Meet Mary Henderson

by: Lydia Linton Pontius

I had the great pleasure to sit down and interview one of my favorite Akumalians. Mary is a pure joy to be with and her store, which she co-owns with Linda Tate, is wonderful. You can see the influence of these women in every item they sell in Ixchel Boutique. If you have not been in their store, you are really missing out on one of Akumal's special gems.

When did you first come to Akumal?

On a regular basis—1990. However, I came for one day in 1971 with my brother, Robin, his wife, and our mother. We came to see the Tulúm Archaeological Ruins. We were staying in Cozumel. At the time Cozumel had four hotels. We took a "speed" boat across this stretch of water and the safe harbor was Akumal. We took a real sac-be, white dirt road, to Tulúm, standing in the back of a pick-up truck. The ruins were fully excavated but we were the only four people there that day. Our guide was a charming, older Maya gentleman who spoke many languages.

The little statue in Akumal bay had been installed that same year and, before returning to Cozumel, we enjoyed a late lunch in Akumal at the palapa restaurant. The restaurant was established by Don Pablo Bush. It later burned down but, to my knowledge, it was the only building on Akumal's playa at that time. Can you believe the playa was thick with coco palms all the way to the water's edge???

On that same trip we visited Mérida and went to see both Uxmal and Chichén Itzá by car. The roads had more people and cows, even at night, than cars. We were in a big, old 1950s car with the wings and everything. It was quite an adventure.

It must have been very different when you returned almost 20 years later; tell us about that.

Well—July of 1990 was the beginning of brother Robin’s "GREAT Mexico Adventure." Robin called me from Mexico's Pacific side and suggested I find him accommodations in Akumal. After several phone calls, I reached Caribbean Fantasy. They sent me, by mail, 12 black-and-white photos of the only 12 houses in Akumal, and three of the 12 had swimming pools. I was fascinated with Casa Riviera (now Casa Luna) because its swimming pool came right into the living room!. Bill and Grace Guynes owned it and they became very good friends. My brother, Robin (this interview is with him too, she says with a chuckle) became an instant local.

With this swimming pool/living room in mind, I decided to come and visit for two weeks in September. We had an amazing time exploring every cove and road we could find—EVEN Punta Allen. Robin stayed for two months that first trip and continued to return for longer and longer periods of time. My trips to Akumal became more frequent also, but maybe only two–three times per year. While Robin got the coveted "Local" designation, I, for the longest time, was known simply as "Robin's sister."

We often visited Akumal, both together and separately, over the years. In 1994, Robin and I purchased Bodega Norte, Luna Azul. Also, in 1994, I learned to dive. Robin was already a diver and I was certified by the Original Akumal Dive Shop. At that time diving really dominated the scene in Akumal.

From that point, more and more condos and houses started being built in Akumal. Things really started to grow. In 1998, Robin bought me out of our place in Luna Azul, and I purchased Casita de Maria in Playa Caribe. It still holds that name to this day.

In 2000, we purchased Casa Tranquilidad, a cute house with a three-story casita building, on an interior lot in North Akumal. So after having a house in Akumal, I found I wanted to be here full time and, after a zillion years in education and government, I finally retired in January 2004. My career path included teaching high school English, administration for the Kentucky Department of Education, and managing the training function for the city of Louisville.

The "Moving to Mexico" garage sale was quite a success, and I got rid of all my belongings that I no longer needed. The things I couldn't bear to part with I packed up in a 1983 Chevy Blue Bird school bus with the seats removed. I planned to sell the bus in Belize once it had served its purpose. Didier Jackson drove the bus (a real feat of skill), his girlfriend at the time drove his Porsche, and I followed closely in the red Chrysler—we were quite a sight! We drove to Ft. Lauderdale, shipped the bus from there to Puerto Morelos, and Didier and I arrived by air. Problems and more problems ensued, but we finally got all of our belongings off the bus and to Akumal. However, the bus didn't make it. They said it was "too heavy for Mexican roads." Go figure!

My first six months in Akumal were really busy as Robin and I added two floors to the casa, and trips to Playa del Carmen and Cancún were all too frequent. This project was finished in August 2004, I moved to the new third floor, and Robin moved from the casita building to the first floor of the casa. Robin enjoyed living in this space his last two years. He is missed.

How did you start the store?

In the early '90s I met my friend Linda Tate Pongracz. After the casa building was finished, Linda and I were sitting at Turtle Bay Café when we found out that the space next door was available. On the spur of the moment we decided to start a business—we just didn't know what it would be. However, in August we made the deal and by October we were open for business. On a drive to Holbox to snorkel with the whale sharks, we developed our concept. We feature affordable quality clothes that are perfect for the warm, varied seasons in Akumal. A big part of the business is to provide Akumal women with great bathing suits and beach stuff. Part of the reason we kept the name Ixchel Boutique was because Ixchel means the Goddess of Fertility and/or Harvest, and is perhaps the only female goddess the Maya had. What better name for a boutique that was going to represent womanhood!

How do you share the workload?

Well, we are blessed with two wonderful employees, Diana and Emily. Linda mainly does the books, I mainly do the PR (these duties require an "office" at the bakery for both of us), and we both do the buying. DID I MENTION DIANA AND EMILY? There is a huge Tropical Fashion show in Las Vegas twice a year called Magic and we do a lot of shopping there. We also buy locally and we travel the region looking for good quality and good fabrics. We have featured specialty items from as far away as Oaxaca and San Cristóbal.

We really enjoy the store and we look to it with such pride. For example, when we see some of our clothes "walk by" on people we have never seen before, it's a good feeling!

What are some of your best memories?

This is a tough question. My first thoughts are things related to diving; a particularly memorable day was seeing a giant eagle ray with a baby swimming underneath her. This dive was led by women for women and was celebrated with champagne—it was the first of many such dives that summer.

Another fond memory is the "old" beach bar at Lol-Ha. This was before phones, Internet, etc. At 4:30 PM, it was definitely the place to be, because it was how you found out what was happening—practical ideas along with whimsies of Akumal.

But probably the most important memories have to do with the people I have met in Akumal—many of whom are still around. Akumal people are unique, crazy, smart, gregarious, unafraid and open-minded. ( I could go on and on with this description!)

What is one of your favorite secret places—somewhere not too many people know about?

Secret places are harder to come by, what with the all-inclusives dominating so many great beaches. One place I do enjoy is Muyil and the tour to Sian Ka'an that you and I took together with our friends the Gobys and the Sparks. That's a wonderful way to experience the mangrove. the savannah and ancient Maya ritual traveling.

Another secret place is my garden, with lots and lots of flowers, splash pool, and a newly built Maya-style temple; it's a perfect place to reflect.

What stands out to you the most about this area?

The community. In 2005 the community response and government response after two hurricanes were incredible. Everyone worked together and a spirit of cooperation was the norm. So I would say it is the nationals who live here, as well as those who are transplanted and/or visiting Akumal, that make it special—we seem to share common goals.


How has Akumal changed you?

Changed me? Maybe. Patience! My patience has improved. I have a whole new appreciation for the meaning of "manaña."

A big Akumal change was getting the city water through our pipes.

A big change I would welcome is fixing the road—all the way to the lagoon.

Language. My "Spanglish" is still terrible, but at least I can communicate in the shops and take care of the basics. When I first came down, I would go shopping for building supplies armed with a list written in Spanish; I built an entire house knowing very little Spanish. Now, I'm slightly more proficient—STRESS SLIGHTLY!

Perhaps I've also changed many first impressions. I marvel at the ingenuity of the people here. They don't throw anything out—they make it work and many have a wonderful sense of dignity about their jobs along, with a great sense of humor.

About that time Mary's phone rang and we both needed to head in other directions. I want to thank Mary for sharing her story with us. And I would like to encourage everyone to check out IXCHEL BOUTIQUE. Not only do they have great items, but now a beautiful line of handmade necklaces made by Nancy Poor is featured. A large portion of the proceeds of the sales of this jewelry goes to help the Frida Kahlo Telesecondaria Library. Mary and Linda know the importance of the library to encourage continued education with at-risk students. and to help build confidence and self-esteem which will aid in keeping these kids on the right track. The library is also available to adults in the community. This is the second library for Akumal. We all know what a great job the Hekab Be Biblioteca on the playa side of the highway does. Hekab Be has been around for many years and especially helps the small kids. Let's all support both of these fine Akumal institutions and make this new telesecondaria library an important tradition.

Mary holds the trophy for the "Robin's Best Shirt Award." The contest is held on the first Friday of each month at Lol-Ha Happy Hour at the Beach Bar, in memory of her brother, Robin!

Interview conducted November 2008 at Turtle Bay Café.

Mary Henderson
Akumal Villas

Cabanas Tulum