Jan 07

is an amazing place. My friend Benny and I just got back from a 2wk trip there and took a bunch of good pictures. It was our first time and both of us are now looking into buying property there. Having been to quite a few places in MX (Mazatlan, Guadalajara, Puerto Penasco, Cabo San Lucas, Loretto, Rosarito, Ensenada, Tijuana, Nogales, Laredo) I can say that of every spot I’ve been so far Playa is definitely my favorite. It has a high concentration of European tourists and is also apparently a popular tourist spot for Mexicans so you end up with this melting pot effect of non-local Mexicans, Italians, Dutch, Spanish, Kiwis and Norweigans mixed in with a handful of Americans. With the recent devastation of neighboring Cancun and Cozumel from hurricane Wilma, I really think it’s poised to explode in value. It reminds me a lot of how Puerto Vallarta used to be ten years ago when it was still an undiscovered gem . I’m glad the closest major airport is an hour away because it should help keep it “inconvenient enough” to deter the typical gringos and attract only the more mellow travelers.

Observations and Reflections

Mexico trips are always these rejuvenating experiences and before the excitement of the trip wears off and and the daily grind resumes, I want to write about the random things we observed and experienced. It’s surprising how after only 2wks of not driving an automobile, it feels completely foreign. Other stuff that seems strange right now:

  • throwing your toilet paper IN the toilet. Seriously. They are all on septic down there so you have to put it in the waste basket (which sounds gross but it’s just the way it’s done). Try doing that for 2wks and I promise you that you will have to make a conscious effort to actually drop it in the bowl when you come back.
  • drinking fountaiins: we take them for granted. All of Mexico’s water system is non-potable and used only for washing purposes. It’s odd to come back and be able to drink from the tap or a public drinking fountain.
  • the air and food are not as fresh here which is so funny because the stereotypical image of Mexico tends to be a dirty town like Tijuana and that’s just not representative of the rest of the country. Phoenix in the winter has a bad pollution problem with the inversion layer that traps our smog close to the ground. Both Benny and I noticed we felt significantly healthier day to day down there and that the air in Phx actually has a bad taste that is only noticeable when you come back to it. Same goes with produce and poultry, in Playa it’s all grown right there so it’s tough to beat the freshness.

PDC is not perfect- it’s definitely humid and supposedly their summers are unbearably hot with 100deg temperatures and 100% humidity. There’s a very real possibility though that you could set up a small office there for six months out of the year. Their internet connectivity was actually very good. I ran a traceroute from an internet cafe and there were surprisingly few hops to my server.

Actually I wasn’t intending to check email at all but we came back to the hotel one morning to find an note the hotel staff had posted on our door relayed from an ex-FBI detective who was working with my father on a big case in Florida. He needed server logs to confirm a hypothesis and I was able to assist his investigation remotely by providing by using RDP to get in and give him what he needed. Remote access is great.

I read two Paulo Coelho books down there (Eleven Minutes and The Zahir). Coelho books are ideal vacation reading material and while neither one was as good as my favorite Coelho book of all time, The Alchemist, they were both good. The Zahir hit very close to home and made me realize I have a zahir of my own right now, a face indellibly etched in my thoughts that refuses to leave. Coelho is the latest addition to the smart people list- he writes with a simplicity and honesty that nobody else does. Probably the greatest testament to his skill as a writer is that his books have been translated into every known language. If you’ve never read the Alchemist, you owe it to yourself to check out that book.

What worked well

  • Before we left, Benny and I hit up Walgreens and stocked up on a box of these $2 laser pens. It sounds funny but cheap electronic gadgetry is worth its weight in gold down in mexico and each night we went out we would bring a “super pluma” with us and invariably find a way to trade it for something worth more to us. They were practical in that you could point out stuff half a mile away or grab each other’s attention across the crowd. We both agreed it would be valuable to learn morse code as a means of communication. There were also countless other stupid uses for these pens.
  • Fortunately neither one of us lost any crucial travel documents and therefore didn’t have to rely on our remote backup plan but it was nice to know that we had it if we needed it.
  • The restaurants all hung these ziplock water bags above their outside tables. We asked why they were there and our waiter jokingly told us that it was in case we didn’t leave a good tip, they could shoot them and drench the gringos. It turns out they actually repel flies. I have no idea HOW it works but we did notice that the restaurants without them had significantly more flies. I would love to hear the explanation of why this trick works if anyone knows.
  • The iTrip came through big again and I used it to record an interview with the owner of one of the smaller hotels down there. We realized that there are a large number of hotels down there that don’t currently do online reservations. After talking with the owner of a small one we think there’s opportunity to mimic their current homegrown Foxpro booking systems that everyone seems to use and turn it into a local app that broadcasts availability to a central server. Their hangup on accepting creditcards is that it’s very difficult to get a merchant account in Mexico and their discount rate is like 6-7% (3x that of the US). We were thinking of ways to solve the online res problem in the face of these higher transaction fees. We came up with the idea of creating a type of escrow service based in the US that would allow people to book their res online by authing their card. The guest could then pay cash for their room and the hotel owner would still achieve full price without having to jack rates to cover merchant commission fees and at least the small hotels could capture the res online. . We thought setting up this service on a mac mini and selling it as a cheap appliance and taking a comission on the transactions we generate would be ideal. This could make an excellent Grid7 project. My friend John Blayter pointed me to this existing product which sounds to have a similar goal but appears to be a traditional reservation system and not the same escrow concept. Anyways, it’s an interesting idea. Here’s the interview for anyone interested.

Lessons learned for next time

  • Don’t change a light bulb while standing in the shower. This is obvious in hindsight but Benny nearly electrocuted himself in our cabana at La Ruina. He was knocked ten feet onto the bed and, fortunately so, because it broke the circuit and he escaped with just a shock.
  • Zip ties and carribeaners would have come in handy on a couple occasions for fastening stuff. We rolled with hiker packs and the trip would have been impossible with regular baggage. The mobility afforded by having a pack proved to be key when (due to a booking oversight on our part) we got kicked out of our hotel and had to find a new one at the apex of their tourist season on New Year’s eve.
  • _Never_ use a flimsy plastic bag as a carry-on with a bunch of stuff in it, it will turn your fingers into sausage links and you will arrive at your destination with zero perfusion and have pins & needles the rest of the night (notice the hand turning purple – not cool).

Here’s some cool videos :

Looking forward

My New Year’s resolution this year is to eliminate daily distractions and have laser focus on the things that matter. I’m actually resolving to read _fewer_ blogs (which is probably hypocritical because here I am writing my own huge post). I came back to 227 emails and 454 unread blog posts which really puts into perspective how much distraction I willfully subjecting myself to each day. Even with David Allen’s GTD method, it’s just a deluge of info that leaves your head spinning at the end of the day. As far as what’s going on for me now, I start classes at this entrepreneurial workshop called FastTrac on Tuesday with the goal of sponging off other entrepreneurs and ironing out the kinks in the Grid7 model. My office partner Kimbro is now my business partner and over the break he hashed out the skeleton of an immense side project he and I will be undertaking together that dovetails perfectly with Grid7. I know I’ve been talking it up for a few months now but February is the month this stuff all launches and we both have huge faith in this endeavor.

Other than that, I’m moving out of my house right now and converting it into a performing asset as a rental. It should cover itself plus my apartment rent which will nice. This is all part of a massive downsizing effort for me to sell off all my stuff, simplify, consolidate and become mobile for a big US working roadtrip I plan to take in August. This is a neat time of year because everyone has these bright hopes for the coming year. I share the same optimism but I’m always reminded of that lyric from the U2 song “nothing changes on New Year’s day.” It does and it doesn’t. It’s an arbitrary line in the sand but it helps us frame things and establish goals which is always a good thing.

I wanna end this post by paraphrasing this cool passage from The Zahir book. “Two firemen go into the woods to fight a forest fire. They both return only one’s face is covered in soot while the other’s is perfectly clean. Which do you think washes his face?” It’s like that cardgame “booger on the head” also called “indian poker” – you can see everyone else’s cards but your own. The fireman with the clean face will see his partner and assume he’s covered in soot and conversely the guy who really needs the bath will look at his partner and assume he’s clean as well. This was such a simple yet mind-blowing way to look at why some relationships fail unexpectedly.

Anyways, 2006- bring it. This image captures the essence of what I’m in for this year:

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6 Responses to “Playa del Carmen”

  1. Anabell says:

    Hey, I am Jazbell’s sister from Veracruz, Ver. Jaz recommended me to read your blog, I just wanted you to know, I just enjoyed it a lot, you made me laugh, think and realize I love writing as well, sharing what you write is a big thing, thanks!

  2. joshua strebel says:

    Hey sean, how is fastrac working out?

    Hey Laser focus.. i use the 90 day business acceleration system from http://www.wealthwithoutajob.com/90daystowealth/

    it takes a commitment to get started, but once you are using it blows your mind how much time you stop wasting and how much you actully get done.

    when are we having lunch again?

  3. joshua strebel says:

    Sean, I have a client we are re-working a website for.

    bricinternational.com does vactaion rentals and property sales in playa del carmen. Ask for randy bonds, or marcus roehmer and tell him I sent you.

  4. Holly Hornbeck says:

    Hey Sean,

    I am so glad that you had a great time in Mexico, but selfishly I’m even happier that you’re back.

    Cheers to 2006!!


  5. Justine says:

    Sean, you’re such a Hottie.

  6. […] Our favorite place on earth, Playa Del Carmen, has undergone some interesting changes this past year – namely a TON of development. We heard from a couple people that said this is the fastest growing city in the world right now for it’s current size. I would not be surprised. There has been a frenzy of development since our trip here last year. While it bodes well for local businesses, it´s sad to see the arrival of the corporate chain establishments. […]

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