by Mike Pontius (June 2012)
We checked out of our lovely hotel, Mataan Ka'an, a block removed from Mahahual's Malecon after a hearty breakfast on the beach. Our destination was only about 15 minutes south of town—a place called Balamku Inn on the Beach.
The owners of this idyllic inn/B&B, Alan and Carol Tumber, have been advertisers on Sac-Be.com for several years. As the guy in charge of "Web stuff," I had communicated with Carol many times, but we'd never met. My wife, Lydia (your publisher and editor), being more outgoing and having far more opportunity, had stayed at Balamku the previous year. At any rate, Carol couldn't have been more welcoming or our short, one-night stay more relaxing.
After checking into our room, almost more like a tiny cottage on the beach, Carol gave Lydia and me a tour of the property. If you're lucky enough to visit, I think you'll agree that the highlight of the tour is Carol's description of the lengths she and Alan have gone to to create a truly sustainable resort. With a combination of wind power, solar power and a back-up generator, visitors to Balamku enjoy everything (except hair dryers) you would expect to on vacation, even though you are off the grid. That's right—there's no traditional electric power delivery to Balamku.
I spent most of the rest of the afternoon reading in the hammock and then the four of us—Lydia, me, Matt (our son), and his girlfriend, now fiancée, Lisa—drove into Mahahual for dinner.
The next morning, Lydia and I arose early, grabbed some coffee from the dining room and went for a long walk on the beach toward town. It was a perfect morning for a walk, which was uneventful until we got up near the inlet. Here there is a small bridge for the sandy beach road and a dead end for beach walkers. What caught our attention as we approached the inlet was the color of the water. As we neared the bridge, the water became increasingly reddish-brown in color, not unlike a cup of strong tea. This harkened back to something Carol had explained the day before.
When we had first arrived at Balamku we asked why the color of the water right along the sand was discolored. She mentioned that, depending on winds and currents, the water that rushes out of the little inlet can flow down the beach. The inlet is where the mangrove nutrients flush out into the Caribbean. Like steeping tea leaves, these natural chemicals cause the water to change color. Even more interesting, Carol told us that the nearby coral reef depends on these nutrients for its health, so the natural flushing of the mangrove swamp is critical to the ecosystem.
The problem, she explained, is that people are cutting off the natural flow between the two systems. The Malecon in Mahahual, for instance, blocks this flow for a long stretch, thus causing stress to the reef just off shore. Only something a whole lot smarter than us, I thought, could have created a system that is so complex and so interdependent. Unfortunately, we only know enough to screw it up!