We just spent 16 days in our car driving 4,000 miles through 2 countries and countless cities and states. There’s only so many times we can listen to our music on repeat, play the alphabet game or admire the view, pretty as it was. Which means I’ve had a lot of time to think about, and reflect upon, our time in Xcalak.

Part of the appeal of house sitting is that we get to experience life in different places and it is helping us figure out where we might want to settle more long-term someday (maybe). One thing I thought about as we kept driving north and the weather kept getting increasingly colder is that I am now fully confident that I’m a warm weather person. It doesn’t need to be 90 degrees, but single digit temps aren’t for me. And that’s not the only thing I learned while living there. Here are the top 10 things I learned about myself, my stuff and my environment while pet and house sitting in Xcalak.

1. If it doesn’t rust, it molds – Mold is not just reserved for bread. In a climate that has 100% humidity 100% of the time we ended up with mold not just on our food but also on our clothes and hats. And rust made an appearance on everything from our USB devices to our computers and bikes.  Our electronics definitely took a beating living in a jungle environment. Lesson learned that we don’t need the most expensive or newest items because everything from our computers to Kindles to cameras will all need to be replaced in the not too distant future.

2. If you live on the beach you will sleep with the sand – I was an obsessive sweeper. I had two brooms in our small place and I used them constantly. And yet? It was impossible to climb into bed without some sand on our feet. So I learned to love (or at least tolerate) sleeping with sand in my sheets. I decided to consider my time spent sleeping as a chance to get a free full-body exfoliation.

3. Water, it’s not just for drinking – For us, water is a source of entertainment, it soothes us, energizes us and makes us feel alive. Diving, fishing, snorkeling, swimming, strolling the shores, starting at the great beyond, this is how we spent every single day that we lived in Xcalak. We know that when we eventually settle down somewhere, a large body of water, be it ocean, lake or river, needs to be close by.

Xcalak Ocean
How can you not want to see something like this every single day?

4. Xcalak is not kind to clothes  – We both had to get rid of a good portion of our wardrobe when we left Xcalak. Many of our shorts and t-shirts were covered in stains that we could identify – like sweat and rust and bleach – and others that we couldn’t – like the bright orange stains that the clothes collected on the clothesline. We’ve heard those little guys are from gecko pee and that it’s sometimes used as a dye. Great idea since it will never, ever come out of a shirt once it’s on there. Another gross but interesting fact I collected. So while we lived in Xcalak we learned to love the new patterns that were created on our clothes, but in order to preserve the smell in our car as we drove those 4,000 miles (and to avoid looking like Tom Hanks in Castaway), many of our things had to go.

5. I need less (and less and less and less) stuff – I thought we sold all of our stuff a couple years ago when we decided to move to Mexico. Then we tried to pack everything we had left into our car and we realized more stuff had to go. And even though we got rid of even more stuff when we moved from Playa del Carmen to Xcalak we still had a full car. And so when we were packing our car to move away from Xcalak what did we figure out? Over the last two years we’ve only used about ¼ of the stuff that we moved to Mexico with. While Xcalak was a bit of an anomaly, for example Jason has recently started wearing shirts again and I’m currently wearing shoes, we just don’t need it all. And so we continue to purge and donate and hope that someday we’ll be able to drive while being able to see out of our rear view mirror.

A packed car
There’s a chance that the kitchen sink is back there somewhere.

6. Variety is the spice of life – Cliches typically come from some sort of truth. We enjoy cooking and, more importantly, eating, a good meal. And some of those good meals we cooked and ate in Xcalak. And then we cooked and ate it again. And again. And again. We by no means were starving there, but the food trucks brought the same thing every single time and eventually the ways of being creative with the same foods over and over again just ran out. And so the joy of of food, both cooking it and eating it, started to go away while we lived in Xcalak.

7. I used to take the little things for granted – You know what I never used to give a second thought to? Ice. There’s just nothing sadder than trying to chill your beer with 12 ice cubes. Ice is frozen water so it’s easy enough to make, right? But those fancy refrigerators that have nifty buttons on their doors that you push and ice magically comes out? Or extra large freezers with space for lots of trays? A bit harder to come by in Xcalak where people are relying on solar energy. So most of our drinks were lukewarm and while we got used to it, we didn’t love it. Also things we used to take for granted? Long, hot showers, grocery stores and paved roads. I just had never given some of these a second thought, until they were taken away. It’s given me a fresh perspective on life in different parts of the world.

8. I’m not nearly as strong as I thought I was – I’ve always considered myself pretty strong and not in need of much assistance. In fact I’m stubborn enough to resist help even when I probably did need it. And then Xcalak came along. And the environment there totally decimated me. First by my own clumsiness, and then by matter of chance (that mosquito could have chosen any of us). The way that Dengue Fever utterly and completely physically wiped me out took me by surprise. And so I had to swallow my pride and ask for help. A lot. I had to admit that I couldn’t climb a flight of stairs or stand long enough to take a shower or to cook dinner.  While I continue to feel stronger every day, sometimes I’m still caught off guard by the little things that my body used to be able to do without a second thought. It was hard and humbling to accept my physical limitations and the necessary help to get through it. On the other hand….

9. I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was –  In this remote wilderness I dealt with scorpions, snakes, sweat – so, so much sweat – lack of water, energy conservation, problems to solve that required creativity and resourcefulness and an unending amount of unexpected surprises and unique experiences that I had never been confronted with. The great thing is that both of us managed to complete, solve and overcome each situation that presented itself. What a sense of accomplishment and achievement.

The scorpions did not go bump in the night, which is why you had to always watch your step.
Clearing the beach road
Post windstorm a trip to town could take twice as long as we cleared the road along the way or tried to avoid new potholes.

10. Nature is an endless source of entertainment – We primarily lived outside during our time in Xcalak and it provided a better source of amusement and entertainment than any movie, television show or book. While sitting on our beach I watched countless sunrises, sunsets, full moons and meteor showers. I watched pelicans dive for dinner, snakes mate, blue crabs migrate and hermit crabs do…something. I watched rainstorms approach, rainbows appear and sargasso grass wash ashore. And I just never, ever, got tired of it (well maybe the sargasso).

Hermit Crabs
I have no idea where they come from or where they go during the day, but I found hermit crabs to be quite entertaining.
House Sitting
Our own reality television show was always right outside our front door.

So I learned some good things about myself in Xcalak and some not so good things, but they were all worthwhile. What an amazing gift that town has given me and I’m forever grateful for that. And I’m even more excited to find out what challenges and lessons are waiting wherever we land next.