Been Too Long Since We Blogged…so Restarting with “Award Winning”

Why has it been so long since our last blog post? Simple, we revamped the website about a year ago and the blog was not part of the new site. But many of you were still searching, finding and commenting on content on our blog; so we decided to bring it back and incorporate it into the new website. While much of our content updates have been visual, posting photos on our Instagram page with links back to our Facebook page, we still have a need for words, for WordPress and for non-visual content that provides a narrative update for what we have been up to at Playa Viva.

So what have we been up to since the last post? Stay tuned as we provide updates on the same topics we have covered before: Green, Sustainable and Regenerative Travel, Architecture, Building, Community Development, Volunteering, Local and Organic Agriculture, etc.

One notable item is the new Treehouse at Playa Viva. It was designed by Kimshasa Baldwin at Deture Culsign and the construction was completed by Will Beilharz and his firm ArtisTree.  The end result is stunning and has become an iconic image for Playa Viva.

Most recently, the treehouse can now be called “award winning.” NEWSFLASH: the “Treehouse Suite at Playa Viva has been selected as one of the finalists in the Lifestyle Guestrooms category…,and all winners and finalists will be featured in the June issue of Hospitality Design magazine.”

Also, Kimshasa and Will along with David Leventhal of Playa Viva also presented at the Boutique Design Magazine’s BDWest conference. The session was entitled: “EARTH STAYS: MAKING SUSTAINABLE DESIGN HAPPEN IN A NANOSECOND.”  The focus was how an introduction by Mary Scoviak of Boutique Design in April of 2015 lead to the design and construction of the treehouse opening in October 2015 (a nanosecond in hotel design and building).

More about the design and building process in future posts. Please come experience the Treehouse for yourself.

Treehouse 1

Photo by Leonardo Palafox

 

 

 

La Tortuga Viva: Predator-Proofing 101

 

Turtle Sanctuary

With an average of 6 turtle nests ransacked by predators each night, the more that our volunteer team can reach and relocate to the safe, secure haven of  La Tortuga Viva Turtle Sanctuary, the better!

Yet our rivals – mainly coatis and tejones – are a cunning bunch, and as they refuse to rest on their laurels, nor can we.

So as they continue to adapt and find new, innovative ways to defy our sanctuary security measures,  so must we strive to stay one step ahead. (And if there’s anything we relish, it’s a challenge!)

Cue our January renovation project:  Predator-Proofing Round Two.

Our mission? To rethink our security strategy, helping us to remain in the winning corner for the 6th year running…

Step 1: Strengthening the Structure 

While our unique position – just a stone’s-throw away from the seashore – is one of our favourite features, Playa Viva’s picturesque setting still brings with it a couple of drawbacks. Case in point: weathering.

Although we carefully select the most durable local materials available when building our 100% natural structures – from our eco-casitas and yoga studio, to our plant nursery and turtle sanctuary – we’re also well aware, that soon enough, these will all require an upgrade.

Thankfully, many hands do indeed make light work, and so our team of volunteers – permaculture staff, locals and international workers – made replacing the 100+ wooden posts that lined the sanctuary perimeter, and provided sturdy support for the mesh roofing, look a lot easier than 5 days of solid work under the burning sun would suggest!

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Step 2: Climb-Prevention Canopies

Fearing that turtle egg predators weren’t far off mastering their mesh-climbing skills, and would soon be scaling our wired walls with spiderman-like ease, it was time to put our heads together. Head of permaculture, Sapo – known for his awe-inspiring problem-solving powers – came up with a solution in no time, a mosquito-mesh canopy, along with a comprehensive construction plan detailing how exactly the design would work.

(That’s one of the beauties of being part of a living, breathing, continually-evolving project such as Playa Viva; who needs a blueprint when you’ve got your killer instincts to rely on, and sufficient head-space to hear them!)

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Thus, the team set about cutting the mosquito mesh to size; threading pliable wire through the top and bottom (the top, to attach it to the wire mesh; the bottom, to hold the mesh between posts in place); fitting wooden supports to the perimeter posts; and finally, attaching the mesh to the wooden supports. So coati be warned – you may get up, but you certainly won’t get over!

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Step 3: Blocking the Diggers

Having dealt with the ‘up and over’ style of break-in, our final step was to thwart the attempts of those who may call our bluff, and choose the ‘down and under’ approach…

For this solution, mesh came up trumps again – as did Sapo – who decided that a deeply-embedded, double-mesh-whammy would create the ultimate predator barrier.

And so, trenches were dug, wire mesh walls were pulled down and repositioned, and an extra mosquito mesh was laid on the inside – all ensuring that no creature, however great or small can pass through the net…quite literally!

 

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La Tortuga Viva (The Living Turtle) Background: Situated at the southeast corner of Playa Viva, the sanctuary is run by an all-volunteer staff, comprised of members of the local community. These are fisherman and farmers who recognized the damage being done to the local turtle population and decided to make a difference.

To make a donation click here.
Read the 2012-13 Annual Report click here.

What you can measure you can manage

When we first undertook the GIIRS (Global Impact Investing Rating System) assessment in 2013, we realized that while we thought we were doing “all the right things” we could do a better job of tracking our progress to see if we were actually getting it right. Thus obtaining key metrics and measuring our performance against those metrics became our goal for Season 4.

Solar Array

We decided to start by tracking a few easy, or at least we thought they should be easy to measure, key items. They were our usage of: Water, Electricity and Natural Gas, plus keeping track of the Waste we created (Compost and Recycling), and finally tracking the school supplies donated by guests under our Pack for A Purpose partnership.

As a prelude to sharing the results, I must confess that our tracking systems are not extremely scientific and many of the measures are, well, estimates, especially when it comes to water consumption. In the case of water consumption, the ideal scenario would be to have a water meter on our supply tanks and have 100% of water flow through those tanks. In reality, we have two 10,000 liter tanks (for hotel use), one 5,000 liter tank (mostly used for agriculture irrigation) and a 2,500 tank (usually for reserves).  We sometimes have a water truck come and fill the pool with river water (which is generally not included in the water measurements). Finally, we measure our water usage with help from our maintenance and security team: one of them usually climbs the hill to where the water tanks are located and tries to estimate of how much water it will take to fill the tank, and using this figure can estimate how much water we’ve used in the last 24 hours. It’s not the most precise process, but, in the aggregate, is probably not that far off from our actual usage.

Water TanksMembers of the security team also take readings off our solar system to estimate our energy consumption during the last 24 hour period. But they often don’t get readings  at the same time of day and sometimes the readings that they record are so off from one day to the next (even when the number of guests stays the same) as to indicate that the person doing the “reading” might be mistaken in the data they are transcribing – either recording the energy level in the batteries or the total energy produced, rather than the total energy consumed.  For example, we might see readings of 54-58, usually the level associated with the batteries, while the readings the day before and day after with the same number of guests might be 24 or 29.5.  We will work on increasing data accuracy, which means more staff training as well as adding better metering equipment, like a simple water meter on the water tanks to provide daily and cumulative water use.

Playa Viva – Resource Utilization Averages – Season 4

Regardless of how accurate the numbers may be, our results are still interesting. The following are the results obtained for Season 4 (Oct 2012 to July 2013) – the quantities are all listed Per Guest:

  • Water: 470.94 liters
  • Solar: 1.42 kWh
  • Gas: 43.88 liters
  • Compost: 2.19 kg
  • Recyclables: 0.14 kg

Putting the Numbers in Context

So you’ve seen our results, but how do these numbers compare to “normal” use? A quick search found the following comparable figures.

Water – For the question of, “What is the water usage per person at a hotel?”, my research resulted in figures as low as 250 liters per person to 1800 for a luxury hotel guest. Interesting numbers from a sustainable tourism site state:

“For example, the average water consumption in Antalya City (Turkey) is 250 litres per person a day, while the average water consumption in the tourist areas of Antalya exceeds 600 litres. In Mallorca (Spain), water consumption in rural areas is 140 litres per person a day, in urban areas 250 litres, while the average tourist consumption is 440 litres, or even 880 litres in case of a luxury establishment (EEA, 2001).”

Given the numbers above, we seem to be slightly higher than average tourist consumption for Mallorca, Spain (470 at PV vs. 440 in Mallorca) and definitely lower than a typical “luxury establishment.”  Working with staff and guests, I would like us to target consumption of 440 or less per guest for Season 5 (Oct 2013-July 2014).

Electricity – So how does our electricity usage compare? Given that we are 100% off-grid solar and employ many strategies for limiting electricity use, including the use of two gas refrigerators, I would expect our usage to be lower than the average hotel or even home.  The best numbers I could find related to energy use boiled down to usage for the average American of about 8-13kWh per day, and Americans are by far, the largest users of electricity in the world.  Even given the potential of inflated numbers due to inaccurate readings by our team, the average electrical usage per person, per day at Playa Viva was only 1.42kWh, about 10-20% of the average per person in the US.

Other Metrics and Notes

I have yet to do similar comparisons of compost and recyclables or even natural gas usage. If any of our readers can suggest good data sources on these, we would appreciate your recommendations.

In January 2013, we basically doubled our solar array, thus doubling our ability to produce solar electricity.  At the same time, our gas refrigerators have reached, for the lack of a better term, ‘full depreciation.’ Thus, our use of natural gas should go down significantly as we limit its use to cooking and the backup generator.  Electricity use will go up as we replace our gas refrigerators with electric refrigerators. The gas backup generator, I’m happy to say until the writing of this blog, has only turned on for its weekly automatic test and has not had to be used for a full system “backup.” This may change with the addition of new electric refrigeration. In summary, at least now we have some basic measurements and can compare usage over time. We now can measure and hopefully better manage our resource utilization and reduce our overall environmental impact.

If you are interested in more information about these key metrics or recommend that we keep other measurements, please let us know what interests you.

The ABC’s of Local Produce

More to “P” than just Playa Viva…

Yes, the alphabet starts with ‘A’ – I can’t change that. But neither can I change that this story begins with ‘B,’ so that’s where I’ll start.

Beto Bravo began with basil, bringing a bunch of bodies together to build a business.

La Costa, the organic producers cooperative where I work, began with one man and one product. Since then, La Costa has followed a steady course growing its organic basil export business, but always with an eye on cracking the burgeoning local market for organic produce. After several previous attempts, this year we’ve redoubled our efforts and have begun supplying two hotels in Ixtapa and a number of restaurants in Zihuatanejo with fresh, local produce.

While basil was a great beginning, we went back to ‘A’ to get started in the local market.

Angelo asked for our assistance and after a short adjournment, arugula arrived at his eatery.

Unlike other local farmers, we wanted our approach to the local market to be demand-driven from the beginning. There’s still a lot of room to develop the market for local organic produce in Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa, so we started with owner-operated restaurants that cater to diners who already appreciate the unique characteristics of our products. After our first meeting with our first potential client, it was clear what our next product would be: arugula.

La Piazza d’Angelo is a small restaurant on a quiet pedestrian street about three blocks from the beach in downtown Zihuatanejo. Angelo, the restaurant’s namesake, faces the same problem as many other restaurateurs in Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa—a lack of locally available high quality ingredients for the dishes that really draw the crowds. It’s a paradox that has perplexed me since I arrived on the Costa Grande. Why, in one of the world’s most productive ecosystems, is there a lack of such ingredients? But, that’s another blog.

Chefs like Angelo are our allies in the effort to promote local organic produce. It makes sense – we offer high quality ingredients he can’t find anywhere else. If he does find them, they’ve covered so many miles and passed through so many distributors’ hands that they cost too much for his clientele. Mexico’s food distribution system is very much hub and spoke. We’ve heard stories of fish from Zihuatanejo’s bayside market being bought by distributors, trucked 400 miles to Mexico City, sold to wholesalers, bought by their hotel customers, and then trucked back to Ixtapa, about 4 miles up the road from the market a week later.

Angelo reports that local customers are big fans of his arugula pizza, and even more so when they discover the arugula comes from right down the road. We’re fans too; it’s a tasty combination of hot pizza with a pile of fresh, virtually untouched organic arugula on top. And, demand keeps us busy cutting arugula out in the fields. Arugula appears to have been a success, and now we’re looking for our next hit. Maybe it’ll be one of the catchy stories below.

Cherry tomatoes charm choosy chefs?

Our cilantro seems standard, but surprises the senses with a super savory ‘sabor?’

Dill dominates downtown dining establishments, drawing diners day after day? –Well, maybe not. They can’t all be winners.

‘E’ might be hard, but we do have some eggplant seeds waiting to be planted…

Playa Viva promotes partnerships to popularize local organic produce? Luckily we didn’t have to wait until we got to ‘P’ to make that a reality.

Who knows where the rest of the alphabet will take us? If you have an idea, please pass it my way!

Precious Treasures of Playa Viva

Treasures abound at Playa Viva.  The garden is overflowing with jewels from the land with lettuce, carrots, beats and tomatoes. So many tomatoes. The staff doesn’t know what to do with them. What do we do with all these tomatoes?

And then, David surprised us all with his unannounced arrival at Playa Viva. All I knew of David was that he has been instrumental in providing me the opportunity to intern here at Playa Viva. After a couple of days doing work with the team and catching up on life at Playa Viva, he offered me the opportunity to go to the town Pátzcuaro with him to gather needed supplies for the hotel. Seems that after a full season at Playa Viva, it was time to replenish the famous pottery plates. Oh, yes, and about the excess tomatoes, David had decided we need mason jars for canning tomato sauce. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to find such a simple item here in Mexico. For the first time since my arrival, I stepped out the wild, natural setting of the beaches of Mexico and headed  for the mountains of Mexico for a completely different cultural experience.

The four-hour care ride to Pátzcuaro was anything but boring. I watched the landscape turn from coastal forest and coconut groves into cactus desert hills and then a low mountain forest followed by a full pine forest of green lush hills and fertile valleys. I learned of the many strategies David has for expanding Playa Viva. One of the primary attributes behind the ideas in both creating the resort and expanding, is the attention to detail he exemplifies throughout the property. Attention to detail in service, architectural and the design elements that stress local craftsmanship and organics above mass production items.

For all I knew, we were going to some industrialized factory to get the tableware for Playa Viva. It wasn’t until we veered off to the side of the road and arrived at a little family owned artisan pottery shop that I experienced David’s attention to detail first hand. We must have spent at least three hours as I watched him carefully pick out hand-painted plates, bowls and delicately decorated salsa cups for the kitchen and dining area. My contribution was choosing a few coffee mugs, patience and a plenty of positive input. This first stop proved that David really knows his stuff and where to go to get the best of it. It wasn’t until later that I realized how long it must have taken David to find this one artisan to begin with, he must have spent hours looking at hundreds of road side shops before settling on the craft of this one family.

Handmade, quality wool blankets were another object of our search in Pátzcuaro. I gave my two senses as to which colors to choose, but David seemed to be on the right path. Nude, grey, light brown and creamy whites – all natural colors – no artificial colors – simple native patterns and natural colors were the theme in David’s selections. These blankets are authentic to Mexico and to this area, and delicately handmade. We then took a walk through the local outdoor markets in search of place mats and those ever elusive mason jars. I watched as elderly, native Mexican men and women peddled their wares, crafts, baked goods, fruit and delicious tacos on the sides of the streets.  We sampled coconut honey macaroons, fruits I’d never seen before, grilled corn, hot chocolate and a little local Mezcal (we purchased a few bottles from local distillers).

Throughout the day David received phone call after phone calls, while focusing on the vendors and finding the perfect items to take back to Playa Viva and still maintained enough energy for the 4 hour car ride back! David would strike up conversation with anyone about anything. From the taco guy to the old woman selling hand-woven baskets, he never brushed anyone off or got tired of striking up conversation. This was something a lot of people especially Americans, don’t take the time to do anymore. With the rush of society, good and random conversations with strangers get pushed aside.

As we were about to leave, we were walking by a tortilla shop that was pressing freshly minted tortillas when suddenly David spotted one more hardware store that might hold promise of the final item on our list – those darned mason jars. He was more excited than I, as he bought out the entire collection of just over a dozen jars. The search was over. The list was now complete.

Precision is an important attribute to Playa Viva’s style. Everything from the plates to the Mezcal is authentic Mexican and local. As I observed David putting his all into the choices he makes for his hotel, I can’t help but care for the place in the same way that he does. It adds a feel that most resorts are lacking; true, genuine, personally chosen materials that just contribute an extra bit of happiness and tranquility for the guests, and are underlying the five-star reviews that guest later post on sites like TripAdvisor.

In the kitchen, Olga is filling the last of the mason jars with an oven baked tomato sauce. The jar lid pops into place, confirming the seal and Olga lets out a familiar chuckle.  Gloria carries the new blankets off to beds ready to be made warm for the night.  Minerva separates out the pottery destined for the boutique and those reserved for guests.

Blinded by the fluorescent orange ball of solar energy, I recall key moments from our trip as I gaze into the sundown. The salty breeze heavily coats my skin and enriches my senses. A black bird fades in slow motion towards the sun as it sinks into the distant abyss. Is it China that is sharing this “sol” now? The timing is perfect as the humpback whales wave in and out of the soft, clear Pacific waters. The palm leaves wisp in the air, breezing towards the Southern hemisphere. A misty fog froths above a shallow meter upon each wave; the sky now reflects a spongy ginger luminosity. Twilight begins. The “luna” arises over my shoulder, slowly creeping higher and higher above the distant mountains in a crescent shape. Guests gather around the bar for a taste of Johnny’s salty, organic basil margaritas. They ponder the new additions to the bar, odd-shaped bottles. Ah, Mezcal, the taste, one smokey, the other with a tinge of vanilla and the third, is that a hint of citrus? What a perfect end to an enriching experience.

La Casita de Permacultura en Playa Viva

La casita de permacultura se construyó con el propósito de contar con un espacio para guardar las herramientas, materiales y contar con un banco de semillas local para perpetuar la producción y sustentabilidad alimenticia, también es un espacio para cubrirse de la lluvia, comer y preparar los distintos preparados como el Caldo bordolés, que es sulfato de cobre y cal hervida en un caldo el cual se utiliza como fungicida en los huertos, este espacio fue construido a excepción de los clavos 100% con materiales locales, la técnica es sencilla y milenaria y se llama “bajareque” y consta en una serie de varas entretejidas entre las cuales se colocan las “Tecatas de coco” formando así el cuerpo de la pared.

Después simplemente se rellenan los espacios con lodo preparado con paja y arena creando paredes altamente resistentes, térmicas y agradables a la vista y en Playa Viva tenemos la suerte de contar varios colores de barros desde rojo oscuro hasta morado y blanco, en una de las paredes decidimos hacer un “mural de manos” en el cual invitamos a los visitantes a “get your hands dirty, en inspiración a la increíble película “Dirt” la cual nos hace conciente de la delicada capa responsable de nuestra existencia y sobrevivencia como especie humana.

El resultado de esta experiencia nos inspiró a seguir experimentando con este tipo de construcciones, ahora estamos construyendo una casita hexagonal en la puerta principal de Playa Viva que será el puesto bienvenida para la gente que nos visita.

Day 1 Destination: Playa Viva

We arrive into Zih on an uneventful flight from SFO.  (Thank you very much).  It’s been almost 3 years since I first laid eyes on the rough terrain of Playa Viva.  Then, Playa Viva was merely a ‘regenerative vision’— where David had me tromping through every nook and cranny of this rugged land.  (“Pahleeese, David— can we just sit down and have a cervesa?  Where’s that chocolate, anyway!?”).  Playa Viva was raw and graceful all at once.  And while I loved hearing the vision, I’ll admit that while swatting mosquitoes and dripping from the July heat, I was a bit dubious.  David’s eyes assured me that it would become ‘home’ to those who truly love all that this part of the world has to offer.

Fast forward a few years and here I am.  With my two teenage sons, and two surf pals, in tow.  The vision manifests itself before us.  Definitely exceeding any and all expectations. There is an attention to detail in the lifestyle here at Playa Viva that is both difficult to ignore and yet, seamless.  As if they want you to know how cherished your presence is, but— no worries, we do this for you because you are important to us, not because we are looking for the next tip. From the warm smiles and cool lavender towelettes that greet us, to the natural elegant structures that are designed to enhance the surroundings, to the healthful cuisine– the details do not escape us. They are so befitting the environment.  Well thought out, and effortless to those of us lucky enough to be here.  And, the location.  *sigh* … I guess someone’s got to be here, right?

My being here at Playa Viva is personal.  And, with all that Playa Viva has to offer as an eco-resort, it’s the personal side that resonates most.  It feels as though it has been designed just for my sons and I.  Just exactly what our hearts needed.  While we are not alone here— the company we share only emphasizes the personal experience.  We easily exchange email and fb addresses because we know that what we are sharing among others is extraordinary.  And, we want to keep reminding one another of this, in the days to come.  It’s personal.