Going into 2019, I was in the mood for familiarity. It just wasn’t the time for ambition, so rather than navigate deeper into South America or try to deal with the Wifi at some seaside town, I opted to keep it simple and put myself in a position to live near the beach and get some work done. So for the first few months, Playa del Carmen (so the family could come down and get their dive certifications) and Mérida (for after they leave, because I heard it was chill) were going to be the major basecamps.
I flew into Cancún on the 29th or 30th of December and stayed at a hostel. New Years party in one of the biggest party towns on the planet! I wasn’t feeling it though, so I skipped the hostel-organized night out and opted to enjoy a beer and go to bed at 11 instead. Welcome to 2019.
When I stay somewhere a while I take the “I’ll take pictures later” attitude and then forget to. Such was the case with Playa del Carmen. It’s a little on the touristy side for me, but I lived and worked off the main strip a bit so it’s actually quite nice. All the modern amenities you could want, but keeping the Mexico feel.
For the first time ever, I booked a coworking place long-term – Bunker Coworking. It was a necessity due to the rustic airbnb choices I kept making (not conducive to very good work) and overall ended up being a good choice. Nice people, fast internet, so if you’re thinking about staying in Playa for a while definitely check them out.
As you might guess, I barely went to the beach and didn’t really go out. The family came for their scuba certification and left, but dad stayed a couple extra days so we checked out Cozumel.
The intention was to dive, but we didn’t get around to it. It’s a nice island, but you really need a car to get around it, which we didn’t have, and we also weren’t really the “sit on the beach resort” types so we just sort of hung out in the town area. However, we did see some sweet pelicans.
When the family was here we went to some cenotes. Day trips to Valladolid I guess? This was Cenote Zaci, which was quite cool. I didn’t go in, but everyone else did, deciding to stay on the shore while getting hit on by an older Mexican man in a very tight speedo. His English was very good though.
Speaking of Chichen Itza, we also went there. I must not have taken any pictures though. I took some last time I was there, so go read that post if you want pictures. It was similar to last time, except we didn’t get there so early and had to fight the crowds and vendors a lot more, which wasn’t so enjoyable.
Anyways, back to me forging ahead on my own. Well, not quite. I met back up with my Austrian friend who was also back in Mexico, so we did a bit of traveling together. She’s very anti-touristy stuff and was excited to visit Ek’ Balam (instead of Chichen Itza), which was also very cool to visit.
I actually like these other ones as well because it’s so quiet there and you can mostly walk all over them. Something about that is a bit more exciting than just looking at them.
From there, we went up to the coast to Rio Lagartos. A bit off the touristy trail, and thus the price was right. It was a beautiful fishing town with one nice hotel, which we were able to get for $30/night. Having someone to split costs with is very helpful, and when it’s cheap to begin with, you feel like royalty at a nice hotel despite being a couple of dirty backpackers.
This was the view from the roof of the hotel, where we got fancy drinks for a couple dollars.
You can see islands in the sunset picture above, and there were lots of little coves and beaches there you could explore with a tour. We didn’t take a tour, but we did rent a canoe to paddle around them. My friend, however, did not know how to canoe, and did not like to paddle. To the point where I just said “you can stop and relax, I’ll just do it.”
So I got a pretty good workout that day. Tiring as it was, I was mostly just worried about getting attacked by an alligator. That didn’t happen, so overall a success.
The main tourist attraction of the area was Los Coloradas, an artificially pink lake due to the runoff from a local business. What a weird attraction. It made the flamingos especially pink though.
After m sightseeing stretch I arrived in Merida. It’s apparently the safest city in Mexico, and it’s home to a lot of retired Americans. A recipe for excitement if there ever was one.
So I very much settled in to my routine of wandering up and down streets and going to cafes. Aside from Starbucks, which had valet service here by the way, my other favorite was Bengala coffee.
If forced, I could probably give you some other recommendations, but honestly I mostly just found it boring. Very clean, some cool old buildings, but boring. Here are some of those old buildings though.
And then to liven things up, Dad decided to come back down again. We hung in Merida for a little while and then headed down the coast to Campeche. Which is definitely off the beaten track from a tourist perspective… they don’t speak much English there (outside of the one main tourist street). But I convinced him to come anyways.
We stayed by the coastline (which isn’t a beach, but it’s pretty to look at), which provided us a great boardwalk that we could go for runs on. When it wasn’t too hot, which it was a lot of the time.
Speaking of cool ruins that aren’t Chichen Itza, meet Edzna. It’s even more off the path than Ek’ Balam, because frankly no one comes all the way out to Campeche. But the ruins were massive, barely anyone was there, and again we could climb all over them. Dad enjoyed them more for that reason too (so did I).
On an ill-advised excursion from Merida, we trusted an Australian to get us to some cenotes she had on her to-do list. We ended up in the middle of nowhere, ubering and hitchhiking our way to the oddest little spots in the country to a couple small cenotes.
They were nice, don’t get me wrong, but take a look at this. It would just be a normal pond if it weren’t like 20 feet below the surface. And everybody loves it.
In the end, we got to see some cool stuff – parts of Mexico that not a lot of people see who just come down for their Cancun vacation. But dad did well with it and I think had a good time – at least escaping a bit more of the New York winter.
I carried on for a couple more weeks, stopping by Tulum for a couple days before going to Bacalar to celebrate my birthday. I stayed in what was essentially a giant house that they turned into a hostel, but it was right on the water and had a beautiful view of the ocean. Bacalar is more of the hippy hangout nowadays – what Tulum used to be before the Americanness kept spreading.
After that, I sent back to Playa del Carmen to chill for a couple more weeks before hopping back to NY and then over to Europe. I jumped around from AirBnb to hotel to hostel, which kept be a bit unsettled. But I did take a picture of this sign at the hotel which made me laugh. I genuinely don’t even know what the translation was supposed to be.
One nice thing about Playa is that due to all of us annoying Americans, there are plenty of restaurants that cater to our vegetarian needs quite well. Here are some veggie tacos.
But while we’re on it, my favorite restaurant there might have been the Venezuelan one I went to both on my own and while the family was here, Kaxapa Factory. Some pretty unique stuff that was also vegetarian. Not healthy, but delicious.
While relaxing in Playa, I decided to take a job in Estonia. Change things up a bit, ya know? It was one of the places I had stayed a while and enjoyed in the past few years, so I figured why not give it a longer go. I’d go home to hang out with friends and family for another week, and then make the leap across the pond to “settle down” for a bit.