If you wish to take a vacation to a place like PDC, your todo list is pretty easy:
- Pick a hotel
- Pack a swimsuit and sunscreen
However, my intent is to live here for a while (1-2 months), learn Spanish, and get to know the culture. So I’m living with a Mexican family, walking to school every day, and trying things that are not so touristy. A few things of note:
PDC is beautiful, to be sure. However, most of the town seems to be in various states of disrepair. Example, as soon as you set foot off of 5th avenue, venturing into the great unknown, you encounter a spaces like these:
And even the nicer places have a bit of decay to the streets, buildings, or sidewalks.
This seeming disrepair, however, doesn’t make it seem run down or crumbling, strangely enough. Instead, it just make the town feel “real” in a way that 5th avenue feels fake, like a polished stage. Some assorted photos taken on my walk to and from school each day:
Early morning, normally much busier than this:
Normal little apartment block.
Again, early-ish, it’s not actually a ghost town:
Some observations from walking around town for a couple weeks:
The people are genuinely happy, relaxed and friendly. Back home you would not blink at seeing a snippy interaction between someone getting their coffee, or someone getting cut off crossing the street, or some parent berating their child or vice-versa. Here there just isn’t the overall sense of pressure and hurry that a place like Seattle has. People do their work, but they seem pretty content to do so instead of under pressure, deadlines, or other stresses.
They do love their futbal. When a game is on you will hear it in every restaurant, shop, and taco stand you pass.
They also do love themselves some pizza. There’s nearly as many pizza stands as taco stands. And Hamburger carts are a pretty common thing too. Not fancy street food like Portland, just basic bun/meat type of offerings.
There are no walk signals. You are left to fend for yourself trying to get across busy streets. If you can’t figure out the lights for traffic, well, perhaps this is a good place for natural selection to take effect. Then again, most of those people stay on 5th avenue, so they are safe (cars are not allowed there).
This is the perfect place for bikes: it’s basically flat and you’ll never need any gear (I have yet to see a helmet). However, in the same way that they have no walk signals, there’s little affordance given for bikes as well. So, you gotta wing it. I intend to acquire a bike soon and will let you know how that goes. Hopefully better then when I tried to figure out the male / female locker situation.
Pollution from cars seems significant in busy intersections unfortunately. I think emissions restrictions must be a little more lax than in the states. Like, along the lines of “yep, you’ve got emissions. So?”.
It’s super easy to navigate around. It’s basically a grid of Avenues (Avenidas) that increment by 5’s, and Streets (Calles) that increment by even numbers on the north side and odd numbers on the south side of the main drag. So if someone says the place you are looking for is on 24th and 30th, you know pretty much exactly where it is and where to go (24th street, so it’s north, 30th ave so it’s about 6 blocks up from the beach).
So, once I got over the mindset of being a “foreigner on vacation” and tried to treat this as a town I live in, I needed to do some common every day things. Like shopping. As mentioned in the towel post, one thing I needed to get was a towel. Now markets here come in three varieties:
Minisuper – this is a convenience store. Basically 7-11 and their ilk.
Super – your basic supermarket. Food, housewares, etc.
Yep. It’s basically Mexican Wall-mart. And in case you don’t like that, there’s an actual Wall-mart right down the block. Oh goody. Being a local, now, I opted for the Mega.
This is very much like any big-box store you’d find in the states: isle upon isle of all the things you never knew you needed.
Checking through the store to see what every-day family culture might be like, I find it is quite similar to being back home. For example, Miley Cyrus is still on the cover of some magazine, sharing her words of wisdom for tweens everywhere, just doing it in a different language (wow, do her talents never end?):
There’s an impressive produce section, with much the same stuff we have back in the states, it’s just that the priorities are a bit different. For example, the giant mountain in the front is all jicama. Also, insane piles of avocados are everywhere and they are about 75 cents each! That translates to breakfast, lunch and dinner for me for about 3 bucks (2 for dinner, natch).
Also, if you are not sure what you are looking for, but you are pretty sure you are hungry, you can just opt for “food”. Of course, they spell it a bit differently here:
Also, should you have the craving for pork rinds, this is the country for you. Never have I seen bulk pork rinds, but I believe that’s what this display is. I should have gotten someone in the frame to show size, because this container is my size, and one of these sheets of bubbly pig flesh is the size of a small child. Only crunchier.
So there you have it: life in Playa is much like life back in the states. Only pedestrians have to be aware of their surroundings, people are actually pretty happy, and your secret pork rind fixation can be solved in a way you never dreamed possible.