This list has been rattling around in my head for the last couple of weeks and while it has it exhausted me, it is nowhere near exhaustive. It’s primarily things about living in Xcalak we barely even notice anymore but that “normal” people might find inconvenient, if not downright crazy. From what I can tell so far, being a caretaker in Xcalak seems to require people with a rare blend of patience and fortitude mixed with a “can do” attitude and just a touch of insanity. After all, we’re miles away from, well just about anything, taking care of someone else’s property and if something goes wrong, you’ve got to figure it out. No quick trip to the hardware store. No calling a plumber or electrician. Combine that with the fact that many caretakers either can’t or don’t go more than a couple of miles from their property for months on end and you’ve got yourself a unique situation. Out of necessity, this situation gives caretakers a view of the world that’s a bit different than a vacationer or even your typical expat or local would have. What do I mean by that? Well…
- You no longer find conch shells beautiful, in fact, you see them as the enemy – In the not so distant past Xcalak was an extremely productive conch fishery meaning that the beaches are littered with thousands of conch shells (in fact it was so productive that conch are now endangered and illegal to fish for). These days most of the shells are partially buried in the sand just waiting to puncture the feet of an unsuspecting caretaker.
- You know that hermit crabs are a real danger while you’re grilling – I can’t begin to explain how many hermit crabs we have running around here, especially at dusk. When I’m grilling I’ve often turned away from the grill with a platter full of deliciousness only to step on a crab and nearly throw the whole platter skyhigh. I haven’t lost a single bit of food yet but I might have shrieked a couple of times.
- Your chosen method of transportation looks like this –
The road here can be rough and it’s often faster (and always more fun) to drive an ATV if you’re not going more than a few miles. Also handy for getting into hard to reach fishing spots and hauling loads of turtle grass, palm fronds etc.
- When you buy a 12 pack of beer it looks like this –
We don’t have any trash service here at the house so anything that doesn’t burn such as cans or glass has to be taken to the dump in the back of our car. Everything from spaghetti sauce jars to tuna cans to beer bottles must be stockpiled (not easy in the hot weather) for a trip to the dump. These “cagauamas” (basically a 40oz) of beer help out a lot since they’re roughly 4 beers in each bottle and the bottles are returnable. Lots of beer and no trash? Why aren’t more countries doing this?!
- You complain because the shower is too hot even though you don’t have a hot water heater – We don’t have a hot water heater and we’re okay with that (although you might want to check in with us again in December). Why? Because it’s really hot here and we don’t have AC, if I took a hot shower I’d probably pass out. What we crave at the end of a hot and dirty day is a nice cool shower. But our shower water comes from a big black tank on the roof called a tinaco. Imagine drinking a bottle of water you left in your car all day and you get the idea of the average temperature of the water coming from the tinaco at the end of a hot, sunny day.
- A game of fetch generally involves a coconut. – Some dogs here are different than your average house pet. They are guard dogs who defend their property and by necessity they have very strong jaws and sharp teeth. Our dogs regularly crunch through bones and complete coconuts in no time so balls and frisbees just don’t work for them. They are incredibly sweet and loyal to us but that loyalty doesn’t extend to games of fetch. If I throw a ball our dogs just stare at me. But if I roll a coconut? Game on!
- When someone mentions “the barracuda with the green stripe” or “Matt’s tiny shark” you know exactly what they’re talking about – And you also know where to find them. There is no nightlife or social life to speak of in Xcalak so we spend most of our free time in, on or around the water. If you snorkel or fish the same spots repeatedly you’re bound to get to know some of the fauna by name. Or at least by the names we made up for them.
- Around 14 times a day you think, “Where’s my machete” – The machete is the preferred tool for just about everything around here. Picking up coconuts? Machete. Moving palm fronds to the fire pit? Machete. Snake by the breakfast table? Machete. You get the idea.
- You know who the cheese lady is and will drive 2 hours round trip to see her –
Deidre and I love cheese. A lot. In fact, we love a lot of cheese. The food trucks normally bring manchego and I am a manchego fan but after almost 4 months of manchego, manchego, manchego you’ve got to have something different. Enter the cheese lady with her delicious gorgonzola, brie, camembert and her excellent selection of cured meats. We found her little store in Mahahual and will now drive a long ways to see her and her cheese. Thank you cheese lady!
- When you hear Bob Marley you immediately think that the water guy is out front – All of the various trucks that make deliveries on our road have their own sound to let you know they’ve arrived. Mainly it’s a horn or a whistle but the drinking water guy blares Bob Marley at about a million decibels. I think that’s why he always asks twice how much water we need and not just my meager Spanish skills.
- Your preferred medical professional is a veterinary technician. Our neighbor (and friend) is a vet tech and in addition to caring for the 498 dogs on the road she also runs triage for the multitude of bumps, cuts and bruises we all regularly get. Rusty nail through the finger? Stung by a lionfish? No problem, she’s got it covered. Sliced your leg open with your machete? Better head to Mahahual.
- A trip to the gas station begins like this –
Lots of things at the house run on diesel or gas (like the generator and the ATV) and the nearest gas station is an hour away so we stock up when we go. We often take turns driving with some of the other caretakers so we’re not making multiple trips.
- And sometimes ends like this:
- Everyone you know has a scorpion story – we live in the jungle, there are scorpions here. Deidre and I have seen a few dead ones but everyone else we know has stories of live ones and some have even been stung. Not as crazy at it sounds, think wasp or bee stings in the midwest to get an idea.
- When you see a palm tree you don’t think “paradise”, you think “death from above” – More people are killed by falling coconuts each year than are killed by sharks – true fact. If you’ve ever heard a coconut fall to the ground it sounds something like a bowling ball hitting the sand from 40 feet up. There are tons of coconut palms around here so before hanging a hammock, standing in the shade or building anything you’ve got to look up and make sure you’re not under a coconut palm. If you dare ignore them? Thump!
- Applebee’s in Chetumal (about 3 hours away) has become your shining paragon of culinary majesty – Okay, I know. It’s Applebees, there’s one in every single town in the United States, who cares? I do! You can only eat pasta and the food from the truck for so many weeks before you crave something different. Applebees is different you ask? It’s actually not and that’s what makes it so awesome. It’s a little slice of Americana heaven. Broccoli cheese soup, cold draft beer, fresh lettuce, chicken without bones or feet? Yes please!
- You take it in stride that some rocks float –
Volcanic pumice washes up here all the time. Gas trapped in the stone when it formed makes it light enough to float but it still looks and feels like a rock. No idea where they come from but I read that they can float for 20 years so they could be from about anywhere.
- You consider it rude to flush the toilet at a friend’s house – Everyone here gets their water from rainwater filled cisterns so water conservation is crucial, especially during the dry season. The general consensus is “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” However different people have different takes on what’s “mellow” so it’s always best to let the caretaker of the property decide. I know what you’re thinking, we’re still getting used to it too.
- Your day NEVER goes the way you plan it so you’ve just stopped planning things – Things go sideways here everyday. I love to plan my day out to make sure I get everything done that needs doing. Okay, today I’m going to ***CRASH***!!! Oh, a tree just fell through the fence and is blocking the road. Change of plans. It took a while to get used to the random interruptions but now we’ve learned to expect and even embrace them. Not only are we talking about T.I.M, we’re taking it to a whole new level – rural T.I.M. We still have a business to run so I still plan my days out but they are very, very flexible plans.
- Your morning commute looks like this:
No matter the difficulties and strange goings ons here in Xcalak we love it. It’s isolation and beauty more than make up for the inconveniences we experience from time to time.
The average caretaker in Xcalak is part vagabond, part Survivorman, part pirate, part adventurer, part pioneer, part MacGyver and 100% interesting and we’re happy to have joined their ranks. So what do you think? Do you think you’d like to be a caretaker in Xcalak? Or that you could handle it?