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…

 

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!