Sunday, November 22, 2015

Deadlines and Free Times

As much as I like taking my time when I'm traveling, I seem to tend towards traveling quickly. When I've got a deadline to meet, it forces me even more to be efficient in how I travel: choosing my destinations wisely, using my time in each city effectively, planning ahead a little bit to make sure I have everything figured out and can hit the ground running when I arrive.

For 5 weeks I'd been aiming for being in Playa del Carmen on the 10th of November to meet a friend flying in, and that was my deadline pushing me continuously as I traveled. Suddenly, I arrived in Playa del Carmen and there was no more deadline. In fact, I found myself with an abundance of time, and not much distance left to cover in Mexico. It turns out I have a little bit of trouble handling that.

I arrived in Playa del Carmen after a short trip from Valladolid and settled into the AirBnB that we'd reserved. After the customary shower, I caught a cab to the downtown area to check it out... and was supremely unimpressed. McDonalds, Victoria's Secret, surf shops full of overpriced board shorts - it was like any prosperous beach town in the US. I'd not even planned a single day in Cancun because I was hoping to avoid a lot of that, but it appeared Playa del Carmen was infected pretty badly too.

First on the itinerary was a bus to Cancun and back to pick up Rina, a friend I met at Burning Man this year. When we got back to Playa, she was pretty tired out from a month of a pretty ridiculous work schedule and a day of travel, so we grabbed some dinner and she called it an early night. I, on the other hand, met up yet again with a pair of Italians who happened to be in the same city. There was a little bit of mezcal consumed. We did a night out on the town, and agreed to keep in touch about what we were doing the next day.

El Doctor, el Tiburon, y La Ardilla with some nice cuban cigars and mezcal

This is the kind of place you might end up in Playa del Carmen. There was a giant inflated cow hanging from the ceiling.
When I woke up, Rina and I headed out for some breakfast and some wandering, and then made our way down to the beach and settled in to a chair for a relaxing day. I really don't do days like that often - and in fact, even in San Diego I was never very happy just hanging out on the beach with nothing to do - but I'd had enough moving recently that I was perfectly content to just pull up a book on my phone and read for a couple hours. After a while, I saw some curly hair coming down the beach and gave a shout, and our Italian friends joined us.

Fishbowl mojitos and a guy who would adjust the umbrellas if we wanted the shade different. Not bad.

If I found a frisbee on the beach, I'd be throwing it. They found a soccerball, so I don't blame them.
After splitting up to rinse off and get some food, we met up at a place called the Blue Parrot for movie night. Sitting on couches under a cabana just off the beach is a pretty sweet place for a movie, if you've never done it. The night started off with two animated shorts which... well, I wasn't a huge fan. The animation was good in both of them, but there wasn't much of a narrative or story to them (someone didn't read Pixar's rules of storytelling), so I found myself not associating with any of the characters. Though one of them did include a Tom Waits song for the backing music, so at least it had that going for it.

The main film, however, was phenomenal. It was a documentary of a group of Spanish artists who went to South Africa to use murals to inspire people who are living in poor or violent communities, called "Diamond Inside." It was really cool to see the process of how they came up with the designs, how they selected the locations, and the impact that the art had on the communities afterward. It was really well produced, and I enjoyed getting the free Spanish lesson as almost everything was in English with Spanish subtitles (though occasionally the Spaniards were speaking Spanish, and the subtitles were still in Spanish).

That night was an early one for all of us, so after the movie we planned a bit for the next day and turned in. Waking up after a good night's sleep felt pretty amazing, and Rina and I got a good start on the day and headed to a cenote. A significant portion of Yucatan is limestone, so it's dotted with little areas where the limestone has collapsed down into the water table leaving a nice swimming hole. We picked one that I'd heard was good and snagged a collectivo (small bus) down the road to it with our towels and swimming suits.

Perfect amount of shade, and the water temp was a bit chilly though not bad.

It was a little busy when we got there, but soon got a little bit emptier.
We rented some snorkels for 50 pesos each (Rina's first time snorkeling!) and spent a while swimming around looking at the fish. There were some little caves to explore, and areas where you could swim between some narrow roots, and there were even a couple scuba divers practicing there (I assume - it wasn't a big enough place to warrant actually diving). After a while we just sat on the edge and enjoyed our free pedicure.

These little guys would eat the dead skin off your feet, if you could stand the tickling.

Our friend sunning on the rock near our things.
After getting back, we walked from the collectivo drop off back to our place a different way than we'd come, to get a slightly different feel of the city. It seemed like the farther from the beach you got, the more it seemed like the rest of Mexico, and the less it seemed like... America.

Street art.

Saw these guys for sale at a pottery vendor.
After that, it was time for one more last night out in Playa, with more cigars and mezcal. Rina joined us this time, and she even got the worm at the bottom of the mezcal bottle - and ate the whole thing.

Margaritas and dinner first.

Then dessert.
The whole time I was in Playa, I found myself struggling a little bit - with what to do with my time, with the feel of the place and how different it was from the parts of Mexico that I'd enjoyed so much before, with the constant vendors hassling (in English). So it was with some enthusiasm that I headed off towards Tulum with Rina and away from Playa.

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