Playa Ponderings

Note: the symbol for the Mexican Peso is $, the same as USD. All amounts in this post are in pesos unless otherwise indicated.

Mexico is rain!

Wet Night Roaming
After getting off the bus and checking into my hostel, I wandered around the city of Playa del Carmen (or Playa, as the locals say) looking for a place to eat. It rained on and off so I was glad I had my umbrella. I got a little lost in the dark, looking into stores and peeping into people’s houses. When hunger took hold, I impulsively stopped in a little fast food place called Las Quekas which only serves quesadillas and sopas. It might have been a locals spot, judging from the confused looks I got from the cashier and stares I got from the diners (#paynoattentiontotheasianladyinthecorner). The food was good and cheap; $15 for a quesadilla and $18 for a sopa. They made the tortillas right in front of you, too. There was only one family there dining along with me but the ladies were constantly fulfilling take out orders. It was fun watching them work.

A rainy street and some fast food

Quesadillas con chicharron prensado y chorizo

The next day called for even more rain. And rain. And rain. But rain can’t stop me! It does stop the swarms of mosquitoes, though! I grabbed my trusty umbrella and headed out.

Playa Passeggiata

My first stop was the 3D Museum of Wonder. While the entry ticket is a bit expensive at $600 a person, it is a good place to spend an hour or so out of the rain and heat. In a few empty rooms behind a movie theater, you will find the walls and floor covered with pictures that will confuse your Instagram followers. A guide takes you around the place and gives you advise for the most advantageous angles. Shoes are not allowed in the Museum but they do provide disposable socks. Your shoes can be left at the ticket counter or you can ask for a bag to carry them in. I was by myself so my guide, Lilia, assisted with the picture taking. Though she spoke very little English and I speak even less Spanish, through a method of hand gestures and giggles, we had a blast (or I did at least). When we had gone through all the rooms, I was able to wander around the museum by myself for more picture taking. Glad I remembered to charge my phone beforehand! The entry ticket comes with one free coffee at the Museum of Ice Cream and Fun, which is a cafe on the first floor of the same building. It’s not actually a Museum, unfortunately, but the coffee was decent and they offer different flavors of ice cream and pastries.

After an hour or so at the museum, I went off to do what I love to do in a new city: get lost. At the suggestion of my new friend Adam from the bus station, I went on a search for the best street tacos in Playa, which he said was at Avenida 30 y Calle 38. I don’t know if it was the rain, it being the off season, or the World Cup going on but the streets were pretty empty on my wanderings, which was perfectly fine with me. However, when I got to the place Adam suggested, it was also empty. Oops! Oh well, onward and upward! I headed back towards town, zigzagging between local streets, the beach, and Avenida Quinta, or the 5th Avenue of Playa. While the Avenida had more of a Bourbon Street of New Orleans vibe than the famous (and overrated, in my opinion) shopping destination of New York City, it was full poking my head in to the little shops and seeing all the little silly souvenirs for sale. Also on the street are many large stores like you see in America, bars, and all the tourist trap tours that you expect there to be, hawkers and “Hello”s included.

Did you know there are Mayan ruins just a five minute walk from the center of town? In the newer private developments of Playacar, Xaman-Ha was used as an outpost for pilgrims traveling to the sanctuaries of Ixchel, the goddess of fertility, on Cozumel. Three buildings and a wall are all that remain. The ruins are surrounded by private properties so if you are driving, you’ll have to pay an entrance/parking fee at the gate. If you’re on foot, you can walk right through. Apparently there is a small slaughter of iguanas who live in the ruins but they might have been hiding from the rain. I did see my first capybara, though I wasn’t fast enough to get a picture. Afterwards, I walked around and was generally nosy on all the houses that were in the area and fulfilled my search for the all important street taco.

Taco con pollo y pastor. $25. Nom.
Many fast food places will wrap their plates in a biodegradable bag so they don’t have to wash them when the diner is finished

Pro tip: Do not try to pay for street tacos with a $500 bill. They will laugh at you.

For dinner I decided to treat myself. Alux Restaurant Bar and Lounge is inside a 10,000 year old cave, and, like forrealsies in a real cave, with dripping water, stalagmites, stalactites, humidity, and BATS! Alux is actually one of two fancy restaurants that I was on the fence about going to (the other being Pujol in Mexico City), mainly because it’s hard going from a $12 taco to a $300 meal. I guess I’m only eating tacos for the rest of the trip.

My hostel told me that the restaurant is too far away to walk and the best way was to take a taxi. A quick search on Google showed that it was only a twenty minute walk, which is nothing to a New Yorker. After getting dolled up, I made my way west on Avenida Benito Juรกrez, one of the main thoroughfares of the city. I passed many people walking home from work, visiting the banks, and shopping on my way to the restaurant. This seems to be where the locals hang out!

I got to the restaurant soon after they opened and was sat immediately. The waiter was very helpful in deciphering the menu. While the food was only ok, the drink that I got was very tasty, though a bit weak even by my standards. After I finished my food, I was able to wander around the cave system with my drink. There are many little dining nooks tucked into the cave and even an event space. And BATS! I saw a few flying around and heard a few more. It was super cool to be reminded that I was sitting in a place that isn’t entirely man made and probably goes on forever.

Even thought the food wasn’t very good, the price for dinner, a drink, and the experience plus tip came out to only around $30 USD. While that doesn’t seem like much in America, one can do a lot with $30 USD in Mexico. I’m still glad I went, though maybe next time I’ll go for just a drink and a wander.

Pondering: The people here do not seem to mind the rain. Many I passed on the street were happily making their way through drenched from head to toe. I’m still glad I have my umbrella, despite the looks I get.

Observation: Unless it is a major intersection, there are no street lights and rarely a stop sign. Most of the time, drivers will slow down and allow you to cross but sometimes, I had to awaken my NYC streetitude and charge across the street when there was a break in traffic.

Tip: The further you get away from the center of town, the better exchange rates are. This includes getting money from ATMs. I got an almost 3% better rate on the main thoroughfare that I did by the beach. If you’re not in dire need of money, take the time to shop around for the best price. Even just by crossing the street may get you a better deal.

Hostel 615

The hostel that I’m staying at is on the corner of Avenida 15 y Calle 6 (easy enough to remember as it is the name). It is TINY! And I mean tiny toilet stalls and showers (coed), tiny beds in tiny rooms (female), and tiny lounge area. Hot water for showers are only available from 7am-11am and 7pm-11pm. But it was cheap, WiFi (very spotty in the rooms) and breakfast included so I get what I pay for, I guess. $7 UDS a night isn’t bad when you’re not planning on being there for very long.

Pro tip: Forgot your towel? Use tomorrow’s shirt to dry off after your shower. It’s clean. You’re clean-ish. Hang it up when you’re finished and it should be dry by the morning for you to wear.


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