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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.