The other day I noticed that the lid to one of our gas cans had broken and needed to be replaced. Not a big deal right? Except for the fact that there isn’t a shop in Xcalak that sells them. There’s a possibility of finding one in Mahahual but that would be a three hour round trip and I needed a fix faster than that. So like any self respecting Xcalakian (Xcalakense?) I headed to Seamart to get what I needed. A few minutes later I not only had a replacement cap but two spares as well. Due to the remoteness of Xcalak, it’s relative lack of stores and the massive amounts of things that wash up on the beaches here, the first stop to fix or build anything is Seamart. What is this Seamart place you ask? “Shopping at Seamart” is the local euphemism for browsing through all of the goodies that wash up on the beach until you find what you need. Seamart, get it? That’s right, when we need something our first option isn’t running to the store, it’s repurposing sea garbage we find when combing the beach.

I know what you’re thinking but it’s not like we’re eating mayonnaise out of a floating jar, using tooth brushes that have washed ashore or refilling water bottles we’ve found on the beach. Some of this stuff really isn’t garbage at all (though most of it is), it’s just been misplaced by its owners and/or fell off a boat. In fact, let’s not think of it as garbage at all, think of it more as a big floating garage sale and you’ve got a better idea of the kind of stuff I’m talking about here. So what do we do with all of these marvelous gifts from the sea? The repurposed items range from very practical, everyday use stuff to the downright artistic.

Let’s start with the practical. Believe it or not, a lot of wood floats up on the beach because, ahem, wood floats. This wood comes in all shapes and sizes but the most prized are large bamboo pieces, actual boards, pieces of timber and pallets. I’m not the handiest of people but even I’ve gotten into the habit of stockpiling wood when I see it, either for our own projects or to give to the neighbors for theirs. Here are some example projects.

The floors of the lagoons of are soft bottomless mud so having a place to get in and out of the boat is crucial. This dock was made from 100% scavenged wood.
Even if you don’t sink up to your neck in mud, you still probably want to rinse your feet before you come inside. Our footbath is made from bamboo, part of a packing crate and a plastic jug – all from the beach.
The tables made from driftwood are very cool but the bamboo drink holders are the best!

Another thing that’s used in a lot of projects are ships’ ropes. They’re massive, waterproof, antimicrobial and virtually indestructible so they are used in many ways including as fencing, edging, mats and speed bumps. If you’ve ever driven in Mexico than you’re familiar with the little speed bumps of death known as topes (pronounced toh-pays) and we even have them here in Xcalak. Of course since our roads are dirt they’re a little bit different and are made from rope rather than concrete.

Here’s a good example of a Rope (pronounced roh-pay – get it?). While it’s hard to go too fast on a potholed dirt road, it’s still a good speed deterrent.

Plastic jugs aren’t as glamorous as bamboo drink holders or docks but they certainly do come in handy. For example, most of our gas cans are big jugs we’ve pulled out of the ocean and we use them constantly (perhaps that’s why the cap broke?). We’ve also used them as the basin for our footwasher, as buckets to collect rainwater, washing the dogs and for cleaning fishing gear.

This cut down jug combined with a found piece of foam rubber works perfectly to get the saltwater grime out of my fishing gear.

Okay, enough about the functional stuff let’s get to the cool stuff! But before we do that I have a disclaimer to make – I’m not an artistic person. Deidre will tell you that I have the soul of an artist but the hands of a programmer. So I type while our neighbors make cool stuff and now I’m typing to show you some of the cool stuff our neighbors have made.

Distance from Xcalak
Made from old wooden paddles this sign post proves that Xcalak is a long way from anywhere.
xcalak lagoon trail
Made from a flat piece of driftwood this sign shows the path through the mangroves to one of the many lagoons.
Carved by hand, by a friend of ours, from a massive floating tree this sculpture makes you think twice about what is and isn’t “garbage.”

So you see, a trip to Seamart can provide you with many things most people would never have even thought of. The can do spirit of the folks who live in Xcalak is one of my favorite things about living here. That being said – I’d give my big toe to have a Home Depot open within two hours of here!

***Special thanks to Matt, Karen and Greg for letting me showcase some of their cool stuff they’ve made. Thanks guys!***