We arrived in Cancun on September 19th and found a bus to take us to Playa del Carmen. We started out our travels in the Yucatan Peninsula because we’d been in the area before and thought that it would be a gentle way to reintroduce ourselves to Mexico, easing into the life of travel slowly, and avoiding full-out culture shock. Playa is small enough that it’s easy to get around on foot and the main industry is tourism so we figured we could get by in English while trying to improve our rudimentary Spanish. We also planned on attending a month-long program beginning in November that would provide us with international certification to teach English as a second language. Playa del Carmen, like so much of the “Mayan Riviera”, had undergone a radical change. When we first visited the area in ‘94 the pier for the ferry to Cozumel was the big draw with a small fishing village surrounding it. In 2001, it had grown and was worth a day trip for shopping and drinking when we vacationed in nearby Akumal. Now, it’s approximately 120,000 people and, in a few more years, it will be another Cancun. The beaches are populated with high rise hotels and pricey condo/timeshares. Tulum and Akumal, small, quiet towns a few years ago, are also growing rapidly with luxury hotels, private homes, boutique stores and more developments on the drawing board. We found a third floor walkup, furnished studio apartment, La Casa Verde: safe and secure, inexpensive and clean. The apartment was in a mixed neighborhood of apartments, condos and small businesses. With a four block walk to the Caribbean, the rent was a great deal at $400/month. There were several markets nearby with a huge variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, our “at home” diet, along with bread, cheese, and yogurt. However, within a few weeks of sampling the local restaurants we found that we would need to adjust some of our eating habits and remember that this was a new lifestyle rather than a vacation; our clothes were getting a bit tight… A few differences that we took note of between Mexico and the US cultures: milk comes in cartons and is not refrigerated until open; neither are eggs. Pictures can be deceiving. We bought what we thought was blackberry yogurt and discovered, once it hit our mouths, that it was prune. Ciruela Pasa sounds melodious but the taste…glgh! A typical Mexican kitchen does not have hot water at the sink. Toilet paper goes in the waste basket not the toilet bowl (small sewer pipes). A computer keyboard has a few different keys and lacks the @ sign. A lot of people keep roosters in their backyard which crow early in the morning but also at other intervals around the clock. The church bells ring at all hours.
There are a lot of cars with loudspeakers mounted on top advertising miscellaneous deals which cruise slowly up and down the streets blaring out various deals and music. The Caribbean is much more beautiful when compared to the Gulf of Mexico. I think we’re going to like discovering more differences…!