A New Crew is Cleaning Up Mahahual

Maybe you have seen us on Sunday mornings passing by with bulging black plastic bags, sun screen slathered on thick, scavenging the trash that lines the residential streets of “Casitas” here in Mahahual, ironically smiling and laughing while we do the dirtiest of dirty work. Maybe you have seen the posts that pop up in the two facebook groups that serve as the local newspaper here in Costa Maya, “Amigos Unidos Por Mahahual” and “Todos Somos Mahahual”, where we proudly pose by the week’s harvest of litter. Or maybe you have even participated, as our group welcomes all comers who want to throw in a little Sunday sweat to make our town more beautiful.

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We have no group name or official affiliation with any political party, environmental or activist group. And we have no motivation other than doing our part to try and make Mahahual as beautiful as it should be, for ourselves just as much as anybody else. We aren’t paid or rewarded other than the strangely fulfilling feeling that you get from doing something nice for your community. It really is addictive. And the only thing we are looking to get out of it is more participation from the community and a better image of our town for ourselves and those that travel here from afar.

 

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We want a clean and beautiful home and one of our main goals to help reduce trash in the streets and keep us from perpetually repeating this weekly ritual is to find ways to provide curbside trash cans for each house in Mahahual. A majority of the homes here in town simply bundle their trash in plastic bags and place them on the sidewalk for the trash truck to pick up. The problem is that this rings the dinner bell for dogs, cats, raccoons, monkeys, hippopotami…you name it, to come in and let the feast begin. They easily open the bags looking for food and the rest of the trash spills out into the street to scatter with the warm tropical wind.

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Now some would say, “Isn’t it the responsibility of each homeowner to get their own trashcan? How much hassle could it be?” And if you don’t know the answer to that question then you haven’t spent enough time here. Things don’t always come down to reason on the Mayan coast. But, we want a clean Mahahual and if the homeowners without bins haven’t gotten one by now, they aren’t going to get one any time soon. So, we prefer to provide one for them just to make it easier on ourselves and achieve our goals of a clean green Mahahual.

This week, some members of our group scored a huge victory and were able to put together a letter to present to the Costa Maya Port, signed by members of the community, to ask for a donation of trash cans and they said they would be happy to help! So a big thank you goes out to them and they stand to benefit as much as any of us from clean streets if cruise ship tourists aren’t presented with a littered paradise.

In addition to that, other members started a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money to buy trash cans to distribute. If you love Mahahual, and chances are if you are reading this blog you do, and you feel the urge to constribute to its well-being but don’t know how, you can click the link here and kick in a few dollars, pesos, pounds, euros, whatever! We would be happy to have it. https://www.gofundme.com/cqm4j4-for-a-clean-mahahual?fbclid=IwAR1ZdC2_YhmrtdM2V9VgP3BQAliHP-T27gNmGQ8bABk6E7C3m67L9giLLUk

We are going to continue to do our part to keep this natural gem sparkling and hopefully inspire others to join us. With time, the efforts of ours as well as other groups in Mahahual dedicated to education and conservation will hopefully pay off and we won’t need to get together every week to clean up. Our Sunday reunions will be but a fond memory. But for now we will keep putting on the gloves, boots, and mosquito repellent and hitting the streets because we ARE making a difference.

When you are in town visiting be sure to check for our posts on the facebook groups and join us if you can! It is a very rewarding feeling and we don’t turn anybody away!

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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!

 

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!

 

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!

Locals Spotlight #3

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This edition of Locals Spotlight we are reaching waaaaaay back in the bag of locals and Talking to Evan Mckenzie, the well-known and long established owner of Nacional Beach Club, a great hotel, restaurant, and all-around hang out spot on the malecon, to find out about himself, his lovely family, and his business. Evan is an “O.G.” of Mahahual, if you will, and has seen a lot of changes to our little community. Let’s dig in…

CML: Thanks for sitting down with me Evan. Let’s jump right in. How did you discover Mahahual and when did you come here for the first time?

Evan: It was the glorious year of 1998 the first time I visited Mahahual with my father.  A neighbor of ours in Playa del Carmen told him about a quiet little fishing village located in the South of Quintana Roo called Xcalak. He bought his first property there in 1997 but it didn’t take him long to decide that Mahahual would probably grow first as a tourist destination. So I came down with him in ’98 to check it out.

CML: What were your impressions of the town? What was it like?

Evan: I remember telling my father when he asked me what I thought about the town of Mahahual as we stood on one of our first 9x18meter lots in the center of Mahahual overlooking the ocean “ Well Dad it is certainly beautiful here but there is not much going on”. To which he replied “You will see that will change with time”. He was absolutely right.

CML: When did you decide to come live here? What was your plan and what did your friends and family think?

Evan: I decided to move to Mahahual in the fall of 2005 once I graduated from Arizona State University with a double degree in Hotel/Restaurant Management & Business Administration. My Family was really very supportive and happy to hear I would be moving to a country full of culture & wonderful people that we all  thoroughly enjoyed visiting throughout my youth.

CML: And at some point you met your wife Ana, who is heavily involved in conservation and recycling with her group “Menos Plastico es Fantastico en Mahahual“. Tell me about that.

Evan: I met my beautiful wife Ana on the beach in Mahahual where else haha? We met while I was having breakfast in the Spring of 2007. The moment I laid eyes on her I was absolutely in love. 

I had just started my first little bohemian restaurant “Cosas Naturales” which only served fresh juices, smoothies,  breakfast, salads & wraps while Ana was working on her first restaurant with one of her best friends which served typical Chilean dishes beach side. 

CML: And then some point later you guys opened Nacional Beach Club right?

Evan: Ana and I decided to develop Nacional Beach Club once FONATUR finished developing the first stage of the malecon in 2008. We started with very basic drawings using our imagination and before long found an architect in Chetumal for the finalized plans & licensing, right where “Cosas Naturales” stood. 

We started with 3 bungalows, a restaurant/bar and three locals to service the beach.  It did not take us long to figure out that there was demand for lodging in the sleepy little village as eager tourists arrived from all over Mexico and the world to visit these tranquil white sand beaches with glistening Caribbean water at is edges. And we’ve been growing ever since then!

CML: So you guys got married and have two beautiful daughters. What is it like raising a family here?

Evan: I have only raised one family and only in Mahahual but could not imagine doing so anywhere else on earth. Many guests at our establishment truly admire us for this as it is such a peaceful place to raise children. 

CML: What are the biggest changes you have seen here, good or bad? How would you like to see Mahahual grow in the future?

Evan: Growth is inevitable but I feel that the condo developments change the image of Mahahual. We should undoubtedly grow green with more emphasis on sustainable tourism, growth & education within our community. We must all agree that no one comes to Mahahual for large shopping plazas or to visit monstrosity hotel chains but simply to enjoy pristine beaches, coral reefs, and to support small business models. 

I strongly believe that Mahahual sells itself, simple as that, and that we the entrepreneurs need to preserve the natural beauty as much as possible.  Hence the less impact we make the more of a niche we will create for a eco-tourism that will vary from our neighbors to the north.  Though many of us complain about the Costa Maya Port we must also all thank this industry for providing us with a very steady supply of tourism throughout the year.  We should also be thankful to the National & International tourism that the highway brings us constantly thanks to the Chetumal & Cancun Airport.

CML: Well put. What is your favorite part about living in Mahahual? 

Evan: Definitely always looking at the Caribbean Sea and feeling a fresh clean breeze.

CML: Is this home? Are you planning on being here forever?

Evan: Forever and ever!

Stop by and see Evan and his family the next time you are in town at Nacional Beach Club!