Más que Palabras – Experiencing Small Businesses in Akumal

By David J. Roman 

My adventure began in Phoenix on the 3rd of June (2014): a T-Bird and his motorcycle, bound for South America. Five thousand miles and 35 days later I had crossed 7 international borders and found myself in the hills of Costa Rica reflecting on amazing people, places, and businesses I had the privilege to experience.

It was far more than words that brought me there. Learning and using Spanish were key motivations, yet it was equally critical for me to develop an informed appreciation and community with the people of Mexico, Central, and South America by breathing their culture and seeing their commerce in action.

In the months ahead I will share vignettes into 3 places whose local businesses had significant impact on me during my 2-month expedition this summer: Akumal, Antigua, and Atenas. In this edition: Akumal.

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Akumal, in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, is a town of only several thousand people. Riding there, past the pristine rows of palms in the median and large resorts parting the dense vegetation, it was quickly apparent that the jungle of tourism has taken root along its beautiful shoreline. Outdoor adventures and popular Maya ruins like those in nearby Tulum draw people from the far reaches of the earth. I met two such persons via a work-for-hospitality barter network called WorkAway.info.

Eduardo and Vilija Noriega are world travelers that have made Akumal their home-base for this chapter in their life. Ed is a real estate professional from Mexico with a penchant for photography and Livi is a photographer from Lithuania with a knack for real estate. They were fun, positive, and energetic from the moment I arrived on their doorstep.

A lively home by night and an ocean-view office by day, the Noriega residence is remarkable in many ways. Ed and Livi work side-by-side in the office, their favorite room due to its excellent air conditioning and the venue it provides for producing stunning creative work. Their photography company captures meaningful moments for couples that have a taste for the exotic.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOften shooting watery scenes in enchanting cenotes or idyllic beaches, Noriega Photographics now specializes in Tulum wedding photography. The greater Tulum area is a popular honeymoon and wedding destination, its charming streets riddled with diverse visitors and unique service establishments. The atmosphere is easy and the climate warm. For the small business owners, however, there is much more than meets the eye.

The new Noriega Photographics focus brings with it considerable challenges. Tulum attracts many of the world’s top wedding photographers, and an exclusive ring of hotels, photographers, and complementary businesses takes a large percentage of the market share through referrals and service bundles. From the start of my work-stay, the three of us set to work studying substitutes, complements, current and potential customers, and potential threats on the horizon.

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When not working on beta sites and program management plans for the photography company, I supported the growth of Ed and Livi’s real estate agency. Aside from the standard challenges that face foreign entrepreneurs in Mexico, the technical contractor the Noriegas hired to launch bestrivieramayarentals.com faced a difficult situation. In the middle of the project, the contractor’s staff took other employment, leaving only the owner to finish the site. While an excellent web designer, the owner was overwhelmed by the scale of work now impossible to complete by the promised deadline.

It was critical that we met with this gentleman before the project failed, so we piled into an SUV and headed to Playa del Carmen. When he arrived at the designated coffee shop, we reviewed the progress made to date and built a prioritized list of capabilities the site required. After encouraging him to raise potential roadblocks or concerns he had, we set a more regular cadence to support the one-by-one completion of the ordered tasks. The meeting concluded with considerably less tension than when it began, and we left optimistic for the project’s success.

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Other great experiences I had while staying in Akumal included:

  • Swimming around Yal-Ku with coral and cenotes filled with fish, sea turtles, sting rays, crabs, and lobsters.
  • La Buena Vida, an absolutely fantastic restaurant that  gives you a timeless taste of good service and impeccable presentation.
  • Meeting and snorkeling around Cozumel
  • Sunset at Punta Allen, garnished by the good people of Muelle Viejo.
  • Catching highlights of the World Cup based on occasional neighborhood cheers or groans.

As I flew toward the dusk of Belize to the steady rumble of my T-Bird-themed motorbike, the truth of Aristotle’s words dawned on me in renewed clarity: “Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.”

Bala Rajendran

Bala Rajendran

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