Three Months in Playa del Carmen

Mrs. ItchyFeet in Caribbean Ocean

Playa del Carmen has been my home for the last three months, with a full three more to go. The time spent here has allowed me to be all kinds of adventurous with food. Making chicken stock for the freezer and fermenting kimchi with enough time to use up both before I move on. I now know where every grocery store, fruit stand, and tortilla shop is within walking distance of my apartment. The food is so good here!

What is that sound!?!

Speaking of which, I stepped out today to get groceries and heard crazy water pouring downstairs in the basement/parking garage. That’s bad! I wandered down the stairs into the dark until the sensor lights popped on. I noticed that a large amount of water was shooting out of one of the water pressure pumps onto the concrete in the garage. Luckily there was a drain there, but it needed to get fixed immediately. I did not have a ladder to get to the emergency shut-off valve.

I texted my management company and headed out for the grocery, worried that it might be my apartment’s pump that was leaking. That would suck! I got back from the store and was relieved that I could no longer hear large amounts of water striking concrete in the basement. Got up to my apartment and… FFS… no water. At all. I had three meals planned, one of which involved taking apart an entire chicken. How the crap nuggets was I going to do that with no water? Lucky for me, my mom and dad taught me how to camp. It’s camping mode time!

After heading to the beach for a morning walk (stupid sargassum is back!), and a dip in the pool to cool down, I filled up a stockpot with water from by the pool and started cooking. The drains still worked, so I just had to ladle cups of water from the pot to wash my hands and do the dishes. The plumber finally arrived, but they didn’t fix it until 9:30pm. It was crazy weird just using hand sanitizer after going to the bathroom! Nobody got sick. I’m glad it was water that went out and not power. I can’t cook without power. Luckily, power rarely goes out here.

Sargassum in Playa
I got a few days of gorgeous crystal clear blue ocean before this sargassum washed in. Sigh. Hoping for more clear days soon.

The ocean hates me!

For real. The ocean is truly against me. The beaches finally, finally cleared up of sargassum. Blue crystal clear waters with white sandy beaches. The picture perfect Caribbean surf. Like everything I have ever dreamed about for my retirement. So I’m walking barefoot on this amazing beach, loving everything about it, and I step on a bee. Yup. A bee. Stung right into the bottom of my foot. Sigh.

I sit down on a rock to get the stinger out. The internet says that salt water will make the hurt go away, which it does. But now I’m worried about infection. That would suck. This worry is what I get working in Microbiology for so long! Well, it hurt a lot for several days but no infection. Thank goodness! It also made me wear some water shoes in the ocean for a couple of days. Now the sargassum is back in full force. I just can’t win. Maybe I should try lakes?

Fútbol! Goooaaalll!

I finally made it to a fútbol game. It was free! A friend and I just strolled up to the stadium, found a seat, and enjoyed the action. The seats were concrete that had spent the day soaking up the tropical sun, so they were hot-hot-hot. I’ll bring a towel next time. Good thing there was a breeze. Locals were selling water and beer from buckets filled with ice. Kids were all running around kicking a ball. Plus Inter Playa (our team) tied to a team that was expected to win. Fun to watch!

Societal norms

I’ve never been really great at keeping my legs all hair-free. Especially in the winter. However, I would take the weed whacker to them if I took a trip to the tropics. I brought my epilator with me on this grand adventure, thinking I would probably use it more. Here in lies the issue. Leg hair is really great at detecting mosquitos before they even land on you. Then you can smack them out of existence.

These agouti are so cool to watch!

Just don’t shave your legs, you say? Well, here’s the other issue. It’s hot here in Playa and I sleep with a fan on and no sheets. That wind tickles those little leg hairs! Mosquitos can carry deadly diseases like dengue and malaria… but night tickles are the worst. It’s a proper battle. I kind of just let the leg hairs grow until they keep me up at night and then off goes my bug sensors.

All things liquid

You never really appreciate potable water straight from the tap until it’s gone. I have to remember to brush my teeth with bottled water and not to open my mouth in the shower. The tap water is drinkable if you boil it, so I’ll use it occasionally for cooking rice. I definitely don’t use it for making coffee or ice. I also don’t use it for cooking beans as the extremely high mineral content messes with the cooking process. Learning so many new things!

Flooded street in Playa
I know for a fact that the grate is missing from the drain by the white car. You really could get hurt if you stepped into it!

As I mentioned, the water here in Playa is really hard (loads of minerals), which makes laundry tricky and is just destroying my hair. There are all kinds of things you can do, such as using more detergent, pre-rinsing, and added vinegar at the end. They say the same for washing your hair (vinegar rinse at the end), but I’m on the lazy side and don’t really want to smell like vinegar. I just have to deal with my hair breaking off and going everywhere.

It’s the stormy season right now, but it usually only rains for a short amount of time. It’s pretty easy to read a book while the storm passes over. If you get caught in it, be prepared to get really wet! It rains hard and the streets often flood, which is kind-of gross to walk through. Be extra careful as sometimes grates are missing from drains, so there is just a hole in the concrete, unseen under all that water. Danger!

Booted Jeep tire
This Jeep needed two boots! Don’t forget to pay for parking.

City life

Playa del Carmen is an interesting place. The prices of food at the grocery stores and fruit stands are crazy cheap. If you cook at home, you can save ridiculous amounts of money compared to what you would spend in the states. In addition, great pre-made food can be found for very little money on food carts all over the city. However, if you want to eat at a restaurant, you are going to pay prices similar to Seattle. This is a tourist town, after all.

So I can’t afford to eat out but I really like people watching. My favorite is walking along 5th Avenue. It’s ‘The Strip’ of Playa (it’s a pedestrian street) and has tons of shops, restaurants, pharmacies (medical components not guaranteed), and crazy bars. I have been offered all the drugs along this route. Do I look like someone who needs drugs at 9am? No, gracias! This is where most tourists get into trouble. Don’t be flashy. Watch your pockets. Stay mostly sober. And enjoy the show.

Street bike decorated in Playa
Playa has a lot of charm. You can spot these decorated bikes around town, as well as VW bugs, faerie-wings for the Insta, and gorgeous street murals.

Driving around here is ridiculous. Forget stop signs. They are ignored by all but the soberest of tourists (careful while walking). The streets flood when it rains, and it rains hard. The one-way streets can switch direction on you. Best to park and walk. But make sure you pay for parking ‘cause they will boot your car the minute that meter flips over. I saw a drunk guy try to drive off with a boot on his rental car. He wasn’t going anywhere!

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