by Lydia Linton Pontius
photos: Alexandra Bradley
video: Lydia Linton Pontius (many links are to videos)
We arrived in Mahahual in the middle of the afternoon; all was quiet. It had been 10 years since my last visit and I was amazed at how much new development was there. Years ago there were two small restaurants on the beach in this tiny fishing village. Now there were lots of new buildings and more roads, but we didn't see a lot of people or much traffic. Parking was easy and no one was on the streets. It was still quiet and sleepy. The effects of Hurricane Dean were still very apparent with some mangroves appearing mostly dead, though new growth was visible.
We arrived and stopped in to say hi to Kevin Graham, at his Costa Maya Living real estate office in town. We then headed on to the Balamku Inn. We arrived just as the sun was beginning to lower over the mangroves to the west, and the place glowed. Balamku is a wonderful boutique resort and a perfect location for a small wedding or retreat. There are 8 rooms in 4 two-story palapa-roofed buildings, with balconies and great views of the Caribbean Sea, and 2 one-story single-palapa honeymoon suites. This resort is very eco-friendly, utilizing a wind-and-solar electric system and composting toilets. It is owned and operated by Carol and Alan. Carol is a wealth of information about the area and very involved with the community. We hope to hear more updates about what is happening in Mahahual from her in months to come.
The sunset was wonderful and the stars gave us an amazing show. We fell asleep to the sound of the sea lapping along the shore. The next morning we awoke at sunrise and were delighted to stroll along the shoreline and enjoy the birds and peacefulness of the surroundings.
During breakfast we had the pleasure of meeting Barbara and Patrick. Barb is a dive instructor who has agreed to share her stories with Sac-Be. She has already sent us enough for several months to come.
After breakfast I took advantage of the kayaks that are available to the guests and went out to look at the resort from the water. By this time, much to my surprise, not one but two cruise ships had arrived at the Mahahual dock. You can't hear them at Balamku but you can watch them slip by off on the horizon to the north.
The curiosity got to be too much and I had to go see what effects these ships had on the sleepy little fishing village. We packed up and reluctantly said goodbye to our new friends, vowing to be back soon.
Carol had tried to prepare us for how different town would be, but nothing really could. I have no idea where the yellow taxis came from, but it seemed like there were more than NYC has at rush hour. And that is just a portion of the congestion; beware of tourists on ATVs parading down the roads like an army of ants. The changes in less than 24 hours were as amazing as what Alice saw after stepping through the looking glass.
We followed some taxis through town, there was not a parking spot to be found, and you could feel the energy. We kept going and went north through the new pueblo and over to the cruise ship pier. I thought that the town with its new Malecon and traffic was shocking; this pier area is downright another world. I saw things that in all my travels in Mexico I have seen only in one other place, Tijuana—donkeys with big sombreros—and it was about as far from the real Costa Maya as you can get. My first thought was how sad it is that all these cruise ship people have to forfeit their chances to see what this area really is like.
We drove the length of the shopping area and headed back to town to walk the Malecon and find lunch. What we found here was also, in my opinion, very deceiving: the people we know and love for their warmth and humor were busy hawking their wares trying as hard as they could to make as many pesos as they could. Totally understanding the need to make money while you can, even the school children were out of school and working.
We stopped at the northern end of the Malecon and had a very mediocre lunch at El Paraiso. I am sure the same lunch would have cost half as much if we had gone to the restaurant instead of choosing to sit at the tables they had moved to the beach. The waiter literally had to run down the street to handle our order. Note to self: Don't eat where you can't see the restaurant. It was not one of our better decisions, but we were literally overwhelmed by the time we needed to decide.
My advice to anyone who has visited the Costa Maya by cruise ship is to come back and see this place sans cruise ships. I guarantee you will be as amazed by the difference as we were, and pleasantly surprised by the natural beauty and by the people!