Our first port stop was in Costa Maya, Mexico and Nancy had received word that customs would not allow us to bring large quantities of school supplies on shore. This was a bit disappointing, but we were still able to bring the decorated fish craft and enough supplies to help out a little. We were met by our contact Kevin and his friend Nick, both expats who visited Costa Maya at one point in their lives and ended up settling in the community.
Kevin took us to Mahahual where we met with the mayor and community representatives. Our first glimpse of where the children’s education begins was a stop at the preschool, a one room shanty near the highway. We then made our way to the elementary school, which consists of two rooms: one for lower elementary and one for upper elementary. Some volunteers were on the grounds putting together a swingset provided by Diamonds International. We were greeted by a few students and their parents, who were very excited to see us.
We all began to start decorating the school rooms with the fish made by Norwegian Spirit passengers and balloons and streamers. I had so much fun blowing up the balloons and making funny faces, trying to get the kids past their wariness of a stranger. Before long, each child was walking around with a balloon and I had even convinced the youngest of the group to help place colorful cutouts on the walls. The best part of the morning was sharing the message with this small community that the cruise ship crew and passengers do care about them.
After our impromptu decorating committee disbanded, Kevin and Nick showed us around the neighborhood where this community lives. The land belonged to the community, but after Hurricane Dean, everything was completely wiped out, including the schools and homes. The community leaders were offered sturdy housing in exchange for the rights to most of their land. We drove down narrow dirt paths that were lined with very small concrete houses with no electricity and no running water. The concrete hasn’t even been painted yet making this a dreary place indeed. Thankfully, there are citizens such as Kevin and Nick who are extending a hand and getting the word out about what is needed to assist these friendly people of the Mahahual community.
We did take a tour of the town itself with community representative Cesar. He showed us the medical clinic and the land that was procured to provide a park and recreation center for the youth, as well as internet access so that the younger generation can have access to the knowledge needed to succeed in today’s world. We also drove around the beach area and then stopped for lunch at a local owned restaurant, 100% Agave, where the owner made us feel like royalty with his big smile and tray of tequila and mescal for tasting.
As Kevin, Nick, Cesar, Nancy and I shared spirits and soul searching, I felt like I was brought into a secret club of those in the know. We enjoyed our lunch in leisurely fashion, watching locals walk by, some calling out a hello to our meal companions, others looking at the two gringo ladies strangely. The low murmur of conversation from other tables at this quaint, open air cantina made me ponder that while cruise ships may come to Costa Maya as a port stop, providing much needed revenue, I hope that it can retain its true feel of what a Mexico beach town should really be like.
If you plan on visiting Costa Maya, for a day or a week, be sure to get in touch with Kevin and bring a small bag of needed items such as crayons, notebooks, pencils, flashcard, and games to this community that has suffered so much devastation, yet they all still have smiles on their faces.