After spending a wonderful time in Playa del Carmen, it was time to go back to Belize 😦 and back home to Florida. We both knew that this was going to be a very long trip, but there was nothing we could do about it, so we pulled up our big girl panties and started our trip home.
We checked out of our room at Hotel LunaSol at Noon, but our bus was not leaving until 11pm. Andres told us that we could stay and hang out by the pool/courtyard for as long as we needed and they could lock up our luggage to keep it safe. So we worked on our computers, read, swam, relaxed & journeyed down to 5th Avenue for a lovely lunch/dinner one last time.
Our bus was not leaving Playa del Carmen until 11pm, so we returned our rental car, AKA “crap-mobile” and then again we rested by the pool. Remember I had mentioned that when we first met Andres that he was so nice and helpful? Well, during the time we were in Playa del Carmen, we got to know him and we were so glad that we did!! The morning of our departure, I had asked Andres if he thought we could call a taxi around 10pm or if we should just pick one up on the street as we had to get to the bus terminal for our 11pm departure. Andres was absolutely wonderful and said he was getting off work at 9pm. He said he would go home and eat and then come back to pick us up and personally take us to the bus depot. We told him that we did not want to inconvenience him and he said, it was not an inconvenience and would meet us in the lobby at 10pm. He was so sweet and he also introduced us to his girlfriend, Jade, who was also lovely.
When we got to the bus depot, we thanked him profusely, we hugged and I told him he is my first Playa friend!! (Not at all the “bad hombre” that we had heard about).
The young man who checked us in, Andres was so nice and very helpful, answering all of our questions. He also gave us the run-down on how the streets were set up with the Avenidas (Avenues) going North to South and the Calles (Streets) going East to West, which was definitely helpful with our navigation. He explained that Avenida Cinco (5th Avenue) is a beautiful area where people go to shop and eat. It is a few miles long, closed off to automobile and motorcycle traffic and lined with everything you could possibly want to eat or buy. A block past 5th Avenue is the gorgeous Carribean Sea. We really enjoyed visiting 5th Avenue multiple times and the beach, but we were in Playa del Carmen to do research and that is what we did!!
So over the six days that we were in Playa del Carmen…..we got busy learning about Playa del Carmen. I had gotten in touch with a realtor, who at the time was visiting in Germany, and asked if we could look at any apartments or homes that were for rent. She advised that the real estate market in Playa moved very quickly and if we would not be renting soon, it did not even make sense to look at this time. Since we were visiting Playa del Carmen in May 2017 and were not planning on moving until approximately December 2017, we figured we would not be looking at apartments/homes this trip. The realtor did send us a few maps of different apartment complexes and we did drive around and checked out the complexes, the neighborhoods, restaurants and shops, etc. We also checked out Walmart and different supermarkets and local markets and for the most part, we found that we could get most everything we can get in the States and were very happy to come to that realization.
Both Rich and I are on a good amount of prescription drugs along with some over-the-counter supplements and one of our most important research assignments was to go to some of the Farmacia’s in the area to make sure that we would be able to purchase our medications. Not only to make sure we could get the medications, but also to get the prices on the medications. You see, in Mexico, most medications that need prescriptions in the States are over the counter in Mexico. Only the strongest Class IV medications like Vicodin, Xanax, Percocet, and Ambien need a script in Mexico. So we went to three different Farmacias and luckily, found some people at the Farmacias who spoke English and got all the prices. Unfortunately, there were one or two meds that we could not get in Playa del Carmen, so one day we ventured out to Cancun (a 45 min. ride up the coast) to go to Costco and see if we could find everything we needed. After all was said and done, we found everything that we needed except for one of Rich’s meds and we would later speak with his doctor in Fort Myers to see if we could stock up on it while we were in Fort Myers until we could find it in Playa and that is what we did. None of the medications are covered under any type of insurance, so we had to make sure that the prices would be within our monthly budget and after going over everything, we found that we only had two meds that were a little bit costly and we readjusted and found that the prices are very reasonable, with some even being really cheap!!
There is a great website that we found called Everything Playa Del Carmen that is just that……..Anything you could want in regards to Playa del Carmen from cheap street eats to fine dining to tons of things to do in Playa and the surrounding areas to hospitals, stores, movie theaters, etc. It is great for expats and tourists alike.
There we found a deep dish pizza place called Don Chendo which is owned by a guy named Russell who is from NYC. (Not sure how he learned to make the deep dish, but it was really great pizza, so if you ever get in the area, that is the place to go!!) He came over to talk at one point and we picked his brain about lots of things from mail delivery in Playa to doctors and hospitals, setting up utilities and much more. Thanks Russell for all your info and the great pizza!!
In addition to all the “research” we did, we also spent lots of time eating!!! We found a great restaurant for us, very nicely named, “Karen’s Restaurant” which was fantastic because Rich does not like seafood and he really does not even like Mexican food…….Believe it or not!!! And I love Mexican and seafood and most anything else too, where he is very picky. Karen’s was really nice because they had a huge menu and he could get steak while I was enjoying the Mexican or seafood and we both fell in love with it!! They also had super unsweetened lemonade, which we have found is very hard to find!! So we ate there twice, we ate at some great breakfast places, had Mexican coffee and cappuccino a few times, wonderful tacos down the street from our hotel and lots of other great yummy places.
Even though we were still on a research trip, gathering all we needed to know before heading home to Fort Myers, we decided one night at dinner that Playa del Carmen, Mexico would be our new home. So now we needed to get home asap and do all that we needed to do to put our house on the market and get the heck out of Fort Myers, getting us back to Playa del Carmen as soon as we possibly could!!
May 4, 2017:
The day of our travel into Mexico went perfectly. We dropped our rental car with some of our luggage safe and sound behind the high fence with razor wire on the top and a few guard dogs too, so we were comfortable in leaving our items behind. We met the Belizean driver who would be taking us into Mexico to the bus depot and we were ready to get the heck out of Belize!! We traveled through Customs and Immigration without any issues and the driver took us straight to the ADO Bus Station. Once we got there he even helped us to get our tickets to Playa del Carmen and helped Rich with the ATM which was completely in Spanish and we needed to exchange our Belizean money for Pesos!! Thank Goodness for him, he was a Godsend!! I cannot remember his name, but he was very nice and we wished him all the best with his girlfriend and new baby!!
We took the bus and it was a very nice way to travel the Riviera Maya. A nice new bus with air conditioning and a movie (in Espanol, of course). I knew it was about Steve Jobs, but that was about all I could get out of it…..LOL! 4 hours later we were in Playa del Carmen! From there we called our rental car agency and they picked us up. We got our car, which we later nicknamed “The Crapmobile”, but it got us from point A to point B and it was cheap, so I guess we couldn’t complain too much!!
We drove on to find our hotel, Hotel LunaSol and that is when we found out that driving in Mexico and driving in the States are two TOTALLY DIFFERENT things!! First, in Playa del Carmen they do not have many stop lights, just stop signs. Secondly, everyone is trying to go the same way at the same time!! Seriously, most streets are one way in Playa and on a two-lane street, you have buses, cars, motorcycles, taxis, bikes and people walking all at the same time and going the same way!! I did not drive while we were there, but it was very challenging for Rich, as I tried the best to do the navigating. Then there were many times when we could not find parking spots and had to drive around for 15 to 20 minutes just trying to find a spot. So needless to say, the traffic was horrendous and much of a headache for both of us, but more so for Rich!!
The next day we went into town to try to find the ADO bus station that travels up into Mexico and was unable to find it. (Afterwards, we found that there is nothing on the building saying it is a bus station, only a schedule of the times they pick up and drop off in the window), which we totally missed!!
As we were driving and looking for it, we noticed a couple walking on the side of the road who looked to be as confused as we were, so we stopped to talk with them. Turns out they were Canadians who had an RV and were traveling throughout Mexico and Belize and were looking for a place to park their RV. We explained that we were going to be traveling into Mexico, but could not seem to find the bus station and they told us that they were going to this place just up the road that might be helpful to us, where they sold tickets for various trips and excursions, so we followed them and went into this tiny little office. Unfortunately, they could not help our new friends find a place to park their RV, but they were fantastic in helping us!! When we rented the car, we were made aware that we could not take it over the border into Mexico or Guatemala. We also found that there were many, many rules and regulations that had to be followed and thank goodness, this girl knew them all! She advised that we could keep our rental car parked at their office (which was fenced in and watched by guard dogs), we would need to be taken up to the Mexico/Belize border and go through Customs and Immigration. We were able to make all the plans with her for the trip up to Playa del Carmen and for our return trip back to Belize to pick up our rental car and get to the airport for our journey home.
Our remaining days in Corazol were spent on the computer making all our Mexico plans (hotel reservations and Mexican rental car), canceling the Belize plans, talking with Samantha about Playa del Carmen and relaxing by the Corazol Bay. *See photos. We had thought of maybe trying a swim in the bay, but then found out that there are alligators in the water, so we skipped on that one!!
On day 2 of our stay in Corazol, we had an appointment with an expat realtor who gave us all the ins and outs of Corazol & Belize. She was very knowledgeable about Corazol and answered all of our many questions. She did not have anything to sell or rent us at the time, but talked about the expat community where she lives and spoke about all the get-togethers that they offer and more. We told her we were not ready to rent anything at that time anyway and she advised for us to call her when we get back to Belize to live.
We again drove around to see the area and was very disappointed in what we saw. I think by that time we had decided that Belize was not for us.
We went back to our hotel for dinner and we spoke with Samantha who advised that we should think about Mexico. I told her I had looked into Chetumal and Tulum, But the places I saw for rent were a bit pricey. She advised that she & Steve rented a 2 bedroom condo for $600/month in Playa del Carmen and were only a block from the Carribean Sea. She said that food & drinks were cheap there too. As we talked, I saw a flyer laying on the bar and asked what it was about. She advised that she and Steve go to the expat community nearby to play volleyball and a couple who also play there was missing. The flyer showed their pictures and Samantha said that she is Canadian and he is American. They had been dating and broke up and the woman was planning on moving back to Canada the day after they went missing and he was going back to the USA. She also said that Steve had gone with a large search group to look for them, but they did not find anything.
So as soon as I got back to our room, I started intense research on Playa del Carmen, Mexico and what I found was very promising. Playa del Carmen is a gorgeous seaside tourist town on the Riviera Maya (which goes from Cancun in the North to Tulum in the South). We did find the cheap apartments and rental homes that Samantha had mentioned and I also found out that there is civilization there (with over 900+ restaurants and shops and some big box stores that we were used to in Florida)!!
It really seemed to be the answer to our prayers! Of course, I was ready to ditch all of our Belize plans right then and there and leave Belize far behind, but Rich was a bit more hesitant, so we talked and I explained that I had only 12 days of vacation and if we do not go to Mexico now to check it out, I don’t know when I’ll be able to get more vacation. I also explained that it does not make any sense for us to stay in Belize when we know that we absolutely do not want to live there. We were only on this trip to find a place where we can relocate, this was not a vacation and I did not want to waste our time in Belize. After much back and forth, he finally agreed as long as I canceled all the Belize plans and made all the Playa del Carmen plans, which was a snap for me!!
Almond Tree Hotel was really gorgeous. It was like a big cup of cold water in the desert after our long, seemingly never-ending trip from Belize City!! I have included lots of photos of the hotel and its occupants.
Our room at The Almond Tree Hotel
It was lush with beautiful vegetation and the lovely light milky blue Corazol Bay in the backyard. It really was a piece of Heaven at the Almond Tree and we were the only patrons there for the entire 5 days that we were there!! Imagine that!!
While we were there we made friends with Samantha who is the waitress/bartender and her husband Steve who is the chef at the Almond Tree. We got to know them both well because there was only one other restaurant in Corazol that we trusted, so we spent most of our nights eating at the Almond Tree and talking with Samantha. We learned that Samantha and Steve are from Canada and had been working in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, but with their Mexican Working Visas, they had to leave Mexico for 72 hours every year and then could re-enter Mexico again for another year. Samantha had traveled back to Canada to visit friends and family and Steve went to The Almond Tree Hotel in Corazol, Belize which is the closest country to Playa del Carmen. Later Samantha joined Steve at The Almond Tree.
#1 resident at Almond Tree–Pepper!!
#2 resident at Almond Tree Hotel–Leddy!!
Coatimundi Resident of The Almond Tree–Rocky
On our first night at Almond Tree, we asked Samantha where the closest supermarket was so we could get water and ice and essentials. She gave us directions for two of them and we were off to check out the town. Once we left the paradise of The Almond Tree, it was downhill from there!! The town of Corazol was nothing like we expected. The dirt roads led throughout the town and there were many boarded up and closed businesses. As we got out of the rental car, we felt very unsafe as everyone had their eyes on us. We went into a so-called market run by an Indian guy. I would venture a guess that the majority of items in the “store” were expired and we were just happy to get water and get out of there asap!! The ice was across the street at a store run by an Oriental woman and it was a little bit better, but not much.
We decided to ride around the town a bit and see for ourselves what the town was about. Unfortunately, it was much like what we had seen on our journey up to Corazol. Many homes were falling down, some with no roofs and some with no walls. The town square which I had read was very nice, was also dilapidated. Concrete table and stools and a playground that was probably very lovely 50 years ago were in ruin now. We later learned that many people in the town did not work because there was no work available. How could they possibly take care of their homes when they needed to worry about how they would feed their families? It was definitely a third world country that we had arrived in and not a place where we wanted to relocate to!!
For months we kept our intentions under our hats, thinking that we did not want to be caught off guard and not be able to answer our friends & families questions. We also wanted to be certain that this was something that we actually wanted to do!!
Our original plan (after months & months of research on my part) was to move to Belize. Belize is a small country, about the size of Massachusettes, which is South of the East coast of Mexico. We thought it sounded great because it is the only English speaking country in Central America and I cannot begin to tell you how many posts I read about how wonderful and friendly the people are, so we thought this sounded amazing.
When we made our plans to visit Belize, we had a few areas in mind. Most people vacationing in Belize go to Ambergris Caye, which is a beautiful island with diving, snorkeling, boating and all kinds of great water fun. Not us!! First of all, it is much more expensive to live as an Expat on Ambergris Caye, but there is no hospital there and with Rich’s health issues, it could take 4-5 HOURS to get him into Mexico where there is good healthcare, so Ambergris was not an option for us.
We had planned to go to Corazol which is the Northernmost city in Belize, just over the border from Chetumal, México. We had heard lovely things about Corazol and were really looking forward to spending the beginning of our Belize trip there and then moving on to San Ignacio, which is located on the border with Guatemala and then later to the beach in Placencia, Belize.
We had made our travel plans for late April into May 2017 had gotten our passports, and were so anxious to go visit Belize!! We had such high hopes!! Flying into Belize I took a ton of photos from above and then got a few shots on the ground of the very tiny “International Airport”. We rented our car and we were off!! Due North to Corazol! We thought the drive was supposed to take 2 1/2 hours, but it just went on & on & on with many road bumps along the way, literally and figuratively!! We saw many dilapidated houses that did not have roofs…some with no walls, but we tried to remain positive. Then we saw starving horses and cows with no grass in the fields. (I wish now that I would have taken photos of the houses and the town, but I did not think about it at the time and was not planning on doing the blog at that time so I will add the photos that I have).
We stopped to eat at a little Mom & Pop place on the side of the road and found that Rice & Beans or Beans & Rice (which is the motto of the Belize food scene) really was true, but it was good because we were starving with dehydration coming quickly along!! So there we sat eating on the side of the road with tomorrow’s probable dinner running around at our feet (Chickens)!! We felt better after having some much-needed lunch and eventually made it to The Almond Tree Hotel which was fantastic compared to what we have seen so far!!