It's often been an uphill battle, cleaning up after the ravages of Hurricane Wilma a little more than a year ago. But as one Cancun resident put it, "tourism is our life here. If we don't rebuild the beaches, then we have no hope."

Hope and hard work is what it has taken, but like the part time chef from one of the damaged hotels who was busy cleaning debris from the beaches without pay, the people of Cancun have united with the Mexican government to rebuild their glorious temple of vacation resorts to its former glory - and beyond.

New Orleans should have been so lucky.

In Cancun, Hurricane Wilma battered the Mexican coast with Category 5 winds, uprooting trees in the Yucatan jungle and tearing structures from their foundations in the central city of Cancun, leaving behind devastation and heartbreak, tragedy and economic ruin.

But no longer. Cancun is back, and stronger, bigger and a better vacation resort than ever before, a tribute to the people who never lost hope in the face of near total destruction.

By late October nearly 95% of hotels and shoppes in the lavish Hotel Zone of Cancun were open for business. And while you might still stumble upon reconstruction and new construction projects, that's not the sight that will catch your eye. With over 6,000 new adult palm trees lining Cancun streets and gracing parks and hotels, there's a fresh look to Cancun. And the beaches have doubled in size.

While Wilma's 150 MPH winds stripped over eight miles of pristine beach of all of its sand leaving behind a rocky coastline where once sunbathers worshiped the sun, there is no evidence of a storm. In fact, Cancun's deep beaches were over 70-feet wide from the surf to the first manmade development before the storm hit, but now they have doubled in depth, providing more room, a less concentrated and busy beach and more white, silky sand than you could ever hope to find anywhere in the world.

The beach reconstruction effort fell to the charge of Belgian company Jan de Nul who demonstrated their latest erosion repair technology. Utilizing ships, the company vacuumed sand from the ocean floor and piped it to the shoreline, creating an instant clean-sand beach that was larger and more appealing than before.

The reconstruction effort has cost the Mexican government and the private sector over $1.5 billion, but it's already paying off. Tourists from around the world are still flocking to this Caribbean destination in large numbers, some curious as to what dire changes have taken place, only to discover the resort looks and feels better than pre-Wilma times.

But not all the credit (though most) goes to the Cancun residents and the Mexican government. So popular and so in demand is Cancun and the Mexican Caribbean coastline that in spite of all the damage, in spite of irregular airline schedules and partially closed hotels and resorts, in spite of a rocky coastline and the lack of room to fun in the sun, Cancun remained a destination in high demand. Like closing the theater on world premiere night, the following crowds doubled the day you opened the door.

It may not have been that quick and certainly not to that extent, but in spite of all the set backs and canceled vacation plans, Cancun hotels this last July were still reporting near 80% room capacity, down from 86% in July before Wilma. But considering the damage, hotel investors and government officials were pleased that a steady stream of tourist dollars had returned.

As for the people of Cancun, the cooks and gardeners, the taxi drivers and barmen, the beach patrol and the shop clerk - they are back at work and surviving again in a promising economy. For the tourist, it's palm trees, sandy white beaches and tropical drinks in the new shade.