Putting wonder and wandering back in retirement

When we first moved to Mexico some 13 years ago (!) Stew and I used to be far more adventurous. On weekends, or even weekdays, we used to leave town and point our car to wherever, in search of whatever. Sometimes there were quaint towns, tumbledown churches, markets selling weird stuff, stunning landscapes or, sometimes, nothing much except a place to stop and have lunch.

It was fun, certainly cheap, except for the cost of the gas, but for some reason we stopped doing it. A recent post by Bloggista Extraordinaire Barbara Eckrote put the idea in my head to start such wanderings again. Barbara talked about the joy of her wanderings, primarily through Mexico and Guatemala, and the new places and people she met along the way.

Mexican gray fox: Why don’t you come and
see me sometime?

I was reminded about our escapades too, when I gave a brief talk at our church about the regenerative power of keeping the Sabbath, regardless of your religious persuasion, if any. Pausing from the humdrum of daily routines and reconnecting with friends and loved ones, and new experiences, can recharge your emotional and spiritual batteries.

I talked about how I wanted to re-embrace the Sabbath habit, on Sunday, Saturday or any other day of the week, Being retired and having no work schedules, meetings or whatever, allows one to do that. That resolution, like most others, never materialized.

It turns out that keeping a day of rest is difficult. Retirees who have fled workaday obligations, almost instinctively develop a new round of routines, by joining organizations or even taking on a new job. In fact, I suspect the myriad volunteer organizations in San Miguel—animal shelters, churches and other charitable groups—are largely populated by expats going through some level of Post Retirement Tedium (PRT).

Stew and I went through PRT and accordingly oversubscribed our time to two animal welfare groups in town. At the church we’ve been attending, we hear about—and shudder—at the number of committees, subcommittees and other time-consuming progeny even a small organization can engender, until it becomes an octopus devouring a disproportionate amount of the time and energy of many of its members.

Mexican gray wolves, waiting for us to visit. 

No doubt some people have a commendable inner need to teach, host weekly meetings at their home, or do pro-bono financial planning for a not-for-profit. I respect that. Stew and I are generous with our donations and devote quite a bit of our time helping individuals in need, whether they be indigents begging for coins at an intersection, or shut-ins who appreciate a visit, a shipment of stuff from Costco or some Chinese take-out.

Yet when Stew and I see a volunteer sign-up sheet coming our way—for the outreach, long-term planning, or finance committee, of this-or-that organization—we run for the nearest exit. During our forty-some years of working full-time, we suffered through too many meetings, office politics and other time-wasting aggravations, to spend the last ten or twenty years of our lives doing the same thing.

So let’s wander, as Barbara suggested.

Right next door to San Miguel, about 45 minutes from our house, is Querétaro, a city of probably close to a million and growing almost daily, like a hyperactive teenager. Every time we visit it we stumble across some attraction, not necessarily a landmark, but something we’d never realized was there. A Greek or Spanish restaurant, an Oriental food market (probably aimed at the growing number of Asians working in the city), a new fine arts center, and a vast colonial center we’ve visited only a couple of times and then briefly.

Hola: Meet the largest bird in Mexico. 

In the other direction, the countryside can be just as surprising and worthy of a visit. Restored chapels, colonial ruins, splendid haciendas of all sizes and if nothing else, beautiful landscapes.

The last time Stew and I tried such a directionless expeditions we had two surprises. Our low-slung 2003 VW Passat station wagon nearly got stuck in the mud, but in the middle of that mess, a Mexican gray fox with a luxurious tail came out of nowhere and looked down at us from the branch a tree, if only for a minute. What a gorgeous creature.

Yesterday, by the shore of a large reservoir on the highway to Querétaro, we spotted a chorus of white pelicans sunning themselves. We’d always associated pelicans, gray or white, with the ocean and were surprised to find them so far inland. Our friend Luke, a master birder, politely punctured our bubble of ornithological ignorance by assuring us it was not some hallucination: American White Pelicans are regular visitors of Mexico’s inland waterways during their migration.

The most precious gift of retirement is the freedom to organize your own time and activities, and let surprise and serendipity be your only guides: After all, when you don’t have to go to work, you can invent your own Sabbath any day of the week.

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