My retreat to the sandy shores of Playa del Carmen
By Brandon Daiker
There is a small gecko hanging out on the floor of my supposedly private palapa-style bungalow at the Mahekal Beach Resort (sounds kinda like magical) in Playa del Carmen. It is improbably beautiful lodging in an improbably beautiful place. No wonder it’s attracted a literal lounge lizard. I, on the other hand, am flying solo because we’re doing an issue on “care” and I’m a new father in search of some me time. Two weeks before my flight I break my wrist and our drain line blows up. Yep I’ll take that care now please.
The people all over the resort call me Señor Brandon and my room number is easy to remember, because it is 5. All of the rooms have little outdoor areas, some adorned with hammocks. There is a cigar bar and a place to paint pottery, and a few pools. I have a water fountain outside my room that is just for washing my feet. I can see the ocean from my bed. There is no TV and I don’t need one. I sit on the patio and drink an IPA from Cervecería Allende in San Miguel. The beach is buzzing. It’s Friday night and I could get used to this.
I am whisked away to a special lobster dinner at the on-site beach-front Zapote-wood-fired eatery Fuego. Partway through my gastronomical annihilation of this smoky and delicious creature, I am beckoned steps down the beach to witness the release of more than two hundred little baby sea turtles. The sweet sounds of live acoustic music fill the air as they get washed out to sea. In my mind I imagine their tiny screams, “eeeeee!”
After dinner, an unfamiliar question. What do I do when responsible for nothing and nobody but myself? There is a bottle of local mezcal on my table, secretly delivered. I avail myself of it while having a sit in my private pool. I amble along the shore and feel the still-warm sand stick to my feet like Fun Dip as the booming bass of beachfront clubs sails through the air. Is this me time? I open the doors of my bungalow and let the warm breeze roll in, acknowledging this exotic experience by reading a few pages of an old paperback copy of Moonraker in my dimly-lit room and polishing off my mezcal. After Bond tells M about Hugo Drax I pull the sheet up and look at the clock. It is 9:45 and I am living very large.
The next morning I plunk a Nespresso pod into the machine then sit on the patio and watch the sun come up as I sip my coffee. Then a most disheartening thought washes into my brain like a little baby sea turtle. I wish my family was here. Gah! I am here to escape the tribulations of the daily grind, to dodge my daughter’s endless needs and my relentless list of household obligations! And yet.
I head to Las Olas (the waves) for fresh fruit and a mushroom quesadilla they grill right in front of me. At the resort’s spa, I wear a fluffy robe and soak in the circular jacuzzi pool. After, they give me an hour-long massage that nearly fuses my soul with the table. Marbella puts weird crystals in my hands and works around the metal-reinforced brace strapped to my left forearm.
I grab a ride up to Plaza las Americas to catch a flick. As I approach the counter to buy my ticket I try to seem like I know what I am doing and act like I belong here. I am barely able to yammer out enough Spanish to buy the ticket. I am wearing swim trunks. There are lots of families with little children. I look at them and remember my own. Gah!
Eventually I sink into the chair and watch as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in this latest installment of the Rápidos y Furiosos series somehow attaches a giant chain to a helicopter and prevents it from flying away while standing atop a moving vehicle which he is grabbing with one arm while holding the chain in the other. He screams loudly! But seems fine afterwards.
On Sunday morning I shower then head down Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) past rows of shops selling cigars, lunch bites, travel services, jewelry, and crafts. At the end of the street I walk into an Old Navy just to wander around under the air conditioning.
Later that night my kind hosts welcome me for a “toes in the sand” dinner. On the beach there is one table with one chair, set just back from the shore. As the sun starts to sink in the distance, I notice locals casting glances in my direction. How many fancy dinners does James Bond eat alone? I feast on giant shrimp, tomato bisque, polenta, cinnamon ice cream. They pop a bottle of champagne. I drink the whole thing, trying to figure out if this is the first time I’ve done it.
I raise my glass to the beach in front of me, a toast to Playa del Carmen and Mahekal, which have provided me with more time to care for myself than I’ve fully understood what to do with. It’s been refreshing being alone but as I wrap up my last night in Mexico sin mi familia, I reckon with the truth—caring for myself doesn’t have to mean being by myself.
Back in the room, I notice the gecko parked on the windowsill. Is it gazing at the moon? I take a glance too. It doesn’t feel as weird if we’re doing it together.
Thanks to Itze and the fine folks at Mahekal for hosting me. Learn more about the world-class resort at MahekalBeachResort.com