It was almost time for Bart, who had traveled with me for the past 7 weeks, to head back to The Netherlands. Both of us weren’t looking forward to saying goodbye, but we did decide to make the best of our last few days together in Mexico, and headed to Playa Del Carmen.
Playa del Carmen, one of the largest tourist cities on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, is popular for its shopping, beaches and nightlife. As our bus drove into the central area of Playa Del Carmen, I noticed how truly busy it was, I had not seen so many tourists since Costa Rica. I was a little excited to see familiar shops and brand names such as Zara, H&M, Forever 21, Victoria’s Secret and more, as I also had not really shopped during my 5-month trip as yet!
Besides Bart and I, our friends Sander, Lizzy and Andrew also checked into ‘The Yak’, a hostel known for it’s social vibe and good location to the city’s nightlife. The latter which we explored that same evening starting with a chaotic workshop in making the best ‘Mexican Mojito’ at our lively hostel, and later moving on to one of the many clubs Playa Del Carmen has to offer.
The next morning we cured our hangovers by laying on the beach and getting cheap massages. In the late afternoon we strolled along the main shopping street called Quinta Avenida (keen-ta; 5 Avenida), which known for it’s fabulous stores and restaurants. It was a big contrast to how I had experienced most of Central America thus far. All of the sudden, my baggy, old backpackers clothing, felt older and for the first time in months since I went travelling I decided to put on some extra make-up and wear a nice dress, to fit into the stylish crowd.
Playa Del Carmen was the least ‘exotic’ place on our trip, but it’s western comforts were welcome for a few days, especially since we hadn’t experienced them in a while. After a few days we had, had our fix, and our adventurous souls began to crave something other than burgers, top 40 tunes and for sale signs.
We decided to rent a car and head to Akumal beach, which was known to be popular for snorkeling with sea turtles. I can say, that it wasn’t my favourite ‘adventure’. The once sleepy beach town of Akumal now is massively in development. We got to the parking lot, were surrounded with ‘guides’ and salesmen and when we finally got to the beach we saw that it was packed!
I understood why it was popular; the beach was gorgeous and due to the sea grass just a few steps away from the shoreline, you were guaranteed to see a few turtles munching away.
These turtles are so used to humans, that they barely flinch with the sight of snorkelers. Unluckily for the turtles, as this means people can easily get within an arm's-reach of these ancient creatures. Remember that touching any sea life is a big NO NO, but from experience I am sure that it easily happened on a daily basis at Akumal. Added to that is that there would also likely be extra damage to the ecosystem of inexperienced snorkelers standing on the sea grass, hitting the reef with fins and from chemicals like sunscreen.
From a local that we spoke to on the beach, we also learned that Akumal Bay is also home to 100 hectares of jungle, mangroves, lagoons and underground rivers. This location has been sold for more development, putting more pressure on the precious bays and surrounding environment.
We didn’t stay long and a few weeks later I actually read that officials had closed down Akumal Beach, preventing people from swimming with the turtles for nearly two months. Today it is open, but officials are trying to enforce strict rules that allow only certain numbers of snorkelers in certain areas, mandatory use of biodegradable sunscreen and strict observation and swimming procedures.
According to the officials in charge, if the turtles start showing signs of distress again, it will once again be suspended to swim with the turtles at all. I am sure it will be an interesting and ongoing ‘fight’ while the coastline of Mexico goes through more and more development.
That evening Andrew took us on a ‘cheap-eats’ hunt. Due to the tourism in Playa Del Carmen, the restaurants in the main area, were often quite pricey by Mexican standards. A few towns away, we had eaten huge meals for below five bucks, and now paid easily twenty dollars or more for a meal.
So we headed out of the main street, walked a few more blocks, letting Andrew ‘guide’ us to local taquería. We each ordered a few and hungrily finished our meals in a rapid pace. I had yet to have a bad meal in Mexico, whether it was a food cart or a fancy restaurant EVERY meal had been flavorful, especially if it was a taco!
The exact timeline of the creation of tacos is unknown, but it has been estimated that tacos were first made around the 1500s. The earliest tacos were made with thin slices of meat cooked over coals. The meat was then placed in a corn tortilla and topped with salsa, onions, guacamole, and lime.
According to Paul M. Pilcher, who has spent years traveling the world eating tacos and learning about their history (sounds like fun research to me!), the word taco didn’t originally refer to food.
According to Pilcher, the word taco originally came from the silver mines in Mexico. The miners would carve holes into the rocks and then they would wrap paper around gun powder, stick it into the hole they made and blow up part of the rock. They called these explosives, tacos. So essentially a taco was a small piece of dynamite. Maybe if you have ever had a taco with some extra ‘green sauce’ then you’d also understand why the taco was named after these explosive charges!
So the taco is fairly new, compared to some of the other Mexican foods dating back to Aztec times. The role of the “taquería” is also an important element in the history of the taco. For many years, taquerías were mostly for working class Mexicans. Many women migrants brought tacos to Mexico City to sell for income. These women eventually made Mexico City into a taco hub, with many different styles and kinds of tacos that people could sample.
After our fill of tacos, we headed out for another night out. Do you want tacos, tequila, dancing, shopping, beaches and relaxation with Mexican flair yet all of your home comforts? Playa Del Carmen is the place to be.
I was reenergized and ready to hit the road again yet sadly now without the great company of Bart, whom I bid farewell at the nearest airport.