Jumping Ahead: Puerto Aventuras, Quintana Roo
We’re way behind in documenting our 3 months in Mexico, so don’t pay attention to “posted on” dates. And now I’m about to mess things up even more by jumping to the end of our trip. Hopefully, when you’re finished with this post everything will make more sense.
We finally made it to our last destination, though not in one piece. Maya passed away in Merida in early February. There was a chance when we left that the nodules on her lungs were tumors, but without a risky biopsy – on a dog that had already survived 6 years with Lymphoma – we couldn’t be sure. Our wonderful oncologists said she needed to be with us no matter what, and that if it turned out to be lung cancer, Maya wouldn’t last long. Well, it was lung cancer and she went downhill very quickly, starting in Palenque.
Maya’s death has a very large role to play in what happens next.
Leaving Telchac Puerto and the northern tip of the Yucatan behind, we headed south and east to Puerto Aventuras, where we planned to stay for our final 6 weeks in Mexico. The drive itself was uneventful, through a couple of little Yucatan towns on the way to the main toll road between Merida and Cancun. From there we turned off on the new highway to Playa del Carmen. This is an excellent two-lane road with wide shoulders for easy passing. Like the rest of our journeys, though, we encountered very little traffic between cities.
Our choice of Puerto Aventuras was both strange and strategic. Strange because neither of us had ever responded positively to the few short visits we’d had over the years to this gated resort community. I, for instance, had always questioned why anyone would want to stay in “Newport Beach meets the Maya Riviera.” We also had a problem with the captive dolphins that live at the heart of this small town. Strategic because it was near enough to Akumal – the place we have stayed for 20 years – to visit frequently, but far enough away to avoid local politics. We also have several close friends who have made Puerto Aventuras home and who have insisted that it’s a great place to be.
We arrived at our rented condo late in the afternoon on Sunday, February 17th.
The condo turned out to be the perfect place for this visit. It was very centrally located, making walking everywhere easy. No need to get in the car for beach trips, restaurants or entertainment. And with a small gourmet market, an Oxxo (Mexican convenience mart) and two farmers markets a week all within a 5-minute stroll, we only had to hit the supermarket every couple of weeks. Technically the Chedraui too is within walking distance, though it’s on the other side of the main highway, outside the gates. Also perfect was the fact, at least for this first trip, that the condo building itself was old and not a place we wanted to hang out in. Thus, we left pretty much every day by mid-morning to enjoy our surroundings.
One of the first things we did was join the Omni Hotel’s beach club. The Omni is a boutique hotel on the beach about a seven-minute walk from our condo. It has a large pool, a swim-up pool bar, a beachside restaurant and drink and food service direct to your choice of loungers. Since the hotel only has 30 rooms, though you’d never know it from the extent of its amenities, it depends on getting non-guests to use its facilities, so they give you a great deal. A month costs $350 US, which includes pools, beach chairs and towel service. In addition, you get a 25% discount off drinks and food. More, the $350 is actually a food and drink “minimum.” It’s applied to the first $350 you spend eating and drinking at the hotel, after the discount. We had no problem spending that much, in fact we re-upped to cover our entire stay. An annual membership, by the way, costs $2,000 US.
Puerto Aventuras began life 30 years ago as a golf course community in the heart of the not-yet-discovered Riviera Maya. This was back when Playa del Carmen was still a fishing village and visiting Xel Ha was like a trip deep into the jungle. The course at Puerto Aventuras, at least the first nine holes, became the only golf course between Playa del Carmen and Tulum when it was finished. That situation would change dramatically, as gated community after gated community included golf, and the developer switched gears. Fortunately, his initial plan called for digging canals in the underlying limestone. Initially this meant the creation of a dolphin lagoon at the center of the development, with water fingers radiating out parallel to the coast. On our first visit, probably about 2000, you could eat at one of the few restaurants around the lagoon, swim with the dolphins or play nine holes of golf – they never did finish the course. You could also wander along one of the canals to see an island home built of discarded, plastic cartons and bottles. Interesting but not attractive. I kid you not.
In addition to the well-manicured nine-hole course, Puerto now boasts a large, full-service marina with a sport-fishing fleet, a flotilla of day-sail catamarans, private yachts and average boats. The canals are edged by three and four-story condo buildings and luxurious single-family homes. Along the beach are more condo complexes and three hotels – the aforementioned Omni and the all-inclusive Dreams and Catalonia. Meanwhile, each hole on the golf course is bordered by more condos and homes. And the final phase of the development, lining more canals, contains mostly very large homes.
The center of town, surrounding the dolphin lagoon, is made up of restaurants and shops. The restaurants all open to the lagoon with outdoor dining, and many have live entertainment in the evening. Cuisines range from Italian to French to sushi to American classics, not to mention Mexican. Most are quite good and all are reasonable, at least by our standards. During the evening hours locals and tourists alike walk around the lagoon, watch the dolphins play and check-out the boats in the nearby marina. It’s a scene reminiscent of every zocalo and malecon we visited on our trip. People are always out and about, especially after dinner.
I can’t recall the first moment I thought about moving to Puerto Aventuras. I do remember very early on in our stay coming to the conclusion that I really liked this place. It felt comfortable. I was relaxed, like maybe I’d never been before. At some point, I think during our first week, we decided to look for a place to rent for next winter. We were surprised to find out that seasonal rentals, even a year in advance, were hard to come by. At about the same time our Mount Pleasant house rented on AirBnB for February and March 2020, a surprise, since we had totally forgotten it was even on the market. Now we were committed, at least for next winter.
It didn’t take us long to conclude that winter rentals were in relatively short supply in Puerto and were much more expensive than long term (annual) rentals. What if we sold the house and moved to Mexico? I don’t remember who had that thought first, but it quickly took on a life of its own. I really believe that Maya’s death helped create this situation. Way back in Telchac (all of maybe two weeks before), shortly after she died, I remember musing about leaving Charleston – more of a “could I actually do that?” question. Without Maya we could come and go at will. We could live anywhere and still get back to Charleston for family and friends. Though intensely sad, this was nonetheless a freeing thought.
So we rented a golf cart and drove around Puerto writing down phone numbers from rental signs. One number we called, though too late for that particular apartment, led us to a meeting with an Italian couple (actually he was Italian, she Mexican) who wanted to pitch us an investment idea. They were looking for three other couples to invest in building a 6-plex condo on a canal just down the street from where we were staying. Each couple would live in one of the condos and then the group would sell the other two and split the proceeds. We had just decided to find a long-term rental, so it was a little early to be discussing a presumably risky investment in Mexico. But it got us thinking…
By this time – I’m talking about maybe a day or two after first discussing selling our house – we had already justified the selling decision. We had too much equity tied up in the house. The Charleston market was peaking. The cost of living in Mexico was so inexpensive. All the usual suspects one’s mind grasps when rationalizing a decision already made. But it was a call to our son, Matt, who is also our financial advisor, that set us in our current direction.
The call to Matt was to serve two purposes. One, to gauge his feelings about us moving away (he and his family live 5 miles up the street in Mount Pleasant). And two, to get his thoughts regarding our decision to sell and rent. On both fronts the call was a surprise. Matt didn’t seem bothered by us moving, in fact, we felt like he welcomed the decision. Then, on the financial front, he floored me by suggesting we buy not rent. I was so certain that parking our equity in the house and renting something in Mexico was the smart thing to do. But, according to Matt, if we could find something reasonable, our money was better used buying than renting. That lit the fire!
The rest of our time in Puerto Aventuras was spent getting to know the town and its various real estate opportunities, in addition to laying on the beach and socializing with friends. We found a real estate agent we like and who seems to understand us pretty well. And though we did make an offer on a condo near the beach that seemed like a particularly good deal, our agent was pretty effective in keeping our emotions at bay, since until we sell the house we really can’t afford to buy.
While I’m sure I’ll write a lot more about this in future posts, I just want to end this one by concluding that we’re not totally crazy. There are some very good reasons for this decision and it’s not something completely out of the blue. Though we hadn’t discussed where we’d end up, Lydia and I had both been operating under the assumption that we’d eventually have to sell our house. Eventually, we’d need to use the equity that had built up over 18 years in one of the hottest markets in the country. And as our California friends say, if you’re going to sell you pretty much have to leave. So we knew that this was coming, probably in a couple of years. Also, Maya, even without lung cancer, wasn’t going to be around too much longer, and her departure would be one less tie to this place. Finally, we both wanted to fully retire, and though Matt has done a great job with our retirement fund, it would be really hard to maintain our lifestyle on a fixed income.
So our overall plan hasn’t changed as much as our timetable has accelerated. After 28 years in Charleston, we’re on to another adventure.