed to Cuernavaca and then on to Oaxaca City for a night. Then we plan on cutting over to the Yucatan to see Chichen-itza. ” Unfortunately, this is barely an exaggeration. My typical response is to advise that the traveler stays put in Mexico City for all seven days, but I doubt anyone actually listens to me.

I get it. If you only make it out of the country every few years (if that) and you only have a week to travel, I can see how you might be tempted to pack it all in, to cover some ground, to go home with a veritable rosary of conquered destinations. But, bragging rights aside, what are you really going to get out of that?

Whirlwind travel is certainly not relaxing, and unless you already know your destinations well, it sets you up to be the worst kind of tourist: flustered, confused, perfunctory, and, quite likely, irritable. You are disoriented and tired. You don’t know your way around and you won’t have time to learn.

There are two ways to deal with a one day stop at a destination: resign yourself to seeing very little and don’t worry about it, or succumb to the pressure of needing to eat at the famous restaurant, see the famous attractions, buy the souvenir, and spangle it all across your social networks, which of course leaves little time for taking care of your actual needs: checking messages, banking, laundry, shopping for missing supplies, drinking relaxing cerveza etc.

When you have one night to spend in a new city, you blunder about. In the old days, this meant ending up at the most obvious places. These days  you can rely on the Internet for reviews and recommendations.  But how much fun is that, really? Relying on Yelp and Trip Advisor minimizes the delight of true discovery and the keen thrill of the hunt.

photo by Jenny Hannah Roche

photo by Jenny Hannah Roche

Contrast that perfunctory experience with hangout travel: the relaxing experience of spending your entire vacation in one spot. You have time to get a feel for the landscape. If you’re in a rural area, you can get a feel for the surrounding villages or beaches; if you’re in a city you can get a feel for the surrounding neighborhoods. You’ll have time to wander, unimpeded by an itinerary. Instead of madly scrolling through reviews, married to your GPS, you’ll have time to look up in the old sense of the word: to look around. Instead of feeling the pressure to hit the most famous restaurant in town, you’ll have the leisure to try enticing places, to get recommendations from locals, to make friends with the cook at the hole-in-the-wall, to explore an entire menu at your new favorite taqueria.

Sure, you’ll make mistakes. You won’t win with every restaurant, and not every day will be memorable. But establishing your own points of comparison is more fun than eating at one sanctioned establishment or spending a breakneck half hour at a must-see market.

Also, it’s cheaper. It’s crazy how quickly transportation costs add up. If you can get the time off, slow travel can add weeks your vacation. Hanging out means having time to find cheap food and a cheaper place to stay. Many of the best deals are not featured online. On a slow vacation, you can book a place for your first few nights and then take your time looking for something cheaper and potentially better. (I don’t tend to make reservations at all, but that style of travel is not for everyone.)

A cheaper, longer, more relaxing vacation?

Sign us up.

*A 6 0z bottle of beer, so named because they were once served for full price in Mexican brothels.

4 Responses to “Slow Travel, Mexican Style”

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  1. -El Codo- says:

    Churpa it is easy to spot high velocity tourists….

    You’ll hear a rapidly receding “Whatwuzzat?”

    F5 tourism reminds me of someone who would visit a gastronomical temple in Paris France, and gobble an entire eight course meal including the golf ball size white truffle in three minutes flat. Chug A Lug a bottle of Chateau Haut Brion, then jump up and yell “What’s Next?”

    “The museum! Should I wear cross trainers or track shoes?”

    Mexican tourists generally do not travel F5 (on the Saffir-Simpson Scale). An extended family will crowd into a beach Enramada and stay for hours.

  2. Jaimetown says:

    Love the reference to the “whorehouse Coronas” … Just hoping you meant six a piece ;)

  3. -El Codo- says:

    Follow the leader travel scheduling is like having three dozen people do a paint by the numbers landscape. A person will see 36 identical “works”. Talk about boring…Travel in the USA is rather predictable. Off the cuff travel in Mexico is exact polar opposite. The high points simply drown out disappointments.

  4. Lorena says:

    When we were first living in Mexico and working on The People’s Guide to Mexico, we criss-crossed the country in a VW van. When we saw an interesting looking village, we’d stop and go house hunting.

    A month later, we were usually packing up, setting off to find another village. And then another.

    Fortunately, sooner or later, the road would end at a beach.

    And what beaches were the best beaches?

    The ones where I could hang a hammock and swing in it for 6 weeks or so. Each day, serious wave-watching would be interrupted by lazy swimming breaks. And if I was really lucky, there would also be an afternoon swim to the restaurants down the beach.

    Getting tired of sand in your clothes and sunburns? Why pack up and head into the mountains, looking for another interesting village….