Foreign Travel 9-1-1: When Clutter is Good

Foreign Travel 9-1-1: When Clutter is Good

Santiago Church in Merida MexicoWe hear all the time about how we need to declutter.  And how we’ll have space for new things in our lives only when the old things have been moved out.

Well, I finally found an exception!

This week I was in Merida (map), in the Yucatán Peninsula (map) of Mexico.  The city was built by the Spaniards starting in 1542, on top of the existing Mayan capital.  In fact, they tore down five Mayan pyramids to use the carved stone to build their own buildings and churches.

Sisal or henequen plant in the YucatanMerida’s heyday came with the “henequen” business.  Henequen is a hemp-like fiber that comes from an agave cactus that grows in the Yucatán countryside.  It was used to make rope before natural fibers were replaced by synthetics.  Thus Merida became the rope capital of the world and attracted all sorts of European investment in the late 1800s.   Ships sailed regularly to Europe with henequen, and back with antiques and finery.  By 1900, Merida was said to house more millionaires than any other city in the world.

Big house on Calle 60 in MeridaBecause there was lots of money flowing in, there are beautiful buildings all over town, some with European architecture and others Mexican colonial.  Today, some are in ruins but are being renovated, many by non-Mexicans (click here to see a renovation).  And the Mexican government has realized that Merida can be a perfect place for foreigners to retire if they can keep it safe, offer lots of free cultural activities and keep costs low.  So far, so good.

The city is flat, spread out on a grid of numbered streets, and almost a million-people strong.  Lots of history, all very accessible.  A true “walking” city.  And, honestly, a place I love.

I lived in the Yucatán in the 1970s, when Cancun was being built on the other side of the peninsula from Merida.  Merida was the “big city” we drove five hours to reach when we needed something for our restaurant on our “rustic” side of the peninsula.

Today it’s one of the places I escape to when I need to relax and regroup.  And that’s what I did last Sunday: escape.

When I travel, I do what I call “souvenir eating”:  I have favorite foods in each country and for a few days I forget all about calories.

chaya and orange smoothieMonday started with a smoothie made of nutritious “chaya” leaves and oranges, bought at a little juice place in one of the markets.  We joined friends for lunch, and all had “frijol con puerco,” a bowl of black bean soup to which you add whatever ingredients you choose from a separate plate.  Finely chopped red onions, radishes, Habanero chiles and cilantro; sliced lemon, cooked rice and big chunks of cooked pork.  [If you’re interested in the cuisine of the Yucatán, click here.]

Lime soup from the YucatanWe walked for miles and miles on Monday, so after that heavy lunch we decided to take a siesta.  Dinner was light, just a bowl of “sopa de lima,” a chicken-based lime soup that’s my bar-none favorite Yucatán food.  We had it at one of the little stands at Santiago Park, sitting with the locals enjoying the cool evening.  Then off to bed.

At 4:10 a.m., I sat bolt upright in bed in the hotel room and thought I was going to die.

Montezuma’s Revenge!

Have you ever been sick away from home?  It’s awful.  And knowing your whole vacation could be ruined by an illness makes it even worse.  I, who never gets sick abroad and who eats absolutely everything … how embarrassing!  I was sick from something I ate!

In a panic, I rummaged through my travel kit to see what I could find.  It’s one bag I never empty out, but just keep adding my latest perfume or pill or shampoo before throwing the bag into my suitcase.  On a recent trip, I thought it was getting heavy and made a mental note to clean it out someday.

Imodium expiration date January 1992I remembered having seen some Imodium® at one time, but was sure I had thrown it out ages ago because it had been there seemingly forever.  But, no!  I found four old caplets in tamper-resistant packaging.  Then I looked at the expiration date.

January 1992.

At that point, anything’s better than nothing.  So I took one and tried to get back to sleep.  An hour later, I took another.  (After all, the stuff’s twenty years old … )  As I dozed off, I figured out that I had bought it to go on a trip to the Galapagos in 1990.  I guess that means I don’t get sick often.  And, imagine, that has to be the world’s best-traveled Imodium®: it’s been in my luggage for that entire time!

When my Blackberry alarm woke me up at 8:00 a.m., I got out of bed and took stock of how I felt.  Pretty good.  I looked a little rough around the edges, but got showered and dressed, went down for breakfast and took off on another marathon day.

I was fine!  And for the rest of my stay, I ate and played as hard as ever in my favorite playground.  (To find out why I feel that way, click on that link for a great video … and look especially at the faces.)

So here’s the moral of my little travel adventure:  there are indeed times when clutter is good.

When people pressure you to declutter, do so thoughtfully.  If you’re a traveler, don’t remove anything from your travel kit without replacing it first; you surely put it in there originally for a real good reason.  And if anyone ever tries to clean out your travel kit for you, tell them to keep their hands off it!  There’s gold in there.

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  • One reason I started my auto transport business was to have the freedom to travel. I’ve never been to Yucatan, Mexico, but after reading this I certain want to put it on my to do list. No wonder it is your escape and relax place. Hope you enjoyed the visit and company. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed the view from my office, too.

    • Anonymous

      Carla, I stuck all the videos and links in there so people like you … who I know love to travel … could see why I think Merida is so special!

  • The ‘well traveled’ Imodium I heard about! Great post Sharon! I think I’ll have you become my trip-planner when we take the family on a Mediterranean Cruise this year! WOW! 🙂

    • Anonymous

      I have more fun writing these ‘travelog’ posts, Sandi. I should travel even more often … 😉

  • 1992 Imodium that still works. Amazing. Love the ‘souvenir eating’. No need to carry more stuff home after a vacation.

    • Anonymous

      Claudia, I’m thinking of sending the two remaining pills back to the manufacturer! But that sure puts the lie to expiration dates, doesn’t it? And, yes, my suitcase is always very light now when I travel home. But that’s after years of raising the Gross National Product of some small countries with all the souvenirs I bought. Enough!

  • Anonymous

    Well there you have it…two well-known “facts” just tossed to the curb! Expiration dates are not absolute and removing clutter does not always improve our lives! Thanks Sharon~I love living against the current!!

    • Anonymous

      And I love taking you against the current, Denny! 😉

  • Loved the story. I felt like I was with you reading it though. Never had that type of smoothie but game to try new things. What some call junk or clutter may be a person’s treasure. Glad the remedy worked. When I was at Sandi K. Dallas event I woke up with the room spinning that first morning of the event. I felt like I could die. I didn’t eat enough, which is rare but the signs were there, and eating differently was a challenge to hobble down to find oatmeal that did the trick slowly. I didn’t know if I would make it to the event that morning. Sick yes, recently too. Now moral: oatmeal. Can always find water and buy oatmeal less than $7.00 for small cup but it worked when needed. What a flashback. I will always have oatmeal with me. Usually fruit is easy to find. I probably was dehydrated too so it was a combo. Glad I was at the entire event. Super your recovery happened fast!

    • Anonymous

      That’s right, Carol, I remember that you eat lots of raw foods. Did you click on the word “chaya” in the post? It’s linked to an article about the leaf … very nutritional! I don’t know if it’s grown here in the States …

  • Loved the story. I felt like I was with you reading it though. Never had that type of smoothie but game to try new things. What some call junk or clutter may be a person’s treasure. Glad the remedy worked. When I was at Sandi K. Dallas event I woke up with the room spinning that first morning of the event. I felt like I could die. I didn’t eat enough, which is rare but the signs were there, and eating differently was a challenge to hobble down to find oatmeal that did the trick slowly. I didn’t know if I would make it to the event that morning. Sick yes, recently too. Now moral: oatmeal. Can always find water and buy oatmeal less than $7.00 for small cup but it worked when needed. What a flashback. I will always have oatmeal with me. Usually fruit is easy to find. I probably was dehydrated too so it was a combo. Glad I was at the entire event. Super your recovery happened fast!

  • Gérard Bouteiller

    Merci c’est génial! when with Newsweek international, we had a seminar there…in Cancun.
    Les épouses n’étaient pas invitées, mais j’ai décidé de faire venir Annick avec Moi.
    Ainsi ensemble nous avons visité les pyramides! et le Pdt. ne m’a pas viré! Of course I paid her ticket! Si ma mémoire est bonne nous avons vu des Ygoines (?) et eu 24 de pluie tropicale. Merci pour cette belle histoire. je ne jette jamais rien, même les “vieux” médicaments. je vais faire suivre ton histoire à ma fille, Raphaëlle to tease her!
    Dieu te garde. merci !

    • Anonymous

      Merci, Gérard. Comme tu aurais senti, j’adore ce coin du Mexique, même les iguanes! Give my love to Raphaëlle …

  • Angelabrooks

    Sharon – it is amazing how we feel when we take time for us – and clean the thinking box out so that new ideas can come in.

    • Angela, that’s the joy of getting our lives in balance! It’s a great way to recharge our batteries …

  • Sharon, I do love your stories. Your writing style makes me feel as though I’m there, packed among your clutter, experiencing the whole thing with you! Loved it!

    I always say “you’ll never need something ’til you get rid of it”. Thankfully for you, that adage did not hold true this time 🙂

    • Mari Ann, you would have absolutely loved this trip! And from having been my “roomie” at the Dallas conference in December, you know my “clutter” is actually just one hanging travel kit … but those powerful little pills were hidden nonetheless!

  • Rachelle

    the world’s best-traveled Imodium®: Made me laugh out loud! I really enjoyed this article, and am glad that you were fine the next day!

    • You can imagine how shocked I was to see the date, Rachelle, and then to realize how many flights (as an international consultant) I had taken since then! Heck, I’ve been known to fly to a foreign country to have my hair cut … 😉

  • What a fun story, Sharon, and another awesome window into your very interesting life story! I’m so glad you didn’t miss the rest of your vacation… and your menu description has me drooling!

    • Susan, I think most of us have reached the point where we either don’t need anything else that’s material, or would be happier paring back on “stuff.” So when I travel, I’m really going for the people, the change of pace, and the food. Makes for much lighter suitcases!

  • Oh MY! As usual, what a story! All things considered, sounds like a wonderful trip, Sharon. I always love your perspective too.

    • It WAS a wonderful trip, Amity. My little early morning incident was just a wake-up call to remind me that even old ‘road warriors’ can trip and fall … 😉

  • Sharon, I always enjoy reading your articles. Though I am not planning to go someplace where I’m at risk for Montezuma’s revenge, I’m definitely putting Imodium in my suitcase this week. Thanks for the tip…A friend didn’t quite fare as well as you did. MR lasted a few days, all the way back to when she arrived in the US. Glad it worked out well for you.

    • Liza, I feared your friend’s fate … and was facing a long trip back from Merida through Mexico City, and then to Miami. So instead of the 2 hours and 600 miles on a direct flight, it was 7 hours and 1600 miles! I could never have done it sick!

  • When I saw the words “Clutter Is Good” I just had to read this. You are so right – don’t take it out until you have the replacement. Great advice. Hope you don’t get sick again and enjoy your trip. I never eat out (stick with the resort) when travelling as I always get sick.

    • Elvie, because I was raised in Latin America and eat everything when I’m there, from street vendors to hole-in-the-wall cafes (where you find the very BEST local food!), I was really surprised I got sick. Cast-iron stomach, I suppose …

  • Beauhen

    Phenomenal writing…and now another place to visit!

    • Coming from you, Beau, I take that as high praise … 😉

  • Anonymous

    20-year old Immodium! Sharon, you’re like my husband in that regard. I wish I could persuade him to enjoy travel to simply enjoy a beautiful, intriguing place and explore its culture the way you do.

    • Anonymous

      Ah, Lily, that’s the real joy (at least for me) of traveling. Find the nooks and crannies that are not on the normal, well-trod trail. Connect with the people. Change what you normally do. Otherwise, you may as well stay home!

  • Such a great story Sharon! Just today I was looking through a stack of stuff and thinking I need to get started on my spring cleaning. I’ll be sure to remember what you said “don’t remove anything from your travel kit without replacing it first”.

  • Seriously Sharon, part of me wants to comment on your delightful wisdom, where the other part of me just wants to yell, “For heaven’s sakes Sharon, next time you go somewhere – TAKE ME WITH YOU!!!”

    • Anonymous

      Got plenty of room in my suitcase for you, Gina. I’ll send out smoke signals next time I buy a plane ticket! 😉