Meet the Playa Viva Volunteers!

 

Volunteers are an enormous source of support for the Playa Viva team. Our volunteers come from all over the world and support our work in multiple aspects and bring a multitude of experience. We have volunteers supporting our farm and food production teams, our permaculture team, our kitchen staff, our turtle sanctuary, as well as teaching English in Juluchuca. Volunteers stay on average one to three months and have the option of utilizing any personal skills they might bring by taking on a personal project.

We are incredibly grateful for all of their hard work, so we wanted to share with you our current team of wonderful volunteers. Thank you all for your support!

Dani Schugg, USA

Service: Oct 15-Dec 15

img_6566

Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived?

I’m originally from southern California, but lived in Madrid, Spain for the past year teaching English at a primary school.

How did you find out about Playa Viva?
I found out about volunteering at Playa Viva through a family friend who knows David, the owner.

Why did you decide to volunteer?
I was looking for another opportunity to teach English, in Latin America this time, and Playa Viva seemed like a great fit! I was also very intrigued by Playa Viva’s core values as a sustainable hotel and wanted to see what all the rage was about. Also, have you seen the pictures?? They alone will convince you to come to Playa Viva.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?
I have a pretty mixed schedule. I teach English at the local primary school (grades 1-6) twice a week and at the high school twice a week. Then, I work in the kitchen the remaining shifts with the best chefs in Mexico!

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

In my two months, Juluchuca has become a home away from home. From getting tacos at Lupe’s to chasing the piggies with my camera every chance I get, it’s hard to pick just one highlight. I will miss hovering over Inés, Olga and Abraham watching them work their magic in the kitchen, and I’ll for sure miss my celebrity status amongst the kiddos.

Andy Ollove, USA

Service: Nov 1-Dec 15

img_6599Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived?

I’ve been living in New York City for the last 8 or so years and before then Baltimore. Before Playa Viva I was working in local food systems, helping to connect low income communities around the country to affordable and locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Otherwise I spent my days biking around the city and lamping in parks.

How did you find out about Playa Viva?

Me and my girlfriend Sarah found Playa Viva via WWOOF.

Why did you decide to volunteer?

We decided to come for all of the reasons: its social and environmental mission, its location in the beautiful Costa Grande region of Mexico, the opportunity to learn basic farming and gardening skills, and possibly the biggest reason of all: to freshen up our Spanish.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

At Playa Viva I work as part of the food production team with Abel & Güero, cleaning garden beds, harvesting greens, turning compost, and representing Playa Viva at the weekly farmers market in Zihuatanejo. Additionally I am working with the organizers of that market to run a couple workshops intended to increase the capacity of their market and reach new local customers. This is work that I’ve done in the United States and wanted to share with the community here.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

My favorite part of the day is the starry-skied ride to work everyday in the brisk morning on the back of a pick up. Drinking coffee with the sunrise and watching the mist disappear from the water is a great way to begin a day of work.

Sarah Labriola, USA

Service: Nov 1-Dec 15
img_6548

Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived?

I’m originally from Los Angeles but have been living in New York where I worked for the NYC Parks Department.

How did you find out about Playa Viva?

I found out about Playa Viva through the website WWOOF

Why did you decide to volunteer?

I decided to volunteer because I wanted to learn how to grow food and work on my Spanish. I chose to apply to Playa Viva because the volunteer program seemed more structured and dynamic than others.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

I have been working on the food production team on the farm as well as helping out in the kitchen.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

The highlights for me have been watching the sunrise every morning and jumping in the ocean after a hot day on the farm!

Tristan Borrensen, Denmark

Service: Nov 15 – Jan 1(?)


img_6554Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived?

I am from Copenhagen, Denmark and I used to be tour guide around in the Copenhagen canals.

How did you find out about Playa Viva?

By the Mexican WWOOF list

Why did you decide to volunteer?

I have done WWOOFing before in Chile and I desired having more experience in farming and agriculture, improving my Spanish and also learn more about real Mexican rural culture.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

Currently, I am working on the trails signs. The signs need to be engraved, painted and polished so hopefully they can lead and teach the guests about this wonderful area of Playa Viva for many years.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

The first week I was “chaponando”, in other words, cutting weeds and maintaining the trails with a machete. It was pretty hard – but as a true ranchero or “charro” I held on too tight – consequently, I got a bunch of “bulas” on my hands. Secondly, I have repaired and sowed the tent of the turtle sanctuary, which a famous Youtuber has captured and used in his film about Playa Viva. I’ve been training the little kids of Juluchuca in football and also play with the adult Juluchuca team. I’ve been to a quinceañera and have been enjoying some beers with the locals Saturday nights. I have met a lot of great people and the delicious food here abounds and astonishes your eyes.

Johanna Ledermann, Germany

Service: Nov 30-Dec 30

img_6580Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived?

I’m from Leipzig, Germany. Before I arrived I was finishing my BA in cultural studies with a thesis focusing on sociology of food and agriculture, working on a biodynamic farm and volunteering in theater and film festivals.

How did you find out about Playa Viva?

I found out through a random search looking for farms to work at in Mexico.

Why did you decide to volunteer?

I was interested in learning more about the flora in Mexico and how organic agriculture is carried out in the context of supplying a hotel. I wanted to work with locals since they are a lot more knowledgeable than many expats starting farms in Mexico and playa viva is facilitating this exchange.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

Since I’m interested in the whole cycle of food I am working in the production team and in the kitchen. I will happily share my skills in permaculture aligned with the vision of playa viva.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

Since I haven’t been here for a long time it’s hard to already identify a highlight, though it was and is definitely amazing to get to see so many different plants I only knew from pictures out in the terrain of Playa Viva.

 

Mercedes Falk, USA

Service: Dec 1-Dec 30

img_6579Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived?

I am from Wisconsin and I was working on a small farm helping produce vegetables and manage food processing in the certified kitchen on site there.

How did you find out about Playa Viva?

I met Melissa, the Volunteer Coordinator, a year and a half ago in Belize and subsequently found out about volunteer opportunities at PV via her awesome posts!

Why did you decide to volunteer?

I decided to volunteer because I had plans to come to Mexico to improve my Spanish speaking skills and I love working with food so much that I wanted to combine my desire for bettering my Spanish with a hands-on volunteer experience on a farm.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

I am working on the food production team and I will be working in the kitchen. Growing food and seeing it from start to finish is one of my favorite things to do so being on both of these teams seems like the perfect, full-circle experience.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

Besides staying in Juluchuca and seeing all the pigs and chickens that are freely integrated into the town life, the highlight of my experience so far (all two days of it!) has been how friendly the staff has been in welcoming me and having patience with my gringo Spanish skills.

If you’re interested in volunteering, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Melissa, at volunteer@playaviva.com.

Conservation Role Models

AFAR Magazine included Playa Viva in a list of “Conservation Role Models” in a round up of hotels where you can “Go for Good”, a listing of hotels where you can stay and help support great causes.  Playa Viva support of great causes starts with creating a positive social and environmental impact in the local ecology  (watch these videos about Playa Viva’s work in the local community).

Just recently, Nick Wolf, with Gente Viva, our organic farming partner, asked if I knew of a company called Good Hospitality.  We first met this organization back in 2014, when they were trying to raise funds for a hotel in Antigua, Guatemala. The proceeds from the hotel operation were intended to support a local primary schools for children who need it most.

Dutch-based Good Hospitality has an interesting initiative. They have created a barge hotel, as a floating pop-up hotel. Another good part of the story – Good Hospitality partnered with a local hospitality school to train the under employed in local Amsterdam are in order to help them find more permanent work.  See this wonderful set of videos about the training workers for the opening of the hotel and the human stories around finding more permanent work.

Good Hotel Amsterdam Traineeship – PART 1 from Good Hotel Amsterdam on Vimeo.

Good Hotel Amsterdam Traineeship – PART 2 from Good Hotel Amsterdam on Vimeo.

The hotels covered in the AFAR Article as well as Good Hospitality are all part of of a trend, spending your travel budget to align with your values. We salute Good Hotel and Good Hospitality on the progress they are making in supporting education of those with less in order for them to make more of their lives. We hope you will join these hotels and Playa Viva and travel to locations “Where Your Vacation Meets Your Values.”

“Where Your Vacation Meets Your Values” — voting with your dollar (investing and spending)

Recently, I’ve been reading alot about the growth of the social impact investing space and wanted to address this in the context of social impact spending and how we vote with the dollars we spend as much as those we invest.

JuluchucaSaltIn an article by Stephanie Cohn Rupp of the Threshold Group,  she addresses the size of social impact investing marketplace and key bottlenecks to growth.  Similarly, in an article by Colin Close with InvestCloud, he discusses how impact investing is moving from fringe to mainstream.  The basic idea is to invest your dollars with your values.  Original SRI (Socially Responsible Investing) was mostly values based with churches and other groups putting up “negative” screens and asking investment advisors and portfolio manager to exclude certain investments which did not match with their values such as guns, tobacco, alcohol, gambling, etc.  The market has moved from exclusion to inclusion, from “screening out” to “advocacy”, as many of these same financial advisory groups are advocating for companies they invest in to make “positive” changes related to corporate governance, community engagement and environmental impact.

It all sounds great especially when you read that the returns from ESG/SRI has been as good as or better than the market in most cases. How do they define this? They take one index (basket of stocks) and compare it to another. One that broadly represents the market like the S&P 500 and the iShares MSCI KLD 400 Social ETF. Go look it up, here is how it is described:

  1. Exposure to socially responsible U.S. companies
  2. Access to a broad range of stocks that have been screened for positive environmental, social, and governance characteristics
  3. Use to invest based on your personal values

Now, take a look at the list of top 10 companies. They include Coca-Cola and Pepsico. I don’t know about you, but the sale of sugar water and bottled water is not in alignment with my values. Sure, I guess I could ask for a further screening to exclude these two from the top 10. But, if these are included, who’s making the list and what are their values based on?

Julia with Odin at Playa Viva
Julia with Odin at Playa Viva

When Playa Viva was just building it’s first buildings, we had a special guest,renowned American environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill, who was pondering moving to Playa Viva to live. During our time together Julia taught me what is meant by really living by your values and doing as much as you can, and should do, to save our planet.  I do aspire to many of her choices and the discipline she exercises in the execution of those values. The key to what she taught me was — We make small decisions every day in how we act, what we chose to do, and not do, how we plan ahead, how we make the hard choices in order to live with little to no impact on the earth.  We invest in impact by the daily decisions we make, by the way we spend (not just invest) our dollars.

pv_3We, at Playa Viva, have developed a motto over the years — “Where Your Vacation Meets Your Values.”  We know we are not perfect and much of what we do is aspirational at best. So when you look to make your vacation choice, we hope your vacation investment looks deeply at your vacation decisions. We ask that you engage with your vacation choice, hopefully it is with us, about your values to make sure we are in alignment.   Sure, I cringe every time I look under the bar and find a few cans of Coca-cola products. But they are under the bar, specifically for those customers who just can’t live without their fix. While on top of the counter is always a glass “jarra” full of Aguas Frescas, fresh water/juices, made with locally harvested fruits.

What do you reach for to quench your thirst? Does your vacation meet with your values?

 

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

The Bridge to Discovery – Volunteering at Playa Viva

Recently, we were asked, “what is the reason and purpose of having volunteers at Playa Viva?” Never having formalized the rational for this program, it was surprising how easily the answer flowed. Volunteers are a bridge between guests and the local ecosystem, both the landscape of the property of Playa Viva and the people of the local community of Juluchuca. We see this as a long-term investment, just as our permaculture work is a long-term investment in the biodiversity and health of the ecosystem.

Lynda Curtis 15

The mission of volunteering, at a day-to-day level, is for volunteers to engage with the community and then engage guests in the activities they are undertaking (more about the mission on a long-term basis in future blog post). Since we were asked, it might also be worthwhile featuring in this blog the good work of some of these volunteers.

We will start with Lynda Curtis who is currently (Nov 2014) a volunteer at Playa Viva working on with the Permaculture team during the day and spending two days a week teaching English in the local community of Juluchuca.

She sent some photographs of her experience and answered a few “interview” questions:

PV: “How is the experience volunteering at Playa Viva different from volunteering at other locations?”

LC: “Playa Viva is a very unique experience compared to many of the other options through WWOOFing and Work Exchange. The surroundings are amazing and the Eco Hotel is a very special place to be a part of. There are not many places where you get to relax by the pool or sun lounges during your time off. For me the food is a big highlight. Nutrition is very important to me and the fact that most is grown organically on site is a huge plus. The normal experience might be some toast for breakfast. Big difference!  The workers are really great, very helpful and I felt part of the team straight away.”

Lynda Curtis 9

PV: “As a volunteer, do you really think you are making a difference in people’s lives and, if so, how?”

LC: “I have had a short time volunteering teaching English to the young children in town but I can already see the value it adds. It is certainly an advantage for them to have English skills, opening up job opportunities when they are older and having the confidence to communicate with visitors. There really is no option here for them to learn English otherwise so it is important to continue with this work. We are currently compiling a folder of different activities that can be used by volunteers in the future with the kids.”

PV: “Would you recommend Playa Viva to others as a volunteer experience and, if so, why?”

LC: “I would certainly recommend Playa Viva to others. The amazing thing is the freedom that is afforded to volunteer in the way you feel can add the most value. This way the community can take advantage of a great skill set and the volunteer feels fulfilled and that they are really contributing.”

PV: “What have been some of the pleasant surprises of your experience volunteering?”

Lynda Curtis 6

LC: “The kids are always a pleasure and provide great entertainment every lesson. What surprised me is, that for the most part, they are really well-behaved and want to learn. It’s very nice to have them calling my name as I walk through town. Also, it has opened up some of the other volunteers and workers to want to learn more when they realise I am teaching English. It’s great to share knowledge and skills.”

PV: “What have been the unpleasant surprises?”

LC: “For me there hasn’t been anything that surprises me. I have travelled in Latin America enough to know about the toilet paper basket, heat, mosquitos and every other creepy crawly. I love lizards, insects…any animal really. When a tarantula got inside I was excited to hold one much to the disgust of my friends! So what is unpleasant for me is probably quite different to others. Also for me the accommodation is fine – this might be different for others too as it is basic. If I was recommending to others to stay here I think they would need to understand it’s not like living in Australia.”

PV: “How would you describe the town and the people?”

Lynda Curtis 3LC: “The town is a very typical of Latin American. Very basic services, pretty hot, down and dirty but has a very unique flavor which I have grown to love.”

 
PV: “Can you tell me a story about working with the kids teaching English?”

LC: “Well, day-to-day, the kids are super cute of course. Yesterday I started teaching them Head Shoulders Knees and Toes. We first coloured some pictures showing the body parts. Then Franz played the song and I made a fool of myself doing the song and dance with them. They were super cute and really enjoyed it. I will do it again next week and maybe take a video, haha.”

PV: “Tell us about your overall experience at Playa Viva.”

LC:Playa Viva – such a special place that I have been so fortunate to be able to experience. Every morning I get to watch the sunrise over the palm trees while sipping on a coffee and easing into the day. On very special mornings this includes spotting a mama turtle making her way back into the ocean after nesting. Just amazing.

Working in the garden has been a great opportunity to connect with nature and every day I discover new plants and creatures I never knew existed.Picture9

While the environment is truly spectacular, the staff, volunteers and local people really make the experience something special. Learning about Mexican culture, getting involved with local activities and teaching English to the children has really made me feel a part of the community.

I am having such a wonderful life experience and I hope that many more people get to experience what I have been so fortunate to encounter.”

Calling all Volunteers – Farm, Community, Environment and Pastries!

Core mission of Playa Viva is to “Create Meaningful Community.”  Volunteers are becoming a larger and larger part of the Playa Viva community. We currently are at maximum capacity with 6 volunteers spending most of this fall with us.  Where do volunteers come from, how do they find us, what do they do and what are we looking for from volunteers?

IMG_0804Where do they come from?  We have volunteers from all over the world. Mostly from North America and Europe. We have had volunteers from the US, Canada and Mexico as well as Germany, Denmark, Spain, Belgium and most recently Australia and New Zealand.  We ask that volunteers stay for a minimum of one month but some have stayed for 3 months.

How do they find us? The largest source of volunteers either come via referral from guests or via voluntoursim websites.  These websites include WWOOF Mexico and WorkAway.info. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF, /ˈwʊf/), or Willing Workers on Organic Farms, is a loose network of national organisations that facilitate placement of volunteers on organic farms.  These two websites contribute the bulk of volunteers who come to work on an organic farm to learn and apply techniques of permaculture.

What do they do?  Volunteers are asked to work a split shift. In the AM, they work on the farm  and in the afternoon they work on a community service or other project of their design. Farm work varies from planting seeds, weeding and tending the garden. It also includes other permaculture related projects in conservation, restoration and general landscape management.  These types of work have included mangrove restoration, keyline water projects, forest restoration, maintaining trails or working to build a chicken coop, make organic fertilizers, etc.  The afternoon projects vary from cooking in the Playa Viva kitchen to helping out in the local library. The volunteers have self-organized and developed their own Volunteer Manual and Orientation Guide to assist incoming volunteers to know what to expect, provide a list of viable projects and prepare them for their stay in Juluchuca.  Volunteers stay in “la Casita Blanca” (the White House) which is a 3 bedroom humble home we rent for volunteers in the town of Juluchuca.

What are we looking for from volunteers? We look for travelers who want more than the “been there, done that, seen that” experience. We are finding travelers of all ages, from those right out of high school to retires and everything in between who want to live “in a community and give back.”  They usually love Mexico, enjoy being near and on the beach, are aligned with Playa Viva’s values for sustainability and regeneration and want to learn and giveback at the same time.  For example, we had a nurse from Copenhagen stay over a month and work in the health clinic. She spearheaded a project to improve the roof of the health clinic. Another volunteer organized guests to paint the local kindergarten working side by side with members of the local community.  We have had local Mexican youth who want to learn more about farming and permaculture come and stay and work on the farm while helping to remodel the local library.

If you are interested in volunteering at Playa Viva, go to this link and just follow the directions.  We have limited space as the Casa Blanca only holds 6 people, but if you are committed to “Creating Meaningful Community” and the other core values of Playa Viva, please apply to volunteer with us.  Special note: We are looking for a pastry / dessert chef to volunteer with us in the kitchen and cross train with our kitchen staff .

“Push” to Open

Theresa_Zak-Season_4_Photo - 06.jpg
One week till Playa Viva officially opens for Season 6. Lots of improvements coming online including a new well, LED amber lighted paths to rooms, repairs to the bridge and upgrades to internet. Yes, Telmex finally installed telephone and Internet service to Juluchuca but we are still 1.7km, as the crow flies, away from the nearest Telmex connection. So we are building two communication towers, one in Juluchuca and one in Playa Viva. Then we add some point-to-point communications and hopefully we are good to go. We still recommend you make Playa Viva a blackhole vacation and store all electronics till you leave.

Every Season means a little more. A few improvements based on customer requests and a few improvements based and natures request (repairs due to rain, wind, salt air, etc.). The final result is a better Playa Viva for everyone. This year you will see an improvement to the gardens and chicken coop.

We are also working on a new edition of the Field Guide which will be out by the end of the year. A nice surprise is the Playa Viva Cookbook which is almost done as well. This is our first edition so we will definitely want your comments on how to improve it for the next edition.

What else should you expect
For Season 6? Well, we have more retreats, some great new hosts (as well as some of your favorites returning) and a few small changes here and there that you may it even notice. One other big change is that prices are going up starting October 9th so book your reservations for Season 6 now.