A few days ago, I walked home across downtown Mérida when the temperature was 37 degrees Celsius, or nearly 100 degrees F.
I noticed when I got home that I had barely broken a sweat. That's very unlike me. What's going on here?
Ever since I began living in this climate I've done a number of different things to stay cool, like wearing a hat, keeping to the shade, and avoiding the streets and strenuous activities during the hottest hours of the day. But that is not always enough. The high temperatures can get to me, and I end up overheated, shirt dripping, and on the borderline of dehydration if I am not careful.
What was the difference the other day? How am I managing to keep cooler in the heat?
I think what has happened is that I am losing what I'll call my "northern gait," for lack of a better term. I'm doing what the locals know to do without thinking about it. I'm slowing down in the heat.
We all know it's a good idea to take it easy when it's hot, but sometimes slowing down is easier said than done. Any day here you can spot northerners, especially tourists from the northern U.S. and Canada, simply by the way they walk: a "purposeful stride," males with arms swinging and sometimes hands closed, gaze directed ahead, bodies inclined slightly forward, and moving right along down the street. It's as if they are hurrying from air-conditioned building to air-conditioned building, which may in fact be what they are accustomed to doing. The truth of the matter is that if they just slowed down, they wouldn't need the AC as much.
Contrast that to many Yucatecans who move a lot more deliberately down the street.
Of course I am generalizing here. There are plenty of slow-moving foreigners, and by the same token quick Yucatecans. However I think that the climate we grew up in can affect the rate at which we naturally move around. Where I grew up in Alaska, for a good part of the year moving quickly has the advantage of keeping you warm. I am sure that if I had grown up in Yucatán my natural rate of moving around would be adapted to the hotter climate here.
Anyhow, it looks as if I have lost my "northern gait" to some extent. Instead of stepping off the curb to pass the phalanxes of slow-moving pedestrians on Mérida's narrow sidewalks, like I used to do, I now fall in and flow with the current. I also stop to chat with friends I meet, or to cool down for a few minutes in one of the many parks or cafes in the downtown area. It's a natural and healthy adaptation to living in the heat.
I still sometimes find myself walking at a quicker "northern" pace and have to tell myself to slow down, but I have to think about this less and less.
I'm slowing down. And I'm cool.