Dispatch from Playa del Carmen (Slogan: It’s like Cancún except slightly more tolerable!)

I’m currently relaxing at a laid-back outdoor restaurant on Avenida Quinta, Playa del Carmen’s shop-lined pedestrian walkway, accompanied by a bottle of the local firewater. Okay, I’m drinking a Corona.

From where I’m sitting, I can see a Dairy Queen, a place selling the hideous (“but comfortable!” they always insist) Crocs, a Hertz Rent-a-car, and a store called “Playa T-Shirts,” where you’ll find tees emblazoned with such clever, understated phrases as “I [Heart] Farts” and “If you think I’m a bitch, you should meet my friends.”

Dreadlocked backpackers, socks-and-sandals tourists, and (I assume) some actual Mexicans walk by, gazing into shops and turning down hucksters offering jewelry (“No, gracias”), hotels (“No, gracias), and marijuana (“No… luego”).

Worn out from four hours of swimming, sunning, and reading A Confederacy of Dunces on the beach, I contemplate my next move. “I’ve got to get out of this town,” I think to myself, looking at my John Kennedy Toole novel on the table and smiling at how it’s title is actually an apt description of touristy Playa.

Don’t get me wrong, Playa is a decent town– it’s like Cancún except you don’t want to shove a scissors through your aorta as soon as you arrive– but episodes like the following one are far too common:

A tall, heavy American man, dining at a nearby restaurant with his daughter, is berating his waiter who, the American feels, is trying to screw him with a bad exchange rate– he clearly wasn’t– after the man tries to pay with US dollars. “We will not be coming back!” the American shouts. “Tell your jefe, we will not be coming back!”

The guy and his daughter start to storm off before the daughter whispers something to her dad. “Well, I’m sure they have bathrooms here,” the man says. So the previously indignant father-daughter combo returns sheepishly to the restaurant, asks another waiter where the bathroom is, and the daughter answers nature’s call. The first waiter stares daggers at the American dunce who does his best to avoid eye contact.

I return my attention to my guidebook, decide to visit the beach town of Tulum a couple hours south, and buy the next bus ticket out of town. Sure, Playa wasn’t my favorite town in Mexico, but it could have been worse.

It could have been Cancún.