We had such a fun Friday afternoon I wanted to share it. We had a little shopping to do downtown so strolled along Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue, the main pedestrian and tourist avenue in town) for awhile, successfully bypassing the many hawkers offering massages, tours, and other trinkets.
When we got to the city park, we were greeted with the sound of drumming and saw that some sort of dance demonstration was in progress. Very cool. And the view of the Caribbean Sea was, as always, spectacular. That's the ferry returning from Cozumel in the background.
Since we don't live right on the beach as we did in Ambergris Caye, Belize, I am always awestruck when I catch sight of the ocean now. Can it really be this turquoise and blue? Apparently so. I think I appreciate it even more now since I see it less frequently.
The buildings on Cozumel (which is an island) are visible on the horizon of this shot, if you look closely.
The dancers were doing an amazing job, especially since it was HOT in the sun. Very hot. I don't know how they do it, but I was impressed. I hope they get to take a dip in the cooling ocean after their work is done.
A little later, we headed to the "monkey cave", La Cueva del Chango, for dinner. We've been visited there by a cat before, but tonight's visitor was a bit more exotic. A chicken!
This friendly hen was a real opportunist. She hung around until I dropped a few small bits of tortilla chips for her, which she quickly pecked at and gobbled down.
When I stopped feeding her, she hopped up on this low wall and let me hand feed her. Definitely a "you're not in the US any more" experience!
We both ordered the special of the night, which was a lovely plate of huge fresh shrimp in red sauce with poblano rajas (strips), rice, beans, and guacamole. So tasty! And the best part, the price was just $112 pesos, around $7.30 US.
Now THAT'S special!
Happy weekend everyone!
Don't get me wrong, I love Mexico. LOVE IT. I could wax poetic about the flavorful food, the friendly, smiling faces of the locals; the stunningly blue skies and sunshine nearly every day; the vivid, uplifting colors; the charming traditional music; the amazing art and culture; the efficient public transportation; the reasonably priced dental and medical care; the good food prices; and much, much more.
But let's face it, spending a significant amount of time in a country that is not one's homeland, anyone would find a few things to miss from "back home". Sometimes it's the big things -- of COURSE I miss my family and friends most of all. But some of the things are small, niggling details. Here's my list:
1. Bike Lanes
There are a couple of nice bike paths here in Playa del Carmen, but other than those (and to get to them), if you want to ride, you're gonna be riding on the road with lots of vehicles. This isn't such a big deal in a rural area, but in a city, it can get a bit hairy.
This is also the case many places in the US, of course. But we've also had the pleasure of riding in many US cities with excellent cycling infrastructure, including bike lanes, especially out west. Portland, Eugene, and Tucson spring to mind, among many others.
Although there are more bikes on the roads here in Playa del Carmen than in most of the US, there's less cycling infrastructure, so it's up to us to ride more defensively than ever.
2. Dual-Pane Windows and Sleeping Without Earplugs
These two pretty much go hand and hand. Living here in "Centro" Playa, it can get pretty noisy at times, and that noise can extend into the night as tourists and locals alike enjoy their vacations or simply their lives.
Between music, live and otherwise; motorcycles roaring by; the city garbage truck that sometimes comes as late as 10:30 pm, dogs barking, cats fighting, early morning school traffic, and the loud voices of folks walking on the street or eating a late dinner on their patio, it can be tough to find needed peace and quiet in the evenings. Some nights are much better than others, of course.
Single-pane windows are the norm here, and they don't cut down much on the noise. Thus, earplugs at night are a must.
3. Online Shopping
Oh Amazon, where art thou? I've heard that some folks who live here do order successfully, but I've also heard horror stories of shipments never arriving, or big customs duties if they do.
We faced the same situation in Belize, and in both places "mules" are utilized freely to bring items in that can't be found here or that are too costly. Back in January, I had a friend bring me a small MP3 player that would have cost at least double here.
Mules are great, but I have been shopping online extensively for years, and it's a habit that's hard to break. I like being able to read reviews, compare prices, and shipping charges, and get exactly what I am looking for. And quickly.
But I am learning to enjoy shopping in local tiendas as well. It's important to buy locally when possible, and there are some lovely things for sale by friendly merchants here. And very few of them seem to be out to rip you off with "gringo pricing".
4. Boxed Wine
I used to scoff at boxed wine, but I've learned to love its ease, price, and the quality has gotten considerably better in recent years. Boxed wine is just so easy to keep in the fridge; there are no corks to fuss with or to break and fall into the wine. It's keeps well, and you don't need to buy as as often. Here are even more advantages of boxed wine.
Although Mexico produces some very decent wines now, and there is plenty of imported wine available at good prices, there is no boxed wine (or at least I haven't found it) anywhere. The concept just hasn't arrived here yet.
Boxed or not, I do appreciate that unlike in Belize, I can afford to drink wine here!
While there are a handful of English libraries in Mexico, but they are few and far between, and there is not one in Playa. Thanks to used-book shops (like the excellent Alma Libre Bookstore in nearby Puerto Morelos), a couple of book exchanges in Playa, and e-books; we are finding enough to read. But I still miss a physical library.
6. Communicating in my Native Tongue
This isn't actually a little thing -- it's a BIGGIE. It is endlessly frustrating not to be able to express myself in Spanish nor to understand what others are saying. Barry and I been taking online audio classes for quite some time, even prior to moving to Belize in 2011, and we can read Spanish fairly well now, but speaking and understanding are much slower to come.
We're able to do the basics, like ordering in a restaurants and greeting people, but it's still quite difficult to have an actual conversation in Spanish. When I do have a chance to speak English with someone here, since there are many expats and vacationers who speak English, as well as some locals who do as well, I am relieved and probably talk too much (imagine that!)
I don't think we're too old to improve significantly in our Spanish skills over time, but these skills would have come a lot faster if we'd started much younger.
The fact that I took French and Barry took German in high school isn't helping matters much either. If only!
And just a few things I don't miss about the US
All that said, of course there are quite a few things we are glad to have left behind in the States. Here are just a few of the biggies:
If you were to move to or spend significant time in a foreign country, what do you think you'd miss most? Sometimes it's the little things you don't think of ahead of time!
Last Friday we returned to the charming town of Puerto Morelos, just a 35-minute bus ride up the coast from Playa del Carmen. I'd read that the snorkeling was really good here as the barrier reef is so close to shore, and I'd requested a snorkeling trip for my birthday, so today was the day (a few days after my birthday but close enough!)
This was the week after Easter, a very popular holiday time for tourists, especially Mexican families who flock to the coast from inland towns, villages, and cities, so the beach was a lot busier than on our first visit. But it's a nice wide beach, and there was still plenty of room for everyone.
Unfortunately, I can't offer any photos of our actual snorkeling trip as our camera is not waterproof and had to stay safely behind when we headed out in the zebra-striped boat below. But it was a grand time!
The reef was, as we experienced in Belize, absolutely magical, with multiple types of coral, a variety of colorful fish, sea plants and anemones; and I even got to see a Caribbean lobster and an eel, hiding deep in the coral.
The water was perfectly warm and clear, and the Wet Set guides did a great job keeping everyone together and pointing out special sights. Since the reef is a protected national park, you must go with a guide and furthermore, you must wear a life vest. No exceptions. I didn't mind this as it helped me ensure I did not put a foot down in the often very shallow water and risk doing any damage to the beautiful reef (or cut myself). Barry is not a huge fan of snorkeling, but I just love it and find it incredibly mesmerizing being in the underwater world.
If you look closely in the photo below, you can see the white breaking waves behind the reef at the horizon.
After stopping and snorkeling at two different spots along the reef, we were happily exhausted, hungry, and ready to come to shore. It didn't take us long to settle into a table right on the beach at the restaurant, Ojo de Agua, and order a couple of tall cold ones and some food.
Barry had the same fish a la diabla he'd enjoyed on our first visit, and I tried this avocado stuffed with shrimp salad, which is my new favorite. Man, was it good, and so refreshing on a hot day!
The view from our table wasn't too shabby either.
After we'd finished, the grackles flew in to see if we'd left them any tidbits. I just love this view! You can really see the reef in this photo, so close to shore.
With full bellies, we trekked back to the town center, not too far down the beach.
We saw the famous leaning lighthouse again, and plenty of colorful fishing and snorkel boats.
The sand sculptures in front of the municipal park had a Christian theme this time; I guess in honor of Easter. Can you imagine the work that went into this Last Supper table?! Fortunately, it's dry season, so it's likely to stand for awhile.
And here's Moses. Both sculptures were completely different from what we saw on our first visit.
After a quick stop in the nice used bookstore, Alma Libre, for a couple of paperbacks, we made the trek back to the highway to catch the bus back to Playa.
What a special birthday treat for me this day was! Thanks to my wonderful husband for coming along and making sure that I had a great day!
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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