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Adventures in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

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What a Long, Strange Trip it Has Been

Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 27, 2008

Three years ago today we pulled up in front of the Hotel Zanzibar in the Big Bastard, our dream of living in paradise waiting to unfold. We brought with us three cats, an English bulldog and a van full of things we thought we couldn’t live without. (To read our trip report of that journey, click here.) Tony & CheriNow here we are three years later. The Zanzibar is now the Luna Blue; two of our old cats have passed on; and many of the things we thought we couldn’t live without have never been unpacked. And life here south of the border continues to be a series of surprises and amazements.

We came to Mexico with certain expectations. Some of those expectations ended up dashed on the rocks of reality, but some of them were fulfilled beyond our wildest dreams. On the plus side, the little backpacker hotel that we took over that day became a huge success. When we bought the Hotel Zanzibar, it was barely making a profit. When we left for Mexico, Cheri admonished us both that we would have to be very careful with our spending and pointed out that we wouldn’t be able to afford even such luxuries as paper towels. This year the Luna Blue Hotel & Garden closed out high season occupancy at 99%. We still laugh about the paper towels. 🙂

Tony & CheriDuring our trip to sign the papers for the hotel in February of 2005, we bought a small place in Paamul. We envisioned mornings swimming and kayaking in the Caribbean and then wandering into the hotel mid-day. As it happened, we never spent a single night there and ended up selling the place almost three years later. Turns out we were far busier than we ever imagined, and even the short commute to Paamul was way too long to make sense to us. Not to mention the cleanup required there after Hurricane Emily and later Hurricane Wilma. Luckily, it was the only really big mistake we made along the way.

Life in Playa was quite different in early 2005 than it is today. On our trip to sign the papers in February of that year, one of the questions we struggled with was: where would we find good fruits and vegetables? And what about pet food? At the time there were only a couple of supermarkets in town and their selections were very limited. So our plan at the time was to drive to Costco in Cancun every week with a cooler and stock up. When Walmart came to town, life changed drastically. It’s funny, we never set foot in a Walmart in the States; down here we can’t live without it. On its heels came Mega. Soon afterwards we were spending far less time traveling from store to store to find the most basic needs. Life sure became easier at that point.

Tony & CheriAnother change in our lives over these past three years has been our self-sufficiency in matters of basic housing. Back in the US, if we had the smallest leak under the sink, we called a plumber. We could change our own light bulbs, but any problem bigger than that required an expert. All we knew was the certainty than when you turned the tap, water came out and when you flipped the switch, lights came on. It was magic to us. In Mexico, we found out that things weren’t so certain, and that the magic didn’t always work.

Since moving to Mexico, we’ve had to become our own magicians. We’ve installed our own ceiling fans and air conditioners, learned the intricacies of wiring and plumbing and understand where water comes from and where to get it when it doesn’t. We’ve hauled a water tank to the top of our hotel with ropes and pulleys and soldered broken pipes in the middle of pouring rain. We’ve even had the “joy” of shoveling out the sewage trap both at home and in the hotel. We sure never did that in the States!

The bureaucracy of Mexico’s government was something else we had heard about but weren’t quite prepared for three years ago. You can read about the corruption, but you can’t really appreciate it until you have to live with it every day. Whether or not to pay bribes, called mordidas (literally “little bite”), is a problem everyone faces down here–Mexican and expat alike. The system built on offering little “gifts” runs against everything Americans are used to, i.e., direct access to a somewhat efficient and honest government. The prevalence of bribery here has frustrated us and sometimes scared us, but other times it has been a welcome opportunity to get things accomplished in a relatively quick and easy fashion. Good or bad, it’s something that is now just part of life in paradise.

In the past three years we’ve had plenty of ups and downs. During that time, we survived the largest hurricane in history, months of hurricane relief in Mahahual, an architect who stole lots of money from us, the loss of three pets, several large construction projects, and the extra tortilla weight each of us found along the way. And sadly, we’ve been disappointed by some people we thought to be our friends.

Tony & CheriBut on the plus side, overwhelmingly the people we have met on our journey have been good to us and in many cases as anxious to see us succeed as we were ourselves. We’ve made several very good friendships, learned a lot about living in another culture, adopted three new pets from the streets, found that we were tougher than we ever imagined, and managed not to strangle each other even when the stress was more than we thought we could bear. And life here is never boring, as no two days are ever alike.

We don’t get to the beach nearly as much as we thought we would, our Spanish still leaves a lot to be desired, and we still struggle with the mañana attitude sometimes. But the past three years have been an adventure we wouldn’t have traded for anything the world. To those of you who have encouraged us along the way and have seen us through some of the low points, thanks from the bottom of our hearts. We’re looking forward to more adventures and maybe…just maybe…we’ll finally find some time to really enjoy this magical place we call home.

Tony & Cheri

P.S. Happy birthday, Don. You’re the best brother (& brother in law) one could ever wish for.

P.P.S. VOTE OBAMA IN 2008!!!

10 Responses to “What a Long, Strange Trip it Has Been”

  1. Carlos said


    All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure.
    Mark Twain, Letter to Mrs Foote, Dec. 2, 1887

    Hope to see you soon.

  2. sunrlb said

    Very awesome and touching picture of you two kissing.

    Wishing many more years of success and happiness.

  3. Lyn from Wisconsin said

    Loved the trip down memory lane with you; I too found your kissing picture very sweet. Kudos for remaining in love throughout your adventure; continued blessings on your marriage, your loved ones, and on Luna Blue.

  4. PlayaLove said

    Wishing you both many many more years of success and happiness.

  5. Jackie said

    Congrats!!! If I can ever get my air miles to what I need, hopefully you’ll still have room at the inn for us to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this winter!!!

  6. Tom Beggs said

    GOOD FOR YOU GUYS!!!!!!!!!We have never had the chance to stay at the Luna Blue but we did stop by there in May when we were in Playa. We loved it. The first thing Tony did was buy us a beer. You have done a wonderful job.

  7. Maverick said

    Wifey and I are planning a trip in January and hope to stay with you for a few days. For sure OBAMA 2008. Unfortunately, Carlos’ Mark Twain quote is spot on about “Dubya”.

  8. Lovesthesun said

    I don’t know either one of you personally, but I really enjoy reading your stories, I was hooked after reading about your moving adventure from S.F. to P.D.C. I hope to meet you both on our next visit to Playa del Carmen. I wish you both contiued success with your hotel and life in paradise.

  9. Tim & Ruth said

    We love you guys and are SO proud of what you have accomplished, and the lives you have touched, since your arrival in Playa.

    The ongoing success of the beloved Luna Blue is a testimony to the same steadfastness with which you both approach life, and LIVING it, in general.

    Here’s to the next year, and the next few years after that. Ruth and I have certainly been thinking about you these last 10 days to 2 weeks as your anniversary has approached. It’s been a long, arduous, heartbreaking and yet sweet and rewarding 3 years in many ways. We are blessed to have you in our lives. You guys are deeply loved.

  10. Monica & Michael said

    Wow 3 years already….congrats!!

    We always tell our friends that when we go to Playa we stay with friends. This statement is true because you have made the Luna Blue much more than a hotel…I have said it before and proudly say it again…staying with you at the Luna Blue is like staying at our home away from home. You have made our vacations so much more than just a vacation…we have loved seeing all the changes throughout the years. Our friendship with you guys means so much to us…be proud of all you have done.

    Can’t wait to get back. Love you guys!!

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