Saturday, March 29, 2014

Tips for Playa del Carmen

So here’s some tips for traveling here to Playa Del Carmen in no particular order;

Don’t stay at the hotels between El Faro and Playa Palms. A large number of nightclubs a clustered together and produce an amazing amount of noise. We could faintly hear it until at least four in the morning on most nights  and occasionally I could hear it even when I used earplugs. It’s sad because some beautiful resorts have to deal with the loss of revenue from people not coming back. That being said, if you come here to party . . . stay between El Faro and Playa Palms J You will be close to all the night action and a short stumble home.

If at all possible book your travel plans though your hotel not one of the travel “agencies” on the street. You will get a better deal, and not have things promised to you that are impossible to deliver. The hotels are a little more accountable.

Accept the smells. Embrace them. Otherwise you’ll be miserable. The Caribbean at this point collects a lot of seaweed, and it can be pretty stinky on the beach. They scoop it up as fast as they can, but it is a natural part of this area. Also the water washes up onto the beach leaving little pools which smell when the tide drops. Also you should know there are parts of the shore, especially in front of El Taj, and it’s neighbors (3 or 4 complexes either direction), where the fishing boats drop anchor. They clean their fish, much to the delight of the birds, much to the dismay of the humans.

When you’re at a restaurant you must ask for your bill “La cuenta por favor”. Otherwise they will leave you alone. The up side is that you can truly relax. No rush. The down side is you can feel pissy because clearly you are done, and they won’t bring the bill. It’s a cultural thing, like in Italy. Also an important note is to look on the bill, and see if they already charged you for the tip, “Propina Incluye.” Or they could have just included they suggested tip, without charging you for it, “Propina Sugeste”. So this means you see the total at the bottom, you see the word ‘Propina’, you put down enough money, they bring the change, and you pocket it without counting it. The problem is you didn’t tip them. Count your change. If it’s too much, you didn’t tip.

Going to the dock to catch the ferry to Cozumel can seem simple enough, and it is actually. Fifty salesmen between you and the dock will tell you otherwise. They will actually intimidate you. “You have to buy your ticket here!” “What do you think, I would lie to you” “How are you going to get on the boat without a ticket?” Just act like you don’t hear them. Maintain an act of talking amongst yourselves and press on. Right in front of the pier, to the left, is a blue and white solid cement ticket-booth. Buy your tickets there.

Good food can be found three streets away from 5th Ave for a third of the price. As I’ve said in past posts, we take a chewable Pepto-Bismol tablet every morning. We never get sick. We went to a park back on 20th St and had fabulous quesadillas and tacos for a couple of bucks. Another favorite is Tacos Arabe where the three of us ate and drank for under ten bucks. I think it’s on 6th St. Also of note is you can ask the restaurants on 5th avenue if they have a cheaper menu. Sometimes they do. We did that the other night at an Italian restaurant. We got a Mexican menu, and really enjoyed the fish tacos for half the price of the fish and pasta. When eating at a fine dining establishment where meals average 15-40 USD, order off the appetizer list. That will usually cost about 10 USD per dish.

Federal police in black with big machine guns patrolling the streets in pairs is not a sign of immanent war. This is a serious show of power to protect you, the tourist. The lights on the trucks flash all the time, don’t worry, nothing is necessarily happening.

If your bathroom stinks like an outhouse, look for a drain in the floor and put a garbage can over it (or something else to cover it). Sometimes the drains are directly connected to the sewage. The fumes can waft up into your room . . . horrible!

If you like birds circling over your head like a cloud of pets, you’ll love this. The seagulls have the humans trained to hold food up in their hands. The seagulls stay in tight formation about ten feet over your head. It’s really kind of cool to watch the birds take turns swooping down for their morsel. I think I’d have a panic attack and run down the beach screaming and flapping my arms . . . not a pretty sight.

Mexicans (and Guatemalans) love their explosives. They like fireworks, firecrackers, and M80s. Especially around holidays, which is often. The other night we awoke to 5 or 6 very loud explosions followed by a splashes. The next day security cameras were installed aimed at the pool.

Finally, tip for practically everything. Not much, just a little goes a long ways here. Most people work 12 hours a day/ 6 days a week for less than what we make in a day. Tips are genuinely appreciated. Example; when we ask for an umbrella, we tip the guy who goes and gets it for us.

Well, until next time via con Dios

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tulum and Coba

We finally decided to break our routine of laziness. I booked a trip to Tulum, Coba, and a Cenote. The van picked us up at our doorstep at 7:45 am., and off we went through the Maya Jungle.
First stop, Tulum. These Mayans knew how to pick oceanfront property. It was a booming city of about 10,000 (I think I remember it right). A small contingent of ten Spaniards landed on their beach, and were greeted by a thousand 4 ½ foot-tall vicious Mayan Jaguar Warriors. They were covered in tattoos, piercings, had teeth filed into points, and were armed. The chief broke the custom ripping their hearts out, peeling their skin off and cremating them (the hearts were saved for the priests to eat in front of everyone). He decided to parade his captives around to the other villages to show his fierce power, so off they went. Unfortunately the Spaniards were armed with biological warfare. A year later when the next group of Spaniards arrived, there were only about four hundred Mayans left. They’d died of small pox, and the flu.

We made a stop at a typical Mayan home to taste homemade tortillas with some sort of strange tasting paste smeared on them. The tortilla was good J I went outside and chatted with the man of the house. He showed me his well, which didn’t need to be very deep to tap into the underground rivers.

Next we went to Playa Paraiso. A gorgeous beach. Everyone jumped in and cooled off.

We went to a restaurant on a beautiful lake. No one was swimming in it, so I asked our driver why. He pointed at the lake and said “Crocodiles!” Ahh, that makes sense.

Next stop, Coba. I wasn’t familiar with this ruin. It’s deeper in the woods. We took bicycle taxis a mile to get to the center. Coba had a population of about 55,000. They have a couple of pyramids. The big one is open to climb, so we did . . . meaning Bill and I. There was no way Joe was going up that thing. I don’t know if you’ve ever been up a pyramid, but the steps are twice the height of normal steps and shallow. Going up the 120 steps (average lifespan of a Mayan) was a gasping chore. 
Coming down was downright scary, especially because the steps are worn smooth from tourists. I went to the side for a little better traction.

From there we went to a Cenote. I don’t remember the name. Cenotes are basically areas where the thin crust of limestone earth collapsed from the weight of the trees. The Yucatan Peninsula has a massive complex network of caves and tunnels filled in with fresh water. Some cenotes are huge, some are barely big enough to squeeze through, but they are all interconnected via waterways. Another spectacular feature of these rivers is the submerged stalactites and stalagmites. This one is small, though deep. We had to rinse off before getting in to protect the clean water from our chemical slathered bodies.
More stairs to struggle up to get out.

We finally got home around 6:00 pm, and oh joy, climbed four flights of stairs to our room.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Mellow Days

It’s been a pretty tame week really. We get up and work out. I swim laps or power walk, Joe does his work-out and runs, swims, or walks with me. Bill joined the gym. He loves it. I think he likes all the cute girls there, but he swears the equipment is great.

I love my early morning walk along 5th Ave. All the workers are busy preparing for the insane crowds. The scuba shops are a bustle of activity, as they load the tanks on the pick-up trucks to be transported to the beach and carried by hand the rest of the way. Starbucks has its usual crowd of coffee addicts. At the end of the street the giant jet ferry spits out its tourists from the cruise ships docked at Cozumel. They line up about 3 wide and 50 yards long. I wonder where they’re going?

Our plan is to take the ferry over to Cozumel and wander around today. It’ll be a nice change of scenery. I mean you can only take so much pristine white sand beaches, friendly waiters at beach bars, massages under fluttery white tents, and warm salty water. We are suffering here people!

Our one big adventure was a couple of days ago when we realized our glass door to our patio would occasionally lock itself. We became very cautious about not shutting the door when we were all out on the patio. So Joe comes out onto the patio and shuts the door behind him. Our eyes must have become as big as saucers because he spun around and tried the door, and sure enough it was locked. Bill went up onto the rooftop terrace to see what our options were while Joe and I did the international ‘Holy Crud’ arm waving to the guard 4 stories below us. After about five minutes of this he glanced up and saw us. It was comical as he stared at us, then he looked over his shoulder to see whom we could be waving to. He pointed to himself and we mimed ‘Yes’. So he came from the beach to stand under us and try to figure out what we needed. Not easy since I didn’t know how to say “We are locked out of our condo, and I’m going to have to use the bathroom soon.” He, smart guy that he is, figured it out and called for help. In the meantime Bill talked our neighbors into letting him climb over the rooftop terrace divider, come down their stairs, and walk through their condo. Good thing too, cause the staff didn’t have a key yet. Bill miraculously did. Now we have a key hidden on the patio and a wine cork in the door runner when we’re out there.

A storm blew in the first couple of days we were here. It tore loose an enormous amount of seaweed, which is now on our beach. Every day a team of men arrive with pitch forks and wheelbarrows to haul it away. I’m glad because it smells yucky and is gross to wade through.

We found our favorite restaurants; cheap one is Tacos Arabe on a back street.

Expensive one is at our condo called Wickys. Wickys has great burgers, and is directly on the beach.

Favorite bars; Zenzi’s also on the beach, therefore expensive. All of their staff wear shorts and are barefoot.

The other is Santanaros up on Fifth. They have beer for 15 pesos, which is only about $1.25. And that’s for all kinds. Joe’s favorite is Bohemia Oscura. It’s usually about 45 pesos. What attracted us to this bar (besides the price and the terrace) was an amazing 30 foot tall neon sign of Jesus as a DJ with a sign under him saying “You are Forgiven”. As it turns out they are just letting you know you can sin all you want in their bar.

Joe and I locked ourselves out of our room again this morning. This time we were outside, so we hung out at the pool waiting for Bill to come back. I’m detecting a theme here.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hello Playa Del Carmen

Hello Playa Del Carmen! We’ve arrived amongst clouds, warm air, a full moon, and the sound of crashing waves. After we settled into our fancy little condo at El Faro Condominium and Beach Club, we immediately hit the sand. This trip Bill came with us (an old friend . . . he’s old and we’ve known a long time. Just kidding he’s only 50 something). He’s gone with us before to Club Med. Tahiti, Cancun, and Turks and Caicos. Great traveling buddy, though he does harass me a lot. He and Joe gang up on me. I could use some sympathy here?

I was looking for a condo down here and somehow I scored on a penthouse suite. We even have our own roof-top terrace. The view is fabulous. I have to tell you though Bill is still in shock over the news that he can’t flush his toilet paper. I told him and he just stood there and asked, “What do I do with the paper?” Ah, gringos . . . I explained you throw it in the garbage conveniently located next to the toilet. His response; “Gross!”
We found the little hole-in-the-wall taco place we fell in love with 3 years ago. I ordered the fish tacos. Caught that morning. One of the servers commented on Joe’s cowboy hat. It brought back memories of his childhood where he was raised on a ranch in Vera Cruz. He was so cute. Named Miguel.

Then we walked down Fifth Avenue. That’s its own experience. Bill had to come to grips with price-tag shock. It’s hard to believe the prices are the same as San Diego. We’ll get off the beaten path tomorrow where the prices are reasonable.
Now we sit on the balcony watching the reflection of the moon skitter across the ocean as it peeks around clouds. The breeze is muggy, but cool. Let’s see what tomorrow holds for us . . .
Saturday is here. Bill joined a gym and Joe and I played in the ocean. We were back at the condo by 9:00 and ready to go grocery shopping. We marched up to the Mega Mart, and then realized we couldn’t safely go grocery shopping because we were all starving. I spotted a Quesadillaria across the street. So off we went. I didn’t know what “Pollo Tinga” was, so I asked. I was afraid it was chicken feet or something stranger. The young lady said “it’s chicken.” “What part of the chicken?” I asked politely. She looked baffled, so I tried to clarify. I pointed to my body, and then at my feet. She laughed and shook her head, pointing to her chest. Anyway it was delicious.
All of our groceries fit into our backpacks and a couple of bags, and then we had to haul them back to the condo. 8 blocks away! The pay-off was chicken quesadillas of our own, and I found out that tinga means shredded.
We hit the beach again, right before a little tropical squall. We only had about half an hour to play and then we ran for cover. We spent the afternoon shopping on Fifth Avenue. I bought Joe a giant coffee cup because the cups here at the condo are dinky. He bought me a fossilized shark’s tooth necklace. It matches his, but is smaller. Like a girl shark maybe.
I opened a bottle of wine from home; Earthquake Petite Syrah. Then we sat around and watched Bottle Shock on a big screen TV.