The Story Of A Canadian Living In Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

Mexico is Just Like Canada, Only Completely Different

Why would anyone want to leave Canada?

Part of the reason to leave the country of my birth and where I’m living today is to explore something different, something unique. To have an experience in life that most people only dream of… an adventure.

That’s the theory.

However, speaking from experience, when you follow through, reality sets in.

If you’ve been to Cuba for instance, then you know that hot water for showering and reliable Internet are luxuries. When on vacation, you can handle stuff like that, but it gets old quickly when it’s your day-to-day experience.

Spending afternoons learning to speak a foreign language is dreamy and wonderful in theory. But driving around in circles trying to find your destination is more a nightmare than a dream when you don’t speak enough Spanish even to ask for directions let alone understand them.

Foreign food is fun to explore, but after a while what you’ll really crave is a hamburger, a steak, or a bowl of Haagen-Dazs.

Once in Central America, we went on a quest to satisfy my wife’s craving for aged cheddar. Turns out aged cheese is not a concept understood in every corner of the world. Using the word viejo—Spanish for old—was not only unhelpful, but I’m sure it got us labeled loco in more than one grocery store.

The truth is, when moving overseas, most of us eventually want a unique experience and the comforts of home. If that’s your goal, too, I can think of no better place to consider for your new life abroad than Mexico.

I’ve had the pleasure of both vacationing and living in different parts of Mexico. I’ve enjoyed them all, but today I want to talk to you about Playa del Carmen.

Playa del Carmen is a vibrant beach town of 150,000 people, just an hour south of Vegas on the beach (Cancún). There’s typically plenty of hot water, and reliable Internet is just as ubiquitous as it is here at home in Canada.

In many ways, Playa del Carmen is like Canada. In many ways, it’s completely different.

For instance, everyone there speaks Spanish. But just about everyone there speaks English, too. So you can indulge your desire to learn the local lingo without having to rely on it when speed of communication is paramount.

In A Pinch, You’ll Be Glad They Speak English

Common local command of the English language is evident when walking down Playa del Carmen’s 5th Avenue. Restaurant maître d’s implore you to “come check out the menu, amigo.” One particular shop owner said to us, “Amigo, we’ve got a lot of crap in here. But it’s different crap than everybody else’s. You should take a look.”

His English was impeccable, and we appreciated his sense of humor.

Off 5th Avenue, English is still prevalent. Real estate agents and land sharks (the time-share sales people) are very often expats, and they’re always willing to help. Although, a tip: Choose the former rather than the latter if you don’t feel like attending a sales presentation.

Yes, you can get by in Playa del Carmen without ever learning or using a word of Spanish. Of course, we don’t recommend it. Part of the adventure of living somewhere new is embracing the language and the culture.

Can You Learn To Love Mexican Time?

You also have to think about the realities of living in a place famous for its slowness. There’s a reason they call it Mexican time. Mexican time sounds relaxing and leisurely… until your toilet’s backed up. When you have no indoor plumbing you get tired of hearing mañana, señor.

Whether you buy a casita in Playa del Carmen or you rent, eventually you’ll need to do some work around the place.

You could try to find an honest plumber who won’t charge you gringo prices and who’ll show up when he says he’ll show up… on your time, not Mexican time.

When you give up on that dream, you’ll be relieved to remember that there’s a Home Depot on Calle 60, about 10 minutes from the town center.

Want to get some groceries but not ready to brave the local markets, the Mega, or the Chedraui? The first time my daughter Olivia saw a frozen cow head at the Mega, she never wanted to go back. Apparently it’s a common ingredient for the locals.

While Olivia got over her horror, and we took many more trips to local grocery stores, she always preferred Playa’s Walmart and Costco. And you may, too, when you find yourself longing for home.

You can shop at Costco when you want the comforts of home and the brands you’re used to, knowing that the cow’s head will be waiting when you’re ready for it.

This is the way in Playa del Carmen, a Mexican beach town where you can truly have the best of both worlds. You can explore food, culture, and language that’s completely different than what you left back home… while living very similarly to how you’re living right now in Canada if you want.

I recommend a bit of both. Enjoy the comforts of home while dipping your toes ever further in the authentic Mexican experience.

Russ Reynolds