So, before I left for Mexico I had a conversation with some friends who had literally just gotten back from the same general area (the Riviera Maya) and had had the motherfucking times of their lives. We’re talking maybe 6 people; they had all gone for a wedding, which I can only assume was magical. Anyway, they fully prepped me for the untrustworthiness of the average Mexican dude who’s just “tryin’ to be helpful” at the airport, who actually ends up leading you to his buddy’s car and off you’re whisked at some ridiculously exorbitant fee (it’s actually WAY worse in NY).
So, I added a Mexico calling plan to my cell service (ATT) and called my transport company (Tourex) to make sure the bus was going to be there at the correct time. Sweet girl spoke English (I had practiced the convo in Spanish a million times on the toilet right before calling, but only needed ‘habla ingles?‘), and we got all settled and that was that. At the airport it was so painfully NOT sketchy that I probably came off as extra tweaky to the helpful dude who knew where the tourex guy was in the sea of name-card holding drivers. Or maybe I narrowly averted kidney robbery by not letting him wheel my bags. I don’t know.
Forty five air conditioned minutes later (actually, who knows? I didn’t really look) we arrived in front of my hotel: Hotel Casa Ticul. FYI, it was ranked #5 in hotels of Playa del Carmen on tripadvisor. I chose it because it was relatively cheap, seemed to be fairly boutiquey from other guest photos and was described as about a block from the beach, but on the main road (5th ave). It was all those things. When I arrived it was technically not yet check-in time, and the front desk woman (listen, I’m terrible with names…EVERYONE’S names) checked with the cleaning staff and led me to a room tucked back past the (fairly tiny) pool on the ground floor. They were doing some sort of intense power washing of the walkway above my room and there was water dripping down and loud racket all around, and it wasn’t a very good impression to arrive on. My fault though for getting there at peak cleaning hours. The room was ok, but dark. It basically felt like a basement and my mood quickly started to plummet. I texted a friend that the room was depressing and she encouraged me to ask for a different one. As the woman had already told me to let her know if I didn’t want the room, I screwed up my courage and asked if she could please maybe see if there was maybe another room I could see please, por favor.
Thank god I did. New room was super cute. I think I got one of the ones that shows up on tripadvisor, because I definitely recognized the decor. Not that the first room was terrible, it was just dark and lifeless. Anyway, that settled, I then faced the big question: What now? What now, indeed. I think I unpacked and checked out the mini bar and then hit the road. I decided to walk up 5th Ave (quinta avenida) to see what I’d see. It was humid as balls and I was sweating so much I thought someone might end up calling me an ambulance. But I soldiered on, feeling fairly miserable but determined to make a go of “enjoying” my vacation. True to the “warnings” of my friends, every door I passed had a guy out front who called to me to get my attention. They were generally super friendly/courteous, so don’t worry about that. But later that week I would get skeeved out by the sketchball ladder of sales pitches from dudes lurking by ATMs and on side streets: “Cigars, senor?” No thanks (hmmm, maybe?) “Marijuana?” No… thanks (no way am I gonna risk THAT) “Blow? Blow, amigo?” Huh-uh (Whooooaaaa now. I guess that happens, I have friends who would probably go for it) “Senoritas? How about a senorita?” HAHAH…no thanks (shit, is this guy following me?!)
So I walked up a ways and then back a ways and then back up some more. It’s a really loooong main drag and it’s nearly impossible for a guy on his own to pick out the diamonds from the rhinestones. Some of the best food I had was served in places playing the most awful eurotrance house shit. And something about the places playing chilled latin acoustic stuff screamed tourist trap, like they were playing “traditional” to get the gringos in the door or something. I tried checking tripadvisor (which has a HUGE presence in town) a few times and found the app to be fairly functional once it nabbed my location. And the iphone’s built-in map was at least useful for showing me just how far past shit I had blown. Probably the most “up my alley” place I ate was Yaxche, which bills itself as modern Mayan/Mexican, with some traditional stuff also available. I had walked right past the place a few times and blown it off as a tourist trap because of its immense size and glitzy presence, but don’t let that put you off. The prices are good and the food is CRAZY good. I only had 2 appetizers and a drink (ceviche, some delicious mayan thing “tsotobilchay”, and a take on the margarita with this green plant juice, all blew me away… ok the drink was so-so. But eat here) and I was too stuffed to finish. Plus the A/C works like gangbusters.
In all, it’s a good town to hit with someone, or with yourself if you’ve got some confidence and more time. I frankly took a really long time to adjust to the heat and get over some, er, “digestive” problems so I never fully relaxed before I moved on to the all-inclusive resort compound. I can say that there are a ton of tourists, and the area caters mostly to the cheezy ones. House music, cheap drinks, tons of souvenirs and surprisingly little focus on the beach. But it was apparently the low season so that could be different later. I only got to try one of the in-town beach clubs, at a hotel called Las Palapas (Casa Ticul has passes for three different clubs of various flavors. The pass worked really well). The staff in the lobby were angels. The walk to the beach was past some intensely relaxing grounds…it looks like the “rooms” at Las Palapas are like small bungaloes (I’m guessing that’s what a palapa is) each with patio space and hammock. The beach area itself was a little lackluster. Sort of run-down feeling. And no pina coladas. That would become a theme of the trip. I really really wanted one. I’ll leave you with one last photo to summarize the type of tourism they seem to want in Playa del Carmen. The bar itself actually looked pretty nice. Also trashy and terrible, but nice!