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I made a grave mistake. The darkened highway suddenly burst with lights as the ADO bus barrelled towards the centre of Playa del Carmen. All that light made me cower.

Popping sounds exploded in my eardrums before I realized it was music blaring from a store. I peered out the bus window, seeing too many brightly lit stores and people, moving swiftly down the paved sidewalks.

After four months of existing in a silent world of star filled nights and empty beaches in Xcalak, this slice of civilization was frightening. There is comfort in solitude. I felt protected in the bubble of my routine that nobody could intrude on.

Nor did I feel quite ready for human interaction, after purposefully shunning people to focus on healing. The last few months left me mentally and emotionally exhausted. So was I even prepared for Playa del Carmen?

Once the bus pulled into central station, part of me pondered begging the driver to take me back. But I paused, steeling my back against the seat. I can’t give up. One thing I know intimately about myself; going backwards stopped being an option years ago.

My mantra is to move forwards, be propelled towards what is next in my journey of life.

It seemed, Playa del Carmen was on the roster.

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So I got up, huffed and puffed to lift my backpack and laptop bag, and proceeded to disappear into the blur of intense lights, hurtful sounds, and culture shock.

Eventually I managed to locate my hotel and weeks of exploration began.

People warned me that Playa is awful. Overrun with obnoxious tourists or intense party scenes of fractured people and druggies.

By three or four months in any given country, I become achingly restless and begin flipping through descriptions of countries to choose a new one.

For three months I’ve been dipping my toes into this cold well called Playa del Carmen, worrying about shirking back with a freezing sting.

What does Playa feel like then?

Refreshing. My instincts about stopping to breathe for a period of time wasn’t a grave mistake after all. So far, I’ve had no intense desire to leave yet. That’s a fortuitous sign.

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Certainly any long-term resident can find flagrantly drunk, arrogant tourists staggering down 5th Avenida with ease, but once you steer away from this superfluous street of factory wholesale trinket shopping, overpriced Mexican food restaurants, and a disturbing amount of Senor Frog stores, Playa becomes a different world.

One of quiet, Mexican neighbourhoods, flanked by cheap, but delicious eateries, and smiling people. One where the lavanderia lady knows my name, and I chat to the owner of my favorite Italian cafe, while ordering a cappuccino of Chiapas coffee.

I’m beginning to develop another routine, far from the isolated bubble of Xcalak, a type of existence that’s affording me complete immersion into the pulse of life.

It’s not the paradise of intensely beautiful tropical islands and swaying palms in the breeze, but probably as close to realism as I can reach for, which is a radical idea of paradise.

Real paradise is often what we intuit and input into our environments. Based on our priorities, desires, wants.

The best way to summarize my vision of Playa’s paradise, is to quote Henry David Thoreau:

“It is better to have your head in the clouds, and know where you are… than to breathe the clearer atmosphere below them, and think that you are in paradise.”

For now, this brazen version of paradise has me grounded, which is a promising beginning to how events will unfold next.

What is your concept of paradise?