Costa Maya; The second time

The Costa Maya Mahahual tower and the boardwalk

Again, the difference between our first trip’s impression and that of the second trip was like night and day. This time we turned south on the main road after exiting the port area and headed toward a white tower on the horizon. Upon reaching the tower, we spied a beautiful white beach reaching south as far as the eye could see with a paved boardwalk-like path fronting it and shops lining the landward side. A small shop/bar fronts the tower and the women greeters were very pleasant and helpful, indicating the beach extends for miles and the concrete path extends for several miles itself. A Mexican Army outpost at this end of the path indicates security is a problem which the Mexican government wants to nip in the bud. Even the soldiers behind the fence bordering their compound seemed friendly and greeted our “Hola” calls with a “Hola” of their own.

The sun was hot and the sky clear over this late morning and we looked forward to a pleasant ride along the beach under the floating seabirds. There were only two cruise ships in port today, versus the four ships in port last week, and the path had many walkers but left plenty of room for our bikes. The hawkers in front of each shop called to us and indicated they were unused to bicycles on the path, although we spied a few other bikes on the path over the course of the next three hours. Some belonged to the workers, but at least one or two other bikers were cruise patrons who had rented bikes at a rental site in the port area. I believe the rental fees came to $15 per day. The bikes were serviceable if not new, but the riders were helmetless, indicating the bike rental shops have a few things to learn about handling bike patrons.

This place is beautiful. A reef about 200 yards offshore protects the beach from breaking surf. This day had a sea state with one to two foot waves splashing the piers, but the waves at the reef were still gentle and the water inside the reef was almost calm. I spotted workers cleaning the beaches for most of the morning, collecting seaweed and other flotsam. The beach sand was very inviting. I noted fingerlings at the beach along with several stickle fish, 6-15 inches long.

The shops along the path sold trinkets including musical instruments, Mexican hats, and t-shirts along with leather goods, shells and jewelry, and colorful clothing and blankets. Music was playing everywhere. The beach was about 30 yards deep and lined with tables and chairs (some with umbrellas) and grass-roofed cabanas and huts. Routinely, the restaurants and bars deliver food and beverages directly to the tables and lounge chairs on the beach at no extra cost.

Marilyn on the beachside massage table

Further along the path, scores of massage tables lay under the palm trees and Marilyn was tempted by a “professional massagist” named Nancy, although we demurred until we had ensured we saw everything in the area and had ridden far enough to use up the calories we were sure to intake during the next 24 hours here and on the Jewel.

We rode the entire length of the existing paved path before turning inland for a block and heading in the opposite direction one block off the beach. Here we saw the back side of the shops and the homes used by the local workers. This was clearly less attractive than the beach path. The inland side of the road contained the mangrove swamp-habitat with which we were familiar from our ride a week ago. Most of the trees and bushes appeared dead or dying—a product, I assumed, of a recent saltwater inundation of the area as a result of a hurricane sometime in the last few years. I spotted several types of birds and a curious set of mud balls built 10 feet off the ground in trees every 100 yards or so. I stopped a passing biker/hawker carrying ice cream and asked whether the balls were bird’s nests or insect nests. Using his Spanish and my own hand signals, we determined that the nests were built by insects. I would guess these are wasps, although I saw only a single wasp during the entire riding day.

As we circled onto the beach path for the second time, Marilyn began looking for Nancy among the hundred or so massage therapists, eventually finding her although several of the male hawkers tried to rename the therapist they were representing. Marilyn bargained with Nancy and settled upon a price of $20 for one hour. She settled down on the massage bench under a palm tree just off the beach while I locked her bike to a nearby bench. Since she carried no cash, I broke out a $20 bill for her and watched for a minute before I took off to explore the rest of Mahahual beach.

The red tide in Mahahual?

I rode to the end of the paved path and continued onto a rutted dirt road, still lined with shops. Along the beach, the tourists and locals were spread out along the beach, swimming and snorkeling. There were a few fishing boats, some small boats carrying the divers out to the reef, some jet ski vendors, a parasail outfit, a banana boat ride carrying 8 riders at a time, and the seabirds including big pelicans, wading birds of several sizes, a few gulls, and an occasional outlier bird—one of a kind.

I shared the road with three or four four-wheel ATVs rented from the cruise port, two or three golf carts from the same source, and a few walking workers. The vehicles contained two or three people including a family with a 5-year old child and a family with a 75-year old parent. I expect the Mexican plan is to extend the paved path along this area. The hotels and beach rentals extend for at least six miles along the beach. I also found many groups of thatched huts along the beach identified with beach club signs, but with few or no people using them yet. I don’t know whether this thatched hut style comes from the natives or is imported to simulate those in other resort beaches. At the 30-minute point I began to think about returning but I encountered an old man picking up something which I soon recognized to be a bird. Although I first thought it dead, the way the man was handling the bird led me to believe it was alive. I stopped and approached the man when he stretched out his arms to show me the injured small black and white seabird. Using Spanish and hand signals, he got across to me the idea that the bird was unable to fly and he was going to take care of it. I thanked him and he started on his way before I remembered to ask him for a picture.

I then returned to pick up Marilyn. On the way I passed through two deep sand spots on the road which almost caused me to fall. I vowed to be more careful. Also, I noted a beach area with red-brown water all along the beach. I don’t know whether this is from rotting vegetation trapped near the beach or from something like a red tide.

Junch of conch and snapper at El Delfin

I returned to find Marilyn’s massage almost finished. As she reassembled her clothes and paid Nancy, I unlocked her bike and checked out the nearby restaurants, particularly looking for a conch sandwich which I believed to be a local specialty in the Yucatan area. Neither of the immediately nearby restaurants provided the appropriate fare. Marilyn carefully climbed aboard her bike and we set off slowly down the path looking for somewhere to eat lunch. We settled upon “El Delfin” a sparse bar/restaurant whose hawker, Ricardo, promised conch. Ricardo also became our waiter. El Delfin also takes credit cards. Several tables on the first floor were occupied by bar patrons, so we asked to sit upstairs. Upon reaching the second floor, we spied a large group at a u-shaped table loaded with food, including two large plates containing whole fishes with various condiments encircling the 3-pound snapper. This was a group of reveling Philippine young people celebrating a birthday with singing and drinking many, many shots from a bottle labeled Agavera, then another liquor when the Agavera disappeared.

We settled upon a table for two along the open front and ordered lunch. I ordered conch and Marilyn ordered snapper filet. I ordered a $1 Margarita and a bottle of Dos XX beer and Marilyn ordered the requisite Coke Light. This was a perfect place to have a Margarita, but Marilyn thinks bicycling without any liquor is challenge enough. The waiter tried to shift me up to the $5 Margarita which would contain better Tequila, but I demurred. The food was excellent. The conch came sautéed in a thick garlic sauce while the snapper was sautéed neat. Both were accompanied by rice and beans. I noted how I preferred the Dos XX beer to the now more common Corona. A guitar-playing troubadour provided background music for the adjoining group and us. The view of the beach and ocean was perfect and reminded me of our favorite place to take visitors to Hawaii-the Mariposa restaurant at Neiman Marcus in Ala Moana Center. This has great food and tables on the second level overlooking the Ala Moana Beach and the Yacht Club. We sought Key Lime Pie for dessert but found none and settled for an excellent flan provided by a beach-walking vendor with the dessert fare in a case he carried at his waist. This was altogether a very pleasant lunch.

The return to the ship was uneventful, except that the security guards were careful to not let us ride our bikes once we entered the secure area. Several cruise passengers also stopped us to talk about the bikes. We returned happy and anxious to try this route again next week. I know Marilyn looks forward to another massage.


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