To be honest, things haven't really been going to plan on this trip so far, and it's starting to get to us.
First up, both of us have been suffering from niggling but annoying health problems. Two days in, I suddenly got terrible cramps in my left forearm that lasted for a good four days, and which literally made it a pain to type; I then got hit by a really violent bout of seasickness on the first sea dive, followed almost instantly by an insistent head cold that prevented me from diving the next day (and which is still making me cough annoyingly). I'm also a daily target for clouds of mosquitoes and sandflies – unlike Peta, whom they seem to ignore – and I have an entire Braille library of stories to tell from insect bites on my ankles and arms. Peta, meanwhile, picked up my cold just after she'd qualified as a diver, and she's only just getting rid of it; she had a serious migraine visual that knocked her out when we got to Valladolid; and did I mention the two days in bed in Mérida recovering from classic traveller's tummy? None of this is serious, but it is pretty wearing.
Second, the weather has been astonishingly oppressive. Even Peta, who loves hot weather, is finding the daily downpours and unremitting dampness of Mexico a bit draining, and I'm all over the place. My mind seems to stop working in hot climates, like an over-clocked processor in a badly ventilated computer, and I stream with sweat every time I do so much as lift a finger. The last time this happened was in a heatwave in Kerala, when we had to hide from the midday sun; this time it's the afternoon and evening humidity that's the problem, so it's a lot harder to avoid.
Third, we've managed to pick some truly dreadful hotels so far: we had the noisiest hotel in the world in Tulum, and the scariest hotel in the world in Mérida, and the effects of bad hotels last for days. The others have been OK, but it really doesn't help you fall in love with a country when you keep having to pack up your bags within a day of arriving somewhere, just because we said, 'Yes, we'll take it,' instead of looking the hotelier in the eye and saying, 'Oh, come on.'
The Five Day Rule
Clearly, one way to try to solve these problems is to stop rushing around. When I look at the kind of travelling I did in my 20s and 30s, I see a madman on the loose; every day I'd be moving on, visiting this place, dashing off to that place, never staying anywhere for very long. This is what you do when you're young; heck, it's almost a metaphor for youth in the first place. But when you reach 40, things suddenly get harder, and rushing round in the oppressive heat and staying in hotels with concrete beds gets quite a bit harder. You get backache, you risk twisting yourself into oblivion if you pick up your backpack at the wrong angle, you take a lot longer to recover from illness, and you basically have no choice but to take it more slowly than those half your age.
It doesn't help that the guidebooks all come with suggested itineraries, and they too are aimed at the young; they race along at the pace that I used to go when I was full of youthful vigour. I've been looking at those itineraries for months and, without thinking, I loosely based our planned schedule on them, but it turns out they're just not for us; if we try to get around that fast, we'll be coming home before you can say 'NHS', and that would be a terrible waste of a year off.
So, we've come up with a rule that we're going to try travelling by, and it's this: we're going to try spending five full days in each of the places we travel to. This means that we're going to have to pick decent destinations with enough going on in the vicinity to keep us occupied for that long, or places that simply have a pleasant atmosphere, so that sitting around and watching the world go by is enjoyable on its own. It's a simple rule, and it should stop us trying to rush around while also encouraging us to stop and smell the roses (something I didn't do enough of when I was a young traveller).
Practically speaking, this means that if we're thinking of spending 30 days in a country, then that would mean choosing five destinations with five days in each, with a day's travelling between them. It's only a rule of thumb, and obviously it will sometimes take more than a day to get between these prime destinations, and there will be places that are worth visiting en route without staying a long time, but the basic approach still stands: we need to pick fewer places and spend more time in them.
This backpacking lark is a young person's game, and I think we have to become seasoned travellers instead: you don't gulp down a fine wine, you sip it, and that's what we're going to do. It'll be good for me, I suspect, in more ways than one.