So you are coming to Mahahual for the day off a cruise ship and not sure how to decide which beach club is best for a fun day? We have some very good ones, most in fact, but unfortunately, we have some very bad ones as well. None are unsafe, but some are very tricky, unethical and even unsanitary. However, if you know our city ordinances, and how some of the more shifty operators work around them, you’ll have no problem. If you don’t, you’ll feel cheated out of a vacation day you have worked hard for and deserve. Let us give you a few pointers on which you should choose, as well as those you should avoid.
The first and most important rule is never go anywhere because a local dragged you there. If it feels like you were coerced, you probably were. One of the worst things foreign tourist experience, and not just in Mahahual, but at almost every stop in the Caribbean, is the practice of aggressive salespeople, who bombard you as you step from a bus or a taxi. In Mahahual, those people are called “jaladores” (pronounced ha-la-do-res). This is something that most foreign tourist hate about travel in this part of the world but unfortunately, a historical tradition and very common business practice. It is also something most Americans find unpleasant at best and usually, down right annoying.
The tradition of jaladores certainly did not start in Mahahual, but instead, in the markets, where business owners could not afford traditional advertising and the customers seldom had access to the places they would advertise anyway, making the expense and effort a waste. It was cheaper and more effective to just send a guy out to advertise for you. In Mahahual, we have a city ordinance that allow each business to have a single jalador on the streets, no more, and that person must have a shirt or uniform that clearly says who they represent. If you step from a taxi or bus, expect to see jaladores, and no worry, they are harmless. However, if that person is not wearing a company shirt, they are illegal. If you look around and see several people wearing the same company shirts, they are all illegal. Going to places that do this rewards them for working illegal and punishes those who abide by the laws.
Jaladores are usually hired from the bottom of the local labor pool, paid a percentage/commission only and forced to split commissions with all the illegal jaladors. Not paying wages or required benefits is illegal in Mexico but the reality is that in a poor country, enforcement is lax. Businesses that blatantly violate jalador rules know this better than any and also violate labor laws as well, forcing workers into almost slave-like labor arrangements and attracting only the most desperate types of people. If business owners violate all those laws, imagine the health laws they are also probably violating. Required blood test for food and beverage handlers, extermination certifications and proper training and attendance at government health programs are cumbersome and expensive for business owners, but almost all do them because they are the law and they respect and go by those laws. Don’t eat at a place that violates these rules because if they violate some, there is a good bet they violate health laws as well. Again, just always give jaladors a smile and a no gracias, and avoid the problems associated with those sort of businesses, like being sick for the rest of the vacation!
My advice when choosing a place without any knowledge of local businesses, is to apply the “duck test”; if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it must be a duck. As you stroll the town and the oceanfront malecon commercial area, you will be approached by service people from restaurants, shops and beach services. You will also notice very fast, that some look clean, professional and are quality, and some are not. It will be obvious. If they look bad, dirty and unprofessional, the business probably is too. Just apply the old duck test!
Another trick used by local businesses is to pay shuttle drivers and taxis to drop visitors at places that pay them commissions for doing so. This is a time honored bonus that taxis have used all over the world and also did not start in Mahahual. Having said that, I love the local taxis and almost all do an excellent job with visitors. I would even say, often taxis know good local places, so if you don’t have a specific destination in mind, they are not always a bad source of local information. However what sometime happens here is drivers will tell people the place they want to go to is closed or really bad, and try to instead take you someplace that pays them a commission. If they do, no worry, Mahahual is a small town, so just don’t go where they drop you. Again, a simple no gracias and be on your way and the chances are, you’ll find your real destination within just a few minutes of strolling. The entire town is only about 10 blocks long.
A couple of the beach clubs though have taken bribery to a new low, bribing equally bad port shuttle drivers to allow jaladors to actually board buses at stops, some are not even scheduled stops, and tell passengers that is the only beach stop or last stop all together, and forcing passengers off the buses and into the waiting arms of a mass of jaladores. They will pull the bus into the parking lot of the beach club, where the single jalador rule does not apply, and do the aggressive and hard sell that is uncomfortable for most. Again, no real worry as all are harmless, but very tricky, and the best way is to again, simply give them a smile and a no gracias, and be on your way to find one of the good places.
Okay, so how do you find the good places? The best way is to simply size up the person who is doing the selling as you stroll the malecon. A business owner who hires clean, educated, often bi-lingual workers for example has to pay a legal and premium wage to get that person. They do that because they want a quality person representing their business and know how important it is. Quality workers will not work illegally and will not work for people who do so. When you see what looks like a quality worker, and you will, that is the place you want to go because if he or she were not being paid properly, they would not be working there.
So the best advice is to know how to spot illegal behavior, too many jaladores or being coerced by transport people, flagrant violations of the laws here, and just a smile and keep on going, until you find a place that meets the duck test. If it walks like a bad business and talks like one, it must be a place you should avoid. It is really that simple. Most of the beach clubs and businesses in Mahahual/Costa Maya are actually very good, with quality workers and people. These are the places that tourist should reward with their business. They deserve your business for doing it the old fashion way; honest hard work. Don’t reward those who violate business laws and ordinances by exploiting workers and in the process, make your well deserved vacation experience a bust. Just a smile and a simple “no gracias” and away you can go to enjoy what is really, the very best beach in the Western Caribbean!