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.

 

 

Local Knowledge #3

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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…

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…

 

Local Knowledge #2

Here in Mahahual there is a serious lack of first world comforts and conveniences. This is a big part of the charm but it can also be frustrating when you are looking for frozen raspberries or power sander papers. There aren’t any big box stores, not even a bank, and you are limited to what you can find in the various “mini supers” around town. Most of these charming little stores have the essentials…fried plantains, glass bottled coca-cola, bleach and a tomato or two. You get the idea.

Being from a more developed part of the world you can become frustrated from the urgency you feel when you need or want something you don’t have. Heck, you know the days of instant gratification are here when drones dropping things off at your house 3 hours after you order them online is not a thing of science fiction. But as time goes by and you begin to really settle in to the Mahahualense way of life you realize that, if you are patient, most of the things you need will just come to you!

One of the great things about Mahahual, and Mexico in general, is that the budding entrepreneurs of the area begin their businesses by piling their wares in the car, bike, or triciclo and peddling them down your street! Everything is available, from bread and water to plastic trash cans, even fresh made furniture, and all you have to do is wait for the sound of the bell or horn, look out your window, and see what is coming down your street!

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So unless you have an emergency, take a breath and breathe in the beauty of waiting for the special day when the thing you need comes beeping down your street. It is like Christmas!

 

 

 

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?

 

Mahahual Locals Spotlight #2

This month in the Locals Spotlight we were privileged to interview Miqueas Gomez Vasquez, a talented local builder who specializes in abanileria (masonry/structural building). He is a master of his craft, employing his talents to build anything from closets to entire houses, and his infectious smile and honest, easy-going personality are an extra topping, free of charge, with his work. Let’s dig in…

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CML: Thanks for talking to us Miqueas. Tell me first where you are from and how did you come to Mahahual for the first time?

Miqueas: I am originally from Chiapas. I first came to Mahahual 15 years ago on a mission trip to teach people about the Bible. It was a very different place back then.

CML: I can imagine. Tell me what it was like…

Miqueas: Well it was a tiny blip on the map. No tourists, no lighthouse, no malecon, no casitas, nothing. The beach was completely virgin. There were no paved roads and the only way to get here was through the beach road. It took several bumpy hours from the next place. The highway that everybody uses to get here now didn’t exist. And nothing at the beach was there. Maybe two stores. It was really just a couple of huts and fishermen.

CML: Wow! So you came with a church group?

Miqueas: Yes there was a group of us and we stayed a few kilometers down the beach for a month in a little palapa owned by a foreign guy. I can’t remember his name now because it has been so long. But I think it is still there… We just wanted to educate people about the bible who had no other way of getting the education.

CML: Well that sounds like a great trip. So then you went back to Chiapas. When did you decide to move to Mahahual permanently?

Miqueas: I came back to Mahahual to live about six years ago.

CML: But now it was very different, right?

Miqueas: VERY different. They had built the malecon, casitas, the port, the lighthouse, hotels, restaurants, shops, everything.  It was really surprising. Suddenly it was a little town with a lot more business and things to do.

CML: Well I imagine that was a good thing for you. Did you always work doing the same thing or did you do a little of this and a little of that like everybody else here?

Miqueas: Yes at the beginning I did a little of this and a little of that. I dedicated myself mostly to plumbing but I even sold bread for a little while! I did mostly plumbing with a little abanileria (structural work) here and there until the abanileria really picked up. Now I do almost exclusively abanileria.

CML: That’s great. How about your family. Were you already married when you came?

Miqueas: No my wife and I got married here about 5 years ago. In the mayor’s office there was a judge that would come from time to time and do marriages so we got married there and then we had a party on the beach.

CML: Very cool! So you guys had all of the family down from Chiapas and did a big party?

Miqueas: Well it wasn’t that big. We had family but not everybody came because we didn’t have the resources to bring everybody down. We had friends and a few family members at the beach and had a good time. Then we went to Chiapas and had another party so it was ok.

CML: And your kids? Were they born here?

Miqueas: Well none of the kids are born in Mahahual haha. They were born in Chetumal.

CML: Of course! but they are growing up here and are happy?

Miqueas: Yes they love it. We always take them to the beach to play and there are better schools here now and other kids to play with so it is good.

CML: So what is the biggest change you have seen in your time here in Mahahual?

Miqueas: Well the most interesting thing is that there isn’t a big distinction between the low season and the high season anymore. Before when I first came, during the high season there were lots of tourists coming from the cruise ships like normal but then during the low season it was practically deserted. Now there seem to be people all of the time.

CML: How do you feel about that? Do you think Mahahual is going to keep growing or do you think it will stay small.

Miqueas: I think Mahahual will grow but not to the size of Playa del Carmen or Cancun. And growth is good because there are still a lot of things we need. The only thing I worry about is public access to the beach. In Cancun they put up a lot of huge hotels that privatized the beaches so the public practically have no way to just go enjoy the beach. I worry about that happening here.

CML: Yeah I think as a community we all need to be on our toes about that to make sure there is always a nice public beach for us to enjoy.

Miqueas: Absolutely

CML: Ok my friend here is your last question: What is your favorite thing about Mahahual?

Miqueas: That’s easy…seeing the sunrise and the sunset. More the sunset. There is something indescribable about it. It is really magical here.

CML: I couldn’t agree more! Well thank you again for talking to us and giving us a little peak into your life!

Miqueas: Thank you!

 

You can find Miqueas around town riding his red scooter or working on a job site. For project inquiries you can use whatsap +5219831855247.