1 Nov-15 Dec 2016. After a month in an upmarket apartment in the central part of town we move to the quiet end of the beach. We downgrade to a basic studio apartment because prices in Playa literally double in December.
Our very basic one room apartment has a table only slightly bigger than a nightstand. It is situated on the far side of the room from the “kitchen” which has almost no counter space. The counter top is effectively filled with a sink and the four-burner gas stove. There is a small shelf above it with a couple of plates and glasses and some almost flat soup bowls. We buy a couple of nice deep cereal bowls, a decent butter knife, a couple of solid squat water glasses, and a toaster. All of this adds to our rent by about $1.50 per night. Deal! I guess we really hated those soup bowls. We manage to break both of them, one in spectacular shattering fashion. The other cracks and then breaks because I use it as a lid on the pot to boil water for tea and coffee.
Still, we like this apartment for all its down home shabbiness. There is a good fridge, an adequate bathroom (though the water pressure is a bit iffy), comfortable-enough beds, clean sheets and towels, and efficient air-conditioning. And it is close enough to easily walk to the beach and to whatever stores we need.
We carry the table over and put it between the bed and the sink and use it for meal preparation. When we’re ready to eat we move it back. Most nights we prepare meals like this:
It’s what I call a kitchen sink salad – lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, lightly steamed broccoli and asparagus, avocado, beets that Don cooks in water, vinegar, and a little sugar, and goat cheese. It’s dressed with olive oil and balsamic, and topped with strips of chicken breast that has it’s own dressing of mayonnaise, Dijon, and lemon juice. We change it up with prawns or fish. It’s pretty much our standard evening meal when we’re living in a hot climate.
We go to the beach almost every day. In the early morning it’s almost deserted, though we rarely get there at that time.
It’s about a fifteen-minute walk. Once there we walk along the beach for a while and then find a spot in the shade. We spread the sarong, plop ourselves down, and watch the waves and the people as both come and go.
It’s a peaceful easy time. Sometimes we lie down and surrender to the open sky. I see people sideways and photograph them that way.
Sometimes it’s windy and the water is choppy and more gray than blue. The warm wind blows off the sea. It’s salt laden and moist. Slowly softly imperceptibly we are showered in sea fret. Tiny specks of sand blow up adding to the gauzy coating. By the time we are ready to leave we are damp and salty and happy.
There is always activity on the beach; ball games, acrobatics, wild water sports, and children and families playing with unrestrained glee.
For a long time I watch this woman playing with her three children. The woman lifts the children and hurls them into the water. They all duck and dive and roll in the waves. They throw themselves at their mother and she opens her arms wide for them, one at a time or all three together, over and over. The woman’s love for her children, their love for each other, their simple joy of being, and of being together, as they splash and play in the water is a scene of unbounded happiness. The happiness drifts across the waves and the sand and becomes my own. It’s impossible to watch them and not be affected by it.
This woman waits quietly on the beach with her baby,
as her older two girls play in the water.
Again I watch for a long time. The girls are like joyful unrestrained puppies, playing with the waves and each other. Once again the happiness drifts across the waves and the sand and becomes my own.
Seagulls fly overhead,
and the light softens towards sunset at the quiet end of the beach.
When we were still staying at the fancy up-market apartment the building manager told us that the best nearby cenote to visit was Cenote del Eden. We don’t ask what she means by “the best”. We do know that most cenotes near Playa del Carmen are highly developed and much frequented tourist destinations.
There are thousands of cenotes in the Yucatan. The peninsula is low and flat with no rivers, but there are extensive underground water systems. A cenote (say-no-tay) is created when the limestone cave ceiling has collapsed and fallen into the waters below creating an opening into a spectacular world where rivers flow underground through caves riddled with stalactites and stalagmites. We explored some of this world at Rio Secreto.
The Mayans, who have lived in this area for thousands of years, hold cenotes sacred; the word cenote means sacred well. They are the only source of fresh water, and because the water has been painstakingly filtered by the earth it is clear and pure. The Mayans also believed cenotes give access to the underworld where their gods live, and where the spirits of their ancestors reside.
So we catch a collectivo in Playa del Carmen to Cenote del Eden, twenty-five kilometres south, where the Mayans once sacrificed humans, and threw gifts of gold and jade into the water for their gods. Today it is a laid back, alcohol-and-loud-music-free playground, a pristine natural swimming pool in a lush jungle setting.
It’s one of thousands of such natural pools, welcoming cooling oases in a hot and steamy climate. Young men test their courage diving from tree branches,
older men swim with quiet contentment,
and in the bush iguanas about three feet long soak up the warmth of the sun.
This one found Don’s discarded apple core,
and on the short walk along a gravel track back to the highway to flag down a collectivo back to Playa we pass a green one.
There are more (and more exotic) cenotes planned for the future, but our next stop was the city of Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan. What a shock it was after six weeks at the beach. Merida in the next post.
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.