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!

 

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…

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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!

 

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!

Mexico Eliminated from World Cup: Mahahual to Return to Normal

serveimage (14)Well it was fun while it lasted! Today “el Tri”, the Mexican national soccer team, was eliminated in the first round of the knock out stage of the world up by Brasil.

For the past two weeks, early morning cheers, screams, horns and whistles have sounded out the emotion and passion of Mahahualenos as they cheered for the boys half a world away in Russia.

The tournament started out on a high note as El Tri scored a big win over defending champs Germany in the first game of the group stage. Then another victory over South Korea had our little town floating on air as the light tourist season allowed time to watch and revel and local bars and restaurants. The normally busy pedestrian streets were empty as locals gathered to watch.

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The third match was something of a cardiac case as the national team took a 3-0 walloping from Sweden, putting Germany in the position to knock us out if they were to merely tie in their match with the much weaker South Korea. As the games were taking place simultaneously, Mahahual collectively held its breath as the clock wound closer to the 90th minute and the score remained 0-0 for the Germans and Koreans.

Then one minute into extra time Korea scored the first goal sending roars into our tiny collective atmosphere, but there were 5 minutes left to play and the German soccer machine is a titan not to be counted out. at 5:51 into extra time Korea sealed the deal, sending a wave of celebration across the lower portion of North America, local celebratory tequila shots, and sparking international displays of praise and gratitude for any Korean seen by a group of Mexicans (see some hilarious videos here).

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But everybody knew today would be a tough ask of the boys in green as they faced the South American soccer juggernaut Brasil. Neymar, Brasil’s best player, or actor depending on who you ask, did what he does best and put on a Lebron’ing showcase that would make the Lakers’ newest acquisition proud.

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Meanwhile Ochoa, Mexico’s revered goal keeper, put up a brick wall, blocking 8 attempts on goal and drawing the admiration of soccer fans for the second straight world cup in the 2-0 loss.

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End the end El Tri did well. The win over Germany will not soon be forgotten in the minds of Mahahualenos and Mexicans everywhere and making it to the round of 16 is an accomplishment in and of itself. Maybe in 2022 we will finally see the team to the quarter final match that has eluded them since 1986. For now, Mahahual can return to normal.

 

 

The Legend of Oxxo in Mahahual

There has been a rumor circulating in our small town for quite some time. A rumor about a sacred place that where goods are exchanged for money, bills are paid, money is wired, and the pueblo gathers under the glow of incandescent light. Late at night on the street you hear whispers of it. Once in a while you will see a flyer for it. One day Mahahual will become the chosen home of the newest Oxxo! Dum dum duuuuuummmm…

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Oxxo, if you don’t know what it is, is probably the most popular chain of convenience stores in Mexico. Think of it as the Mexican 711. That might not get you very excited but no matter how you view it, will be good for our little town. It will bring some much needed services that aren’t available here under its own banner and may even attract a few other businesses that are sorely needed in this part of the world.  We surely don’t necessarily need another place to buy cerveza and chicharones, but sending and receiving money and paying bills more easily would be a breath of fresh air.

The only thing is that, Mahahual being a tiny town, the rumor abounds but nobody seems to know quite where or when it will be. Judging by the lack of certainty I wouldn’t even be completely sold on the fact that it is actually coming if I hadn’t seen the flyer a few months ago looking to interview employees. That sold me, but I can’t for the life of me figure out the mystery.

Every new construction in town is assigned to Oxxo by one person or another. At the beginning it was going to be at the beach beside the Mahahual Cigar lounge but that didn’t make sense because that lot is huge and beach front. Way too much for a tiny Oxxo. One guy says it will be where they are building new condos on Calle Chacchoben in Casitas but I asked the contractor and he assured me that he was building condos. Everytime ground is broken, someone says it is Oxxo.

The only thing that we can do here is watch and wait. One day it is certain that a touch of modernity will land in our area but where and when we won’t know until they turn on the light! Which leads me to local knowledge #3…

 

Is it Safe to Eat Barracuda?

Barracuda is an oft caught fish in Costa Maya and can be really exciting due to their size and ferocity when they hit your line. They are also a really neat looking fish. But if you are like me, the fight that ensues when reeling in a creature from the deep blue is only a small portion of the excitement. I get REALLY excited when the fish that surfaces is not only big but something that I can feed to my friends and neighbors as I soak in the ooo’s and ahhh’s and tell the tall tale of how I landed the beasty leviathan.

Barracuda is a tough one and it seems that, like many things in life, there is no definitive and clear black and white answer to the question of whether or not they are safe to eat.  They are a predator fish and like most predators that are near the top of the food chain, they have a higher mercury content in their bodies than the fish they feed on. This alone puts then on the “consume less often” list along with Tuna, Swordfish, Grouper and Mackerel.

But they also can be infected with a toxin called ciguatera. Ciguatera is contracted from reef fish that consume it from contaminated coral, algae and seaweed and pass it up the food chain through biomagnification, the same process that the tops dogs get the mercury concentrations. Ciguatoxin is odorless and tasteless and cannot be cooked out of food with high heat. The symptoms of toxicity in humans include gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and neurological effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, muscle aches, numbness of the extremities, vertigo and hallucinations. The symptoms can last from weeks to years in some cases.

So with these two spooky possibilities lurking out there how do we know which of the fish are fine to eat and which will have us seeing little green men? Like we said earlier the world isn’t black and white so not all fish are going to be affected and you don’t want to miss out on a potentially tasty meal right? You would think someone would have come up with a good scientific test to see if your barracuda was poisonous but alas, all we have are good old folk tests like these to rely on…

One test is to cut off a piece of the flesh and lay it by an ant hill. If the ants eat it, it is fine to eat.

Another is to do the same with your cat. If your cat eats the flesh it should also be fine.

Another is to place a silver coin under the scales of the fish, an fish that is not good to eat would turn the coin black.

Some say not to eat a barracuda that is over 10 pounds because the bigger the fish, the older it is and the more other fish it has eaten.

And finally, some say not to eat barracuda during months that don’t have and “r” in the name. Basically May-August. Locals say this is the season where the barracuda dine on a particular seaweed to cleans their system and makes them more toxic to us.

So we may not have the most exact answer to the barracuda question but these folk tests have passed the test of time. I wouldn’t bet my mortgage on any one of them but I think that using them all together as a guide leaves you on the good side of safe. I have eaten barracuda and it is a lovely tasting fish. I would certainly hate for anyone else to lose out on it out of fear. Besides, what’s life without a little risk?