A Travellerspoint blog

In Playa del Carmen

for a very short time

sunny 80 °F

I got an early bus out of Mèrida this morning for Playa del Carmen, and made it here at about 2:00. No wifi at the hotel, so I'm checking in from an internet cafe.

It's definitely a beach tourist town, but not an obnoxious one. The restaurants and bars on the Quinta Avenida (pedestrian-only tourist strip) are pretty classy-looking, if expensive, and there are plenty of local quick Mexican places just 2 or 3 blocks up from the beach. I stopped at one for an enormous huarache* for lunch when I got here, and the gregarious owner gave me a little culinary tour while I ate -- which chiles, how the pork is cooked, making the tortillas and huaraches, etc. I then walked up and down the beach for a little bit, and up and down the strip for a little bit, stopping in for an espresso at a promising-looking open air coffee shop. Not bad.

The hotel is also very nice. Two blocks off the beach, and all the rooms are set back away from the street in sort of a maze of foliage and pools. Gives it a nice isolated feeling despite the location.

Flight home is tomorrow at 11:50 am, hopefully. I'll put up some Playa pictures when I get a chance, otherwise, I guess this is about it. I trust it's at least as warm in PA as it is here. See ya.

  • Huarache means literally 'sandal' in Spanish, but as a food item it's sort of like a griddle-cooked thick tortilla of about the same size and shape, covered with meat, cheese, vegetables, etc.

Posted by elefantstn 14:35 Archived in Mexico Tagged postcards Comments (0)

Annoyances

overcast 80 °F

I feel like most of my entries have taken a pretty positive tone, but I wanted to register some complaints before I leave:

  • Traffic/Pollution: The city isn't some sort of traffic-choked hellhole, but the streets are very narrow and the buses are very old. Walking closer to downtown generally means that you have to walk within an arm's length of several buses on your way, and it's not pleasant.

  • Claustrophobia: Similarly, those narrow sidewalks and streets tend to engender sort of a feeling of urban claustrophobia. Apart from the parks, there are no trees or plants of any kind on the streets downtown, so there's no break between the storefronts and the traffic. In addition, the city is completely, totally flat -- you can discern no grade of any kind. So you never feel like you're overlooking anything. You can only see straight down the street you're on.

  • Urban Planning: The city is laid out on a grid where east-west streets are odd-numbered and north-south streets are even-numbered. This is really convenient for figuring out where to go, how to get there, and how far to go. I live on 55 between 62 and 64, so I know if something is on 57 between 58 and 60, it's about 2 or 3 blocks away. But! The building numbers are not similarly logical! Wouldn't it be easier to say Street 55, #626, and know therefore that it's between 62 and 64 and exactly which building all in one fell swoop? My building is instead #510B. And get this -- so is the building next door. They denoted it with a B, but then went ahead and did the same to the building next door! Why?! I've sent about 5 or 6 pizza deliverymen and couriers up the street. I feel that the US is the only place I've been with rational building numbering in most places. Maybe we can trade this brilliant invention to the rest of the world in exchange for metric volumes and distances?

  • Sales Pitches: I really, really, really hate the patronizing "Amigo!" I get from shop owners when I walk past. Do I look like I'd look good in a Panama Hat? Maybe it's an instinct that's peculiarly Pennsylvania German, but I really don't want to be talked to when shopping unless I ask, much less be hustled into a tourist shop with that faux-friendly come-on.

Ok, I feel better. It's not such a bad list -- all minor things, really.

Posted by elefantstn 07:57 Archived in Mexico Tagged postcards Comments (3)

Not Pictured

80 °F

The blog has so far mostly revolved around descriptions of things I've photographed, so I'd like to take a minute to mention some things I didn't -- or couldn't -- photograph.

  • Mennonites. They live somewhere in the area, and come into town for work or to sell things, wearing plaid shirts and overalls and straw hats. From what I could find on the web, they apparently still speak German, though I imagine they must be bilingual so they can conduct business.

  • Maya (language). Speaking of non-Spanish languages, you can definitely still hear Maya spoken here. A family sitting behind me at a taquería last week spoke to each other entirely in Maya. I think you imagine that it's just kept alive for cultural reasons, but it's definitely still a widespread first language.

  • Hammocks. At the Parque Sta Lucía down the street, there's a stage set up for Carnaval, and the city has a Norteño singer/band hired to play every night (some variety might have been nice). As I walked past yesterday, I noticed that the roadies had hammocks hung from the bottom of the stage, and were sleeping in the shade underneath in the afternoon before they had to work at night.

Posted by elefantstn 07:46 Archived in Mexico Tagged postcards Comments (0)

Carnaval Parade

overcast 70 °F

Last night I went out to catch the Friday Carnaval parade here in Mérida. You have to buy tickets to get in and get a seat on the sidewalk -- there's not a whole lot of room on the city's narrow sidewalks for spectators, so I guess crowd control is necessary. The difficult part seems to be actually buying the tickets. While you can buy a pack for all the parades during the week, day-of sales are scattershot. I was redirected from the ticket booth (!!) to three other people in succession, until I ran into a guy trying to get rid of a pair. I bought them off him, and showed up promptly at 7:00 pm as noted on the ticket, or about an hour and a half before they managed to get it underway.

Not a total waste though. It was a nice, cool night (mid-70s and windy), and all the little kids are dressed up in their costumes while they wait for the parade. Below is Buzz Lightyear ("¡Al infínito y más allá!"):

buzz_lightyear.jpg

The parade finally started with an float celebrating El Santo, the Mexican professional wrestler revered for being the progenitor of the lucha libre mask:

el_santo_start.jpg

Each year, Carnaval has a theme, like a homecoming parade. This year's theme here is the movies, so the majority of floats take their cue from that. Here's one Shrek-themed float:

shrek.jpg

And another celebrating Moulin Rouge:

moulin_rouge.jpg

And of course, some themes transcend the movies. Corona, like all beer companies, knows what the guys and girls want:

corona.jpg

Posted by elefantstn 11:19 Archived in Mexico Tagged postcards Comments (0)

Carnaval

sunny

Tonight kicked off the week-long lead-up to Ash Wednesday, Carnaval. Mérida marks the annual occasion with a program of concerts, parades, and outdoor festivals. Not New Orleans-grade debauchery by any stretch; it's more of the family fun oeuvre. At 8:00 tonight, just as I was about to head out to dinner, a concert kicked off in front of the palacio municipal by shooting off fireworks, so I followed the noise downtown to check it out.

concert.jpg

I am honestly not sure who the band was, but they were popular enough that the kids (and there were thousands there) sang along to all their songs. The music was sub Maroon 5-level MOR, and in Spanish, but I stuck around for a while to wander around the crowd, check out the street vendors, and people-watch. Around the other side of the plaza was the ever-present impromptu gathering of arrhythmic hippies:

hippies.jpg

After a couple trips around the square, I'd had enough, and headed to Parque Santiago to continue my tour of all the market stands there, grabbing a table at Lonchería Mary. Tonight featured a full slate of Mexican league soccer, and TVs up above the stands were showing the Puebla-Pachuca match. Pachuca features Jose Francisco 'El Gringo' Torres in midfield, a Mexican-American from Texas who plays on the US National Team, so it was nice to see him in action.

Lonchería Mary has their menu painted on a board with a strip of blackboard next to all the items so they can mark the prices:

menu.jpg

I had three panuchos and a tamal colado. 'Colado' is Spanish for 'strained'; the corn dough is strained after it's soaked, giving the tamal dough an almost pudding-like texture. It's served on the banana leaf in which it was steamed, with a little cooked tomato-habanero salsa on top:

tamal.jpg

When I finished, I ran a quick, unintentional Who's On First? routine with the waitress. I asked her, 'Me da la cuenta, por favor,' or, 'Can I have the bill please?' She said ok, went back to add it up, and came back with the answer: 'Cinquenta,' or 'Fifty.' I misunderstood -- 'Si, la cuenta.' 'Cinquenta.' 'Si, la cuenta, por favor.' 'Cin-quen-ta.' Oh. I handed over the bill, she laughed, and I left a little extra on the tip for the trouble.

Posted by elefantstn 20:54 Archived in Mexico Tagged postcards Comments (2)

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