Then there are the locals. A critical part of our expedition is building bonds with the locals (often indigenous to the area), learning their history, respecting their views and beliefs, helping educate them about the environment and sustainable business practices, advocating for them and teaching them to advocate for themselves.

Tommy is an Xcalak local. He looks 15, but Tommy is our guide Alejandro’s 22-year-old son. Because Alejandro also looks younger than his age, we thought Tommy was his younger brother.

Tommy has a wide smile and wonderful attitude; Tommy is also deaf and doesn’t speak. He’s tried hearing aids, and they worked; but he didn’t like how his voice sounded, was embarrassed by it, and so refuses to use them. He rides in Alejandro’s boat each day as his assistant guide. He’s proficient with pantomime and hand signals but, overall, he’s very quiet.

Even though Tommy sits in silence all day, he’s tuned in to every little detail. We didn’t realize just how deep still waters ran until we read some of the fishing reports he posts on Facebook. The posts are long, full of details and nuances we didn’t notice—and we were sitting right beside him most days. The posts were enlightening to read, and demonstrate Tommy’s insights and expertise about fishing the flats of Xcalak.

Our attention often goes to the most outspoken, the attention-seekers. Tommy may have a handicap, but—for those willing to listen—it can’t possibly shade his brilliance.