Live in Paradise for Less Than Your Rent

What started out as long-distance loves trying to reunite during Covid turned into a newfound home in a new country.

In November of 2020, Eddie Shiomi was living in Brooklyn, and his girlfriend Anastasiya Matsuk was living in Belarus. Up until Covid, they could see each other every month or so. But after 11 months apart, they were determined to find a place to meet.

Little did they think Mexico would become a permanent option for them.

Eddie had to sell Mexico to Anastasiya. She didn't know anything about it other than what she saw on TV and couldn't imagine what it would be like. But once she got there and took a look at the aquamarine waters in Tulum, she understood the appeal.

From Tulum to Oaxaca

They spent nearly a month in Tulum, but as the end of their time approached, prices were becoming unsustainable for them on their limited budget. They knew their time in Mexico wouldn't last long if they stayed in Tulum.

So, they headed to Oaxaca to see what living in the highlands was like.

As a self-proclaimed foodie, Eddie was thrilled with Oaxaca. The moles. The cheeses. The markets. The food scene. All incredible. "It's much more than tacos in Oaxaca. From tamales to fried grasshoppers [chapulinas], it's very different from the food on the coast," said Eddie.

Accommodation is more affordable in Oaxaca than in Tulum, but it doesn't have the best internet. At least not where they were staying. And as remote workers, that is something they can't compromise on.

After a month and a half in Oaxaca, Anastasiya missed the ocean. "If Oaxaca was on the ocean, it would be my first choice of places to live. The architecture, the people. So unique," said Anastasiya.

Even though they missed the beaches of Tulum, they knew it wasn't for them. So, they decided to give Playa del Carmen a chance.

The Call of Playa del Carmen

Before Oaxaca, they had spent one night in Playa and fell in love with the area around 5th Ave and Calle 38. 5th Avenue is the main tourist thoroughfare. It's lined with massive restaurants and bars and can be loud and raucous on any given night. But at the intersection of 5th and Calle 38, it has an entirely different feel.

Playa del Carmen’s main drag, 5th Avenue, is full of life. But you can find havens of peace and quiet right beside it.
Playa del Carmen’s main drag, 5th Avenue, is full of life. But you can find havens of peace and quiet right beside it.

Calle 38 is a beautiful tree-lined street that runs from the beach to the highway. There is a handful of small restaurants tucked in between massive old trees and backed by jungle. It feels worlds apart from the mayhem steps away on 5th.

When they decided to stay in Playa for a while, Calle 38 was the first and only area they looked at. "We found an Airbnb because we didn't want to sign a one-year lease. We didn't think we would stay that long and wanted to go month-to-month," Eddie said.

Falling in Love…With a Monkey

After staying a little longer, they started to fall in love. "What really sold us was Alfreda the Spider Monkey," said Eddie.

"I've created a Facebook page for her; it's Alfreda La Changa Fan Page. People share their experiences with her and call out the location of her latest sighting, so everyone can come and see her. She has almost 600 fans!"

Alfreda the spider monkey (left) swings her way into everyone’s hearts as she roams the jungle and restaurants on Calle 38.
Alfreda the spider monkey (left) swings her way into everyone’s hearts as she roams the jungle and restaurants on Calle 38.

Anastasiya and Eddie loved the area, but it was Alfreda who helped them find their apartment. "The reason we had to stay on Calle 38 was because we know the monkey passes by here. Alfreda was the selling point."

They found their apartment in Alfreda's pathway and now get daily visits from her. She is free to roam anywhere but always comes for a quick hello to Eddie and Anastasiya.

Along with Alfreda, Anastasiya has been amazed at all the animal species she's discovered. They are two minutes from the beach and busy 5th Avenue but in a little pocket of jungle that has remained wild even though it's in a heavily populated area. "We've seen a Brazilian porcupine, coatis, agoutis, toucans, curassows," said Anastasiya, "All from or on our balcony."

Besides living in a real-life Jungle Book, "Playa del Carmen has the right combo of everything. You can live near the beach, the internet is really good, and the overall infrastructure is great. Plus, the rent is cheaper than in Tulum," said Eddie.

In fact, their entire monthly cost of living in Playa del Carmen is a fraction of what Eddie was paying for a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. "And we aren't even budgeting. We can afford to not hold back here. We can eat at the best restaurants in Playa and not think twice about it," said Eddie.

Every morning Eddie wakes before the sunrise and heads to the beach. He watches the sun climb from the depths of the Caribbean Sea as the sky changes to brilliant orange and crimson. Exactly like a postcard.

On his way back from the beach, he spots Alfreda making her morning rounds, saying hello to the other residents who live in her jungle.

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