Playa Viva’s Horticultural Hike – A Superfood & Herbal Remedy Wonderland

One of the many wonderful things about Playa Viva is that you don’t have to venture far to explore the best that Mexico’s native wildlife has to offer. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your secluded, sustainably-built casita!

IMG_2083Since being here, I’ve spotted humpback whales and dolphins close to shore, three different types of pelican, geckos, hummingbirds, eagles, plus a whole host of flora and fauna species – from aloe vera to moringa to banana plants – all by simply peering out lazily from my balcony.

But for those willing to make just a teeny bit more effort, the Playa Viva Horticultural Hike – a loop of about 2 hours, which winds its way through the site’s 170-acre private reserve, passing lagoons, mangroves and plant nurseries along the way – begins right on your doorstep too.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be guided around this loop by Alok, the current Playa Viva host/yoga teacher/miracle masseur. Not only does Alok benefit from having worked as a naturalist in California for 10 years, but his constant enthusiasm for learning more about unfamiliar ecosystems is infectious – a distinct bonus for me, who being a city-girl born and bred, still finds it hard to tell the difference between a weed and a vegetable!

Indeed, after only 5 minutes in the company of Alok, I was already nodding enthusiastically and trying desperately to retain even a fraction of the awesome wealth of knowledge he imparted.

Did you know for example that the leaves of the Palma Real are used to thatch the common ‘palapa’ roofing found in the region (including a third of the casitas at Playa Viva)? Or that the ancient Mayans believed that a great Ceiba (Kapok) tree stood at the centre of the earth – connecting the terrestrial world to the spirit-world above?

What was so impressive to me however, was just how naturally rich this area of Mexico is in herbal medicines and highly-nutritional plants.

Here are just a few of the fantastical facts that I managed to absorb about Playa Viva’s sustainable superfood pharmacy – ‘eat local’ has never seemed so enticing!

IMG_2085Moringa: The new plant ‘superfood.’ It contains four times the vitamin A found in carrots, six times the vitamin C of oranges, four times the calcium of cow’s milk, and three times the potassium of bananas.

Kapok (Ceiba): Bark decoctions from this tree are used as a diuretic, aphrodisiac and in the treatment of diabetes.

Tamarind: High in vitamin B, calcium, and used as a natural laxative.

Nopal (Prickly Pear): Rich in vitamins A, C, K, riboflavin, and B6, plus the minerals magnesium, potassium, iron and copper.

Copal: Used against influenza, rheumatism and fever.

Gourd Tree: Cure for sunburn, chapped skin and wounds.

Hibiscus: Used to treat abscess, furuncles, mosquito bites and burns. It also has digestive, anti-inflammatory and soothing properties. (Playa Viva happens to make a particularly delicious fresh hibiscus juice!)

Neem: Known as the ‘one tree pharmacy’ in Indian Ayuverdic medicine, it is used to treat a whole host of skin disorders and as an effective insect repellent.

Aloe Vera: Highly nutritional, containing over 200 active components – from vitamins and minerals, to amino acids and digestive aids. It also helps to boost the immune system and detoxify the body, inside and out.

IMG_2101Piedra de Medicina: Ok, not technically a plant, but this rock was used by ancient indigenous tribes to grind and mix plants for medicinal use. (Funny to think that we’re only just starting to rediscover the knowledge and practices that were common-place – and more-so, common-sense – thousands of years ago.)

Want to learn more? Set on 200 acres, Playa Viva is of course home to too many wonder-species to mention here. Why not visit us in person and see how many varieties you can identify!

Guest author: Liz Sutcliffe. Liz, a freelance editor from London, is currently volunteering at Playa Viva as part of our work exchange program


Halcyon Days with Master Mixologist Don Johnny

Photo Courtesy of Tom Seawell
Photo Courtesy of Tom Seawell

Guest Blog by guest Jim Neeley with photographs by Tom Seawell


We are just back

from spending five

wonderful days


a 25th anniversary

at Playa Viva.


A group of 14 friends

and family joined us

for the celebration.


Photo Courtesy of Tom Seawell
Photo Courtesy of Tom Seawell

Lazy days were filled

with morning yoga,

quiet conversation,

napping in hammocks,

sharing great meals,

riding the gentle surf

and being pampered

by the gracious team

that is Playa Viva.


Guests were invited

to participate in meal

preparation in the open



Photo Courtesy of Tom Seawell
Photo Courtesy of Tom Seawell

And to learn a few

of the secrets from

the irrepressible,

never at a loss for words,

activities organizer extraordinaire

and Master Mixologist

Don Johnny.


More than a few of his

trademark cocktails

were poured for our guests

over these five halcyon days.

Actually a lot more

than a few drinks.


Photo Courtesy of Tom Seawell
Photo Courtesy of Tom Seawell

Our very special friend and

professional photographer,

Tom Seawell with an

impromptu stylist assist from

his wife Laura created

these beautiful images

of a few of Johnny’s concoctions.



A Little Bit Helps Make a HUGE Difference in Small Communities

This blog post submitted by Debbie Greenberg – Volunteer at Playa Viva

A day at the kindergarten (March 13, 2014).

The parents at the local kindergarten in Juluchuca, Mexico have been working to renew the facilities, seeking funds from different sources to re-build the gate and the fence, paint the classroom and fix the leaking roof.

P1030157 A few weeks ago, the kindergarten parents mentioned their need for paint and rollers to Playa Viva’s General Manager, Julia Garcia.  Julia mentioned the need to Playa Viva guests Charles and Linda who had asked Julia how they could donate to and participate in a community project while on vacation – voluntourism.  Julia told Linda and Charles about the kindergarten and both generously agreed to buy the paint and equipment for the project, as well as offered to help paint.

On Thursday, March 13, 2014, a group from Playa Viva including Charles,  Linda, Fernando and I (two WWOOF volunteers at Playa Viva) plus Miguel (the newest team member at Playa Viva) all went to the kindergarten in Juluchuca to paint! When we arrived a lot of the kindergarten parents were already scraping rough patches of old paint off the walls and completing other pre-painting preparations. Everyone pitched in wherever they could, or with whatever tool was at hand—if you found a free broom, you swept walls or window sills!
The “kinder” (“keen-dare”), as it’s called here, has one classroom for 3-year-olds and another that is divided between the 4- and 5-year-olds. The concrete walls separating the classrooms and administrative office go up to the roof, whereas the outer walls are solid concrete to about 4 ft. high —in other words, they are open air (see photos). There is a large roofed patio (mostly roofed—as the kinder is trying to raise money to complete the roofing for the patio) and a shaded play area with playground equipment. This particular Thursday the children were off school so it was a perfect day for the painting project to be completed.

After a bit, the work hit its stride and began to advance quickly. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to sand down all the old paint, so there were patches where the wall or ceiling would peel (or crumble!) when you ran your roller over it, but little by little the ceilings became freshly white and the walls became sky blue. Teachers, parents, Playa Viva guests, Playa Viva staff and


volunteers were all working together – diverse communities coming together to make one.

At about 12:30 some of the women told us it was time to come eat—they had brought us plates of chicken with mole colorado and rice, as a way of thanking us for our help. During lunch we chatted about the school with a couple of the moms of children and with one of the teachers. They explained how difficult it is for them to get  funds needed to repair the school due to the slow Mexican government bureaucracy. They commented about how unbelievably fast they had been able to obtain assistance via Playa Viva and guests Charles and Linda —they had mentioned the project to Julia, and in just a short time they had paint, rollers, and even some more hands to help with the project execution.

When we asked how long it had been since the rooms had been painted, we got a surprising reply: it had only been about a year! One of the teachers then explained that every year, during the rainy season (June-September) the classrooms leak, and the paint gets ruined. They had applied for government funding to have the roof waterproofed, and were informed that funding was on its way…however, the latest news was that only a portion of the requested funds would probably arrive and not until July – just as the rainy season starts! That would clearly be too little too late to save the nice new paint job.

The teacher further explained that they had been told they would receive $3,000 Mexican pesos (about $250 U.S. dollars) for the project. Based on this level of funding the waterproofing would not be sufficient. They would have to adjust their project so the initial funds approved would be used to cover the highest point of the roof with a 5-year waterproofing product, with rest of the roof only getting a 3-year waterproofing.

After the lunch,  we all went back to painting (more detail work now) and helping them begin to move the classroom furnishings back into place. At least 20 parents were on hand, along with the teachers and principal, who thanked us again and gave us a round of applause for our help. We applauded their effort and determination in return.


When we got back to Playa Viva, the other guests asked us about our morning and we told them all about it, including the conversation we’d had with the teacher over lunch at the kindergarten regarding the waterproofing of the roof. Later that evening, Playa Viva guests Sarah and Jim spoke with Julia about their wish to graciously donate the funds necessary to waterproof the entire roof so that it can be completed before the rainy season starts. I am quite touched by Sarah and Jim’s generosity. Julia will be checking to ensure that the waterproofing project is appropriately budgeted and the funds donated are efficiently used.   Thank you all for giving to the local kinder.

NOTE from Playa Viva Owners: The painting of the kinder is a perfect example of Playa Viva’s core values of Creating Meaningful Community and Transformative Experiences.  From a Social Impact perspective, we see our role as providing a platform for voluntourism and opening doors between guests and donors who in turn provide resources for specific community identified needs.  It is important to us that the community self-identify needs. Furthermore, that the community beneficiaries donate their time (labor) as well as their own form of giving (sharing of food) with the donors and volunteers who came from outside. Finally, we loved hearing about the regenerative nature of voluntourism and charity that spread from Linda and Charles (painting) to Sarah and Jim (waterproofing).  The result, we hope, is a better educational environment for children, a stronger community and an true cross-cultural exchange. If you are interested in donating to the kinder roof waterproofing project or to the Playa Viva Regenerative Trust to the local community – please click on this link to donate via our fiscal sponsor – the Ocean Foundation via the Friends of La Tortuga Viva fund. Thank you all.

Season 4 Photo Contest – Winner Announced

Anna Hennings 1Season 4 Photo Contest is finally complete. The book has gone to the press. The judges all got their votes in and while we had way too many great images all three judges only had 4 images that they all three agreed upon. When the book went to press, this image by Anna Hennings won our grand prize, a free stay at Playa Viva.  So many great photos didn’t even make it into “the book.”  We thank you all for your submissions and thank our three photographer/editor judges: Jay Premack, Amanda Holmes and Bryce Lankard for their time and energies as judges.  Thank you and come visit us in Season 5.

So, how did we decide on which photos to include, first a photography had to have at least two votes to be included in the book. with over 500 photos submitted many had just one vote, but only a total of 37 images had two votes and 8 had three votes. The final selection of the winning photograph out of the top 8 photos came down to a very simple editorial process. Which of these photos looked best on the cover of the book and which embodied the themes of this years entries.  The themes that permeated the winning photos were fun/whimsy/sense of humor along with nature/peace/joy. The cover photo by Anna Hennings contained all these great qualities of the simple joy that we all share in heading out to the shore with a bucket full of baby turtles to release. Congratulations to Anna and thank you to all of you who submitted so many great photographs.

Que dia!

Martin FishContributed by Martin Goebel – As a fisherman you are usually prepared for anything, mostly disappointment.  Not on this day in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.  Organized by “Johnny,” one of the guides at Playa Viva, a wonderful, close-to-nature eco-resort, I went deep-sea fishing over Thanksgiving week.  It was magical.  The dolphins and turtles graced the deep blue water.  They were everywhere.  Then, at six miles out and about 11AM we started getting hit by sailfish streaking every which way like fine lances through the water.  At one point we had “four on.”  That was wild.  In the end, I think we counted eight landed (six released) and many more hooked.  “Capitan Jaime” annointed my largest a trophy of 80lbs!  It felt bigger.  Promise.

What a day!

NOTE: See video of dolphins click here –

About the author  – Martin Goebel is one of the pioneers of the sustainability movement was a recent recipient of the prestigious Earle A. Chiles Award for his contribution to the movement. His desire to find solutions that work for communities, businesses, and the environment during the timber and salmon wars of the 90’s led him to create Sustainable Northwest in 1994. Born and raised in Mexico, Martin’s conservation career includes leadership positions in The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, and World Wildlife Fund. He has helped found several organizations including the Mexico Nature Conservation Fund, Wallowa Resources, and Lake County Resources Initiative, and was a founding member of the Oregon Sustainability Board. Currently, Martin recently serves as founding principal of Moebius Partners LLC, a firm dedicated to assisting social entrepreneurs and enterprises to secure human knowledge and financial capital to grow and succeed. Martin is an avid scuba diver and fly fisherman, and enjoys exploring new cultures, rivers and reefs any chance he gets.

Güelcome to ‘Julu York’

You definitely won’t spot the Statue of Liberty and you’re more likely to hear a cacophony of farm animals than the honking of horns and rumbles of the subway. Dusty dirt roads and towering palm trees fill in for Manhattan’s asphalt jungle and iconic skyscrapers. There are no world famous delis here, but the tacos at Doña Lupe’s aren’t bad. This is the city that definitely sleeps—mostly after 10pm and also usually a siesta in the late afternoon heat. Welcome to Julu York, population a few hundred give or take, and gateway to Playa Viva.

Juluchuca is no New York, so why all the comparisons? That’s the same question I asked when I first heard residents of this little town rechristening their pueblo with a moniker reminiscent of that most famous of cities. What in Juluchuca could possibly make someone think of New York? Sure, crossing the Juluchuca creek in the rainy season can be a little chancy, but it’s no East River. The truth is there’s not much in Julu York to remind you of New York, but that hasn’t stopped the spread of Juluchuca’s new name.

Julu York isn’t a PR stunt or even old-fashioned civic boosterism. It’s much more natural than that. Usually it’s just a joke over a beer:  rural Mexico’s take on modern sarcasm. Who could confuse Julu York with New York, the big city’s bright lights with the flickering bare bulb holding the countryside’s nighttime shadows at bay? But behind the laughter, I think there’s something more aspirational about Julu York.

It seems that even in the smallest specks on the map of Mexico citizens are eager to define their towns themselves. I don’t think anyone in Juluchuca believes Julu York will ever rival New York (and many probably wouldn’t want it to). I think with the new name, joke or not, people are trying to tell the world that there’s more to Juluchuca than meets the eye. The 20-second stretch of Highway 200 that crosses the town from one end to the other doesn’t do it justice.

For me, looking for comparisons between New York and Julu York was a good reminder of all the interesting things I’ve been able to see and do in Juluchuca. From a local farm that’s a solitary outpost of certified organic agriculture to a ceiba tree so big locals call it the ‘Avatar tree’ on the road up into the Sierra Madre mountains, there are a few surprises in Julu York, and the town can even hold its own with the big city. Take a trip up the sierra to eat a home-cooked meal with a local family and you can boast to all your foodie friends about a meal measured not in the great distances of food miles, but in the short steps of food meters—fresh, hyper-local food to rival the best farmer’s market in the biggest city.

So, why not trade in your Empire State of Mind for an outlook that’s a tad more provincial? You might be surprised what a one-tope town has to offer. Yeah, maybe it’s not as catchy or exciting as the New York of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, but give it time. After all, how long can it be before some enterprising chavo down in the town square pulls out his iPhone and autotunes an anthem that will really put Julu York on the map? Watch out world.

Vegan Omelette Recipe

ImageThis is my favorite new recipe from the Playa Viva kitchen, a vegan omelette. It looks so much like a real omelette that guests who aren’t vegan were putting it on their plate and enjoying it as if it were an egg omelette. Recipe by summer intern Hunter Conrad from Chef “Chuckie” with photos by summer intern Monica Oyarzun.  Enjoy and let us know how it works for you.

Vegan Garbanzo Bean Frittatas (makes 4 servings)

•       2 cups dry Garbanzo beans
•       4 cups Water
•       Teaspoon on salt
•       A pinch of black pepper
•       4 Tablespoon of vegetable oil
•       2 Tomatoes


  1. Soak the garbanzo beans in the water, letting it sit over night in a covered container (canned garbanzo beans can also be substituted for dry and then no soaking is necessary)
  2. The next day, pour water and garbanzo beans into blender with salt and black pepper and blend until batter appears homogeneous in color and texture
  3. Place one teaspoon of vegetable oil into a medium-sized skillet on medium/high heat
  4. When oil is hot place a pancake sized scoop of garbanzo bean mixture in skillet
  5. Once the edges of the garbanzo bean batter is golden around the edges place 4 slices of tomato on the top, then put more garbanzo bean batter on top of tomatoes and flip the frittata on to it’s other side
  6. Wait until the second side is golden brown, remove from skillet and serve hot
  7. Repeat for every frittata made.

Note: For a real treat, add sweet potato, if you get the color just right, when you serve it will look like a cheddar cheese omelette.