“Relax your body, mind, and soul,” my massage therapist whispered into my ear as my body melted into the table. I had experienced Leti’s magical hands during a sample facial the resort’s spa had offered near one of the swimming pools, and she was the only one I was going to trust to provide healing for me on my vacation to Cancun. No matter how temporary the pain relief would be, I knew her “smooth as butter” touch was worth it. In fact, the tranquility of the spa the first time I saw it was one of the reasons why I became a member owner there. Three years ago, I bought a timeshare at the resort where she worked, but this was the first time I was able to afford a trip down there to actually use it. Had I known at that time I’d be on disability within a matter of months of purchasing the timeshare, I never would’ve bought it. It’s a matter of “Use it or lose it” because it is impossible to sell a timeshare.
But now I’m glad I made the investment. It has forced me to realize that traveling to the south in the winter is something that is an essential part of my healing journey. How can I afford it? I don’t buy a lot of stuff anymore. Life experiences have become my priority as I assess my finances, which are now half of what I was making when I bought the timeshare to begin with. Mexico in particular has become a rejuvenating place for me, since I went on long-term disability two years ago this week. My physical therapist says it’s because of the warm weather and being in a location that is at sea-level. Although I can’t site the research she has shared with me, I can share my own experiences regarding how my most recent vacation inspired me to relax my body, mind and soul, just as Leticia instructed.
When I was in Cancun a couple weeks ago, I didn’t have any chronic headaches the entire week. Even though the chronic pain still dominated my neck, shoulders and back, my head felt lighter, as if I wasn’t carrying the weight of one of those old-fashioned cash registers on my neck (you know, the ones that went “DING!” when the register drawer opened). I could hold my head up, for the most part, which is impossible for me to do most of the time anywhere else. Nature plays a huge role in our healing, and when I returned home from Cancun, I found this article in my inbox. It’s definitely worth a read.
For me, I chose to experience a lot of this stress relief on my trip. Floating in the pools and hot tub was a favorite activity, both during the day and later at night. Lying on the beach and listening to the sound of the waves are activities people who live by the water take for granted, but for me, they’re both an integral part of my healing. The jacuzzi in my room was used religiously every night before I went to bed, and it felt like heaven.
The first three days provided lots of opportunities to listen to the palm trees billow in the breeze, while the wind down below lashed at everything in its path at 18 miles per hour. If you’ve ever been to Chicago and felt the cold air make you shiver by the lake, then you know these chilly days were not exactly what I was dreaming of for my respite, especially when the weather was in the low 70s. Being surrounded by water and howling winds make it difficult to do anything but lie on a lounge chair, completely enveloped by a beach towel. Somehow, it seemed to defeat the purpose of being outside, but people were determined to be in the sun next to the water, even if they were so wrapped up in a blanket that they couldn’t feel any sun at all. I actually had to turn the heat on in my suite, which is pretty extreme for this gal coming from Minneapolis where zero degrees was a blessing in February. Taking a pillow off the bed and putting it in the hammock that awaited me outside on my balcony was just the right medicine on these windy days. No time would be lost on helping my body feel its best, given the circumstances. I just had to shake things up a bit.
Although there were ups and downs at the resort concerning the staff and certain situations regarding my health (like having to wait an hour and a half on the floor outside my room, soaking wet in my swimming suit after an evening of floating, for someone to let me into my room because their keys didn’t work. Not to mention the frustration that accompanied the fact they wouldn’t listen to me when I told them repeatedly I physically couldn’t walk to pick up another key because of my disability), I chose to have a good time. I chose which battles to fight and which ones to let go. I chose to be open to meeting new people, and new friends were made. I chose to speak my truth so that I wasn’t taken advantage of. One conversation with the manager, and I was compensated for the problems the staff caused by getting a 1/2 hour complimentary massage with my therapist whose hands were smooth as butter.
I chose to keep my computer turned off, unless I was reading one of my Kindle books. Whenever I leave my computer off for a few days, staying away from social media and leaving e-mails unread, I always feel better. I don’t know if there’s research to back that up too. But for me, it isn’t a vacation if I feel pressured to respond to people’s communications, especially when they know I’m on vacation to relax. My mind needs a rest, and that’s exactly what I give it, to the greatest degree that I can.
Most enlightening for me, though, was my choice to go beyond being the typical tourist imprisoned at the resort and asked one of my new friends who was the Director of Water Activities for help. I wanted to experience the culture of the Mexican people, and I wasn’t going to get that at a resort. So my friend took me to Hippie Park on the weekend to view a few local artists selling their wares and then strolled across the street to Parque de las Palapas where a huge outdoor space was filled with vendors serving up traditional Mexican fare, families watching their kids drive the little toy cars around the lot, and couples taking turns dancing one of the many Latin dances up on a stage. It was a site filled with love and play. This is where the culture of the Mexican people exists all of the time. It is a gathering place where families meet every week to enjoy good food, great company and lots of laughs. I felt a sense of true community here and loved every minute of it.
With my survival Spanish improving as I spoke to the local residents and my knowledge being constructed for getting downtown to the places I wanted to go affordably, I felt more at home. People staying at the resort would ask ME how to get places, since we were located in an isolated part of Cancun, and I was able to share which shuttles and buses to take in order to avoid spending a lot of money on cab fare. One of the resort staff even told me he learned something from me, and he was driving the free resort shuttle that ran five times each day (which we fortunately discovered was only a one way “ticket” before leaving the resort, even though they advertised pick-up times on the newsletter we got each day about that day’s activities). Other folks from the States would look perplexed and wonder how they were going to get back to home base if the shuttle only delivered them to their destination. So I would tell them. With that part of my stay complete, I felt like I could truly relax my body, mind, and soul. Because my soul needed to be fed a feeling of equality between myself and the people whose culture I was embracing. I didn’t want to be an observer, I wanted to be one of them. And that, to me, was the most healing of all.
My Hopes: I hope that next time I travel, I will have someone as a traveling companion. I want to teach others what I’ve learned and to help them see how wonderful it is to become immersed in a culture other than your own. It would also help me to have someone whom I can physically lean on, because even the quick trips I took to get food were challenging, and I would’ve had someone else to rely on when problems arose that impacted my disability. I hope that I will be able to afford another trip to Mexico in the near future because of all the healing qualities it offers for all of the symptoms of my cervical dystonia. No wonder people retire to places that are warm year-round. They also reap the benefits of warmer weather healing the chronic pain or other pain that arises as one gets older.
And my hope for you is that the next time you travel to a different culture, step out of your role as a tourist and into the role of a native. Yes, it’s scary and unfamiliar territory, but you learn so much more. This changes you and allows you to see life from a different point-of-view. You never know. It just may be the point-of-view that you’ve been searching for your entire life.