Let Freedom Ring! Sargassum Update Winter 2018

Hear ye hear ye! The beaches are clear! Its time to put those travel plans back on the books and head to your favorite sunny Caribbean destination this winter season! No need to stay up north and freeze your bones off when you can have your toes in the sand (not the sargassum) and a fruity drink in your hand as you enjoy the mild and sweet tropical breezes once again.

IMG_20160306_122940810_HDR

Us locals are excited to finally have the beaches back to enjoy and be free of the smell of rotting seaweed.  In the end, I don’t believe that the sargassum was all bad as it seems to have brought an influx of nutrients to the area. My wife and I went out lionfish hunting yesterday and there seemed to be much more life under the water, flora and fauna. Lots of little fishies swimming around and brighter, more numerous corals heads as well as grass. Great for snorkeling! Just remember that when you come down make sure and bring sunscreen that is non-toxic to the reef. Each person makes a difference!

IMG_20160305_121200905

But again, as far as sargassum goes, we should be in the clear according to the Sargassum Early Advisory System developed by A&M Galveston.  We will see you soon!

How to Make a Proper Day of the Dead Altar

The Day of the Dead is upon us! As this holiday grows in international fame, due to the beauty of the rituals and ideas that make it, there can be some confusion for first-timers on how exactly to make your altar and what the significance of each piece is. Searching google on the topic will leave your head spinning, with some websites laying out very specific steps and offerings for seven days surrounding the holiday and others having a more lassiez-faire approach, stating that it doesn’t matter what you put, it is all about your personal intentions and experiences. Still others have traditions based on region.

2016-Day-of-the-Dead-Rocky-Behr-altar

It can all be confusing, but I did find several things that almost all of the guides have in common which I will lay out for you here and we can consider “essential offerings” for your Dia de los Muertos altar. Let’s take a look at what they are what the meaning behind them…

  1. A glass of water – A glass of water is found on every altar how-to page I came across. The glass of water is laid out for those loved ones whose souls have made the long trek back and are thirsty from their journey. Some put out the glass of water as early as October 28th to quench the lone souls that arrive early with no family to remember them.

water

  1. Flowers – Every day of the Dead altar has flowers. Looking around online the most common flower is the orange marigold or Cempasuchitl as the Aztecs called it. It is commonly known as the Day of the Dead Flower or Flor de Muertos. But some say that other flowers of different colors such as white and purple all have difference significance. The overarching theme however is that the aroma of the flowers helps lure the spirit back to its family and looks nice to help make them welcome. On the 2nd of November petals are placed from the doorway to the altar as a path for the spirits.

dod flowers

  1. Pan de los Muertos – Day of the dead bread is a sweet treat for the souls that have returned to celebrate with their family. It is a light fluffy round loaf of bread with a light citrus glaze and a healthy dusting of sugar crystals. The bread ribbons laid over the top represent bones. In Mexico it can be found in any panaderia, or bakery, but may be harder to find elsewhere. White bread can be a substitute for those who can’t find it.

Bread-Of-The-Dead-social

  1. Candles – Candles are another must-have for your ofrenda. Some people have innumerable candles set out and some say that simple altars can have just 2. One specific guide had a new white candle set out for each day from the 28th of October to November 3rd. The candles help light the way for your loved one’s souls and represent purity.

day-of-the-dead-candles

  1. Copal Incense – Copal incense comes from a tree resin in southern Mexico and has a strong and clean aroma. Copal is used to ward off bad energy and to cleanse and purify the area for the souls. Copal may be hard to find outside of Mexico so you may need to plan in advance in ordering it or use some other purifying incense.

copalincensesticks-2

  1. Photos – Of course we need photos of the honored dead that we wish to remember. This helps make them present. You can also lay out their personal effects such as pipes, hats, watches, etc…

dod photo

  1. Favorite foods and drinks of the deceased – This needs no explanation as the whole purpose of this celebration is to remember our departed loved ones. On November 1st, which is the day that the angleitos, or little angels, return, participants put out sweet treats and candies for children that have been lost. On November 2nd the adults return and families put out cooked foods, drinks, and spirits for the departed. The deceased feed on the essence of the food and the living actually eat it.

 

  1. Papel Picado – This is colorful cut-out tissue paper that is used to adorn the altar and make it festive. Some people believe that different colors represent different things but the important thing is just to have some.

papel picado

  1. Crosses or religious elements

medium-talavera-cross-1858c

And that basically does it for the “essential offerings” for a Dia de los Muertos altar. There are a few other more common elements such as salt, candy skulls, skeleton dolls, arches and others but the above list represents the absolute must-haves. Cultures constantly exchange ideas and have since the beginning of time despite what all these “cultural appropriation” silly folks are screaming about. If it appeals to you take the opportunity to participate in a beautiful tradition that honors your departed relatives and invites them to be a part of the family again. Kids learn and adults remember. It is one of my new favorite holidays. Feliz Dia de los Muertos everyone!

 

Mexican Independence Day: A Brief History

September 16th is Mexican Independence day and it is right around the corner. Like many things in Mexico, the story of independence is long and complicated. Compare it to other countries such as the U.S., where the independence movement was basically a straight line, or others who simply had their independence granted to them, and the unique nature of Mexican independence can be appreciated. Now if you are a reader of this blog I assume that you aren’t a Mexican local, and we could all use a little history lesson to appreciate the country that has accepted us into its’ busom. So I am writing a brief account of the events to inform us all.

The story starts in the early 1800s as marginalized mixed-race peasants and some high-born Mexicans of Spanish descent (criollos) in New Spain (Mexico) had become disillusioned with the crown and its treatment of locals as 2nd class citizens and much worse. A well regarded priest by the name of Miguel Hidalgo had been having secret meetings in his home with other prominent men to discuss the possibility of revolt against the crown.

Hidalgo

Hidalgo

Allende

Allende

Ignacio Allende, a famed military leader, joined the secret meetings to discuss the validity of Spanish rule in New Spain at the home of Hidalgo. In the early morning of Sept 16, after discovering that loyalists had gotten wind of his secret metings, Hidalgo ran to the church in the city of Dolores and rang the bells to gather the towns people and asked them to join him in revolt. The “Grito de Dolores” or Cry of Dolores as it has been named, called for an end to 300 years of Spanish rule, redistribution of land, and racial equality in Mexico. By the morning of Sept. 16 he had a mob of 600 men, armed with whatever the could find, ready to fight. Most of his mob was made of the poor and mixed race lower class indians and mestizos who felt that the Spanish and New Spanish aristocracy treated them poorly.

His mob of the poor and neglected marched south from town to town killing all the Spanish and loyalists they could find and recruiting others to join their efforts. On Sept. 28th, numbering around 30,000 they reached the town of Guanajuato and killed some 500 Spanish and criollo loyalists that they found hiding in the Granaditas of Guanajuato (granary).

On Oct. 30th Hidalgo and Allende’s army encountered a small group of Spanish military, hastily organized by the viceroy (Spanish colonial governor of new spain), made up of 1,000 soldiers, 400 horsemen and 2 cannons and defeated them ouside of Mexico City at the Battle of Monte de las Cruces. He then committed what scholars roundly agree was his greatest tactical error and decided not to march on Mexico City. No one knows for sure why but most speculate that he wanted to spare the people of Mexico City the violence and plunder that he knew would ensue had he invaded.

He instead took on a defensive strategy and met the spanish army again in January 1811 at the Battle of the Bridge of Calderon and was defeated.

Hidalgo, Allende, and leaders Jimenez, Aldama were all captured in Coahuila, tried, and executed. All of their heads were hung from the four corners of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas of Guanajuato where they had slaughtered the 500 loyalists as a warning to those who dared follow in their footsteps.

Following the execution of Hidalgo, Jose Maria Morelos assumed command of the insurgency capturing key cities. In 1813, he convened the Congress of Chilpancingo to bring representatives together and, on 6 November of that year, the Congress signed the first official document of independence, known as the Solemn Act of the Declaration of Independence of North America. However in 1815 Morelos too was captured, tried and executed by the Spanish.

Morelos

by 1815 the revolt seemed all but squashed as most major factions and all major leaders had been defeated and captured. Between 1815 and 1821 most independence fighting was done by small bands and factions of rebels. The monarchy in Spain had it all but under control.

in 1821 the crown sent famed military leader Augustine de Iturbide, who gained his reputation fighting Hidalgo’s forces, to squash an insurgency force lead by Vincente Guererro in Oaxaca. Iturbide was a criollo (Person of Spanish descent born in Mexico) who was very conservative and staunch supporter of the established order and monarchy. When a liberal uprising in Spain overthrew the crown and forced King Ferdinand to reinstate the liberal constitution of 1812, establishing a constitutional monarchy, Iturbide saw it as a threat to the status quo in New Spain (Mexico) and called for a meeting with Vincente Guererro in Iguala to discuss joining forces and fighting for independence.

Iturbide

Iturbide

The “Plan of Iguala” established the “three guarantees” for Mexican Independence from Spain: 1) Mexico was to be a monarchy 2) criollos were to have equal rights to peninsulares (Spanish people born in Spain), and the Roman Catholic Church would continue its privileged position in Mexico. Mexicans of mixed or indian blood would still, however, have lesser rights. Guerrero and Iturbide’s forced joined and formed the Army of the Three Guarantees and defeated the remaining Spanish Royalist forces.

On August 24th, the viceroy signed the Treaty of Cordoba which agreed to make Mexico an independent constitutional monarchy. Since no European monarch could be found, Iturbide was named emperor. However, his reign was short lived as in 1823, republicans Santa Ana, who would become the famed general, and Guadaloupe Victoria, another independence leader, overthrew the monarch and established a republic with Guadaloupe Victoria as the first president.

Independence day is celebrated on Sept. 16th as the first day that arms were risen in Mexico against the crown and Hidalgo is considered by all as the “Father of Mexican Independence”. So this weekend when the festivities kick off, this date will mean more than just beers and barbecues to those visitors and ex-pats from afar. Enjoy and VIVA MEXICO!!

4 Great Spots for Coffee in Mahahual

For travelers and locals alike, there is hardly anything more deeply satisfying to set the tone for your day as a well-made cup of coffee. The deep, rich aroma and flavor of a good bean, surrounded by a great atmosphere comes second to nothing else to getting your work day, or vacation day, off on the right foot. On the other hand, nothing can be quite as disappointing as the anticipation of a good cup of joe and being served swill. Mahahual, though small, has lots of places to find coffee but there are a few hidden gems that really do it right. Here are 4 great spots for coffee in Mahahual…

  1. Tukano: 20180613_1045451535655314876Tukano is the hip new spot in Mahahual right now. With a great location, nice decorum, and a schedule open from early morning to late night, it has something for everyone. But one of the real jewels in the crown is the cappuccino. With a rather large serving and just the right roasted flavor it is a great way to set up the rest of your day. And I’m sure the morning barista Lorena, who you should recognize from our Locals Spotlight #1 article, has nothing to do with it…

 

2. La Dolce Vita

20180411_095402

20180411_095832

If you are in the mood for a real sweet treat of a coffee drink, look no further than La Docle Vita. This is one of the only places is town that does frappuccino and definitely the only one who does it good ol’ American style, with the requisite cream and chocolate sauce. They have other dessert delights, making it a mainstay for my wife, but the frappuccino is not to be missed. They have a great malecon beachfront location so it is a great place to sip, relax and cool off.

3. Nacional Beach Club

20180411_1039211535655258459

We recently did an article featuring Evan, the owner of Nacional Beach Club, for our Locals Spotlight series so you should be familiar with the name. They do so many things right here that it is hard not to mention them over and over again. The strong, dark, thick coffee served here, accompanied by the eclectic vibe and beach front local will get your morning jamming for sure. Don’t miss it!

4. Divino Delicias Mexicanas

14591756_1653050615025554_893049997276217435_n23132135_1863510063979607_6709084512683943705_n

Divino Delicias Mexicanas, or Divino as locals call it, is the only place on this list that isn’t located at the beach. Sitting on the main corner of “Casitas”, Divino gets a nod not only for its’ famous cappuccino, but also the frap, espresso and americano…they do all the coffees right! And why wouldn’t they? The owner Angelo is an old Italian guy! They also take some pretty good promo photos of their tasty offerings, as evidenced above. Order the cappuccino and you will also be treated to a little sweet muffin of some sort. A nice surprise!

So the next time you are in Mahahual and are craving a nice cup of mud, look no further than this list to guide you in the right direction. And if you find a great spot of your own let us know!

 

Is it Legal to Catch Lobster and Conch in Mexico?

Wow. What a loaded question! When I started researching for this article I thought I would look around for a few minutes and have a clear answer for a short and informative article but I have been at it for quite some time and still don’t really have anything super clear to pass on. I am an avid diver/snorkeler, fisherman, spear fisherman, and all around waterman, so having the answer to this is very important for me.

I have been in Mahahual for around 2 years and during conversations with various people at various times I thought that I had answers only to find that what one person says is different from what another will tell me, leaving me very confused and conflicted. Supporting the environment and enjoying it sustainably is very important to my wife and I so we always try and make sure that we follow the rules that are in place wherever we go.  But like a lot of things down here, there is a lot of heresay. If you want to find the truth you have to go and find it yourself.

However, in this case, I can fully understand the confusion. During my time in Florida over the past 10 years, fishing up and down the coast and into the keys, my friends and I anxiously waited for lobster season to start every year. It has always been a special time for us to get a trip together and catch ourselves a delicious meal while enjoying the majesty of the natural environment. Finding the rules and regulations has always been easy and at the beginning of every season we go to walmart, pay for our fishing licenses and lobster tags, get the regulations book and everything is clear. Unfortunately in Quintana Roo, it isn’t that easy.

Around here some people in town will take conch and lobster out of the water with reckless abandon. Some people will tell you that there are seasons but when the season starts you can take what you want. Some people say that in the case of conch, you aren’t supposed to take any at all, the same as it is in Florida. But hardly a week goes by where I don’t see some kids walking down the street, dive gear in hand, with a lasso of lobster at their side, a smile on their face and no concern to hide the haul at all. The same wave of emotions washes over me every time I see it, starting with jealousy then excitement then anger to finally confusion.  Frequently the familiar ding-dong of a passing bike vendor reveals lobster and conch for sale for cheap. So what gives??

Here is what I found…

On the SAGARPA website, which seems to be the official government body in charge of fishing regulations in Mexico, is a short list of fishing rules that only has one mention of shellfish and crustaceans: “The sports fishing license only permits the capture of fish. It does not permit that capture of shellfish and mollusks and their capture is strictly prohibited”. That seems pretty cut and dry and I could live with that if that were the rule but how can it be if I see so many people openly enjoying conch and lobster? It also seems a little restrictive and absolute, especially for Mexico, so I dug further.

I asked local environmental champion Victor Rosales, founder of Project AAK Mahahual, an official non-profit organization involved in everything conservation, what he knew. I had seen him post a graphic on conch season and figured he had all of the information I needed. He passed along this other graphic with seasons for protected species which seemed to sum it up nicely…

seasons

This seems to clearly show that there are seasons so how could it be completely prohibited? Also notice that there is no seal from, or mention of, SAGARPA on this graphic. However there are seals from SEMARNAT (The Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources) and CONANP (National Commission for Protected Natural Areas) which only adds to the confusion. Who is in charge? Who makes the rules? I attempted to contact SAGARPA through their website to find some clarity but the message wouldn’t go through…SURPRISE!

Still searching for answers, I found a video from CONANP that seemed to throw a wrench into the whole thing…

Apparently in 2016 all of the waters off the coast of the state of Quintano Roo were declared a protected biosphere reserve! 5.7 million acres in total. I knew that certain areas like Banco Chincorro, Sian Ka’an, and Xcalak were biosphere reserves but the entire state?? What does that mean for fishing? Is it permitted at all? How do people not know this? How could this be true but the website for SAGARPA simultaneously reflects rules allowing for fishing?? Are there local state fishing regulations that are different? Where could I find that info?? It was all too confusing…

Upon further reading I saw an article from June 2nd this year stating that there was a plan in action regarding the biosphere reserve. For those of you who don’t speak spanish the article states that the area was declared a reserve almost 2 years ago but the elaborate plan on how to manage it has been going through the bureaurcratic approval process and should be finished by December of this year. So maybe then we will have some concrete answers.

The best thing that you can do until then as a responsible tourist is to buy conch and lobster only during their open season and only from local fishing co-operatives. I am not sure about catching them yourself but if you must, do not take conch under any circumstance as they are threatened, and do not take lobster out of season, under-sized, or if they are a female with eggs. If you absolutely must catch them yourselves, try and use the regulations from Florida, which have allowed for a sustainable fishing practice there, as a general guide and apply them when in the area until we find out what the new rules are under the biosphere reserve. If we respect nature and care for it, we can make sure that it will be around for us to enjoy for a long time to come.

I hope this helps. Stay tuned for updates on the rules as I find out more!

 

Quintana Roo Mexico Winning the Battle Against Sargassum

The government of the state of Quintana Roo, home to tourist beaches like Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Tulum, and Mahahual has been raging a war against the invasion of the seaweed sargassum in recent months and it appears they are winning. Through innovation and teamwork many weapons have been put in place and the beaches are much better. Check out this cool video to see one of the ways in which the sargassum is being stopped from inundating out beaches!