Friday, June 17, 2011

Living Here: I'm Cool

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.


  1. Good points. I have also noticed that if I am the only person I can see on the street for blocks around, I should probably be inside. There are times of day when the locals leave the place as population-free as a ghost town.

  2. Steve: Good point. I took that picture of the guy walking down the street about a block from my house this afternoon. I wanted a picture with someone in it; I had to wait a good while. The smart people were all inside...

  3. What an excellent point. I don't know how long it would take me to dial down my brisk Harry Truman walks, and begin casual strolling. You amble around like that NOB, and people think you're crazy. Have you seen those Dunkin Donuts commercials where a town square is filled with hyped-up Americans power-walking and working, fueled by their morning coffee. That spot has the unintended consequence of mocking the exuberant go-getters among us. And yes, we do look silly.

  4. Marc, soon you will be a sloth, a tropical animal that's really cool. Steve, I like the ghost town warning suggestion.

  5. I have found the best way to deal with the heat is to get used to living without air conditioning.

    Anyone who has stepped outside of an air-conditioned space into the afternoon sun knows what a jarring transition it can be. But if you eschew the A/C as much as possible, your body does gradually get used to the heat.

    In my previous life north of the border I was something of a "polar bear," insomuch as I enjoyed swimming in very cold bodies of water, preferably if there was a hot tub nearby.

    Jumping from hot water into cold, you get a sense of your body's ability to adapt to extreme temperatures, and you realize how much colder water feels when you jump in immediately after exiting a hot tub, and vice versa.

    So when I moved here, I decided there would be no jumping back and forth between hot air and cold.

    I don't have air conditioning in my house, and seldom use it in my car. More often than not, I only truly know how hot it is when I'm sweating.

    You'll never be 100% comfortable, but you will find that your body eventually gives in to the heat, and you notice it less and less.

  6. It's about 100 degrees here today. I just got back from a short drive in a tiny topless car. I happened to see two individuals ambling down the street in this atrocious heat. A closer look proved that they were both having rather animated discussions with themselves, and were apparently on the loose from the nearby group home. It will be nice to eventually live in a place where it's not only the deranged who are out walking. That's pretty much the case here, which is kind of sad. Glad you're keeping cool in a tropical clime. I've often marveled at the folks I see in Yucatan standing in the blazing sun (with something over their heads, always) and not even a hint of moisture. One day me, I hope.

  7. Lee: the longer I live in Mexico, the more frenetic and crazy "normal" Americans appear to me. It's especially evident when I land in an airport in some big US city. They seem terribly purposeful and busy, but not happy.

    Paul: I'll have to learn more about sloths. Maybe you've helped me establish a new long as I can avoid the green bacteria that grows in their fur.

    Expat: We're on the same wavelength. In eight years here I have yet to install AC. It just seemed to me that it would be easier to live in the heat if I didn't have to deal with the contrast between inside and outside. I posted about it last year (link embedded in the third graph of this post).

    Lynette: Steve's right. The coolest folks do as the locals do and stay in when it's really hot. I do the best I can, and as the Expat commented above, it's not always perfect, but it's pretty amazing what you get used to.

  8. Living in the US where every workplace, restaurant and mall are literally refrigerated, it is impossible to go home to a house with no A/C. Even 80 degrees F. feels like a sauna. Hopefully, when we are in Merida full time, we will be able to wean ourselves off. We only used it to sleep when we were there in May. I grew up in the deep South where we had no A/C until I was 15 or 16. The heat could be brutal there in the summer, but we tolerated it and were grateful for an afternoon rain and the cool breeze that followed. Coming from Alaska, I think it is amazing that you have adapted so well.

  9. John and Alan: You're right. If I had to spend hours per day in AC, I would find it really hard to go home to an un-airconditioned house. A lot of people don't have any choice.

    Yes, I have gotten accustomed to living without AC and now when I go into highly-cooled buildings I am uncomfortable. Today I went into a museum in downtown Mérida and after a few minutes felt thoroughly chilled in my lightweight clothing. It was nice to get back outside.

  10. Even when air-conditioned, local stores are just a slight bit cool, not refrigerator-cold as they often are NOB.

    A cool sloth gathers no moss.

  11. After hanging around Merida for a while I came to notice that the locals wear jeans. I figure this is one of the true indicators of acclimatization to the Yucatan heat.
    I haven't tried wearing jeans in Merida yet, myself, but it's something I aspire to.

  12. I guess I am not ready for full time living in merida. Can't without A/C.

  13. Debbie: I wear jeans or other long pants pretty much all the time. It's not so much the heat. Tourists wear shorts, and if I go to centro wearing them, I get hounded by all the vendors. And, if you've noticed, most Yucatecan males don't wear shorts in public in the city. Boys and soccer players (and college-aged men occasionally) wear them, albañiles, and older men on vacation or at the beach. Otherwise, men usually don't. It's just a comfort thing for me, culturally. I prefer to blend in as much as I can. Walking around downtown in shorts I'd feel I was making a statement I'd just as soon not make.

  14. Suk: I think the more time you spend in Yucatán, and the more you slow down and relax, the easier it is to get by without AC. Thanks for reading and commenting on the blog.

  15. Carolyn --
    I agree with you that the air conditioning in stores and most public buildings in Yucatán is not as uncomfortable cold as AC often is up north. I recently passed through the Miami airport and nearly froze to death because I forgot to pull my sweater out of my checked bag.

    I'm not sure what to make of your sloth comment. Do you mean to say I am not in danger from the green sloth moss?

  16. I do not know if this phenomenon exists where you are, but here in Pátzcuaro it can be quite hot out in the sun but far cooler in a building or in shade of any sort. The difference is astounding. I attribute it to Spanish architecture. Of course, it only gets hot here in the afternoons in April and May.

  17. Felipe, the phenonenon does not exist in Yucatán to the extent it does where you live. I've spent many summers in Querétaro and visited Michoacan a few times, and I know exactly what you are talking about. It can be a hot summer day, and all you have to do is move into the shade to find comfort. It does not work the same here, usually. I think the higher temps and humidity make the air feel a lot hotter. It it harder to escape from the heat, although living in a thick-walled, high-ceilinged colonial style building helps quite a bit.


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