Now that Denver is in the middle of winter and San Francisco is experiencing fog - shocking! - and light rain, it's not far-fetched to envision the warm, tropical and inviting Yucatan Peninsula coastline of Mexico. My previous run-ins with this country had only been through a 3-day, 2-night trip to Rosarito - which included much to my chagrin (as I now reflect as a responsible adult), a tepid swimming pool, $1 street tacos and Pacifico beers, and an unnamed strip club. I was certainly a different kind of traveller then - not that that was habit - however, Mexico for myself and I believe many of its neighbors to the north, existed/exists as a means to escape their own personal hell, to vacate the monotony of their daily lives and drink up their all-inclusive margarita with as much fury as physically possible in a three day trip to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Baja or the like.
So when I conjured up the idea of stopping in Mexico on my way to the States from Spain, I was a bit hesitant how it would all unfold - obviously escaping the Spanish crisis left productivity, viable income and "life security" top of mind. In the end, it was decided that a 2 hour layover wouldn't cut it, that there really wasn't a rush to rent an apartment, job hunt and grocery shop in the US. Slow travel was the answer, the only means to get to know our surroundings, experience the local culture and climate, and actually give-back to the community. We attempt this on nearly every trip that we take these days; we've tired of the guide books, most of the sights and really crave the connection that develops when you call a place home. To do this, it would require us to stay in Playa del Carmen, Mexico for a month - no complaints there. We chose Playa - as it's affectionately called - because it was off-the-beaten path of Cancun travelers, while still quite well connected to transportation services, internet and necessities, and we had been told by other long-term travelers Sarah Somewhere and Never Ending Voyage that it was a plausible economic choice as well as maintaining its Yucatan charm.
So now that 6 months have passed, and I've more or less settled into a routine in the US, and am living out a slightly different "life story," I'd like to reflect on this trip for you, so that you'll have a better understanding of what it's like to take in a place at a sea turtle's pace.
7am: Wake-up more or less when the sun shines through our rented apartment windows and start the day with a smoothie.
Following my terrible hostel choice the first two nights, we got very lucky with accommodation, as we encountered our landlord while at an internet cafe - we cut back on costs by staying 30 blocks from the beach (about a half hour walk), but that enabled us to live closer to locals and experience the elements that would be otherwise missed by resort goers; such as the soft buzz of the brass bell from the ice cream or tamales cart, water delivery, birds outside our window acting as an alarm or warning of an approaching storm, and the chattering of the elderly couple downstairs as she hung the laundry in the patio. The fruit offerings in this part of the world seem abundant and affordable - the irony is that the state on a whole consumes a large portion of soft drinks and lard. The other irony is that you realize how much of their vegetables and fruit make it up to the US and Canada, and are then sold at a 200-500% increase. I suggest you read a little closer where your avocados, limes, and berries come from next time - you might be surprised just how dependent on Mexico other countries really are, and perhaps that perspective will in turn affect race relations, or simply educate others.
Gloriously ripe and delicious papaya, the queen of Mexican produce.
10am - 7pm: Intermittently look for geckos around the apartment while we job hunt on a functional internet line (no video calls) and attend to our newest mosquito bites or heat rashes
No geckos were harmed. But holy geez isn't he cute?!
12pm lunchtime: Since we've been awake likely before 7:30am, we're hungry by noon.
We head out to grab ceviche, tacos, or quesadillas and fruit juice (I implore them not to add sugar - but I sometimes lose), maybe a paleta (fruit popsicle generally made with milk) at a nearby restaurant. We still avoid the main-drag, 5th Avenue where the majority of tourists can be found, the reasoning is many fold...but price, ambiance and exploitation have a lot to do with it.
Photos from one of my favorite spots (if you love fish and seafood) Los Aguachiles - two locations in Playa, although I'd recommend the Avenida Constituyentes location. There is also incredible ceviche, and often a wait with residents in tow, at El Pirata, "off-the-beaten-walking-path" but still an institution.
8am or 4pm: We gather with expats at Ah Cacao for legitimate coffees and Mexican spiced hot chocolates.
It's nice to be able to enjoy quality and taste ultimately from the source. Their production of cacao and coffee is local and their proud to be serving and employing the region. Expensive by local standards, cheaper than Starbucks, however classier in my opinion as well - but that doesn't mean fussy, roll up in your beach towel; Visit them in Playa.
5pm: Go for a dip, await the advancing storm (hurricane season after all), have homemade quesadillas (again but who cares), watch Six Feet Under and ponder how on Earth we'll gain access to passive income so we can come back and do it again - slow travel style!
Big thanks to our casero Gil, his pozole making mother and chess playing father, Sarah and Tyrhone (we'll see you sooner or later homies!), serendipity, frolicking sea turtles, that one barracuda that scared the bejesus outta me, flights from Madrid to Cancun (thank me later for this tip that offers pretty much the cheapest way to enter into the US from Europe), my novio, nature, chocolate, walks on the beach, and all the helpers along the way from the honest cab drivers to the waitress who conceded in packaging our ceviche in our reusable take-out containers.
Links: Part-time Playa resident and blogger Sarah Somewhere has created a complete guide to Playa del Carmen that is very comprehensive and full of photos and resources; check it out here.