At the end of a vacation, do you ever think to yourself, “I need a vacation to recover from my vacation.” Don’t all raise your hands at once. I too am amongst you. It seems that our busy lives in this chaotic, hectic, and demanding world have pushed us to maximize every bit of action, adventure and value from our coveted and saved-up leisure time as we do in our obligatory family and professional lives.
Like most of you, I work hard, I play hard, and will most likely die-hard. What I don’t tend to do, is relax easy. I could even argue that not only do I don’t like to relax, but also I may not actually know how to relax. And I’m ok with that. I can relax when I’m dead for all I’m concerned. There is simply too much wonder in the world to just sit back and watch opportunity and adventure pass me by.
Because of this, I often ask myself how so many people find enjoyment in vacations that have them doing basically nothing. There are entire leisure industries built upon providing people with the opportunity to not lift a figure. To lay, sleep, read, or spa day their hard earned money and vacation time away. Was I missing something? More importantly, was I missing out on something?
Having never been one to bow out of a challenge, I decided to succumb to the pressures of my wife and book a trip to an all-inclusive resort on the Yucatan Peninsula after the end of yet another pride-swallowing semester of my graduate program.
Once I got over the sticker shock of the trip, I started looking at what would be available to me. Unlimited food and drinks; a legit workout facility outfitted with Rogue equipment, rowers, and the like; windsurfing, paddleboarding, wakeboarding, scuba diving; and… well, that would be enough. They had me at unlimited food. All this was fine and dandy, but I was actually pretty interested in the anthropological and archeological excursions centered around the Mayan civilizations. I might actually survive this chill-cation after all.
Due to the inordinate amount of traveling that I’ve been doing lately, I was able to score first-class upgrades for both of us. Flying cush is not something I’m really into normally but it provided a nice beginning (and end) to the trip. But while the choice flying accommodations were nice, it made me realize that the one thing that I don’t think I can ever get used to is the full-service accommodations at the type of place we’d be vacationing. I can get my own bags into/out of the transportation shuttle as well as to my room thank you. But hey, whatever. Knock yourself out.
Once we were all checked in, it was time to… umm... do nothing? Just sit on our (absolutely incredibly massive) balcony or in the (abundance of semi-private pool and oceanside) cabanas (with drink and food service) while doing absolutely nothing. Just sitting there. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it over the next seven days.
Truth be told I hadn’t fully read a book that wasn’t centered on my graduate program since the fall of 2016. Once I had a winter or summer break away from the program, I either didn’t allow myself the time or opportunity to read for pleasure or I just couldn’t bring myself to “waste the time” on reading when so much of my time was obligated to doing as much in school. But, I went ahead and brought a few (thin) books that I had been “meaning to read.” I began to settle into one of the stories in a shaded cabana at the ocean’s edge and the next thing I know, I’m waking up to early evening, I’m thirsty, and I’m hungry. I had slept over three hours to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore in our shaded cabana bed. I felt great. I can’t tell you the last time I took a midday siesta and didn’t feel guilty for “wasting time.” Off to dinner we went.
With a full belly of pretty dang tasty (and did I mention, unlimited) food, my wife and I decided to do what was a little more familiar to us. We put obligations (or “excursions,” as the resort called them) on our calendar. I was starting to feel a little better about the week ahead of us. We booked a day snorkeling with sea turtles and swimming in cenotes (look it up) and a day at the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza. However, the looming question of, “what are we going to do the remaining four days?!” kept rearing its ugly head. We decided to worry about that when the time came. After all, it had been a long day of traveling first class and snoozing on the beach, time for bed.
The next morning came quickly, but not to an alarm sound or an overwhelming schedule or voice in the back of my head saying, “GET UP!! LET’S GO!!!” Rather, it came thanks to the subtle peering of faint light between the breaks in the blackout shades on our full wall sliding doors.
I peeked at my phone to see that it was 9:30 a.m.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I thought. I couldn’t believe that we’d wasted half the morning. I sat there figuring out what I was going to do about it then I realized the only decision I had to make was if I was going to try to make breakfast or if I was going to drag my feet and wait for lunch. Who was this person and what did he do with the Zach that I know?! Oh well. Go with the flow, I figured. Yet another step in my introduction and indoctrination to an alien world.
I decided to kick it into high gear and make it to breakfast. I was going to need the fuel so that I would have the energy to read an entire book. So that’s what I did. With the exception of a few breaks to cool off with a dip into the pool, I knocked out The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. Not a huge feat considering the short length of the book, but it was an extremely rewarding read and an accomplishment I hadn’t done in quite a long time.
I would survive the next couple days of doing much the same.
And while getting out of bed a little after the sunrise and building up a light to moderate sweat on the gym’s rower and Olympic lifting station helped me feel a little more normal, the rest of the days still consisted of nothing. Just going from one sedentary position to another with the occasional side or breaststroke from one side of the pool to the other in order to stare at the ocean. As boring and mind-numbing as this was becoming, I was starting to get used to it and, dare I say, maybe even enjoying it a bit. Although I still had a constant uneasy feeling that I was supposed to be doing something or had a place to be. Of course, I didn’t.
The next day, our first excursion would find us swimming with sea turtles and diving in and exploring cenotes. Thanks to my tendency to be antisocial and my inability to deal with large, obnoxious groups of people, I’ve never been big on group excursions. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a try. The turtle tour was nice enough and I found it pretty enjoyable to be in the ocean, watching the turtles swim from their feeding grounds to the reef where they would enjoy protection from predators. After an hour of swimming in the rough waves, my wife began to get pretty seasick. Other than the enjoyment of seeing the marine life, this is what I needed to distract me from the chaos of the other tour-goers in our (and other) groups. While I wasn’t enjoying myself at her expense, I did find it pretty comical that she would get seasick while swimming. Luckily, the tour ended just in time for her to not spew chum in the water. Once back on solid ground, she got her color back and we headed for the cenotes.
I was able to detach myself from my issue with groups by focusing on the fascinating physical features of these underground cave aquifers that are basically the source of the majority of Mexico’s freshwater. Getting to walk and swim in these caves is pretty surreal. Not only for their sheer beauty, but also because of the understanding that they A: took millions of years to form the stalagmites and stalactites and B: that they will eventually all collapse as natural erosion and humans drain them for their resources. After making our way through the labyrinth of caves, we made our way back above ground and enjoyed a nice light lunch before retreating back to the resort. Still just midafternoon, we decided to do the only logical thing. Nothing.
With the exception of exploring the ancient city of Chichen Itza, which I highly recommend, the next several days were much of the same. Maybe we’d get up early to watch the sunrise and workout, maybe not. Maybe we’d sit by the pool and take a dip every now and then. Maybe we’d sit by the ocean. Maybe read a book and write, maybe take a nap.
With only a day or so remaining in the trip, I found myself starting to feel anxious. But not anxious in the way that made me stir crazy, needing to go do something exciting or fill my day with random crap just to stay busy. Moreso, I was anxious that the trip was coming to an end. Much to my surprise, I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to go back to the fast-paced, hustle and bustle of school, work and life back home. It was a disorienting feeling that I’d never had before. But alas, all good things must end. Anxiety or not, the time had come to head back home.
Looking back on the trip, I realize that all wasn’t lost in a week of doing very little if nothing at all. I was able to finally start knocking out several books that I had been “working on attempting to read” or “meaning to read” for over six months. I was also able to catch up on some writing that, quite frankly, was a year (or more) overdue. And I had some fantastic adventures alongside my wife. And while I’m not sure if these kinds of trips are going to become a thing for me, I do know that I will most likely welcome this sort of idea with a little less apprehension and disinterest in the future. And someday soon, I might just look forward to a week of doing nothing at all.