Growing up in a safari park near Durban, South Africa, Cyndra Schultz spent hours photographing the local wildlife and never thought about moving to another country. But years later, she found herself living in photo friendly Playa del Carmen and using her photography skills to win our Mexico Moments Photo Contest. “
In South Africa, I was spoiled because we had zebra, giraffe and other wildlife to watch and spend time with,” the 42-year-old Schultz said. “I have been photographing animals in the wild for many years, all sorts of creatures. Since we moved to Playa del Carmen I have started scuba diving and recently bought a new underwater camera with my first-place prize money to capture this new world.”
She was born and raised in South Africa’s third-largest city, located on the country’s southeast shore of the Indian Ocean. After graduating from high school in 1993, she studied nursing at Greys Nursing College in Pietermaritzburg, less than 50 miles from her hometown of Durban.
After she graduated in 1998, Schultz worked in nearby Richards Bay for a local hospital and then met and married her husband Greg a year later.
“We lived there a few years and then moved to Johannesburg where I specialized in trauma nursing,” she said. “I worked in nursing until about four years ago.”
Her husband, a telecommunications consultant, traveled on assignment to Nigeria, Mozambique and other African countries for years before accepting a job in Mexico City.
“We lived in Mexico City when we first arrived,” she said, “but with kids, it’s a real challenge. It’s crowded and always very busy. Our two daughters had to spend an hour on a bus each way. There was no time available for play…it was just too intense.”
Schultz and her family were attracted to Playa del Carmen because it was a much smaller city, on the coast and close to nature, much like her hometown of Durban. They moved a year ago, but her husband still works in Mexico City, commuting by air each Monday morning and returning Friday evening.
“We love the beach, the beautiful white sand and the clear water,” she said. “It’s so warm year-round and the birdlife and animals we’ve found just inspire you to go outside and enjoy it.”
Schultz said Playa del Carmen’s large and diverse expat community and tourists from all over the world made it easy to feel at home. The area not only has large contingents of Americans and Canadians, but also expats from Europe and South America.
“One of the best parts of living here is the range of restaurants that have opened to meet the needs of such a diverse community,” Schultz said. “We have wonderful French, German, Italian and other international restaurants and bakeries here.”
One of Schultz’s biggest challenges, like many expats who move to Mexico, is learning Spanish. She has used a tutor but is still struggling with being conversant in a new language. Her two daughters have learned Spanish by attending the bi-lingual International School of Playa del Carmen.
“Our eight-year-old still attends the international school, but we decided to homeschool our 14-year-old daughter because the curriculum was not challenging enough for her,” she said. “She now attends Laurel Springs School, which is an online school.”
The family lives in a three-bedroom home in a gated community next to the Hard Rock golf course, which is located within the Playacar area of the city.
“Lots of expats live here because it has great security, gardens and lovely trees,” she said. “We also have white-tailed deer that walk around and other wildlife. It’s a perfect place for the two dogs and two cats we brought with us from South Africa.”
They are renting their home for 55,000 pesos a month, about US$2,800, which reflects their location, level of security and the cost of living in an international resort city. Schultz said their housing costs in Mexico are higher than back home.
“We try to keep it comfortable for the kids and animals, so we have the same lifestyle we had in South Africa,” she said. “In Mexico City, renting a house was definitely more expensive, but apartments were less expensive. We just couldn’t make an adjustment to an apartment, though.”
Electricity, Schultz said, is also much more expensive. Playa del Carmen’s hot and humid climate requires the use of air conditioning throughout the year.
“Electricity is crazy in this area,” she said. “We pay about 10,000 pesos a month, which is over US$500 a month, to stay cool. If you don’t keep the house cool, you get mildew and things like that to worry about. For this area, housing and electricity are the highest out-of-pocket expenses.”
Other every day expenses are comparable to what the family paid in South Africa. Fruits and vegetables bought at local markets are very reasonable, but Schultz has found that meat prices are bit more expensive. Dining out also is affordable, if you avoid the popular restaurants that cater mainly to international tourists. Mexican restaurants and seafood places are popularly-priced and frequented by expats and local people.
“When you come from South Africa, you think you know what a quesadilla is, but you really have no idea,” she said. “Everything was brand new for us. Just going to the supermarket and trying to find things that were familiar was really difficult. Everything from cheese to washing liquid was brand new for us.”
Integration into the local community, even with limited Spanish skills, seems to be going well for Schultz. She has developed friendships with many Mexicans, some she has met through the international school.
“Most of them speak great English,” she said. “I wish I could speak Spanish better, though. It’s difficult when you get on great with someone new and try to have a conversation with them and you can’t. I’m still learning and that’s part of the process.”
Schultz believes that moving to Mexico has given her family a very different perspective, much different than her home country.
“Coming from South Africa, which is a very conservative place, to Mexico gives you a whole different perspective,” she said. “It’s been great for me to see my kids learning so much and meeting kids from all over the world. I know they are going to grow up with these friendships.”
If you might be considering a move to Playa del Carmen, Schultz has some advice for you:
“Make sure you enjoy hot weather! There is no winter here, which is great if you come from cold country. It’s also very laidback, everyone is very relaxed. You wear shorts and flip-flops every day, an island lifestyle, although it’s not an island. But, it’s very touristy, so you have to prepare for lots of people much of the time. One of the biggest benefits of living here, we’ve found, is that the people are very friendly. And that’s what I like most.”