This is Part 2 of random stuff that we’ve been doing or experiencing down here in Playa del Carmen. There’s no need to read Part 1 to make sense of this blog post. And you can adjust your expectations right this moment: this isn’t one of those “Wow, I learned so much from Allison’s blog post!” times. So just sit back and pretend we are chatting over coffee.
Are you tired of hearing me complain about the taxis? Well, there is an end in sight (Arizona) but until then I’m going to keep complaining. But I am also learning! And I daresay I think I’ve got a good system, finally.
For one, I’ve discovered that the guys who wait at the grocery stores are particularly bad at ripping you off. One time at Walmart the conversation went like this.
Taxi: Where to?
Me: Avenida 25. How much will it be?
Taxi: 70 pesos.
Me: What? I always pay 50.
Taxi: No, from here it’s 70.
Me: No, I come here almost every day, it’s always 50.
Taxi: It’s supposed to be 100 but I’m giving it to you for 70.
Me: Nope, always 50.
Me: OK, (and I start taking my bags out of his trunk – not exactly sure what I’ll do with them but I’m calling his bluff anyway)
Taxi: (calls over to his fellow taxi guys): How much to Avenida 25?
Taxi guys: 40
Me: 40 it is! Let’s go!
I was happy for my victory but of course the entire ride home I felt like he was plotting to kill me. He drove me safely home but he refused to get out of the car to help me with my bags. No worries, mate! Here’s your 40 pesos. See ya!
Another time at the same store another taxi guy wanted me to pay more than double what I usually pay. He literally would not take me for less, despite my arguing about the normal rate. So I walked away, went to the end of the taxi line and asked the very last guy in line if he would take me for the price I wanted to pay. He was happy to do it. We both smiled big smiles as we drove past the guy who was still waiting for a customer at the front of the line. I’m pretty sure my taxi driver got beat up later that night by the cousins of the first guy in line.
I have learned that hailing a taxi from the street usually results in better service, which is opposite of how it worked in Medellin. But there’s still the question of the fare. I realized that it’s not enough to know what you should pay (I discovered an app that tells me the official rate from one area to the next). I realized that if you are truly a local, you don’t ask the rate. You just know it and you pay it. So that’s what I do now. I tell the driver where to go, we get there, I hand him the money and get out. This system has not failed me, even when I don’t have exact change. A few taxi drivers have even commented on my knowledge of “the system”. I feel victorious. One time I was expecting 10 pesos in change and he gave me 20. I felt like I’d stumbled onto a new, secret world, the world where you each think you know what the other knows and in the end, I win again! I should play poker.
We have also discovered a service called Rosa Taxi, which is a taxi that you can order via a Whatsapp message and all the drivers are female. This is great! I don’t love it when Haley takes a taxi by herself but I allow it when she uses Rosa. Thanks, Rosa! You’re a peach!
If you think you’ve heard enough about taxis, you have not. Just one more tidbit… I’ve learned that there really truly is a rate for locals and a different rate for tourists and expats. The other day I was going to English class with my Mexican friend Karla. We were with another expat teacher and when we arrived at the school the taxi driver quoted Karla 90 pesos for the ride. This is usually a 35 peso ride. She had words with him but finally paid it and got out. She was extremely unhappy about this situation. We tried to tell her that it was our fault, that our expat-ness had tainted the well and we brought her down with us. So sorry, Karla.
The next time we went to English class she chatted with the taxi driver first, and said “Listen, I’m not paying 90 pesos when you and I both know I should pay 35. I’m a local, I live here.” The taxi driver asked for her ID. Her ID! Because as long as she had local ID, she would get the 35 peso rate. I was sad for Karla that she stumbled upon the Taxi Scamming Tourists gig, but I was happy to know that it really and truly was a thing, and not just happening to me.
In my last blog post I mentioned that Haley has discovered embroidery while we’ve been here. There is a big sewing supply and fabric store nearby and Haley and I stop in every once in awhile to replenish her supplies.
For this next story to make sense, you have to understand the crazy checkout system of a Mexican sewing store. I discovered it in 2016 when we lived here before and was equally incredulous then. It goes like this.
The store has multiple sections:
Section 1: Stuff Behind The Counter. This section has all kinds of little stuff like needles and trim and scissors and supplies. You stand in line, tell the lady what you need, she puts it in a bowl and gives you a little ticket. She then walks the bowl to the check out desk and leaves it there for when you are ready to pay. Your little ticket tells the cashier what to charge you. You are separated from your Bowl of Things until you go to pay.
Section 2: The Fabric. This is pretty standard, like in the USA. You grab the big bolt of fabric that you want, you take it to be cut, and they print out a little ticket that tells the cashier what to charge you. Only this time, unlike the USA, they take the fabric to the check out desk and you claim it with your Bowl of Things when you go pay. OK. Weird, but OK. You can imagine, with all the trips to the check out counter, there are a lot of employees walking back and forth in this (already very crowded) store. The lines for these sections also move very slowly.
And then there’s one more (confusing) section.
Section 3: The Stuff on the Shelves. This final section is like a craft area where there are a lot of things on shelves and you supposedly can browse on your own.
OK now that you know the layout, the day Haley and I were there we picked out some things from section 1 and our Bowl of Things was taken to the check out counter. Then we selected some fabric and it was also taken to check out. All good. Then at the last minute I decided we needed one thing from section 3 so I went to grab it and then got in line at the check out.
You can predict what is going to happen, can’t you?
I knew intellectually that grabbing an item and showing up at check out was against their
silly system. I knew that Section 3 was NOT a “customer self service area”, it was a “take your item to Section 1 and put it in a bowl” area. It’s ridiculous is what it is. But I was of the opinion that if the taxis can take advantage of the fact that I’m a foreigner, I can feign foreigner ignorance and resist this ridiculous check out system involving Bowls of Things and Many Walking Employees. I did not want to stand in another line simply to put my item in a bowl and have the employee walk it to the check out. I resisted on principle.
So I get up to the check out and point to my bowl and my fabric and then hand the employee the item I took from the shelf.
This was her reaction.
She was not impressed. I continued to use my expat-ness and just stared at her back. Finally she said “You can’t do that. You have to go get a ticket for that item.” I responded “WHAT? Why? I’m right here, I have the item, you have my other items, let’s do this!” She held firm, not swayed by my incredulousness. “Nope, you have to go over there and get a ticket.” .
Here’s the kicker: the employee who printed out my ticket for my Bowl of Things WAS STANDING RIGHT THERE. You’d think she could print me out a ticket right then and there, quick-as-a-bunny? NOPE. I tried to call their bluff, having gained confidence from my recent wins with the taxis, so I argued some more. But I guess these sewing ladies have more cajones because they were not budging. Power trip, much?
I told Haley “Don’t lose our place in line” and I sauntered over to the counter and had to WAIT for ticket lady to come over and give me a ticket. Just to clarify, in case it wasn’t readily obvious, she came from the same place I had come. Meanwhile I had hoped that Haley’s continued presence in line would cause the entire line to back up while I went through these shenanigans, but my bitchplan did not work.
Finally the ticket/bowl employee showed up. She must have taken a different route than me. (#eyeroll) or maybe she ran into some foot traffic in the store (entirely possible). She took my item, put it in a bowl, gave me a ticket and then we walked together back to the check out desk.
Friends, this was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. And everyone in line was watching it all go down, kind of averting their eyes but still watching. I was almost laughing. Poor Haley was mortified. She does not like to be the center of attention and already gets a lot of stares when we are in public. So this was really a nightmare for her. Sorry, Haley.
We paid for all our items and off we went. On the way home Haley said “Mom, you cannot use a sewing store check out line to get back at the taxis. It just doesn’t work that way.” OK, well maybe there’s some truth to that and it was clear that I didn’t win that particular round, but I hope I made a point to everyone gazing upon my shenanigans. I was not confused because I was a gringa. I was “confused” because the system was downright laughable.
Oh, Mexico. We love you when we don’t want to strangle you.
The Cost of Cool
You heard in my last blog post that this is our fallow time. We’re not doing much, and that’s OK. But even when we stay home, there’s a price to pay. After being here for 2 months I finally got the utility bill from the property manager. I had braced myself for a high bill because electricity costs here are very high. And the more you use the more you pay – literally at a certain level of consumption your KW rate increases. We have a relatively small apartment but it’s not designed to keep the heat out. It gets the afternoon sun for about 5 hours, and it has an upstairs area (that is really just a patio) where the heat settles as well. We do our best to keep the A/C down or off but off is only an option if you are sitting perfectly still and the fan is on. I like to relax as much as the next person but sitting perfectly still all day long is just not in my wheelhouse.
Our electricity bill for a month was about $500. That’s USD, people. It knocked the wind out of me, not gonna lie. So we are trying to make even more improvements and I’ve threatened the girls with no decorations for their bedrooms in Arizona if we don’t get this bill down. But it’s the cost of doing business in a tropical climate.
When I went to pay the bill I talked to the property manager about blackout shades for the living room and kitchen. The manager seemed surprised to hear this amazing idea and promised to look into it right away. I told him that paying utilities amounting to 50% of my rent was not really going to be great in the review and could scare off future tenants.
We have been babysitting a kitty for the last month. This was really fun, except she got sick after only 1 week with us! We noticed she had some big bumps that formed on her chest and belly. We hoped they:
1. would go away if we ignored them, or;
2. were harmless fatty deposits.
They were neither and we finally decided that we could not ignore them. We took her to the clinic where Zoe does her volunteering. We had no cat carrier but thanks to our days in Panama, we knew the “cat in a pillowcase” trick. We didn’t know that said cat was not so welcome in taxis and for the inconvenience of listening to a few pitiful meows, they charged us an extra $5. That’s twice the cost of the actual ride. Each way. That irritated me beyond belief but we sucked it up and paid it because it’s better than walking down the street with a cat in a pillowcase. But only barely.
The vet diagnosed her with swollen mammary glands due to some unknown fluke hormonal imbalance. She was not yet sterilized as she was still quite young and her owner was waiting until she was 6 months old. We got some medicine for our sweet Lucy and went home, hoping for the best.
The issue did not go away after the first treatment and we think the outing to the clinic also caused her to go into heat, so that was an interesting few days of Lucy’s butt rubbing against everyone and everything. For some reason she insisted that her boyfriend was in Haley’s room, and Haley insisted that she was mistaken.
But alas, no improvement to the boobies, so at the arrangement of Lucy’s owner, we consulted another vet, this one within walking distance. We used Zoe’s backpack for that trip. Kitty did not appreciate it but she was safe and that’s what counts. Zoe didn’t want her to get hot so she stuck a bag of ice in the outside pocket.
The second vet recommended the removal of the mammary glands and sterilization. That seemed like a lot for poor little Lucy. The very responsible kitty owner consulted yet another vet (all of this being done from her vacation!). Vet #3 was a nice guy who came to our house at 9 p.m. to do the exam. The owner knew that I was wrestling with taxis and she wanted to make it easier on me. This third vet had a different idea of what to do and offered to do a more simple sterilization surgery two days later, which included pick up and delivery. Sold!
After the surgery a few days later, Lucy the Kitty was returned to us having been sterilized and stitched up. Slowly she returned to her normal playful self and her lady lumps subsided. Just in time for the owner to come home. I was happy to return a healthy kitty to her.
I mentioned that we had some friends that we knew who lived in the area. They have finally returned from their (very smart) time away from the heat of this area. We had a great time hanging out with them 3 years ago and getting back in touch was like no time had passed. The kids re-connected immediately and her niños and my niñas have since planned get-togethers several times a week. Zoe just returned from a sleepover at Tommy’s which involved fort making, swimming, Nerf gun wars, watching YouTube videos, playing games on the PS4 and making ID cards with Tommy’s mad Photoshop skillz. Lorena hosted Zoe for more than 24 hours and for about 6 of those hours she also had Haley. It was only the second time in 2 months that I was alone in our apartment. It was lovely. Lorena is lovely. Niños with a PS4 are lovely. We have also hosted the boys over at our house and we have a different gaming system for their indoor entertainment. A few hours of Just Dance left Haley so sore she almost couldn’t walk the next day. She doesn’t get a lot of exercise, clearly.
We will be terribly sad to leave our rediscovered friends, but we know that nothing ever stays the same. They are putting their house up for sale and are ready to jaunt off to parts unknown. Maybe Arizona? Someday? We can only hope. By then Haley will presumably have her own PS4. And maybe she’ll be in better shape.
Mexico, Ya Nasty
The other day Haley and I were walking to the local Walmart (we use the “walk there, taxi back” system) and it had been raining off and on all day, so already we are braving massive puddles (because drainage systems…? Notsomuch). And we were wearing flip flops because hot and because wet.
We walked up the ramp to the Walmart entrance and as we are walking up, we noticed a flow of water heading our direction, kind of like the beginning of a mudslide because it was carrying all kinds of debris. I looked up to the top of the ramp to check what could possibly be the source of this water on the walking ramp and I see … wait for it… THE FLOOR CLEANING MACHINE. The guy who had cleaned the floors of the store is now emptying out the dirty water onto the pedestrian ramp. The more we walked the wider the flow became, to the degree that we are hugging the left side, dodging people coming down trying to do the same. We finally started RUNNING, trying to get up to the top before the flow took over the entire ramp. At one point we had to full-on step in this disgusting liquid.
Have I mentioned Haley can’t stand germs? Like, she manages to not touch a single shopping cart… ever. And here we are walking through floor filth. In what amounts to bare feet.
We have vowed to never speak of this incident (blogging notwithstanding). It was that traumatizing.
Dan The Realtor
We can’t leave this blog post without an update on Dan, who is braving the Arizona heat (which he loves, it’s no sacrifice) without us. He reports to be lonely, but trudging through the days well enough. He is now a licensed Realtor and will soon begin working with his mentor as a trainee. But October will be a big month of adjustments as he goes to California and returns to Arizona with his dad, a new member of our household.
That’s a wrap on the stories from Playa del Carmen. We are doing well, having a few adventures even when we simply go to Walmart, and we are enjoying the new TV entertainment options that Dan sent when the internet is working. Haley is flexing her gluten free baking muscles (and heating up the house, but it’s worth it) and I’ve doubled-down on my Pilates and English teaching. We are counting the days until we get to Arizona, but I daresay we are enjoying our downtime until we get there (some less than others: #Zoe).
Your play del carmen posts are so wonderful to read as I have just booked a trip for next March with my son. This will be my first time traveling to Mexico as the only adult (someone else has always been in charge which I prefer). I was wondering where you found the Rosa Taxi app as I haven’t been able to find it. Also, would love your opinion on what adventures you wold go on if you only had 5 full days in Playa. Also, so glad to hear kitty Lucy is doing well ( I am a huge cat lover).
Jamie, I’ll email you the details of the Rosa Taxi. And I’ll include some suggestions for some adventures. Check your inbox in a bit!