Three Years in Playa del Carmen
In my head, the idea of writing something to reflect on what’s now been three years living in Mexico with my wife Sarah, was met with a lot of internal hesitance and resistance. What for? Who cares? What is the benefit or goal of sharing this story? Is it just more “look at me” fodder for a selfish world where far too much time is spent endlessly scrolling through social media splendor or is it something that will actually resonate a little? And with the last three years encompassing almost every end of the spectrum between good / bad / happy / sad and everything in between, what would I actually say? My head is a complicated place.
However, maybe it’s just a story. Like the books that have recently re-ignited my love of reading, maybe it’s a story that is simply worth writing. A story to put out into the world, but yet a story that is personal, that Sarah and I can look back on one day and say “wow, we did that?” A story that is honest and real, describing the life that has been in front of us for the past three years here.
Here We Are
So Let’s Begin…
This past Sunday (October 8th, 2017) was three years to the date since we got up early one cold morning in Calgary, zipped up our suitcases, packed up our two cats and headed for the airport en route to a new life in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. With big eyes and bigger expectations and bringing all of our knowledge and experiences from Canada with us, we arrived. We moved into a really nice place, right in the heart of Playa, with everything around us we could ever want. The beach was a five minute walk away, great restaurants even closer, a thriving club and music scene, beautiful weather and just about everything else you would see in a vacation promo video.
However, as we had to remind ourselves — and others — all of the above was here, yes… but, this was no vacation. No matter how pretty the picture looks, living somewhere is completely different than going on vacation somewhere, and that applies to any place in the world (not just Mexico).
The first year, in its most raw and real form, was all about coming to that realization. It was not easy, and many of our expectations had to be thrown right out the window. That year was a blur of highlights, low moments and comedic mishaps (and in the spirit of me contemplating writing this story, as Sarah would point out, lucky I wrote a whole other story about it two years ago to remember it by).
Like perfection, paradise is such an odd concept. It’s hopeful, it’s full of aspirations, and it is the culmination of everything amazing you think should be in your world at the time. But like perfection, it’s also elusively unattainable.
I no longer believe there is such a thing as “Living in Paradise”, because living here has taught me that paradise is not a physical place. Paradise to me now represents moments in time, where you are the happiest and most present you could possibly be – no matter where that is, and no matter what you’re doing. Paradise to me used to be (and still is in many ways) sitting on a pristine beach with a cold beer in hand, listening to the waves crash on the shore. However now, paradise is also feeling the cold mountain air against your face as you fly down the side of the hill on skis, or the fresh smell of forest trees that fills the air as the sun shines through them on summer day. Paradise is many things to me now.
Getting Busy Living
Again, year one was a blur. Years two and three were spent getting over year one; moving past the idea of paradise and getting on with living life as Canadians in Mexico.
In these last two years, a lot of living happened including a ‘could have been way worse’ broken bone accident, Burning Man, all that was BPM, big birthdays, brave tattoos and unbearable heat for a few months. Hurricanes and earthquakes were all around us, but luckily never right near us. We had great days on the beach in Holbox and Tulum, magical nights of music, an amazing yoga retreat for Sarah, and bellies full of amazing food. We had awesome trips home to Canada in both summer and winter, as well as other places like New York and Seattle. And all along the way paid our fair share of sunshine tax… that just comes with living here.
Our return to Burning Man.
Sarah and Christie on Sarah’s 40th Birthday.
We moved three times, in search of cheaper rent and the perfect place. You learn quickly here that there is much more than meets the eye when it comes to finding and getting a place that you truly love. Along the way we also discovered that living in a penthouse suite in an older building, with concrete walls and ceilings and nothing shading the roof was akin to living in a pizza oven. HOT!
On a sad note, this past year we lost our first cat, Roo. After battling liver cancer for a year and a half, she went to sleep one night and never woke up. It was very hard on us both as our cats here are our family, and she is missed greatly. I still cry when I pull up the old pictures and videos of her, she just meant so much to us. We are truly thankful for every day we had with her.
We love and miss you Roo!
Around us, new friends were met, and newer friends became closer (but sadly have now moved or are moving away), while some of our friends from back home faded off into the distance. Friendships are tough whether they are right beside you or thousands of miles away.
Our friends, Mike and Laurita
We have also seen Playa go through a lot in the past two years — some unfortunately worthy of international news coverage and other things that only those living within the city’s limits will ever know about. Like every place in the world, good and bad things happen every day and all around you. Are we safe here? Yes. Do we have to be 1000 times more self aware here? Yes.
Finding Her Way
The first year was especially challenging for Sarah. Here, her daily life had been completely flipped upside-down from what she was used to in Canada. But she started to find her way. Besides managing almost everything we do together and being so caring with our cats (especially Roo who was sick), things like yoga became more present in her life. She got the opportunity to work in a part time job for awhile that completely took her out of her comfort zone, while she slowly built a little business to help out friends coming here for vacation. She managed to surround herself a small circle of new friends while making the upmost effort to retain the friendships back home that she valued so much. She also took on helping our beloved Spanish teacher build her business, simply just to help someone out.
More recently, Sarah dove into yoga head-first and completed the 200 hour yoga teacher training program. It was one of the most intensive and challenging things she’s ever done, but she did it. I was so proud of her. To be in her first class was just such an incredible thing to experience. Here she was, doing something she loved and sharing it with others. And now, she is teaching regularly at the Yoga By The Sea studio here, which has been so welcoming and supportive of her. She also has a constant pile of yoga books around, is diligently planning her classes, and is making smarter choices for both of us about the food we eat and the things we do. It’s awesome.
Sarah’s Yoga Retreat in Holbox
Keeping it real, Sarah has not been without her own struggles here too. Missing family and friends from afar, dealing with me when I’m not at my best, and getting through the passing of Roo has been hard for her, but in the three years of living here I have seen Sarah grow and evolve, and become more beautiful every day. Those sparks that make her the woman I fell in love with still glisten brightly every time they appear.
And the best part? With all she’s done, I think she’s only scratched the surface (literally, I still can’t believe she got a tattoo!), and that there’s much on the way.
Sarah’s tattoo from our good friend Tim in Seattle at Tsunami Tattoo.
Losing My Way, and Trying to Find It Again
This is the section I think am most nervous about writing, because even up until now, I’ll be honest, I struggle with being here. Not a lot of people know that, but personally it’s been hard adapting to a new way of life while maintaining parts of the old life that I either need, want or miss.
Why the struggle? I have a loving wife that deeply cares for me and supports everything I do. I have a family that although we don’t outwardly express our love for each other very well, I know will always be there. I have a handful of great friends who although are far away, are never far away from my thoughts, even if we don’t talk for a few months. And because it is the thing that allows us to be here, I have a job that I can do from anywhere on the planet, working for a company that embraces what I do and where I am whole-heartedly. I work on cool stuff like games, I get to work the hours I want, take time off when I want to, and don’t have to ever worry about chasing dollars. As crazy as this job can be sometimes, I am forever grateful for it.
A great day. DJ’ing with friends Amber Long and Robert Mason.
Sounds a little like paradise, doesn’t it? Well unfortunately it’s not that easy. I don’t want to focus on the negative, but I promised to keep this story honest and real so bear with me while I get this stuff out…
I have felt alone. I spend most of my days by myself, in a room, on this computer. Yes Sarah is around, but as we discovered after year one isolation is important for me to be able to work. I talk to my business partner Marshall almost every day, as he is in the same situation, but there are many times when being alone, becomes lonely. It’s the reality I’ve created for myself, but it’s tough sometimes.
I have felt invisible. Logically true considering where I spend most of my time, but it’s also the feeling. Whether it’s the language barrier, age barrier or lifestyle barrier, I find it much more difficult to feel welcome in any social setting here. Trying to get out for a beer or meal with one of “the guys” — if those friends actually existed here — is almost impossible. I have limited time, and even less patience for the flakiness that is part of the culture here to the point where with unfortunate success I’ve proven the idea that “if I stop reaching out, will anyone notice.” In the time that I get to be away from my desk and out in the world here in Playa, I am saddened to be continually faced with so many people who are living their life more through the small screens in front of them rather than simply being present in their immediate surroundings. It’s crazy to feel like you are completely invisible when there is people around you. Thankfully, I have my “guys” back home, who I miss dearly but am lucky to have the opportunity to spend some amazing time with at least once a year.
I have felt lost. In the past three years, being here has made me doubt and question every aspect of my life more than I would ever imagined. Is this the right place for Sarah and I? Are we going to be okay? Why are things that worked back home not working here? And so on. Being lost is not a good place to be, and unfortunately the frustration and negativity that came from being in that place found its way out in the form of lashing out at the one person who is closest to me, Sarah. It came out often and in ways that did some serious damage to what we had built as a couple. I am truly sorry and regret those times that it happened and am working towards putting all of that far behind us.
I have felt uninspired. I have always been one to dive into various hobbies like music and cycling, but in the past couple of years here, doing those things to my fullest capacity has been tough. Maybe it’s age, or a just a change that I have to roll with as this journey through life continues, but putting the time into DJ’ing and producing music (especially the latter) is getting harder and harder to get excited about. I still love the music and am a huge fan of what other people are doing, but for some reason the ‘fun’ part of ‘doing it for fun’ has diminished a bit. I know in all creative areas artists go through phases like this, so I hope I can find the groove again because it has been such a big part of mine and Sarah’s life together. As far as cycling goes, I still get on the bike when I can, but breaking a collarbone on the highway here has limited me to only biking around Cozumel (which is beautiful, can’t deny that). And I tried my best to bring my spin class experience here, but again, different culture / different place quickly brought an end to that experiment unfortunately.
Sometimes it’s still dark underneath those lights.
Yes, that’s a lot I know, but thankfully, with a little help, a lot of patience from you know who, finding bits of inspiration, and continually working through all of the above, I have started on the path towards finding my way again, at least I think I have.
The Next Chapter
I really want this adventure to the best that it possibly can be for Sarah and I. We don’t know how long we will be here for, where we want to go next or when life happens and we have to go back home, which will always be Canada.
I also like to think that every experience — positive or negative — is something to learn from and grow stronger from. As mentioned before, I am lucky for the things I have, and I am forever grateful, but I also have personal challenges here that if not dealt with turn into much more than they ever should be. And I am not alone in all of it, Sarah is right beside me living the same adventure.
We’re three chapters into this story, what story will chapter four tell? I guess we’ll find out next year at this time.
You never know what tomorrow will bring, so make today your best.