Imagine the giant eddy that would occur if powerful ocean currents swept for thousands of miles to swirl around a massive barrier reef system and then rush up the coastline of a jutting peninsula. Well there you have it, the waters off of Xcalak. The Mesoamerican reef system sits about a half mile off the coast of Xcalak and directly in the path of one major current coming up the coast of Central and South American and another major current that sweeps West across the Caribbean. These factors combine to create a giant vortex of nutrient rich waters resulting in a spectacular variety and quantity of wildlife.

xcalak eddy
Lots of arrows pointed at a pretty small piece of land.

Unfortunately this vortex also results in a spectacular variety and quantity of floating garbage and trash. This post isn’t going to be about worldwide reef decay or companies polluting our oceans – this is a family friendly blog and my vocabulary isn’t diverse enough for me to discuss those thoughts without offending everyone.

This is a fun post about strange things we find washed up on the beaches of Xcalak. I’m not talking about beer cans from a beach party or an occasional piece of wood, I don’t even mean the normal things like shoes, plastic bottles, sea grass, coral and shells. Those things are there but I want to talk about the more exotic things we find. Things like construction helmets from Nigeria, hotel slippers from Lisbon, Asian cleaning supplies and – wait, what? Oh you want pictures? Of course you do…one second here…okay got em. Sorry, I don’t normally have a camera with me on the beach but here’s a sampling of things we did manage to get pictures of.

On a regular basis we run across the remnants of soccer balls, volleyballs, beach toys and stuffed animals. Yes, stuffed animals. They are wet and soggy and nasty so naturally our dogs love them. It’s always a bit unnerving to wake up to a smelly stuffed animal greeting me from the porch first thing in the morning.

The dogs deposit a disturbing number of these things on our porch. I always wonder what the neighbors think...
The dogs bring a disturbing number of these things home with them from their walks. I always wonder what the neighbors think…that’s right, we don’t have any neighbors.

One of the things that surprises me the most is how far a lot of this stuff comes from. I always wonder if these things floated all the way from their “homeland”, were dropped off a passing ship from that country or some combination in between. For example, was this can lost overboard by a Vietnamese crewman on an American Cruise ship on it’s way to Cozumel or did a whole container of Vietnamese Pepsi get lost in the Indian Ocean and float all the way here?

Just looks like a normal Pepsi  until you realize all the writing is in Vietnamese.
Just looks like a normal Pepsi until you realize all the writing is in Vietnamese.

This one could have come from around the world or just up the street since I have no idea what language it’s in. I think it says that using this product protects your family from cholera, typhoid and diarrhea (don’t ask me how I figured that out) so I suspect it’s from a developing nation.

Any have any idea what language this is?
Anybody have any idea what language this is or where it might be from?

Somehow this can of French yeast rolled up on the beach the other day still sealed and totally dry inside. It’s got a few barnacles on the can but I think I’ll see if Deidre will try it in some of her bread. It’s from France, so it’s got to be fancy right?

French Yeast
It’s remarkable how much this guy resembles Deidre when she’s making bread, right down to the little hat.

This container of “Double Happiness” cigarettes came to us all the way from China. The smokes were all ruined though so I can’t tell you whether they were practicing truth in advertising or just using a snappy name.

Double Happiness? Some days that would make my head explode!
This thing is the size of a soup can, how would you fit it in your pocket? I suspect that’s why they fell overboard.

For some reason I run across a fully intact lightbulb about once a week. I know that they’re hollow and light so they should float good but they’re also made of glass and have to get past giant waves crashing over a reef!

A fully intact 3′ flourescent bulb. Much tougher than I ever gave them credit for.

We often find cans or bottles whose labels are inexplicable to us, we can’t read the language and the pictures don’t seem to help much either (kind of like shopping from the food truck).

No idea but I want some.
I have no idea what this is but if that cheery little guy is selling it, I want some.

Obviously we live by the ocean and that ocean contains boats. That ocean also contains a lot of reefs, shoals and flats so sometimes these boats and reefs don’t play so nice together and we find evidence of these boats on the beach.

wrecked boat in xcalak
We’re told that this boat wreckage washed up after a hurricane several years ago.

On occasion a boat will float to Xcalak from parts unknown more or less on purpose. The ocean current that flows past Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba brings disabled or underpowered boats right to the shores of the Xcalak area. Xcalak has a marine base so the boats end up here eventually.

xcalak cuban boat
Rumor has it that this boat washed ashore filled with Cuban refugees. From there the rumor about what happened to those refugees diverges into several different directions, depending on who you ask.

You’ll find two things at every property along the Xcalak beach road – hand carved wooden paddles and ship ropes. The paddles are cool because no one is really sure where they come from but there seem to be enough to go around. I know this for a fact, if you’re paddling in the ocean with one of these guys, you’re way more a man than I am. They are heavy!

Hand carved oar
Are people still making and using these things or has this been floating around the ocean for 100 years?

The ship ropes are massive, impervious to weather, bugs and mildew and are used for everything from railings to topes (speed bumps). I’m currently making a big mat for use as an outdoor sitting room and as a spot to get out of the sand for a bit. The one pictured below is a “little” one, it’s only about 5″ in diameter and about 15 feet long.

ship rope xcalak
I’ve heard these things cost over $5 a foot. If I can find a buyer I should have the car paid off in no time.

Not everything that washes up on the beaches of Xcalak comes in the form of garbage washed half way around the world. Some of it is very cool and very local. There are so many crabs, fish, Portuguese Man of War and birds that it’s hard to believe. I haven’t really included any wildlife in this post because the wildlife here deserves it’s own post. That being said – I couldn’t resist posting a picture of this little guy. A little research and I learned he’s a porpita porpita, also know as a blue-button jellyfish.

xcalak jellyfish
He’s about the size of a quarter and harmless to humans but best not to touch anyway.

Another thing that comes and goes along the beach sometimes are massive trees and tree stumps. Some of them have been here for years while others just seem to be passing by, one day a giant stump is washed up on the beach, the next day it’s a 1/4 mile down the beach and the next day it’s just gone. Vanished. Pretty crazy how strong the ocean is even on calm days.

Gigantic Logs
This thing has to way over a ton and it’s in a different spot everyday.

I think my favorite beach finds were actually considered trash at one point, though now I think they’ve reached a more exalted status. Just up the beach from our house is an unexcavated Mayan site that was once the place of a renewal ceremony. Basically this ceremony included ritually destroying all of the dishes, pottery etc from the previous year to insure a bountiful new year, I’m not sure how that works but I digress. The upshot of all of this is that there are thousands of pottery fragments in the jungle on the point up the beach from us. Sometimes these fragments are uncovered by high tide and exposed for the first time in years and sometimes we are lucky enough to find them!

Mayan Pottery
As a history nerd, finding these shards is way cooler than battling busloads of tourists to read a plaque.

This post was a difficult one for me to write because I didn’t want to give the impression that the beaches of Xcalak were filthy garbage piled cesspools because they’re not. Do they have some trash on them? Yes. Do they have a lot of trash in some places? Yes. Should this stop you from visiting this beautiful place? No.

clean xcalak beach
That looks like a pretty clean beach to me, care to join us?

Almost any beach in the world will accumulate trash (and anything else that floats) unless groomed daily. That picture we’ve all seen of the pristine beach without a hint of seaweed or a bottlecap to be found? That’s a real place, it just took hours of grooming to get it in shape for the picture. I’m still not going to go on a diatribe about pollution but I ask one simple thing of you my dear reader. Next time you’re about to open a new bottle of water please consider reusing one and filling it from the spigot on the fridge (or garrafon in Mexico). Every bottle we don’t open is one less that washes up on the beach somewhere.