Thursday, May 7, 2015

Playa del Carmen & the Legend of Whale Sharks

Sunset at Playa del Carmen.

I have a couple friends who go to Playa del Carmen multiple times a year. Like the Masters, it's a tradition unlike any other for them. PDC is their spot to unwind - less calm than the spring break menagerie in Cancun, but still plenty lively and scenic. The dudes are seemingly a fixture in the local bar/club scene. When someone leaves a spot, promoters will occasionally update us on their whereabouts. Hanging with these dudes is like the Copacabana scene in "Goodfellas." Life is good when you're Ray Liotta at the Copa.

The dudes have invited me to join before, but my interest waned because I've been to Mexico and there are so many other places I'd like to visit. As you probably know by now, when I travel - I have to DO something - the more unique or crazy - the better. I get antsy if I'm just laying out, sightseeing, or clubbing. I enjoy all those things, but it's not enough. Unless you give me Ritalin. 

But then I realized all the amazing sites to see along the Riveria Maya, the Caribbean coastline of Mexico's northeastern Yucatan Peninsula, and realized I had to go. I'd be out there for 6 days to visit Tulum (where I've been longing to go ever since missing out on a friend's wedding there), Chichen Itza, cenotes (sinkholes or caves to swim or dive in), and peep this - whale shark diving. Yes, I'd kick off the whole trip snorkeling and free diving with whale sharks off the coast of Cancun. I don't care if I just laid out on the beach the rest of the trip, if I was going to be able to swim with some mother f'n whale sharks - the trip would be worth it already.

Now let's go to Playa: 

Condo kitchen and living room right on the beach.
Hallway view of beach.
Sunrise view from our patio. 
After coming back early on my first night out (around 430am), our whale shark/deep sea fishing tour was set to pick us up at 6am. Ugh. Why so early? Let me explain how this went down. Whale shark viewing season doesn't actually begin until May 15, but I reached out to a tour operator who said hundreds of whale sharks were already in the area and he guaranteed we'd see some. The catch is, because it's technically not the season, we'd have to go on a deep sea fishing tour as an excuse to be out searching. The operator mentioned to me there's an unlikely - but still a chance - that the Coast Guard would stop us if we were out searching for whale sharks! This did add a bit of intrigue to the tour. We rode out around 20 miles off  the coast, which took forever and was rougher than watching Austin Rivers play basketball. I rarely get motion sickness, but around 4 hours at sea, I started feeling nauseous, maybe it had something to do with the hour of sleep? The entire tour with transportation lasted almost 12 hours. It included deep sea fishing - we caught several wahoo and tuna, snorkeled the reef near Isla Che, but you know what we didn't see on our whale shark tour? F'n whale sharks. Forget the verbal guarantee that we'd see them. The company sent a second boat out to help search, but to no avail. You know what a whale shark tour without whale sharks is? A boat ride. A long ass boat ride. 
Tuna. Not whale shark.
Blue wahoo. Also not whale shark.
Fresh ceviche on our boat with Isla Mujeres in the backdrop. This along with a Kloster, the cheapest beer I've heard of outside of the generic Beer that Albertson's used to have. Isla Mujeres is a quiet, gorgeous island, much in line with Caye Caulker in Belize. Slower-pace, an oasis from the ruckus of Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

Another shot of Isla Mujeres, which lives up to its name.
You a lie. This diploma said we swam with whale sharks. Don't mock me, faux-certificate.
Cutting up the tuna. Totally professional and clean.
Fresh guacamole and fresh tuna burgers. Get your tuna! We had so much damn fish our fridge smelled like a sushi restaurant with a C kitchen rating. 
We rented a cabana/mattress at Mamitas resort. Very popular area. Much needed R&R. 
Playa del Carmen statue off 5th Avenue, the tourist hub.
No filter. Sunset was crazy pink. Locals playing futbol.  
Playa scenics.
Tequila hombre. Waiting for his amigo.
Maybe it could be him? There were so many dudes trying to sell flowers at the club. Leave us alone!
Mexico's Wal-Mart, outside of Wal-Mart, which they obviously have, too. This place was enormous. Trippiest thing: Coronas are cheaper than Tecate there. Huh??


Solid breakfast spot on 5th Ave: 100% Natural. It's a healthier, organic spot to eat, which is very helpful after late evenings and adult beverage consumption. I ordered some tofu rice which was fine, but that juice was the money maker. Forgot what it was, but included banana, papaya, pineapple, and a bunch more.
Republica Taco is just another of a long-line of taco spots. Solid late eating. They were tasty but I preferred Don Sirloin, another late night taco spot. Just be wary that their salsa verde is extremely spicy and not the same as an avocado salsa. 
Shrimp burrito at Casa Adela. Nothing spectacular. It's on touristy 5th. They did have nice bathrooms though. Be careful not to have any ice with your beverage. I did and Montezuma's Revenge followed me back to the states. A solid food suggestion - although massively touristy - is Tequila Barrel, also on 5th. Their Mahi tacos are legit. 

We met some new local friends who took us to a pasta spot called Cheester. Homemade pastas, huge portions and menu. The place is away from the tourist zone and seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
We ordered some sort of seafood pasta, and a creamy chipotle pasta, as well.  All tasty.
More late night street food. Gonna be honest, don't recall feeling tip top the next morning!
Viva Margaritas right off 5th Ave has delicious and large margaritas. This is watermelon. Might I also recommend mango and strawberry. No losers on this menu. 


Mandala. We spent a lot of time here. Seems to be among the more popular spots.
La Santanera: late night spot. Rooftop bar. 
La Vaquita: Nothing like hanging with gigantic cartoon cows.

Blue Parrot: outdoor spot with beach access. More spacious. Not as smoky.

Next: Beaches, cenotes, and ruins in Tulum & Chichen Itza.


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