(This a composite of our adventures, representing a day in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, winter 2016.)
One moment a sea of heads bouncing and bobbing down Playa del Carmen’s eclectic Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue), the miles-long, slightly undulating promenade paralleling the Caribbean Sea; a path full of hawkers spread evenly block after block, all selling various zip-line and snorkeling tours, excursions to Mayan ruins and to Cozumel, taxis to most anywhere in the areas of Cancun and the Riviera Maya. Beautiful people, restaurants, shops, and stores—low-end trinket to high-end Michael Kors and Victoria’s Secret—a busy Starbucks every other block. Nike and Puma, Sephora and Forever 21. Too, ultra modern malls, all
glitter and glamor. All astride the most famous Avenue on the Yucatan Peninsula, known as the Mexican version of LAs Rodeo Drive.
However, as quickly as the day could by appreciated, it changed: a large black cloud loomed south of Playa, making its way north, bearing down on the huge crowds sauntering here and there. Vendors and other locals took note and slowly prepared for another afternoon downpour.
The deluge began as a light mist, quickly the sky darkened, so dark that sunglasses were pocketed, plastic bags and umbrellas made for the ready. Then as if a wall of water came upon us, it started coming down with a vengeance.
Our dilemmas, continue the two blocks to our condo, or duck into a mall. The rain helped us in our decision-making by quickly doubling its force—on its way to a full-blown squall. We passed locals and tourists all waiting, held tight to a wall or under an awning, all trying to stay dry. Quickly we were in the mall before getting completely soaked. Waiting out the storm while lunching at a top-floor restaurant, a good place to watch as Mother Nature washed the streets and a stranded few with a warm shower fresh off the sea.
Earlier that same morning and while walking the beach well south of the Ferry Terminal, with ferries to Cozumel, as I walked beyond the exclusive community of Playacar, and as the morning progressed, crowds of sun seekers and families, runners and walkers, cleanup crews and lifeguards began to fill the beach.
Walking through the growing crowd—come gauntlet—full of old, large, shall I say, well-fed men and women in Speedos and bikinis, respectively. Americans don’t wear Speedos. More people and more Speedos (that look like her bikini bottoms—perhaps they share) as I made my way passed resorts and beautiful, vast vacation homes.
More and more Speedos. Then, as the rest of the world vanished from perception, a topless Goddess wading in knee deep surf, splashing about, her eyes closed, enjoying the sun–and all its resultant senses. Her hair up in a knot, bikini bottom (mostly bottom), body perfectly bronzed, perfectly…. I didn’t notice.
Later, back to Quinta Avenida with Kath, where we wandered in search of another taco and sat street side to watch as people, all sorts of people strolled by with one mission or another—or none. Playa attracts people mostly from the northern climes in winter: Minnesotans, Chicagoans, Canadians, Swedes, Finns, Brits and New Yorkers. They come to escape the cold and snow and wind of their hometown winters.
Some stay only a week, others for months and months, until the heat in Playa becomes too much. There are locals out with their wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend, their families, strollers and not. There are runners and walkers, a few bikes, though hard to navigate in the throngs of humanity (there is a dedicated bike path on 10th Avenue). There was an old Campesino gentleman, in his Sunday best as he walked to see family members in areas north of Centro Playa. He sported a fine straw hat and an ornate yellow shirt atop worn, but clean pantalones and very minimal and quite ancient sandals. A pride in his eyes, gratitude, humble and kind, and a love for those he planned to see this day.
There were musicians, and young men in traditional Mayan wear attracting customers to a restaurant or shop beautifully adorned with feathers, body paints, headdresses, loincloths, and sandals. And there were the hawks, the pushers of “junk you don’t need,” Cuban cigars, selfie-sticks; you name it (literally). They’ll say things like, “Remember me. I was your waiter last night at…” Every once in a while, they get someone, they hook them with this line and they walk them—as cattle to the slaughter—to their shop, for junk they don’t need.
Back to our condo to hang out until our friends returned from one excursion or another, then off to dinner at La Cueva del Chango (The Monkey’s Cave), our favorite fusion restaurant. On their return, we decided on a time for dining and I called Paulo to make reservations. Sometimes, most times, it is difficult to get into—for any meal. Chango is that good, and everyone knows it.
We didn’t need reservations this midweek evening, which only made for an even better experience, quieter, the staff not so pressured. The place is set street side, but we always prefer to dine in the back near the man-made stream, under the Mediterranean palms and bamboo swaying in the evening breeze. Paulo greeted us and led us to a nice table right beside the man-made stream and away from the speakers.
Their music is good, not that techno-beat crap you hear nearly everywhere in Playa, but conversations are more pleasant when you don’t have to yell to be heard. We are from rural America, where you don’t have to yell to be heard. We didn’t grow up in the Bronx or Jersey, where life is so loud everyone grows up yelling to be heard—even in Playa, at the rooftop BBQ, at our condo. But that’s another story.
We have loved our time in Playa del Carmen. We have enjoyed our time with friends that were staying nearby and that we could hangout with them for a while and other friends that came to stay with us in our condo for a week or more. We have come to know them better and to deeply appreciate our friendships. We always relish when our daughter and grandkids can join us as they did for a week early in our time in Playa. I had a great time swimming with my grandkids and the sharks at Xcaret Park. It’s pleasing to see them having fun and experiencing the world and its wonders.
We found great restaurants, shops, markets, fresh empanadas and great Mexican food. Too, great snorkeling spots and cenotes (caves). We’ve met wonderful people from all over and great people from Playa.
When spending time in Mexico, I always come away with an overwhelming perspective that these people, whether of Mayan, Aztec, Toltec, or Spanish ancestry, all work very hard, have great pride for their cultures, and share an appreciation for the land and animals of Mexico.