Playa del Carmen

The last four weeks have been very lazy… we spent a few days jet lagged from losing 8 hours plus more than a full day of travel to move from Tallinn, Estonia to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. There was an airport transfer, multiple flights, a bus, and a taxi involved in our move. Still, not that bad for a quarter way around the world.

The heat and humidity are much harder to accept than the new time. Tallinn was starting a lovely fall as we left: 50-66 degrees, a brisk breeze near the water hurrying the changing leaves along. Playa is 85 degrees (even nights don’t get much below 78) with humidity between 80 and 90%. All this makes it feel like something north of 100 degrees. Living for years in the northwest turned us into temperature wimps. We got used to cool summers and warmish winters with only a few outlying days to remind us how lucky we were.

Our local beach and some local wildlife – pelicans, and  yes, that is a massive grasshopper wanting in.

We adapted by embracing the best part of Playa: the sand and water. We booked an apartment a 5-minute walk from the public beach, which is much less crowded than the often-drunken party going on at resorts near the city center. 4:30pm was the best time to walk along the water and go for a quick swim. We also used it as a more pleasant way to walk to 5th Ave.

We ate out a few times on the main tourist strip, but hit on good meals only a third of the time. But away from the water, at the mobile stalls around the Mega and Super Aki parking lots, we were never disappointed. And the food there costs about a fifth of the price. The absolute best meal was shredded pork tacos with lime and tomato salsa from a stand under a tree south of Gran Morena and Super Aki. At 15 pesos each, we left stuffed for $3US. Bicycle carts also meander the streets selling bread, ice cream, and pork rinds for just a few pesos each.

Sunrise, new snack flavors, more local wildlife. The ants are especially ambitious.

There are lots of things to do if you are into swimming, snorkeling, and diving. Sadly, I can do none of that and really don’t like water all that much. Aside from the beach and the eating, we did take a ferry to Cozumel to see other beaches and other places to eat. The sand is much better on the Playa side.

I really just like wandering around the non-touristy parts of town. Since it is so hot, lots of people are outside trying to catch a breeze, especially in the mornings and evenings. Most stores are specialized (thought there are supermarkets and WalMart has more than one store in town). Walking across town, you go by small taco stands, torta stands, local Chinese food places, tiny veggie markets, paint stores, bike shops, panaderias, shoe shops, places selling purses or shirts or flowers.

One of many murals, local liquors, sculpture on Cozumel.

The most annoying thing are the hawkers that shout at you all over the city center…. we get called “Honeymooners… honeymooners over here… nice hats… good trips… wanna take a look at the jewelry?” I try to throw them by looking really sad at the honeymooners part. It is annoying because we don’t have room for souvenirs or extra tie-dyed t-shirts or large hats (not that we ever buy souvenirs), and prevents us from just enjoying things that are actually interesting or unique in the downtown. Of course, these are few and far between since nearly every place has the same giant sombreros, wood carvings, bottle openers and magnets with pictures of palm trees and the words “Playa del Carmen.”

Still, even with the gauntlet of 5th Ave, most of it city isn’t like this and it is possible to escape the feel of Playa being a tourist town.