Friday, May 24, 2013


It was called Dingo’s Beach Club and it wasn’t on any of the tourist maps. Actually, it wasn’t on any map at all as it existed mostly in the mind of a fourteen-year-old Mexican entrepreneur [empresario], with the help of what appeared to be a battalion of his siblings. Dingo, whose Christian name was Domingo, had claimed by right of imagination a portion of beachfront on the Costa Maya near the border with Belize where there was nothing except the ruins of what was once going to be a 3000 room hotel. As could often happen south of the border, the financial backing for the hotel evaporated, leaving a partially poured foundation that featured a phalanx of rusted rebar jutting from concrete that was cracking in the sun. When Dingo arrived on the scene, it served mostly as a home to iguana.

So, like any enterprising young person, Dingo found some discarded beach chairs and torn umbrellas [well, some may have been “found” at the hotel beaches in Playa del Carmen], arranged them in a pleasant crescent on the beach, “bought” a cooler, ice, sodas and baked goods from the local Bimbo [that’s a bakery and market chain in Mexico, just so you know], and painted a driftwood sign that simply said “Dingo’s”, with an arrow pointing towards the beach. To help generate traffic, Dingo also offered the driver of the local pollo bus a piece of the action if he would stop at the entrance to the property to “check the bus’s radiator”. “But only if he carries turistas”, Dingo explained to me.

No one came, of course, because Dingo’s had to compete with luxury hotels and well-maintained beaches from Cancun to Tulum; until the day when a couple of surfers realized that Dingo’s Beach Club was the site of one of the best surf breaks on the eastern coast of Mexico.

“Senior Whiskers [pronounced whee-skers], that was the day when my thoughts became eléctrico. That is the day when this became Dingo’s Beach and Surfing Club”, he explained to me.

Not having the backing, however transient, of a bank or brace of investors, Dingo harvested discarded portions of fiberglass hulls from boats in a repair yard in nearby Puerto Aventuras, cut them with an old hacksaw into the rough shape of a commercial bodyboard, sanded down the edges, and offered them for rent for a mere 10 pesos a day. Plus gratuity. The day after his first rentals, he had his sister sew pieces of old wetsuits into bands that could be worn around the hands of the bodyboarders, since Dingo’s sanding of the ragged fiberglass edges would not have satisfied any heath and safety inspection. Plus, having renters cut open their palms tended to reduce the attractiveness of renting.

“It is my own line of boards. Is it not eléctrico?” I had to agree that it was.

It was a pleasant place to surf, although one could not let go of one’s board, as it would suddenly become group property. Even if the price of lukewarm Bimbo soda was a little steep [“Twenty pesos, but tax free.”], Dingo was a good host and a number of gringo surfers would stop by, admire his organizational skills, stay away from the deadly Dingo bodyboards, surf that funky break all day long, get their pictures taken with Dingo [tax free], and enjoy some time at what was one of the last undeveloped beaches in Mexico.

Everything has a lifespan, of course. I had hoped to return to the Costa Maya the next winter, but work got in the way. The year after that, Hurricane Wilma hung around the coastline for four days and stripped the landscape of trees, the homes and hotels of their roofs, and, as I discovered, altered the sea bottom so that the wonderful surf break disappeared. By the time I returned, nearly four years later, Dingo’s Beach Club, and Dingo, had disappeared and some Mexican surfers had started to put up a small village of bungalows by the beach. They were half-built and abandoned, of course.

No one I spoke with knew of what happened to Dingo and his siblings, but I figured wherever he was, it was going to be eléctrico.

[Excerpt from Reading Water, all rights reserved ©2011]