The Hustle

Dear Asher,

It has been important for us that we make most of our meals on the road, not just to save money but to ensure we knew what was going into your rapidly growing little body. For the past three months at our backpacker hostels, we have had some sketchy kitchens to say the least. I have become masterful at the one pot meal, and that one pot almost never had a handle. Wanting to make full use of our full kitchen with a full fridge, three pans and two pots with handles, we all took the collectivo bound for Playa Centro (the center of Playa Del Carmen) to stock up on everything under the sun. Being a city of 300,000, we could find everything our hearts desired and we felt spoiled to have such variety. The collectivo drove with either the accelerator or the brake fully depressed while weaving in and out of anyone uncharacteristically yielding room. The once sleepy fishing village of Playa Del Carmen has dramatically turned into a concrete jungle of large overpasses and thoroughfares lined with big box malls and trendy boutique furniture stores.

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Before picking up groceries, we decided to spend some time on the beach then stroll down 5th avenue, but the sly tour salesman had different plans for us. Pretending to work for the ministry of tourism and here to answer any questions or solve any problems for foreigners, Alan, complete with his official tourism badge, pulled out all of his tricks. Though we were looking to do an excursion or two, we were not ready to pay $80-$100US each to do them. But Alan had a workaround. If we sat in on a presentation about tourism in Playa Del Carmen, then we could get a National Geographic tour to Isla de Mujeres to go snorkeling with fish and see the new underwater sculpture museum for just $30US per person. Since this included a shuttle to and from our apartment and unlimited food and drinks for lunch, we decided it was worth it since Granny was excited to see the underwater museum.

While Granny and Grumpy attended the tourism presentation, we strolled up and down 5th avenue, checking out the overpriced shops and playing in the fountain at the ritzy mall. After three months in rural Honduras and Guatemala, we were culture shocked to say the least. The forty minute tourism presentation turned into an hour, then 90 minutes, then two hours and when they finally emerged, Granny and Grumpy said they were actually at a very aggressive time share presentation. Now that timeshares have garnered a bad reputation, they are now called “clubs” and three progressively brash salesmen tried every technique under the sun to attract their new “members.” They first started with a 50 year 200 week special, but when Grumpy kindly reminded them that they would not be alive in fifty years, they offered the 5 year 10 week special. After trying every one of their sleezeball lines like, “don’t you want someone to make the bed for your wife everyday?”, assuming that it is the woman’s job to make the bed, Granny and Grumpy scurried out unscathed, with a free breakfast and saving us around $200US on our excursion. When we returned to the “tourist information desk” to get our free t-shirts and tequila as promised, Alan was nowhere to be found. Asher, though in the end we got the better end of this deal, we were reminded of the importance of living a virtuous life. Though Alan is making a decent living by lying, we have no doubt that he has trouble sleeping at night.

The two hour presentation put us well into full sun and soaring heat so we scrapped our plans for the beach and made our way to the supermarket but returned the next day for a stroll down the beach and 5th Avenue. The air-conditioning and fresh bakery quickly cooled any leftover annoyances from the morning hustle and with arm loads of groceries and fresh doughnuts, we made our way back to the bus stop. Grumpy had come to love authentic Mexican tacos and tortas and parked next to the bus stop was the highest rated taco truck in Playa Del Carmen. When ordering tacos, you simply ask for beef, pork, chicken or vegetarian (sautéed vegetables) then you can load up with the unlimited toppings of beans, pico de gallo salsa, guacamole and habanero hot sauce. At just $0.75, tacos are the best value meal and healthy as well. Grumpy treated us all to tacos and washed them down with a cold sprite from the glass bottle. The family run taco truck gave us a small feeling of a Playa Del Carmen before it was paved over with McDonalds, Starbucks, high end brand name American shops, and “club memberships.” We spent the rest of the afternoon back at our apartment sipping pineapple smoothies poolside and playing tag with you in the water.

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