After my visa for Brazil was rejected, I felt a bit lost to say the least… my plans for the next few years went out of the window and I had to completely rethink about what I wanted and what was most important to me.
There’s one thing I was certain of however and that was that I wanted a change; a place that I had never been before and suddenly – like a flash – the answer became obvious. Two weeks later, my bags were packed, my money was converted and my farewells were said… I would be going to the land of Mariachis, burritos and tequila – MEXICO.
After arriving in early March, I spent a few days in Cancún and then travelled south to the resort town of Playa del Carmen in the Yucatán; where I would be living for the next six months.
Learning from my earlier mistakes with Portuguese – where it took me a ridiculous amount of time to even get a basic grasp of the language – I decided to join a school straightaway where I could learn Spanish in a formal and organised way. Although my time in this school was short, I picked up a great deal; drilling conjugations after conjugations, learning to roll my r’s and, of course, dropping all the essential Mexican slang words into my vocabulary!
Playa del Carmen and the surrounding Yucatán Peninsula is probably best known for its ancient Mayan ruins, crystal-clear cenotes and beautiful islands; what I have loved most about this part of the country however makes all of these pale in insignificance… the food!
Exploring new dishes and spices here has been amazing and I don’t think I would be able to live now without having the simple pleasures of quesadillas and burritos on a weekly basis.
I also discovered some completely new (and frankly alien-looking) fruit littered around the marketplaces; such as Rambutan and Pitaya (Dragon Fruit).
These are surprisingly tasty despite the appearance on the outside.
Just an hour south of Playa del Carmen are the Mayan ruins of Tulum; which is thought to have been a trading post until the 13th century.
The best times to visit these ruins are either in the early morning or late in the evening (go any time other than that and you will be surrounded by thousands of tourists being shuffled around by their guides).
Also dotted around the region are dozens of cenotes (natural pits filled with fresh water).
Interestingly, many of these cenotes used to be used during the Mayan period for ritual sacrifices (typically animals). During the ritual, the priest would push the sacrifice down the hole which would, in theory, appease the gods.
Luckily for everyone around, the cenotes are now only used for swimming, snorkelling and diving. There are even some underground cenotes in the region which are filled with stalactites and stalagmites.
The entire region is facing a problem however. A pressing issue which has only seem to have been worsened during my time here due to the effects of climate change – Sargasso.
Sargasso is a type of seaweed that can be found in great quantities in the Atlantic Ocean. There is so much of it actually that an entire area of the North Atlantic Ocean is referred to as the Sargasso Sea; this has been around for hundreds of years and sailors used to tell horror stories about it as it would often trap merchant boats in the water – preventing them from escaping.
Historically, the Gulfstream in the Atlantic Ocean has kept the Sargasso relatively stationary in one section but, due to the warming of the ocean waters, the Gulfstream has become weaker and the Sargasso has pushed its way south-west towards Central America. This has already begun affecting tourism (the primary source of income for the area) and may worsen over the upcoming years.
…Still that doesn’t stop some people trying to pretend it isn’t there.
Fortunately, islands act as a natural barrier to the incoming Sargasso (and a welcome escape). During the six months, I visited two islands in the region; Cozumel and Isla Mujeres.
Without a doubt, Isla Mujeres was my favourite of the two for its laid-back atmosphere and pristine beaches.
All in all, I have loved my stay in Mexico and am feeling much more settled in what I’m doing here. I’m planning to stay in Mexico for another six months just after a little time away exploring the countries of Belize and Guatemala.