That was back in 1992, but the journey actually started before then in 1990.
You see, I met this cave diver and I liked his equipment, so I learned to cave dive too. He had dreams of exploring underwater caves in Mexico like he had done in Belize a couple years before. Through his connections we had the opportunity to start running cave diving trips to the Cancun/Tulum corridor which in a few years would become know as the Riviera Maya.
I’ll never forget that first trip to Mexico in 1990. We were picked up at the Cancun airport by an ex-pat who drove a VW bus with the side of a crib as the sliding door. We loaded up. Guys in the back, me sitting on top of our gear passing out cold beers for the ride south – a place I had no clue would soon become my home.
For two years, we ran trips to Mexico and rallied cave divers to join us. Word was out in the small cave diving community, the “New Frontier” had been found in the Yucatan. This was a chance to explore and be guided through some of the worlds most amazing underwater caves, and we were guides.
We were dialed in.
Then, we met a local gringo at his dive shop in Puerto Aventuras. A suave guy named Mike with exploration dreams of his own. One night after a cave diving trip, Mike called us in Baltimore and asked, “Hey, would you two want to come to Mexico to run my dive shops? You can explore in your free time.”
I spoke on behalf of Gary but we already had plans to move to Florida. What’s a few more thousand miles south?
Within the first week or so we each had a dive operation to run. Things were growing quickly. Gary managed the Puerto Aventuras shop and I sold dive trips to tourists at the first all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen. I did not speak Spanish. At the “comedor” (the employee cafeteria), I was the only blonde haired, blue eyed gringa in the place. I ate lunch alone. A lot.
When we weren’t working we were exploring some of the most incredible underwater caves in the world, which definitely made up for all those solo lunches.
Gary moved on to open a dive shop with another guy while I stayed and moved up to Mike’s big office as the “English” secretary.
On Valentine’s Day 1993 Gary proposed to me and through my tears of a bad day in Mexico, I said yes. Bad days can happen here. And on Halloween of that same year we were married by a JOP in a cavern way back in the jungle. That cavern was the now famous Dos Ojos caverns and caves where we would go exploring countless times in the years to come.
Seven dedicated explorers, including us, dreaming of undiscovered passageways and National Geographic covers.
During one of our dive trips, a tourist we dove with mentioned a new thing call the internet. He said we should consider renting places to divers who wanted to come down.
Well, that seemed natural. After all – we knew the area.
But what would we call the business?
Our plan was (literally) on a cocktail napkin written at a beach bar. We bought a 336 IBM ThinkPad with Windows 1.3. We started with 8 properties.
We had no phone line. We would drive to Tulum daily to send and receive email through dial up at a phone booth. Some days, I would wander the streets of Akumal looking for a kind soul with a phone line who would take pity on me and let me call in to check email. We finally got lucky and “bought” a phone line for $1500 USD and heaven knows how much more we spent getting the phone company to hook it up.
For our first reservations, customers had to send deposits to us. There was no online banking so we would call Bank of America everyday to see how much was in our account, then determine who paid or owed what.
There were no websites about the area, so we just gave the information to anyone who asked a question! And then, we decided to start a forum on that amazing thing called the internet. This made our community (and business) grow faster than ever.
Loco Gringo has expanded over the years while still being a mom and pop shop. Our staff is a family. We have been through first cars, first homes, first marriages, first births and divorces, and the cycle of life continues.
And we have some awesome Loco Gringos from the forums who donate their time because it’s cool to be a loco gringo.
What I thought would be a 6-month stay in 1992 has become more than I could ever have imagined. Reality is truly more bizarre than fiction.
How can I not be passionate about a place where I have spent almost half of my life? I love the Riviera Maya. It’s my home. And Chili Dog’s home, too.
And we can’t wait to tell you everything you ever wanted to know – from a local’s perspective – on a place we consider to be one of the most beautiful places in the world.
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