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!

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!

Taxis in Revolt in Costa Maya!

If you’ve ever spent any time in any of the various Mahahual groups on facebook you are bound to have come across regular complaints against the taxis here, especially on cruise ship days.  Some of the more common complaints are that the taxis don’t stop for locals on ship days because they charge the tourists 4-8 times what they can charge locals, driving too fast and reckless in the neighborhoods, too many taxis in town, and running over pets of all kinds. They definitely don’t have the best reputation and when people have a complaint the taxi drivers flipantly reply “go register an official complaint” because they know nothing will come of it. They have a monopoly on taxi service in this state leaving the population with no other options…until recently.

A few weeks ago a law was passed opening up the doors for competition to other services like Uber or Lyft, putting the “sindicato” into upheaval and sparking massive celebrations in the facebook groups by locals. It seemed the day had finally come for the yellow bullies, but they haven’t taken it lying down.

A week later the taxi drivers organized one morning statewide, from Cancun to Chetumal, to block the streets and highways in various locations with big groups of taxis, letting nobody through for a few hours at a time. In Mahuahual they blocked the cafetal, the main road into town coming from 307 and Limones, for a few hours one afternoon. I heard that this ugly tactic was taken advantage of by a few opportunistic and putrid taxistas by offering rides from Limones to Mahahual to unsuspecting travelers and then charging the passengers extra to take them back to Limones once they encountered the block. Repugnant behavior that was the reason for the passing of the law in the first place.

Things have been relatively quiet the last few weeks until Monday, when the taxi drivers employed their favorite blocking tactic at the entrance to the port to protest the fact that cruise ship passengers get shuttled to and from the port by the Costa Maya trailers and not the taxis. An online report stated that the port manager came out to speak with them but left after a few minutes because they were throwing threats his way.

The taxistas were only able to block the port for a few minutes in the morning and the afternoon but the uproar couldn’t have left a good taste in the mouths of tourists or locals. If they are looking for support, they won’t find it with the same ugly behaviors that earned them their bad reputations in the first place.

If they want to survive they have to learn that in a free market the best wins. If they wan’t to survive they are going to have to improve their service and standing in the community and let the bullying go. The monopoly has ended and the clock is ticking for them to clean up their act. Running over animals, over-charging tourists and foreigners, driving too fast through neigborhoods, it all has to stop.

If you find yourself in Mahahual and you need a ride from a taxi know these two things:

  1. Not all taxi drivers are bad so don’t automatically think you are getting into the car with the enemy, but…
  2. If you are not Mexican, especially if you are coming out of the port, a normal ride should only cost 1-2 dollars (or 20-40 pesos at MOST). And that is not per person. Don’t let them extort you. Don’t pay it. Somebody else will be happy to give you a ride.

Either way, Costa Maya Mahahual is a great place and we continue our march towards changing for the better. The fall of the taxi sindicato monopoly is just one more step on the road!

Chacchoben Ruins Tour with Mayan Trips

Yesterday was a sleepy Sunday in Mahahual. The spring breeze was lightly blowing, sending up dust from the beach sand that collects in town and gives a light sugary coat to everything during the dry season. My wife and I headed out to a late morning coffee, sipping slowly and chatting easily with a few locals about how their week had gone. We usually have plenty to do surprisingly, but on this particular Sunday we really didn’t have anything on the agenda and the beach was out of the question because we had gone diving the day before and were already sun-kissed to the brink of a burn.

As we meandered lazily back towards our house trying to figure out how to spend our day we ran into a good friend of ours, Carlos, who runs a tour company, Mayan Trips, at the local corner store. He seemed awfully preoccupied with something, given the present vibe of the town, so we asked him what was going on. He told us the cruise ship for the day had just docked and he was stocking the supplies for his tour to the Chacchoben Ruins. Then he just casually asked, “do you want to go?”. We looked at each other and thought why not? Our Sunday was set. We were to meet the van on the corner in 40 minutes.

The comfy white van pulled up just at the moment that we arrived to the corner and when the door slid open and the cool air conditioner hit us it was the perfect antithesis to the blazing sun. We loaded in and spoke to two adventurous older women, who were the only other passengers that day, and the friendly guide. We were on our way.

The ruins rest about 50 minutes from town and on the way the guide spoke to the curious tourists about local flora, fauna, customs, income, you name it. he was a wealth of information and happy to do it. We sat back and enjoyed the ride and AC while they chatted. We had both been to the ruins before with some friends of ours but were unable to really take advantage of the experience because of a heavy stomach bug I had been fighting that left me too weak to walk far without stopping, let alone climb, so the excitement was building to get another crack at it and have a guide to fill us in on the goodies.

When we arrived the guide offered us waters from the icy cooler they had brought for the passengers and showed us to the gate. If you have never been, the ruins are very impressive. We have visited various ruins around the peninsula and other parts of Mexico and something about Chacchoben is very special. It hasn’t been packed like other ruins we have visited such as Tulum and Chichen Itza either time we have visited and a lot of the tall trees and jungle vegetation remain intact, giving you a nice shady canopy to protect you from the sun. It also somehow makes the experience feel more authentic when everything isn’t clear cut. You feel like you are really seeing the Mayan world as it was.

Entering the park and taking the nice trail the first thing you come to is a huge pyramid known as Templo 24. Not a lot is known about Chacchoben but experts date the settlement of the area to around 200AD and most of the major structures to around 700AD.

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Off to the right there is a little trail that leads to a small area of ruins that isn’t on the maps of the park. Being ever curious, I decided to Indiana Jones my way down the trail to see what was at the end and even though these ruins aren’t on the map and aren’t big compared to the others, something about the juxtaposition of them against the back ground of the surrounding ranch was sublime. It is a beautiful area and I enjoyed this section just as much as any other. Ask your Mayan Trips guide about it and if he has time he may take you!

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Getting back and course and traveling down the trail you pass through “Plaza B” where you get a nice view of the other side of Templo 24. Then you enter the area known as “Las Vasijas”. This is the area where most of the trading and commerce of the site was done. It is a long stretch of sunken earth bordered on both sides by steps that definitely make it seem like a good place to bargain shop.

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After leaving Las Vasijas and continuing on the trail you come to the side of a platform that is easily two stories high. You just get the feeling that it is holding something truly special on top. Once you come all the way around to the front you can see the only stelae that remains from Chacchoben sitting peacefully in front of the main staircase that takes you up to the “gran basamento” where the other two pyramids sit.

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As you arrive to the summit and get a glimpse at the majesty of “Templo 1” you suddenly forget about your profuse sweat and lack of breath. The beauty of this main platform and remoteness of the location make you feel like you have stepped through time and the owners are just out hunting and will be back soon.

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After wondering around the Gran Basamento for 30 minutes or so it was time to head back to the van. The tour is only about 4-5 hrs round trip so it is perfect for a cruise excursion. You can take more time if you are staying in Mahahual and have your own car but then you miss out on the info that the guide has to give.

There are some photos and information that I have purposefully left out of the article so I wouldn’t spoil your dinner if you ever decide to go. With the internet the way it is I try as often as I can to leave some things to wonder before that artform is lost to humanity! Taking the trip to these ruins is definitely worth your time and money and Mayan Trips was a great tour group to go with. For bookings you can e-mail mayantrips@gmail.com.