Locals Spotlight #4

This month we have a very special edition of locals spotlight that focuses less on the person and shines the light on their very special efforts to make a difference here in Costa Maya. We have a lot of people that move here from all over to make a life and end up addressing a problem that helps make our community better and stronger. This is definitely the case with Heather and Gil Johnson.

Heather and Gill moved to Costa Maya around 2&1/2 years ago and, after seeing all of the street dogs that are sick, homeless, or undernourished around the area, started Costa Maya Beach Dog Rescuea non-profit that provides shelter, food and medicine for sick dogs and helps find them foster homes locally and abroad. Their efforts are purely out of the kindness of their hearts and they are making an impact locally. Let’s see what they had to say…

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CML: How did you get started with CMBDR?

Heather: Our first visit to Mahahaul was in 2004. There were a ton of street dogs and cats. It was incredibly sad.  Most of my vacations were spent feeding as many strays as I could (which is nice but isn’t a solution).  We always knew we wanted to help once we moved here but weren’t sure how to start or what to do.  While our house was being built, I saw the saddest, skinniest homeless dog I’d ever seen wandering around our construction site looking for food.  The sight of him really solidified my resolve to help.  We spent our vacation taking him to the vet and trying to help him, but he was too far gone to save.  His suffering and his death could have been prevented.  I named him Pinto and vowed in that moment that my time here in this beautiful place would be spent helping all those like him.  He broke my heart, but also inspired me to do something about it.

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CML: How many dogs have you rescued thus far and how many adoptions have you done?

Heather: We currently have 16 street dogs in our house.  Most come in sick & skinny, covered in fleas & ticks, patches of hair missing from mange.  They are filled with worms and often anemic from tick diseases.  At one point last year we had 32 street dogs living in our house.  Right now we also have a medical foster puppy who we’re are treating for mange.  He has a home, but his family doesn’t have the money to help him.

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71 dogs have come through our front door.

42 have been adopted into permanent loving homes.

13 sweet souls have left this world – they were too sick to be saved.

141 dogs have been spayed/neutered through our rescue – most from the street – some from families who love them, but simply can’t afford it.  We plan to take 11 more dogs and 5 cats to the upcoming clinic this weekend.

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We also provide dog food and basic care to local dogs here on our coast.  Our rescue is an hour north of the town of Mahahual, so many of the dogs here will never see a vet in their lifetime.  When money permits, we treat fleas & ticks, parasites, mange and tick-borne illnesses.  If a dog needs emergency treatment, we drive to the ER vet 2.5 hours from our house.

 

CML: Where do most of the adoptions go?

We have partnered with rescues in the US and Canada.  Adoptions have been split equally between Mahahual and the US & Canada.  Dogs go where the best homes are.  If it’s here on our coast that’s perfect.  If it’s in Canada or the US, then we fly them there.

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CML: What is the hardest part of what you do? What is the best part?

Heather: It’s difficult for me not to feel overwhelmed by the size of the problem.  Every time I leave the house, I see a dog I want to rescue.  A dog that clearly needs rescuing, but I don’t have the space to help everyone.  Last year we had 32 stray dogs living with us.  That’s pretty much our limit.  We don’t have a facility – just our house.

Another challenge is convincing people to spay and neuter their pets. Many dogs and cats have owners who let their pets roam the streets and refuse to have them sterilized. The cycle of birth and death seems never ending.  A few groups of wonderful people in town organize spay/neuter clinics several times a year and have been doing so for a long time.  That has drastically cut down on the homeless animal population.  But still there are those people who refuse, so the cycle starts again.

By far the best part of rescue is when an adoptive puppy parent sends me an update with a picture of a happy, chubby, spoiled-silly dog.  For a moment all seems right in the World.  Dogs who once were filthy on the street are now curled up on couches.  Puppies who were once covered in ticks are now going to dog parks and romping around with their friends.  It’s incredible!  It gives us hope and reminds us that anything is possible.

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CML: Where do you see it going in the future?

Heather: I hope to rally the community to become more involved in rescue.  Our greatest potential for lasting change is to teach children about animal issues.   There are so many people who care about animal welfare, but maybe, like me a few years ago, don’t know how to help.  I would like us all to work together to convince our friends and neighbors that this cause is worth our time.  That animals deserve our help.  That spaying & neutering is a good thing.  Together we can fix this. We really can.

 

CML: How do you get funding?

Heather: We are very fortunate to have many generous supporters.  I am beyond thankful for them.  We do, however, always spend more than we take in.  This summer we filed with the IRS to get our non-profit 501(c)(3) designation.  My hope is that more people will contribute as a result and we can start to partner with local businesses.  Rescue is expensive.  Rewarding beyond belief, but expensive.

 

CML: Hand here is the BIG question: How can people help?

Well locally I hope to grow a network of fosters. i could save so many more if people would open their homes and let a dog crash at their place until a home is found.

For everybody else, we are always in desperate need of dog food, flea/tick meds, sponsors for spay/neuter surgeries so donate if you can.

To donate via PayPal – beachdogrescue@gmail.com

To donate via Gofund  – https://www.gofundme.com/beach-dog-rescue-fall-fundraiser

Like my Facebook page and follow our journey.

https://www.facebook.com/costamayabeachdogrescue/

 

CML: Thank you for your time and efforts! Changing the lives of these dogs is an amazing thing and the community AND DOGS surely appreciate it!

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We are officially in the holiday season and it really is the season for giving. What you spend on a pumpkin spiced late can make a huge difference down here in the lives of these dogs and this wonderful couple who comes out of their own pocket to help these animals. Any size of donation helps so please contribute if you can. Your heart will swell like the Grinch in Whoville when you do!

 

 

How to be a Responsible Tourist While Visiting Mahahual

Keeping_track_of_ocean_plasticAs you may know, Mahahual is a tiny gem of a town that is nestled up to a beautiful Caribbean shoreline and reef. The ecological balance of such a place is very easy to tip the wrong way, even with the best of intentions. Aside from good intentions, there are those around us that just don’t care so those of us that do have to take extra precaution to make up for their part while we attempt to educate them.

The reef system here has been in decline for some time and it is easy to note the lack of public works of even minimal necesities, like a sufficient number of trash recepticles, in town. Despite this, there are groups of caring citizens who volunteer their time to cleaning up beaches and neighborhoods and fighting for basic needs of the community and keeping Mahahual clean.

As a tourist there are a few things you can do as well to help keep Mahahual a sparkling paradise. They aren’t difficult and wont stop you from enjoying your stay. Do these few things and it will go a long way in helping us with the struggle to keep our town great:

1. Ask for your drinks without a straw or “sin popote”. Straws and plastic bottle caps are some of the biggest polluters in the ocean. Choose to drink your drink straight from the cup or carry a reusable straw with you. There are many companies selling reusable straws made of metal or thick plastic that are easily found with a quick google search. Some people in town use biodegradable straws as well at their establishments so be sure and ask.

2. Make sure and use reef friendly natural sun screen. With all of the bodies coming from cruise ships, mid-term tourism and locals dipping themselves in the water everyday, you can bet the chemicals in most sunscreens are damaging the reef. Studies have shown that chemicals in sunscreens cause reef deformities and bleaching. Sadly this is not a local phenomenon. Hawaii and the pacific island of Palau have already banned chemical laden sunscreens due to their high volume of tourism and subsequent reef damage. Look for natural sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to block UV rays without damaging the reef.

3. Re-use your single use water bottles. Single use plastics are arguably the most damaging thing we produce as human beings. Experts agree that if we continue using them at the current trajectory there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050…that is soon. While you are out and about you will want to carry water, its hot. But try and refill your water bottle with the water in your hotel or rental and if you don’t have that, you can buy 3 gallon bottles at every store in town. Keep them in the fridge and use them to refill your bottles instead of buying numerous new ones.

4. Carry a container. If you have ever been here and love to eat at the local food carts and trucks, you will notice that everything is served on a styrofoam tray, wrapped in plastic, wrapped in plastic, and wrapped in yet more plastic. When you go to get your to-go food this vacation, cary a plate or container with you and have them prepare your food on that. Locals that care do it all the time and some will give you a small discount for it. You can even do this when you go out for a coffee and carry your own mug.

None of these things are difficult to do bit they will have a large impact on the local ecology if you choose to apply them when you come. It will actually add to your experience that you did your part to help care for such a magnificent place. Nobody wants to go on a snorkel tour to a dead reef covered in plastic…

 

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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…

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  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.

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  1. Crosses or religious elements

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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.

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Hidalgo

Allende

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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!