Mexico Life
Fiberglass moon was one find on the beach. Fiberglass moon one of many beach discoveries. lynda lock

Caribbean treasures found on Isla beach

From Cuban refugees' oars to old shoes, beach flotsam is fascinating

It’s astounding. The stuff that floats in from the Caribbean Sea is downright fascinating. From huge to tiny, boats to drift seeds, wood to rope, all sorts of weird and interesting junk gets tossed up on to the sand on Isla Mujeres.

In our life BD, Before Dog, we combed our neighbourhood beach on a regular basis looking for fun stuff. Now that we are WD, With Dog, our short-legged, terrier-cross, walking partner doesn’t have a lot of patience for frequent stopping and poking at strange items lodged in the sand.

Walks are all about him! It’s probably not a bad thing as our casa is beginning to resemble a castaways’ hut, containing an eclectic collection of potentially useful items.

One of our best finds was a set of long wooden oars used by Cuban refugees to land their insubstantial, homemade craft just a couple of hundred feet north of our house. The boat was equipped with a diesel motor hooked up to a tiny plastic propeller.

The oars were necessary as a backup for the motor and as assistance when landing the boat 85 miles from Cuba on Isla Mujeres. Not a leisurely cruise, but a dangerous, uncomfortable struggle towards a better life.

More recently I entertained three workers with my valiant struggle to drag 400 feet of wet, sand-saturated, seaweed-encrusted rope out of the water and to our house. From their vantage point at the top of our oceanside palapa they could chart my slow progress.

They were still giggling when they joined me on the beach to drag my newest treasure home. It took me six hours of untangling, and rewinding before I was satisfied with the results. A large pale-blue rope ball now sits on our patio along with a collection of smaller spheres all made with various bits of rope scoured from the ocean.

We usually leave the various fishing net floats, solid pieces of lumber or bits of netting out on the street. Someone, somewhere on the island will find a use for the remnants. The plastic bottles, old toothbrushes and other plastic junk we collect fairly regularly and toss into our household garbage. It’s all part of living at the edge of an ocean shared by billions of people.

We have jars, boxes and bowls of shells and fascinating seed pods in every size, shape and colour. There is a sun-bleached turtle skull that we retrieved several years ago now perched on the top of our microwave. It sits alongside a bowl of fragile sea urchins husks.

Another bowl holds a collection of volcanic pumice in shades of pink, black and grey. And sea glass — white, aqua, royal blue, pale green and even a few bits of lavender.

There is always an abundant supply of shoes on the beach, never a matching pair just lonely, mismatched, barnacle-encrusted shoes. A number of the lost soles have found their way to a nearby structure built by a tourist.

The items on the shoe-tree come and go depending the whim of passing dogs who may take a fancy to this one, or that one, as a good chewing toy. Along with flip-flops and stilettos the occasional moto helmet or a set of keys will float up on the sand.

The most useful bit of flotsam and jetsam that hit the beach several years ago was not found by us, but another islander. It was an eight-foot-tall fiberglass crescent moon, a remnant from an out-of-business bar in centro. Lawrie repaired the battered fiberglass shape and an artist friend gave it a new paint job. The moon has since become a focal point of the large swimming pool at nearby Casa Luna Turquesa.

But the biggest bit of beach junk was and still is the navigational light buoy that drifted in almost three years ago from the southern end of the island. Transmitting its GPS coordinates to my camera, it crept along the eastern shoreline, eventually rolling over the barrier reef and lodging in front of our house.

Unwanted and unclaimed by the various government agencies it is slowly beginning to flake away, bit by rusty bit. We aren’t allowed to remove it, or cut it up. Nature will gradually take its course; perhaps in 20 years’ time the buoy will be a distant memory.

In the meantime, there are other cool treasures still waiting to be found.

The writers are Canadians who have been full-time residents of Isla Mujeres for nearly 10 years. You can read their blog here.

Reader forum