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!

Local Knowledge #3

rumor

Mahahual is  very small town. I don’t know how many of you grew up for spent any time in small towns but I have come to realize that they are very similar to one another in many ways, regardless of culture or language. I am from a tiny farm town in eastern North Carolina and I have been serendipitously reminded of my formative years more than once since moving here.

The local knowledge for this post applies to the Oxxo post and to most small towns that I know of. There are always lots of talk and rumors about things going on in town, most of them erroneous or innocently misinformed. If I had a chicken strip for every time my childhood friend Nick told me that Taco Bell and Bojangles were coming to our small town I would have a lot of chicken strips.

When you hear these rumors, you should know that you’ll never really know until the rumor becomes a reality! Don’t waste your time and hope speculating. Just wait….and see…

Mahahual Locals Spotlight #1

Hello all!  We are back at it after some time off and are starting off strong with a new series; “Mahahual Locals Spotlight”. This series will be published monthly and will highlight the journey of a well-known local who fell in love with our lovely little town and never looked back.

As you know, Mahahual is a special place full of special people that makes up a very unique community of locals, born and raised nearby, Mexican nationals who moved from far away parts of the country, Europeans, Americans, Canadians…you name it! We are all here experiencing this crazy ride together and each of our unique personalities and stories are what makes Mahahual what it is! Let’s get started!

This month we interviewed Lorena Lucidi, the well known, multi-talented, and lovely manager/waitress/owner/bartender of Divino Delicia Italiana, and Divino Delicia Mexicana, two of the staple restaurants here in Mahahual. You can catch her any day (except Monday!) in Divino Delicia Mexicana on the first corner in Casitas serving up delicious cappuccinos, vegetarian omelets, and huevos mexicanos to locals and tourists alike in three different languages, with a smile and relaxed demeanor.

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Costa Maya Life: Well first thing is first, how did you end up in Mahahual?

Lorena: It’s a long story! My husband and I are originally from Italy but where living in London for several years. The weather was bad and the pace of life was just too much for us. We wanted to do something different so we could enjoy life more. My husband’s father, Angelo, had moved down from Italy to Playa Del Carmen and we decided to go live with him. But we quickly realized that Playa Del Carmen, even though it isn’t as big as London, had the same pace as a city 10 times its size.  It wasn’t much different.

Costa Maya Life: Did you guys have a plan for what you wanted to do once you got there?

Lorena: We wanted to start a business renting paddle boards, jet skis and things like that but we realized that it was too expensive there. You have to pay a tax and the tax for each paddle board was as much as for a boat. We also thought about opening up a restaurant there but it was also extremely expensive. The rent and cost of living weren’t that different from Mahahual but to own a business was another thing.

Costa Maya Life: Yeah the tourism industry there is already pretty well established I would imagine! So how did you find Mahahual?

Lorena: Well some friends of ours had told us about Mahahual, it’s beautiful beaches and relaxed charm, and that there was a cruise port. So we came down to check it out and we loved it. We decided we wanted to stay right away!

Costa Maya Life: Yeah that seems to be how it happens!

Lorena: So we went back to get our stuff and moved down immediately.

Costa Maya Life: So what did you do for jobs when you first moved down?

Lorena: Well six years ago Mahahual was very different. There weren’t as many things here and there was a need for almost everything. We met some local hotel owners who let us open a business on the beach in front of their hotel renting paddle boards and jet skis like we wanted to in Playa Del Carmen. Imagine that for two people coming from London where it is cold and rainy all of the time, to a beach town in the Caribbean working all day every day on the beach, it was like a dream for us!

Costa Maya Life: Yeah it doesn’t get more picture perfect than that! So what happened? Why did you stop doing that?

Lorena: Well, being out on the beach all day, every day, is fun for a while but it does get old believe it or not! Business was good but we were having some problems with cruise ship tourists using the equipment and damaging it, then trying to get them to pay for it, or them getting hurt, because alcohol and jet skis aren’t really a good combination….it just became too much of a hassle. So we decided to look into opening up a restaurant because Angelo has a real passion for cooking. He loves it!

Costa Maya Life: And is that what he did in Italy? Owned a restaurant?

Lorena: No. He just loved cooking. And my husband and I had both worked in the industry in London. So we had some experience.

Costa Maya Life: Ok! So we all know that there are a lot of good Italian restaurants here in Mahahual. Were you guys one of the first?

Lorena: There were already some good restaurants in town but not too many when we opened Divino Delicias Italiano down at the beach. We wanted to open something nice, but not too fancy, where people could come for a good atmosphere but not have to worry about dressing up too much or paying to much.

Costa Maya Life: So business was good?

Lorena: Business was great! The first year there was always a line out the door waiting for a table. Every night!

Costa Maya Life: You guys do have some great food. That is totally understandable!

Lorena: Thank you. Then after the first year business kindof normalized and it has been steady since then.

Costa Maya Life: Well to the locals here in Casitas, Divino Delicia Mexicana is THE place to eat and enjoy some coffee. When did you open this one? What is the story?

Lorena: We decided to open this one after the success of Divino Delicia Italiana down at the beach. Before we bought it three years ago, this location was owned by a greek man and functioned more as a bar than a restaurant. When we first bought it we would be open until 5 in the morning and both sides of the street would be full of people because we were the only bar in Casitas. Pizza Papi was there, but this place was the spot!

Costa Maya Life: Yeah I remember when we first started coming down this place was really jumping at night!

Lorena: Yes but after a while it began to calm down some thank God. At the beginning we never had anybody come in to eat…maybe 10 people all day, but at night it was like a disco. Then after a while it began to shift and now we are more of a restaurant than a bar. we can’t stay open too late because they built the apartments above us and we can’t make so much noise.

Costa Maya Life: Yeah now it is really the low key local meet up spot. There are a few more places to go and have drinks in this area but this is still the place where “everybody knows your name”.

Lorena: Yep.

Costa Maya Life: Well that is a great story. One last question and I’ll let you go…What was the thing that really made you stop and say, “Wow. This is the place where we want to be”, when you first came down?

Lorena: Well we came down for two days the first time. The first day there was a cruise ship here so we saw the town and all of the people walking around and the potential to open a good business and that was positive. But the second day, when there was no ship and we saw how quiet and relaxed everything was, we really got that sense of freedom and relaxation that you really don’t get in many other places. Obviously the water is beautiful, the beaches are beautiful and the people are friendly…but that sense of freedom was really the thing that captured us.

Costa Maya Life: Yeah the air here can definitely be infectious. Thank you!

You can catch Lorena, her husband Marco, and her father-in-law Angelo anytime at Divino Delicia Mexicana in Casitas or Divino Delicia Italiana at the beach next to Hotel Pacha Mama every day except for Monday!