Invisible Neighbours

Urgh… Neighbours. On average, I move every 1.7 years, so as you can imagine, I’ve had plenty of neighbours over the years. There were the C-brothers, two fat Italian potheads. The marihuana smoke would enter through the airing into my bathroom turning a trip to the loo into a somewhat surreal experience. Then there was Mr. B., a ridiculously handsome photographer who would bring home a new aspiring young model almost every night. There was a lot of drama, a lot of heartbreak going on, very often I would see those pretty little things leave the apartment in the morning, crying and sobbing behind their dark sunglasses.

After moving into a new apartment, I had a similarly charismatic neighbour, a doctor. Being single at that time, I wouldn’t have minded a date with him, but every time we met, I embarrassed myself completely. Either I met him on one of those quick shopping runs, you know: Oh,  nobody is going to see me anyway… And then you leave the house with unkempt hair sticking out in all directions, no makeup, or worse: smudged makeup for you were watching the Ally McBeal episode where Larry left, some sloppy pants and flipflops – and bam, there he is, your gorgeous neighbour, grinning from one ear to the other. I also always bumped into him when I would take out the trash for recycling (meaning: plenty of empty wine and champagne bottles). Needless to say that I never scored a date with him.

In our first home here, we were living next to an American couple in their 60s. She liked to showcase her plastic boobs, the one part of her that was not wrinkly. And he liked to tell the story about her having hundreds of Victoria’s Secret panties. When I got up at 5 to do my asanas, they were already up smoking in the garden. But they were also very friendly, offered us to lend us their complete DVD collection of The Nanny. After we had moved to our 2nd home, a dream came true: Our neighbour was a terrific baker, and every Sunday they would pop over to bring us cake. On the other side, there was a young French couple who apparently spent all their money on marihuana and sunglasses for they had no furniture. I mean: NO furniture. No sofa, no chairs, no table, just a big flatscreen TV on the floor.

Now we have got new neighbours who like to party the night away. Rumour has it that they fight a lot, get drunk and, from what I can tell, bump into all their furniture. Well, at least they do have furniture.

And then we have some invisible neighbours: the aluxes. Some of you might have read my post about duendes and aluxes, if you haven’t: Aluxes (speak: alooshes) are little invisible people, dressed in Mayan costumes. If you treat them well, they can bring you good luck, otherwise they are quite vengeful. (Remember the Cancun airport bridge?)

Downtown Playa there is a little plaza called “Bosque de los Aluxes” (Forest of the Aluxes) where you can find miniature homes where people can leave little gifts. Some leave money, some leave cigarettes, but since I cannot imagine what aluxes would do with our money and since I also don’t want to support bad habits, MM and I left some almond biscuits for them today. I really hope they like biscuits, but who doesn’t, eh?

Apparently, aluxes don't need luxury homes.

Apparently, aluxes don’t need luxury homes.

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Mexican Mythology: Sacred Trees

In various places all over the city, you can find these huge ceiba trees, gigantic sacred trees that for the Mayan people represent the connection between the heavens and the underworld. They are 20 to 40 meters high (65 to 130 ft) and their canopy is up to 50 meters (9’10”) wide. Somewhere I read that their roots can be the size of a fully grown man. (Well, you know that in general Mexican men are not too tall…) Thanks to the formation of the branches that allows for the wind to pass right through them, these trees are resistant to hurricanes.

Up to this day people honour the ceibas and instead of felling them they rather build around them. Especially in a country that cares so little about the environment, this is something really beautiful, don’t you think?P1050693

Souvenirs, Souvenirs

In case you didn’t know: Playa del Carmen is a metropolis. And like any other metropolis, we, too, have a 5th Avenue that is our main shopping area, only that we call it Quinta Avenida. Which is a good thing for not everybody fancies getting spat on by people trying to pronounce “fifth”.

Lately, this area has changed a lot. We got a somewhat fancy new mall with stores like “ALDO”, “Forever 21”, “The Body Shop” and whatnot. All of a sudden, we also got MAC, BOSS, ZARA, and Armani Exchange, so we do not have to drive to Cancun all the time we want to shop something other than beach wear or souvenirs.

Look at that! Those are refrigerator magnets mostly. Almost a work of art.

Look at that! Those are refrigerator magnets mostly. Almost a work of art.

Already, I heard people complain about Playa losing its charms. Well, I am not so convinced it was the least bit charming before with nothing around but touristy knickknacks and beer bars for miles. Luckily, though, for those people who consider this kind of shopping experience desirable, they will still find what they are looking for.

Last week my in-laws were visiting and during our many strolls I came up with a list of what I’d consider the most worthwhile souvenirs (apart from a large variety of STDs and party drugs that you can both get on every corner if you are interested… just sayin’…):

1. T-Shirts with silly messages. Always a big trend. See, what I found:

I pooped today. - Really?

I pooped today. – Really?

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“May I suggest the sausage?” – How terribly polite. I also like the numbered stuff, like “Bitch 1 – 4”. It’s a good thing to let people know what they are dealing with.

P1050705 2. Bracelets with your name. Always comes in handy when you had too much tequila.

3. Temporary tattoos. So venturesome.

4. Hair braids. Honestly, who doesn’t look good with those? Around the corner, there is a family business of hair braiders. In the evenings, I can see how they are checking each other for head lice. Sounds promising, right?

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Hair braids, tattoos, bracelets – what more could you wish for?

5. And my absolute favourite: Wrestling masks. I actually see people buying those and I cannot help but wonder: Do they use those in the bedroom? Or when driving too fast so nobody can prove it was them? Or is Playa just THE holiday destination for wrestlers?

In this case, these are also suitable for children, but they were the only ones I found that were displayed on dummies. I was actually tempted to get a spiderman mask for my godson... yes, yes, I admit it!

In this case, these are also suitable for children, but they were the only ones I found that were displayed on dummies. I was actually tempted to get a spiderman mask for my godson… yes, yes, I admit it!

Have you ever bought some silly souvenirs? Do you like getting souvenirs? 

Merry Christmas from Playa!

Today I took a little walk to capture a few Christmas impressions. Have a look!

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This Christmas tree is standing in our stylish new mall “Alegria”.

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This tree is in front of our Palacio Municipal. The nativity scene includes a horse and an elephant!

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These statues made from sand are really impressive and a total tourist attraction down at the ferry terminal.

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Wishing you a wonderful Christmas wherever you are!

Hemhem… Hullo!

In case you missed me – I am still here! But oh well, probably you haven’t even noticed my absence.  Let’s pretend you did, though. (And while on this subject: Thanks to those who checked in on me!)

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Au...

My good old friend Liz. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know, I had so many things going on: tea appointments with the Queen for example. We had the most delightful chats, but yesterday, just when I had finished my third scone (and feeling bad about it, you shouldn’t eat three scones when teaing  with royalty) and was wiping off some crumbs I said to her, “Liz, listen, I need to get back to blogging. My readers need me.” And she nodded her head, although it was clear she didn’t know what blogging was, and said, “Well, as always, my Dear, it has been an absolute pleasure. Please come and see me again when your time allows.” She’s so classy. But then, she’s the Queen.

Yes, that would have been my daily life had I been on Prozac. But I wasn’t. Instead, I was fighting a battle with the beloved rainy season. In a way, we got lucky as we had not one hurricane this season and since hurricane season is over, I don’t even have to knock on wood. On the other hand, we got plenty of rain.

Some of you may remember that we had just moved last year. Well, we should have known better than to move into a new construction… Let me tell you: Never a good idea in this country. And even if you think that a 2 year old building might not count as new, make no mistake! The problem is, that people are in it for the quick money, so they build up everything really fast and really sloppy, a bit of paint and it looks all shiny and fancy, they ask for a high rent because, hey, it’s all marble, right? Which is good, because you see, when the indoor rain starts you can just mop it away. A carpet wouldn’t work.

Well, we did a lot of mopping this season. I got used to the sound of water dripping into the buckets we put everywhere. I also got used to the sight of colourful beach towels on the floor in all the rooms. Mrs. P. got used to getting wet feet and we didn’t have to carry her outside anymore. We got into the habit of having self-made stilts ready to lift the furniture. But then the mould started. Our walls turned black, so we washed them with chlorine. Two days later the mould was back. It was bad. And then we learned something fascinating: where there’s mould, there are booklice. Never heard of them? Nor had I, but now I am a booklice expert. Our walls were covered with them, and if you took a closer look you could see them crawling about. It was horrid! In my mind, our home turned into one of those nightmare places that are eating you alive. At night, I was sure to hear the  booklice munching, and I could feel them getting under my skin and into my ears and nose… Luckily, our lease was up anyway, so I contacted our realtor and within 10 days we had found a new home and arranged for our 3rd move since coming here. Yay.

The move was a freakin’ disaster. We had asked for two days of packing and moving, yet the moving company convinced us to do all in the same day. Never listen to moving companies, honestly. After 12 hours of packing and schlepping they were not nearly done. More trucks were ordered but there was none available. Paco and Jose showed up with their little family vans where they tried to squeeze in the rest, but it didn’t work either. New permissions for our fenced-in community were required, we were running back and forth, the new apartment wasn’t ready yet, so we had to cram everything into the living room, all furniture, all boxes, it was a desperate sight. Then the movers had to come back after the weekend to carry the rest over into our new home, and still, we had to stuff everything into the living room so in the end, we couldn’t even set foot into it.

That was about one third of our moving disaster. Looks like fun, huh?

That was about one third of our moving disaster. Looks like fun, huh?

Mr. R. was all busy those days and couldn’t get away even for an hour to help me sort things out what with a baby is a bit of a hassle. So I arranged for some strong helpers who agreed to meet me at lunch time. In the end they showed up at 5pm, but finally, things were moving and we were glad when we actually were able to sleep in our new bedroom.

The next morning we found our adjacent bathroom completely under water – the air condition was leaking. The next day, I almost blew up the entire building due to wrong insulation material behind the oven. Luckily, Mr. R. was at home to pull the oven out and discover a cosy little fire. Soon after that, we left for some family time in Europe, and ever since we got back, everything seems to be more or less under control. We now live downtown Playa which I enjoy so much more than living in what my mum called “the ghetto”. True, we sometimes cannot sleep because of mariachi music outside. When you open the door you take a bath in fried chicken smell thanks to the restaurants downstairs. But the beach is one block away, so far we haven’t had any tarantulas, nor cockroaches, and more importantly, it stays bloody dry in here – when the A/C is working properly that is! (Oh, and if you are still there, Mrs. Cakelady: I have a French patisserie just around the corner, so I can stuff my face with croissants and cake all day long!)

So that’s my little and long overdue update. Thanks for still hanging in there, and I hope you are having a wonderful Christmas!

It’s all fun and games at the Mayan Riviera – or is it?

I’ve just come downstairs, sweaty and exhausted. It’s a good thing you can’t see me, believe me. Why am I sweaty? Not because I did some kick-ass workout, let me tell you. No, I was mopping up water. You see, it started raining again. After our last rainy adventure, Mr. R. discovered that those geniuses of builders built in the door leading to the roof top the wrong way, so the outside is on the inside and vice versa. So the little thingy that is supposed to keep the water out is on the inside. How very convenient. At least the house is waterproof from the inside.

That's the paradise part of the deal!

That’s the paradise part of the deal.

And while I was merrily mopping and moping, I was thinking of a conversation I recently had with a friend of mine,  a Mexican lady who also used to live abroad, but came back with her European husband to try how they’d like living here. She surprised me by telling me that she would actually prefer to live someplace else, but that her husband is the one who refuses to leave. And I can see why, I mean, it is just stunning out there with the turquoise sea, the white beaches and all. People are genuinely friendly, everything and everyone is pretty relaxed. If you are into golfing and water sports, you can’t go wrong either.

What I understand is that this area is unlike every other area in Mexico – at least, that’s what everybody tells me. When I ask people from different parts of Mexico how they like living here, a lot of them say, “I like it, because I have a job.” Or, “I like it, because this area is so safe.”  It all seems pretty welcoming at first glance, and there are most certainly beautiful things to enjoy here. But like everything and everywhere: Nothing is perfect!

Another friend of mine put it in a nutshell when she said, “This place is paradise – if you get the chance to get away on a regular basis.” And yes, I do know a lot of expats who spend about 6 months of the year abroad and just come back to relax.

I remember when we got here, I felt like this was going to be one big vacation. And I was joking around that my husband’s company now made up for our honeymoon we once had to cut short in order to move to Seattle. Well, we had our honeymoon here for about 2 months – which definitely made up for the lost time on Hawaii. Then we moved out of the resort and into our new home, and that’s when I got a first glimpse of everyday life.

Yes, there are things, nobody tells you before you move to the Riviera Maya.

So if you consider living here, this checklist might help you to determine whether you are ready for this Caribbean adventure or not:

A bit of water.

A bit of water.

Play rainy season:

  •  Set your entire house under water and let the water stand over night. Remove water in the morning. Repeat for a week and see how you like the experience.
  •  Put on a cocktail dress, squeeze your feet into high heels and put on lipstick. Then head to the nearest spa and request access to the steam room. Stay in there for at least 3 hours. Maybe you can persuade someone to pour you a glass of white wine so you get the full cocktail hour experience.
  • Take your car to the next public open air pool and drive through the water for an hour. Maybe you can get some mariachi radio station to keep you entertained?

Test your patience muscle:

  • Ask a friend to cut off your electricity and then make a plumber appointment for you within the next 3 days without telling you when. Sit around and wait and see if you like it.
  • Do the same thing with the water supply.

Ready for some fun?

  • Visit the next funfair and hop on the bumper cars. Drive around for an hour to pretend it’s rush hour in the city.
  • If you intend to give birth in Mexico or undergo any kind of surgery, ask some friends to strip you to a bed for the amount of time that procedure would take and play some Mariachi music real loud.
  • Try to find someone who can set loose cockroaches, millipedes, geckos and whatnot in your home. Maybe in addition, they can throw in a tarantula as special surprise. Also, try to raise ants in your kitchen.
  • Invite your friends for a supermarket scavenger hunt: Everyone goes and hides products in various supermarkets in town. Then hand out and receive shopping lists and go look for those products. This might even add a more festive note to the Easter holidays.
  • And last, but not least, as we must not forget that this a touristy area: Go to a typical spring break location and mingle with the teenagers. Ask some random adults to come too and hand out free liquor. Lean back and enjoy.

Oh dear, have to rush. It started to rain again!

Hidden in the jungle: Coba

Can you feel it? Christmas is around the corner! Not that in this part of the world anything would indicate it except for the very persistent Christmas items in all the stores. And it is surprising they are still available, after all, I spotted the first stands of wrapping paper and dancing santas already in July.

That’s as Christmassy as it gets: Christmas Tree in Cancun.

Last year, my parents came for Christmas which is why at the moment I am thinking a lot about all the fun stuff we did together. And I realized that I never wrote that post about Coba that I actually promised in August!

Every tourist visits Tulum at some point, but not everybody makes it all the way to Coba. But if you have one full day and are in the mood to discover some ancient Mayan history, you can easily set off for Tulum in the morning and then go to Coba from there. From Playa del Carmen you drive about an hour to the south to get to Tulum. It takes most people about an hour, maybe an hour and a half to explore the ruins, afterwards there is plenty of time to drive another hour northwest to Coba. And even the drive is worthwhile: You pass through tiny Mexican villages and finally get to Coba that is set amongst two lagoons, so you can catch a glimpse over the water before entering the parking lot.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, if you think (like I did) that seeing one Maya site covers them all more or less, you are wrong. They are all very different and unique, and while I love Tulum for its picturesque setting by the sea, I still prefer Coba due to its almost mystical flair.

Coba is a lot older than Tulum, it is said to have been founded between 100 BC and 100 AD. It very quickly became the most important and powerful trade hub in Yucatan with more than 50,000 inhabitants. I read that Coba had strong connections with Guatemala and the south states of Campeche and established not only military alliances with those states, but also arranged marriages. I always wonder how people back then travelled that far. By the time the bride arrived, she must have grown a lot older!

Around 750 AD, Chichen Itza emerged and altered Coba’s importance. In fact, those 2 cities got into a power struggle resulting in Coba losing its position as political leader, but maintaining its religious importance. But although Coba lost its leading role to cities closer to the coastline, it only got abandoned around 1550 when the Spanish conquered Yucatan.

Taxi Bikes in Coba.

By now, I have been to Coba a few times, but I vividly remember the first time: It was magical! Unlike Tulum, Coba is not such a popular tourist attraction and I was relieved to see that we didn’t have to pass a plaza of souvenir shops and restaurants to get to the site. Instead, you enter through a large gate and find yourself amidst the jungle. If you don’t like to walk, you can either rent a bike for USD 3 per hour, but there are also rickshaws waiting behind the entrance which is great for people who are in whatever way handicapped (they cost USD 10 per hour).Or lazy. My vicious me couldn’t help but notice how bizarre it looks to see young, slim, and mostly short guys transporting big and often just sluggish tourists through the woods… Could there be any better motivation to get your butt off the couch than seeing a muscular sweaty back in front of you while you are doing nothing but having your heavy body carried around? Sorry, got sidetracked…

Coba gets a lot less visitors than Tulum, but even if you might feel that there are still quite a few tourists with you when you enter the site, after a few yards everyone spreads out, and it is getting really quiet around you. The first ruin that you encounter is the iglesia, the church. The name is due to a little statue that people once interpreted as a statue or virgin Mary. Unfortunately, this statue got destroyed during a hurricane, yet the name remains.

Right behind the church is the ballcourt where they used to play pelota – the Maya version of soccer.

The ball court.

Afterwards you follow the little pathway towards the big Nohoch Mul pyramid that is actually the tallest pyramid on the whole Yucatan peninsula. You can climb up the 120 steps that are rather steep (bring hiking boots!) and enjoy the view over the treetops. But although the pyramid is very impressive, my favourite part is getting there: You wander amongst the high trees and lucious bushes – and all of a sudden you stumble upon a majestic ruin! It always makes me realize how enthralling it must have been for archeologists to detect those ancient buildings! And still, there is a lot to discover, a lot that lies hidden in the jungle. You really have to look left and right in order not to miss a ruin, it feels like being an explorer!

The big pyramid.

And like a real explorer, you shouldn’t forget to bring mosquito repellent, water and good hiking shoes (if you want to climb the pyramid). Now that I come to think of it… It’s time we get some more visitors, I am really in the mood for another trip to Coba now!

A building from the paintings complex.