05 Nov

Adios Playa del Carmen! We Won’t Be Back.

My Mexican dreams were awash with early morning runs on the beach, margaritas with new friends in the evenings, and a chance to really settle down and get to know a place.

Playa del Carmen was not the place of my Mexican dreams.

Filled with all inclusive resorts, pumping restaurants, and expensive shops it’s a place built to please holiday-makers; it is not a city in its own right but exists solely for the purpose of tourism. For me, it lacked soul.

I was conflicted about coming here; I have friends who have stayed for months on end and love, love, love it and others who have come and couldn’t wait to leave. I didn’t know how it would work out for us but, with tickets already purchased, we decided to give it a shot. You can put us in the camp that couldn’t wait to leave.

It wasn’t all bad though.

Our skimpy budget may have forced us into a cheap apartment on the outskirts of town, but we did manage to turn it around and started spending less than we’re making. Europe was tough on our budget and, although we didn’t spend more than we expected, I didn’t expect how it would feel to have chipped away at our savings. Lesson learned.

The funk that I had been battling for a while landed with full force, but it also made me really think things through and figure out what was going on. Through plenty of talking and teasing it out I discovered that it was a toxic combination of peri-menopausal hormones (Seriously!? I’m old enough for this?!), a homesickness that I didn’t recognize, a frustration with our budget, and a realization that being in Playa del Carmen was not turning out how I had expected. The funk has lifted, thank goodness, but it was a lot of work and I don’t plan on letting it take over again.

I discovered yoga. In an effort to find some peace and deal with the anxiety that would not go away I decided to try yoga. I found a donation-based class (good for the budget) held in a quiet palapa (think grass roofed, open walled building) in town. As the instructions floated over me in lilting Spanish, and I pretzeled my body into shapes I didn’t think possible, I also learned how to breath, and relax, and let the anxiety drain.

This travel thing, this serial expat thing, this figure-it-out-as-we-go thing; it’s definitely not all rainbows and puppies all the time. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes it’s hard because of where we are. Sometimes it’s hard because of what’s going on inside. And sometimes it’s hard because of a perfect storm of where we are and what’s going on inside.

I’m sorry Playa del Carmen; it’s not all you, but I’m afraid we won’t be coming back.



27 Aug

Worst Travel Day Yet

We left Ireland, and Europe, a little wistfully. Our final two weeks in Laytown had been perfect; filled with nothing more than early morning walks along the beach, afternoon pints at the small local pub, plenty of cat cuddling (well, as much as he would endure anyway), and meals that we actually cooked ourselves. It was chilly though. Wearing long sleeves and a poofy coat chilly; it’s no wonder the Irish have such alabaster skin – I fear they never see the sun! And so we looked forward to finally getting to Mexico and warming up.

Most of the flight had been uneventful but as we neared the Canadian coast, ready to touch down in St. John’s for a few hours, the clouds began to thicken and the plane began to bump and roll.

The seatbelt sign went on immediately; beverage carts were quickly stowed away, seat-belts were checked, and I slowly entered into the first steps of my ‘flying system’. Earphones in with favourite song playing; check. Game at the ready; check (it was Spider Solitaire this time). Definitely NOT thinking about the worst case scenario; check.

The captains voice soon muffled its way into the cabin. I love it when the captain acknowledges that the plane is dipping and diving. It makes me feel that he knew this would happen; that he wasn’t surprised by it and he has it all under control. Crazy, I know, but it’s my head so my games. He apologized for the turbulence (how Canadian is that?!) but explained that we would have to wait it out as the storm was much worse down below and the rain was too heavy to land.

So I relaxed, not exactly happy to still be up in the air but happy to know that the captain had it all well in hand and that we would soon be landing safely. For about 2.48 minutes, until the plane started to lose altitude and it became clear that we were going to land in it after all.

It wasn’t pretty. Oh, I’m sure it was as safe as all get-out, but the bumping and rolling, and dipping and diving, coupled with the rain streaming against the window and the zero visibility beyond was too much. I put the full system into place but still adrenaline shot through my body making me sweaty, with heart beating wildly and on the verge of tears. Definitely not pretty.

We, of course, landed safely. Everyone clapped. We went to the bar.

It was to be the start of one of the worst travel days we’ve ever had.

Our next flights were uneventful and we landed in Cancun, Mexico tilting our faces to the sun as we exited the plane and soaking in the humid heat that had been so long in coming.

We are not those people who get nervous at customs and immigration. We have no contraband, we follow all the rules, and generally believe that this will hold us in good stead. So our smiles were genuine as we greeted the young Mexican immigration agent and handed over our passports and immigration forms.

Flipping through our paperwork she asked how long we planned to be in Mexico. Our answer of 72 days raised her eyebrows. She looked up and asked if we had an outbound ticket. No, we nervously replied, our plan is to exit overland by bus. She asked if we had an itinerary, looked at our notes on our phone as to our plans for the next few weeks, and then, asking us to stay there, she took our passports and disappeared.

Cue anxious smiles, encouraging statements about how she just needed to check with her supervisor and that we would be just fine, and shuffling of feet for five long minutes.

Returning, she silently stamped our passports, smiled at us, and welcomed us to Mexico. Whew.

Our One Giant Yucatan Road Trip plan, of course, required us to have a car. So off to the rental agency we trooped.

Jason came out of the office, folded the signed rental agreement into his shirt pocket, and said we were all set. Perfect, I said, how much did it end up being? Forty dollars a day, he said as he acknowledged the young lot worker sent over to check the car out with him.

I looked at him with my eyes wide open mentally doing the math converting between pesos and dollars and multiplying by the number of days we had planned. And then doing it again before I said anything…just to be sure.

That’s almost eight hundred dollars, I quietly said as calmly as I could manage. Seven hundred and sixty four to be exact, he replied, turning to check the car over with the lot boy.

Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…my mind raced. Eight hundred freaking dollars. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.

I was stunned. Paralysed. What the f*ck was he thinking?! What made him think that we could afford eight hundred dollars? What made him think that I would agree to this? My mind cast back to the conversations we’d had as we planned the road trip. The ones where we gleefully plotted our course unbelievably happy that renting a car in Mexico could be so cheap. Where on earth was eight hundred dollars considered cheap?!

I said nothing, tasting blood as I bit my tongue and climbed into the passenger seat for the 2 hour ride south to Tulum. He must have a reason, I thought to myself, but I couldn’t talk to him about it as he drove a new-to-him car in a foreign country for the very first time. It was a very quiet ride as I went over and over our conversations and mentally noted all the things we wouldn’t be able to do in the next few weeks because we were just instantly eight hundred dollars poorer.

Although it’s a mantra that we have used for many years it is our friends at Married With Luggage that put it into words for us; always assume your mate has the best of intentions. It has, for us, always proven to bear true and this time, again, held up to the test.

Arriving at the beach I said that we should probably talk about the car and figure out how we had suffered such a MASSIVE miscommunication. It wasn’t like us so something had obviously gone terribly wrong. It turned out to be just that; a massive miscommunication where each of us clearly thought that the other was on the same page. No malicious intent. No mean-spiritedness. Just a complete misunderstanding of what was expected.

We quickly came up with a plan; we would return the car and take the bus back the 120KM from Cancun and continue on with our road trip by bus. As soon as we could, we called the rental agency to see if we could return the car after only one day. They agreed to let us break the contract and said they would only charge us the one days rental we had used. And the One Giant Yucatan Bus Trip was born. Whew.

Heading to the hostel we realized that we had absolutely no Mexican pesos on us. We had completely forgotten to stop at an ATM to withdraw any money. Tulum is small so we were grateful to find an ATM at the local grocery store. Except it wouldn’t work. Neither would the one at the gas station. Or the Scotiabank building. Or the HSBC bank. Or the OXXO corner store. Shit. Now we’re newly best friends again but tired, and hungry, and thirsty, and with no money and no idea why our card isn’t working. Shit.

Time to call the bank and find out what’s going on. Sure enough the banks security system was fine with us gallivanting from country to country to country around Europe for the summer but the switch from Ireland to Mexico wasn’t sitting too well and they had frozen our account. I am grateful that such security measures are in place; they have saved our asses more than once when our card has  been compromised so I’m happy they are so vigilant. But it was not what we needed on this day. Fortunately it was easily resolved and we were off to the ATM as soon as we hung up the phone. Whew.

As dusk closed in we walked to the closest restaurant we could find, ordered tacos and beer, and put our worst travel day yet to bed.

This is the only picture we managed the whole day. It’s on the beach in Tulum, after we had ‘the talk’. There is no other evidence of the Worst Travel Day Yet.