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Playa del Carmen: Well that was a surprise!

semi-overcast 27 °C

We are accidental tourists in Playa del Carmen - here for two nights to cover a gap in travel plans before we set sail for Cozumel tomorrow. At the risk of sounding like travel snobs and alienating half of our readers, it must be said that we really do not love going to tourist-infested destinations. And yes, we know that Cozumel, so beloved of the mega-cruise ship industry, is hardly off the beaten track. And...yes, we are aware that we are tourists.

Still, that still doesn't change our aversion to Mexican beach towns that largely feature Senor Frogs and Hard Rock Cafe, and attract street scenes like this one:


The main tourist hub is not all bad. This centrepiece sculpture frames the beach and provides a focus for some pretty fascinating people-watching.


Shopping is a big draw in Playa del Carmen - everything from sunglasses and flip-flops to high-end American brands. So much stuff and not enough buyers, and yet, the vendors can be fun to kid around with. Obviously tequila is a Mexican souvenir of choice, but Ginny on tequila is not a good thing. If I took some hard drugs, ate a bucket of cotton candy and then spent 20 minutes on a Tilt-a-Whirl, that would approximate the reaction I have every time I drink tequila. The folks at this outlet had a good sense of humour, even offering me chocolate tequila as a possible option.


We are staying in a leafy residential neighbourhood about a 15 minute walk from the beach. We chose it because it was quiet, which is a rare commodity in Mexico, and one we try to capture every chance we get. Our small inn is set behind a high gate, with suites opening out to a lush garden.


A typical building in this area. I love how Mexicans can make concrete soar and appear weightless.


Just a couple of streets past our neighbourhood things begin to change. The houses are more modest, there are fewer trees
and the garbage piles up.


This sign implores residents to pick up their garbage, pick up after their dogs, and take more pride.


We had read about El Hongo (the mushroom), a restaurant/cultural centre in this neighbourhood that offers up fabulous food and creative opportunities for the area youth. We were disappointed to discover the restaurant was closed, but very fortunate to have the chance to speak with the owner and creative force, Goyo, who happened to be outside. His photo below, followed by a painting of him on the wall across from the restaurant.



As Goyo explained it, he is upset by the misconceptions the world has of Mexico; that it is all about crime and danger and drugs. And yet, he sees the garbage on the streets and the poverty and the children who are often left alone while their parents work long hours in the hotels and restaurants.

He is a huge fan of street art "art that is available to everyone" and he enlisted some well-known street artists to enliven the area. He also created classes for kids and his hope is that their exposure to art will make a positive difference to their lives, as it did to him as a young person. It was inspiring to meet this humble and passionate man, and this is when we realized how much more there is to Playa del Carmen.

Below, a collection of some of the incredible art we found in a five-block radius.








Now there is a reason why razor wire, embedded glass shards in fences, iron gates and triple locks exist. In a country of extremes, where poverty can be dire, it falls to the individual to protect themselves and their property. This sign is the Mexican version of Neighbourhood Watch.


This dog, operating as an Early Warning Device, just about lost his mind as we strolled by and barked at us the entire time we were in his sight. Since he is on the second floor, I assume we would be safe if we tried to enter when the owners were out. Much like car alarms, I question the usefulness of having guard dogs - who even hears them anymore?


So, our day and a half in Playa del Carmen was useful, illuminating and much more enjoyable than we had imagined. Stephen had to replace broken readers and a frayed phone cord, and we walked for miles discovering yet another hidden corner of Mexico.

Off to Cozumel tomorrow and see you again in a few days.

Posted by millerburr 21:59 Archived in Mexico Tagged art street mexico dogs del playa centre el guard carmen cultural tequila concrete hongo goyo

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Beautiful art work guys !

by Vikki

Wow! Sure is a long way from the village we used to know Did you happen to see a place called “Banana Cabanas”? It’s where we stayed in ‘89, right after Hurricane Gilbert passed through. Oh well, can’t expect things to stay the same. Have fun!

by Oscar

great photos, loved the street art and your story. I agree about the tourist beach towns but thanks for telling us about some of the residents and their challenges. I spent a few dayw in Playa with a friend who could have hung out on her lounge chair drinking margaritas and reading, but I was restless and wanted to leave. I did enjoy Tulum and the archaological sites and the culture in Merica. Enjoy yourselves stay safe from Covid and whatever....love from Rohana

by rohana Laing

Years ago we stopped briefly in Playa on our way to Tulum. It was touristy then; I can only imagine what it is like now. Thanks for showing us another side to it. Looking forward to hearing about the next stop on your journey!

by Heather Scott

Was the Mushroom closed for good? Or just when you were there? Looks awesome...what a great idea!!

by Jenny Aronson

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