Okay, let’s not be pretending here. Play del Carmen is a hyper-developed, over-glitzed tourist resort town. It’s a twenty-something kid drinking beer or mojitos on the beach free for now from the need to try to be an adult in real life. It’s an all-inclusive resort of uncontaminated food and water with access to a strip of soft cream sand miles long, and a sea so clear and blue it makes your eyes water. It’s a beach lined with expensive restaurants with food of magnificent prices and questionable quality and music blaring so loud your ears bleed. It’s young families and retired couples on vacation at a place that offers all the safety and comforts of home in what was once a remarkable setting. It’s the “bride squad” in bikinis and matching baseball caps, and the groom’s “wolf pack” all out for a good time drinking beer and mojitos and taking selfies. It’s hot weather and soft sand and languid warm water and soaking up the sun even if sometimes that’s too much of a good thing. It’s a pedestrian street of expensive restaurants, Haägen-Dazs and Starbucks, tourist tat and touts. It’s a relentless tribal bass beat from giant speakers at every restaurant facing the street or the beach. Whatever time of day or night it’s party time!
We knew what we were coming to, kind of, and although it’s not our usual sort of destination, it’s been okay. Pretty good actually. We’ve been here a month and plan to stay until mid December. It’s a sweet lazy time. We live in a beautiful two-bedroom condo about fifteen minutes walk from the beach. It’s quiet here. Thank goodness. We are totally flummoxed by the decibel level of the ubiquitous music down in the tourist part of town and on the beach. It’s as if everything must be drowned out by noise, and in some places it’s so loud you really do have to shout to be heard. It doesn’t entice us into restaurants. It makes us run away. I wonder if it entices anyone of any age. Walking to the beach on one street we pass four restaurants in a row in an open space. It’s as if they’re competing with each other as to who can be loudest. They also seem to have the fewest customers. It’s a kind of madness. Sometimes we walk through it and feel the screaming insanity of it. Usually we walk on the other side of the street.
Weekends at the beach are a tsunami of bodies and noise. Weekdays are much quieter. We go every day anyway and when we get there it’s a toss up which direction to walk in to find the spot that’s equidistant between speakers so we can actually hear the sound of the water. Usually we hear the music as well, coming at us from both directions, but at this volume it becomes enjoyable and fun. We sit fairly close to the water. Despite the crowds and the loud music we sink into a kind of reverie watching people coming and going, playing, having fun, kids and adults alike rollicking in the water. Seagulls fly overhead. The waves roll steadily in. Clouds come and go in the clear blue sky. We watch the parasailers, tiny specks soaring high above the waves, and the crazy guys on those water canon things that shoot them up in the air with jets of water under their feet, and the jet-skis racing back and forth. Sometimes we swim, but mostly we just sit.
And I experiment with photography. I’m trying to photograph the water in that silky way you see in beautiful landscapes. I know I don’t have the right equipment but I try anyway. I rest the camera on my knees as a tripod, and sometimes hold my sunglasses as a filter over the lens to slow down the shutter speed. What emerges is a whole new way for me to photograph beach scenes. I’ve photographed beaches in Canada, Australia, Bali, Hawaii, Samoa, Italy, Spain, Cook Islands, Cyprus, Ecuador, Fiji, Jordan, Mexico, New Zealand, Thailand, and Turkey. Although I got some nice shots, and occasionally a fabulous shot, there is nothing unusual about them. This time I discover something different: Playa del Carmen overexposed.
Prices literally double here in December so we’ll be moving on from the big fancy condo. In a couple of days we move to a studio apartment at the far end of the beach. There are no resort restaurants with loud music there, just sea and sand and sun. And us.
Next post: Hmmm. Not sure. This is the first time in over three years that I’m up to date with the blog and that I’m actually writing about a place while we are still there. No doubt I’ll think of something.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2016.