Wednesday, 30 January 2013

My Evening Visitor

Lying in bed last night watching a movie, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Can you see what I see? Look closely among the leaves.

My little friend kept me company for most of the evening, dashing across the wall and ceiling with lightning speed. Aside from being my little protector who will help keep down the bug population in my apartment, geckos can have a symbolic meaning of transition. I'm definitely going through transition right now and feel comforted by his/her presence.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

From tourist to resident...

Most visitors to Playa are tourists. They act like tourists, and are treated like tourists, in that they want to shop, eat, drink and go on tours... and they get constant bids from salespeople on the pedestrian walkway. I've been a tourist, but transitioned to "traveller" pretty quickly. The longer I stay here, the less I need and want to buy stuff and do pre-packaged tours. Now that I'm here for 3+ months, I am even eating out less, definitely drinking less, and am more interested in building relationships with people who aren't going to leave in a week. Once people here begin to recognize me, and learn that I'm here for 3 months, I'm also treated differently. People rarely are trying to sell me stuff. Rather they greet me, ask how my day is, and invite me to share their lunch with them. I feel grateful and welcomed as a temporary resident, and a part of the family.

As a little tribute to my building relationships with this particular group of guys (who have never tried to sell me anything!), I spent the day doing henna and playing snakes and ladders on the street.

These are just a few of the guys of about 10 who have adopted me.

One of the guys was a tattoo artist for 10 years, and did this one on me.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Moving Day!

Today I move from my cozy place right on 5th, in the middle of all the action to a bigger place in a more residential area. This is what I am leaving...

My friend Elizabeth picked me up with my luggage (Note, that I call her my friend now, even though I paid her for the service of finding me an apartment... she really is more like a friend!). The landlord is nice, thorough, and I get a positive, honest vibe from him. After about an hour of formalities, I had the place to myself to unpack and get the feel of it. I quite like it. It's very bright, spacious, better maintained than my last place, and quiet (except for traffic I can hear from a nearby street). The biggest downside of my last place, besides it being too small to host guests, was the noise from 5th and 1st.

How nice, the previous tenant left me a little welcome beer!

The sitting room with a futon couch for when I have extra guests. Note the staggered steps in the staircase... cute but scary to navigate!

Kitchen and sitting area.

Sizeable balcony with moderate view (can't really hang my hammock though, unfortunately).

 Stairs up to the loft.

Outside my front door. Pretty flower box at my door step! You can't quite see it in the photo, but the staircase up to my apartment is spiraled.

A tiny pool with some garden space to lounge in!

View from the loft looking down.

The bedroom in the loft.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Trattoria del Centro

There is no shortage of Italian restaurants in this town. Half of the main tourist area is considered Little Italy. I'm not normally a big fan of Italian food or pasta when I go out, but once in a while I have a craving. My usual go-to has disappointed me the last couple years, so I took someone's recommendation and went to Trattoria del Centro, on calle 26 between 10th and 15 ave. A little hole in the wall, with only a few tables, with delicious hand made pasta at very reasonable prices... my favourite kind of place!

Daily specials run from noon-6 pm. For 100 pesos, choose from lasagna, ravioli, gnocchi, spachetti, rolled chicken or roast pork tenderloin. For 80 pesos, flat pasta with your choice of sauce that includes salad and bruschetta.

Tiny bruschetta toasts with your standard tomato as well as tapenade that was yummmmy.

I chose the pasta with a mushroom cream sauce. So rich. So tasty. I'll be back (with my Minnesota family! nudge nudge!)

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Bits and Bites

Eating out here is a big draw. Playa is well known for its international cuisine, everything from high end steak houses to cheap taco and fruit carts. Many people who live here full time rarely cook at home, because it's can be so easy and cheap to eat out. Here are a few tasty treats that I've had over the last week.

Walking down the street, I happened upon a little restaurant that was offering paella as their lunch of the day (100 pesos=$8 Cdn). I asked if I could have some to go. "Of course"... and they brought me this: a proper glass plate and silverware wrapped up to go. "Just bring the plate back later if you can". I love the trust here!

Zenzi is a bar/restaurant on the beach. Live music, great view. Usually beach restaurants are a bit more expensive, but they had a dinner special of chicken cordon bleu for 90 pesos ($7 Cdn). Came with a fresh, delicious Caesar salad.

 I discovered this little taco place last year, and I'm so glad it's doing well. Remodeled and freshened up, Tacos Arabes has added a little garden seating area. They are still serving the delicious seasoned pork on fresh pita-like tacos, much like schwarma. Prices have gone up from 18 pesos each to 20. I took 2 to go for supper, sauces and lime packaged up for the condiments. So yummy.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Healing my soul through my eyes

More reasons why I choose Playa.

Some people hate what the sun, wind, salt and humidity does to their hair. I love it!

Some of the things that I see on a daily basis goes straight to my soul to rejuvenate it.

Others just confuse me, but who cares. This is a new, massive sculpture near the pier.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Apartment Hunting

Playa is a tourist town, and I'm in the unique position of technically being a tourist but having the budget and needs/desires of a resident. I wanted something close enough to the tourist zone so that I could easily enjoy the beach and restaurants on foot, but not an expensive vacation rental that typically can run $1000/week or more. It had to be big enough to accommodate the occasional guest that will be visiting me, and it had to have wifi so that I could accomplish necessary things at home from here.

I have so many things that I am grateful for in the hunt for an apartment.

I'm grateful that I had the wisdom to book my usual condo for the first 2 weeks of my 3 and a half month stay. This is threefold: at first it was "in case nothing else is available this close to holiday season"... then it was "so that I have the opportunity to see with my own eyes what my potential apartment options are"... then it was "holy smokes, this is not as easy or quick as I was led to believe; so glad I have a place to sleep for 2 weeks!"

I'm grateful for Manuel, a local friend who took a day off work to walk the streets with me for hours looking for apartments, calling the numbers on for rent signs, and making it a pleasant experience! We literally walked one day for 4 hours, and a second day for 2 hours, probably calling at least 40-50 numbers listed on for rent signs. About half answered. Half of those didn't actually have anything available (I quickly learned that all those for rent signs are permanently fixed and don't actually mean that there's something for rent right now). The other half said they'd call back with what they have available, and not one single person called back. It was not at all a waste of time though, as it really impressed upon me that the rental market here is by no means a suffering economy, and that I'd better adjust my expectations really quick! Sure, a deal can be had... with a lot of luck, exceptional timing, proficient command of the Spanish language, perseverance and local connections.

Which leads me to the third thing/person I am so grateful for: Elizabeth.

Before finding Elizabeth, I emailed several property management companies, real estate people, and owners directly about finding something for rent way back in October. The ones who bothered to email me back told me there was really nothing available, but that it was probably best to wait until a month before I need it, because that's when people give notice to vacate. It made sense, so I believed them. Except that when it came to that time, and I emailed them again, I got at best one option to consider... that either was out of my budget or didn't fulfill my needs in some other way. And then they stopped emailing me.

I found Elizabeth by chance. She was mentioned on another traveller's blog as a local person who would find and negotiate a rental contract for a fee. Her name has never come up in my usual circle of Playa experts. She does this more as a hobby and favour for people, as she has another full time job. She's not an agent and asks for the fee upfront. Honestly, at first I thought it was a little sketchy and a bit risky to do it this way, especially after so many people and agents who seemed interested at first ultimately disappeared. I was reluctant, but a little desperate when I emailed her just a week before I arrived in Playa. Her response was like a breath of fresh air with her honesty, directness, and her follow through! In a few days she had a place, pictures, and an appointment for us to go see it together. After we met, she invited me to go to salsa lessons with her and her friends. Now that's a personal touch! I almost don't want to give out her contact info because I'm afraid that she'll get so busy that she won't be able to help me next year! However, I am grateful for all the generosity that has been extended to me, so in return I offer to share my secrets so that more may benefit. You can find Elizabeth on Facebook here.

A few photos of my next home! It's cute, cozy, a little rustic but fresh, clean and well-maintained.

Sitting area with fold-out couch for my guests, and stairs that go up to a loft.

Well equipped kitchen.

Bedroom in the loft.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

A glimpse of me!

Being the writer and photographer of this blog means that I rarely have pictures of me. I get complaints about that! So, here I am! Photos courtesy of Tim.

Me doing henna for Dee Dee.

Tim always gets such good shots of me and Dee Dee (and Kari who I'm sure will be featured in February!) This is us at the Dirty Martini with ginger-grapefruit martinis that were delightful! Aren't we adorable?

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Henna Day!

Something that puts me in a very happy place is doing henna. So, it really can't get much better than doing henna in Mexico! I spent the day today with my Minnesota family at their resort. It was windy, hot, cloudy and humid... and a great day was had by all!

Dee Dee with a sexy star burst on her shoulder.

 Dawn's ankle.

Zach's horseshoe in honour of his horse, Diesel. And Meghan's ankle.

Tim's antler's. Much better than the elk last year that looked like a camel!

Zach and Meghan.

 The whole henna gang! They've already booked a henna appointment with me 6 weeks from now!

Later that day T&D's other son Ryan arrived with his girlfriend Jess. So we took them on a mini bar crawl. First stop Manne's for a shot.

Second stop, La Azotea for bacon wrapped chicken, cheese and jalapeno poppers. (Juan, are you reading this??)

Third stop Babe's... a Thai restaurant that also serves Swedish meatballs in Mexico. Pictured here is my thai basil chili chicken which hit the limits of my spicy palate! Yum!

After that I called it a night!

Why here...

I was asked today why I choose Playa del Carmen as my go-to place. It's a bit of a long story that goes back 20+ years. But I can't sleep right now, and I know you're reading this for the stories, so let me weave it for you...

My first tropical vacation was a little over 20 years ago with my friend, Mike. Back then we didn't really have the Internet for research, so I relied on a travel agent to guide me. I wanted somewhere beautiful, hot and exotic. Without knowing anything about such places, I ended up booking 2 weeks to Cozumel, an island just off the coast of Cancun. During one of our exploring days, we decided to take a ferry to see where it landed. As we approached the mainland, my breath was taken away by the turquoise waters and sugar sand beaches. The buildings were small wooden structures with grass roofs; the beach was as far as the eye could see; the water was so clear and calm. I thought to myself that Cozumel was ok enough, but if I ever came back to Mexico, this was the place I was going to come back to. That place was Playa del Carmen.

After several more winter vacations to places like Cuba, Dominican Republic, Florida and Texas, I finally made my way back to Playa about 8 years ago. I can remember so clearly the first day of vacation, walking out of the little 20 room hotel on the beach and into the ocean. I turned to face the town and I felt a deep sense of peace in my soul. I thought to myself "I've found my place. I don't need to keep looking."

I come here for the climate, the food (ohhh, the food!), the culture, the friends I've met over the years, and for that feeling in my soul. I'm told that a visible transition happens in me... I smile more, laugh more, worry less. I'm more open, less guarded, more spontaneous. Things don't have to be perfect, and I'm rarely disappointed.

The person who asked me why I choose Playa was then making plans to meet up with me on Friday to go apartment hunting. I pulled out my iPhone to check my calendar and put in the date. He asked what I was doing. When I told him, he shook his head and laughed. "That's not how we do things here... everything so structured." I then showed him what my calendar looked like 3 weeks ago and he looked a little concerned, but then nodded and understood why I needed Playa.

I also know you're reading this for the food pictures, so here's what I had today for a snack. Shrimp tacos at PG's!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Playa del Carmen 2013

I'm 6 months into my sabbatical, and this next phase is a long-term stay in my favourite place: Playa del Carmen, MX. I'll be here for three and a half months! Today is Day 1. With such a long stay, it is highly doubtful that I will be posting everyday, but there will be some new highlights that I experience this time around. First, I'll be having friends coming to visit me as their first time here! Second, I need to find a new apartment big enough to accommodate my visitors!! I'm so thrilled to show my favourite place to some of my favourite people, and to see Playa again through new eyes!

I was lucky today to have my very own welcoming party: my friends Tim & Dee Dee from Minnesota that I've known for about 8 years now, their son Zach, his friend Meghan, and Dee Dee's sister Dawn. Here we are at Dirty Martini's for Ladies Martini night.

Off to dinner at La Mission. We ordered 2 seafood platters between the 6 of us, and it was enough. I must say, I'm often disappointment with the fresh seafood here. So, while it was fine, I'm not raving about it.

Thank you, Bram, for lending me your camera so that I can take better evening shots!