A Year in Playa del Carmen
So today marks exactly one year since Sarah and I made the move from Calgary, Canada to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. It’s hard to believe that twelve months has passed so quickly, as in many ways, it still feels like we’ve just arrived.
The Day We Arrived
To say it has been an interesting year would be the ultimate understatement. Moving to another country is a well-rounded experience of extremes that includes everything – the good, the bad, and the outright ridiculous. In looking back, Sarah and I would both agree that our expectations were a little off to say the least, and we came down here a little bit naive to how things were going to play out, and as a result, the past year has been full of eye-opening, sometimes difficult, yet meaningful learning experiences. There are the obvious things that we had no idea would happen, such as the beaches being overtaken by seaweed for months and our dollar crumbling to the point where we can’t afford our rent, but everyone here knows about and/or has dealt with that in their own ways already.
So, in no particular order, time to look back at some of the things we’ve encountered and learned on this adventure thus far.
- Arriving in Playa, with cats that don’t travel well, who actually travelled far better than expected.
- My birthday dinner at Patanegra, mid BPM, where cake and happy birthday were sung by the wonderful couple that does the Spanish music and flamenco on Sunday nights, all organized by Sarah.
- DJ’ing a couple of all night sets at Dolores Yuca Bar to a packed club of fun-loving partiers who came and refused to leave the dance floor both times.
- Seeing one of my oldest friends from Quebec, Shirley, who I hadn’t seen in a few years, along with her family a couple of times while they were here on vacation.
- The first time going to Sian Ka’an with Mike and Laurita, and having a never ending beach all to ourselves.
- Jumping off a cliff into a cenote with Kate.
- Sarah and mine’s mini stay-cations to my aunt’s place in Playacar
- Part one of Sarah’s three part birthday, going to Merida with Mike and Laurita and getting to see the Corteo Cirque du Soleil show from back stage (thanks Amiel!)
- Getting to open for Sasha at Blue Parrot, one of my all-time favourites, along with Rick Pier O’Neil, another legend who I’ve been lucky to have become friends with here, in front of 3,500 people.
- Watching the sun rise on over the ocean, and watching it set from the roof of Be Playa over the jungle.
- BPM, of course.
- Sharing great meals with great friends, and planning whole weeks around what we were going to eat.
- All the visitors that have come to see us, starting with Christie Jensen way back in November of last year.
The BPM Crew
First Jump into a Cenote for Kate
Opening for Sasha at Blue Parrot in Playa del Carmen
Most Ridiculous Moments
- Driving back from the Cancun airport in Max’s SUV, with cargo bins strapped to the roof and Sarah sitting on my lap in the front seat, and Max decides to pass a police truck… only to be warned that “you shouldn’t pass the police.”
- A couple of weeks in, arguing with a taxi driver over a fare in the parking lot of Centro Maya, with a cart full of groceries, when the sky opened up and dumped buckets of rain on us that we couldn’t escape. Still the most epic rain storm since we’ve been here.
- Realizing a typical day in Mexico can start with waking up to chasing cockroaches around the kitchen, having all your patio doors taken out for a small repair and just as the day is ending having your freezer quit the moment you come back from the store. And to note, all things down here take three times to fix – once to look at, once to make worse, then the last time to fix.
- Having construction start on the floor above you in your building, at 8:30am every single day during the entire week of BPM.
Small Challenges Are Everywhere
Coming from Canada, we are lucky in so many ways, to the point where we take what we have for granted. Days can run on autopilot, life’s little tasks tend to be easy, things usually go as expected. As soon as we arrived here we knew this was not the case. From our bins of personal goods being held up at the airport for a week (and having someone we barely knew, Max, help us out to finally get them) to list of things in our condo breaking down and not ever knowing when they would be fixed, to figuring out how to not get ripped off by a taxi to trying to find an Oxxo within walking distance that actually has full water jugs, it seemed like everything in the first few weeks was challenge to deal with. And of course throwing the language barrier on top of that really made for good times.
But over time, you learn to embrace these challenges, and not lose your mind when something doesn’t go as expected. And, you also learn to celebrate the small victories – like paying all your bills and topping up your phone in two minutes at the aforementioned Oxxo (for those back home, it’s the equivalent to 7-11), or getting a great breakfast made of real food at a sunshine-filled cafe for the same price of a bag from the drive-thru back home.
Sarah, myself and Will
New Friends Will Surprise You
We’ve also been very lucky down here when it comes to meeting new people and making friends. Two people in particular, Mike and Laurita, have been absolutely amazing. We couldn’t have asked for better friends. From sharing in great days on the beach together as well as countless great meals (including many visits to Casa Sofia), to helping us out with our never-ending trips to the vet with our cats, they have helped make the last year that much better. Thank you to both of you. There’s also a whole list of others down here who’ve been great as well… but I won’t try to name everyone though, because this is where I’ll fail miserably and forget someone.
Sarah, Laurita, Mike, Me
On the music side, I’ve been lucky to have Omar and Jeff welcome me into the DJ scene here with open arms, as well as trade “Shit! or Not-Shit!” music production critiques with Rick Pier O’Neil and have endless laughs along the way with Elliott. At Be Playa, Chino and Ama have had me play basically whenever I’ve asked, and in this town, it’s been great to get to know some of the hard-working people behind the scenes that make things like BPM happen year after year.
On the yoga side, I have to make mention of Karemm as well. Teaching at Kava Kasa, she was the first yoga teacher here that both Sarah and I truly connected with. We went to almost every single one of her classes, up until she decided to move back to Veracruz to help her family, which was such a wonderful thing to do. We had the honour of surprising her with tickets to the Joya Cirque du Soleil show here, which was an evening none of us will ever forget. We miss you!
Karemm and Sarah
Nothing Is As It Seems
Consistency and logic. Two concepts that really don’t apply here, but thankfully, can be laughed off most of the time. Your favourite pizza place might not have pizza the day you go. Your favourite store? Not open the day it should be. Those few things you want at the grocery store? Not in stock. That restaurant you’ve heard about? Well there’s actually two of them, completely unrelated that go by the same name less than two blocks apart (Muelle and Muelle 3 for those who live here). That mysterious craft beer store you’re looking for? Three different people will tell you three different addresses, only to find out it doesn’t exist anymore.
These are all daily occurrences here that, making life’s adventures actually kind of fun now. Put the typical straight-line Canadian thinking away, pump up the patience level and just go with it.
If you’re going to live here, one thing you have to get used to is the concept of “Mexican Time”. We’ve quickly figured out that Mexican Time means that 15-30 minutes late, is actually on time. If you’re meeting someone, you don’t leave your place until the actual time you’re supposed to be meeting them. And if someone is coming to do something for you, like install your internet, they will just show up at some point during some day, without letting you know when. In Canada, we say “Sooner or Later”, in Spanish it’s “Tarde o Temprano” – which of course is “Later or Sooner”. Once on Mexican Time though, you’re always on time!
You Can’t, and Won’t Do Everything
As Sarah knows better than anyone, I’m someone who wants to jump in, with both feet into everything, and coming down here was no exception. I had grand plans of taking everything in my life from back home, doing it all here, plus more. I was going to come down here, DJ everywhere, teach spin classes, go scuba diving, go biking, golf, paddle board, do yoga…. well you get the point. And in the first month being down here, I was hell bent on making it all happen, whereas Sarah was happy with just yoga to start – which she’s still really enjoying and is getting better at it every day.
Well, the past year, along with Sarah of course, has definitely taught me to take a breath, slow down and let the things you want to do manifest themselves, and if it’s only one or two, that’s okay. Those couple of things will be much more rewarding if they happen this way. DJ-wise, I’ve been lucky to have played way more here than back at home, usually once or twice a month at places like Be Playa and Blue Parrot, culminating with being booked to play the Sasha show at Blue Parrot, which was the largest one there this year outside of BPM so far. And, now that my road bike is down here, I’ve really enjoyed getting out and riding with the group from Cicliopolis every week.
Feel the Love
Playa, although it has grown exponentially over the past decade, is still in essence a small town. With the exception of the odd excursion out of town, our lives exist within a 20 minute walking radius, and it’s awesome. Saying hello or “buenas dias” to everyone is a welcome change from the often cold “don’t make eye contact” ways of home. Walking by favourite spots like Patanegra and Afrodisiako and being warmly greeted by the owners and staff every single time, or randomly bumping into people we’ve met on the street always makes us feel special.
In general, the people of Playa and of Mexico are friendly, kind and caring. Yes there are things that happen here sometimes – bad things happen everywhere, and like anywhere you have to always take care of yourself, but no matter what the media says, this place is not dangerous.
The Food Here is Fantastic
Down here, it’s all about healthy eating. Fast food and crappy processed snacks have become a thing of the past! And why not? Considering the great markets and restaurants here that serve real, super tasty food for far less than what you would pay at home, the easy choice is to just eat healthy. Casa Sofia, La Famiglia, El Fogon, Muelle 3, Patanegra, Carboncitos, Chez Celine, Afrodisiako (Sarah love’s Patricia’s Green Juice!), Zenzi and many more make the list of our favorite places. And, for those nights we actually want to make something, the fresh produce at Dac and the various other fish / meat markets and bakeries are also awesome.
The “Taco Loco” From El Fogon
The beer selection is even improving with new craft beers becoming available at various spots. Still hard to find though, and usually still have to resort to the usual boring staples, but hey, you can’t have everything!
The Doctors and Vets Here Are Also Fantastic
One common misconception about living in an emerging country is the quality of medical help, whether for yourself or for your pets, won’t be as good as back home. Well, think again. Unfortunately in the past year we’ve had to discover just how good the doctors and vets are down here. Sarah’s had more than a few run-ins with a few tropical ailments here already, but with a doctor and lab only a few blocks away that both do house calls (everyone knows Dr. Diaz here!), great help is never far away and at a cost that’s a fraction of what it would be in the US (or Canada if we had to pay for it). My aunt who is down here for half the year was also hospitalized for a few days, and the treatment was thorough, caring and amazing. There are great doctors and nurses everywhere in Playa, it’s just too bad that North America looks down at them.
The vets here are also incredible. With two aging cats coming down with us – Roo is now 15 – it wasn’t long before we’d have to make our first trip of many trips to the vet. Among other things, it was discovered that Roo has a cancerous tumor around her liver, so we’ve been to the Sanimal clinic in Playacar many times already. The vets are all knowledgable, caring and compassionate for the animals they treat. The care they’ve provided both our cats has gone beyond all expectations, and again, for a cost that’s a fraction of what it would be back home.
Roo and Nina
The Pictures Lie, It’s Not a Vacation
With the sunshine above and the beach only blocks away, it’s easy to think that life for us down here is one big vacation filled with an endless supply of margaritas, tacos and ocean waves. But the reality is that living here comes with many of the same challenges as living anywhere (like back home), we’re just doing it in a tropical climate. I’ve worked more hours in the past year than many of the previous ones, many days not even getting a chance to go outside. Sarah, although not working, has actually been pretty busy with all of the other day to day stuff (which as anyone who lives here knows, is more abundant and takes three times as long). Walking to the bank machine or the grocery store in 30+ degrees and humidity is not the same as walking to the beach.
Sunrise from the Dock on Constituyentes in Playa
However, living here is also similar to living back home where nature’s beauty is not far away (I do miss my mountains though!). We’ve had some amazing days in Tulum, Cozumel and even beaches in town, as well as a very memorable trip to Merida. In the next year we can’t wait to explore places like Holbox and Bacalar. The key as we’ve learned is to not take it for granted, make a plan and just go out and do it.
Sunset from the ferry coming from Cozumel
Learning A New Language
Especially in a place where everyone who speaks Spanish wants to learn English, learning Spanish is hard! Sarah and I have been taking lessons 1-2 times a week (Sarah since January, myself since April, together since May) with Katya and team at Spanish Joyfully, and are just starting to figure out what people are saying, let alone respond back. It’s one thing to recognize words and phrases in writing, but to hear them when everyone seemingly mumbles a thousand miles an hour is another.
We’ve had moments where we don’t think we’ve learned anything but when we look back to where we’ve started, nosotros aprendamos muchas cosas! La idioma es muy dificil, pero nosotros tratamos de hablar cada dias. Mi frase favorito es “no mames wey!” Jajajaja…
It wasn’t long ago that we were the ‘tourists’ but now living in destination where the rest of the world visits for short periods of time has become delightfully interesting. From the stunned looks of first timers strolling down Fifth Avenue, to the sunburnt, loud-mouth, hungover, sombrero wearing ‘Mericans, to the absolute barely legal carnage on display on 12th Street outside of the nightclubs, the people watching here is fantastic. If you take a moment to sit back and pay attention to everything going on, you’ll get the pleasure of watching an entertaining series of interactions play out between the tourist crowd and the shop vendors / street promoters / and those “other” guys play out.
You Will Miss Home, More Than You Think
Nothing could have prepared us for this. Even with today’s technology, it’s hard being away from family, friends and those things you love about home. We both miss our families dearly. It’s hard to think about both our sets of parents getting older as the months go by, as well as missing out on watching my niece and nephew grow up. And the times we do get to see them back home are never long enough. It’s tough to see tears in your mom’s eyes every time you have to say good-bye. And the same goes for friends. You all know who you are, and we cherish every minute with you. It’s hard being such a far distance away and not being able share in the same experiences. But at the same time we are lucky. Lucky to have those people in our lives, and lucky that they can still see us either here or back home.
Me, with my Mom and Dad
Sarah, with her Mom and Dad
Sweat, Sweat and More Sweat
I’ll say it bluntly, it’s f**king hot here. And it’s been this way since April. For a cold weather person like myself, summer here is like Sarah’s winter back home – I dread going outside! My daily routine now encompasses two mandatory showers, sometimes three. I only wear about 20% of the clothes I brought down here, with my daily attire reduced to gym shorts and tank tops only – whatever smells the least. A constant film of sweat on all areas of the body is an everyday occurrence. It’s something you have to live with, and figure out how to not offend others with at the same time.
And surprisingly it’s not only me. Everyday since June Sarah comes home from being out, her first words are “this is the hottest day ever”.
Sarah and Ada (Rusty and I weren’t allowed to be in pictures)
The Best Things In Life Are Never Easy
Probably the most important thing, and something that neither Sarah or I could possibly be prepared for, was how picking up and moving to another country would affect us both. For Sarah, quitting a well-paying but all-consuming job, transplanting herself in a new country and waking up trying to figure out exactly who she is hasn’t been easy. For me, balancing my company from afar (that has been busier than ever) with the adjustments to daily life down here, and trying to fit in quality time with Sarah and the things that I enjoy personally – and actually enjoying it all – has been a huge challenge. For us together, going from spending only a few quality hours a day with all the comforts of home around to being Team Straub 24-7, facing a strange new world together has been a challenge.
Here, and in this situation, there’s no hiding from any of your own or your partner’s best, and worst traits. My mother always said I was a bad listener and forgot about things way too many times, and it couldn’t have been more apparent than in the past year! Together we have stumbled, struggled, handled things poorly, questioned everything, fought about the most ridiculous things, let our own faults get the best of us and more. Things that might have been masked or insignificant back home were now put under the microscope. There were times when we both asked the question “what the hell are we doing here?”.
But sometimes, you have to be thrown off the cliff and tumble all the way to the bottom for you to realize that you have something truly special… the ability to get back up, and climb up the mountain again. Sarah and I are still climbing, and the mountain is tall. But every day is another step in that climb, and we’re doing it together, hand in hand, and getting stronger with every day. I love this woman, more than anything, and if she stumbles on this climb back up, I’ll always hold onto her hand, and pull her back up. And I can always take heart in that she’ll do the same for me.
So as we go into year two here, I think after an eye-opening and very eventful first year, we’re a little more prepared for whatever is to come at us with open minds and open hearts. Who knows what this story will say next October, but I look forward to writing it.
Sarah and myself, living the adventure that is Mexico