Season 9: Meet the Playa Viva Volunteers

It’s a new season at Playa Viva and a new round of volunteers have joined our team. Have a read about what they’re up to over the next few months.

 

Débora Newlands, Brasil, Turtle Sanctuary

What’s your “story”? Where do you come from? Tell us a little about how you arrived here.

IMG_9953Olá! I’m Débora! I am from Porto Alegre, a big city in the south of Brazil. Not the typical Brazil most people think of – with tropical beaches and carnival all year long – but still a pretty sweet place to call home. And with soccer everywhere, fortunately. As far as I remember, I have always loved nature, especially animals – more precisely, sea turtles.

I grew up in Brazil my whole life, and I am very proud of living in a country which hosts so much biodiversity, gorgeous natural landscapes and rich culture. Growing up in a place with all this cultural and environmental diversity has made me connect and care about nature since a young age. Therefore, it seemed natural – and also obvious – for me to pursue a major in Biology when I started university. And it was in college that I realized how important it is to connect conservation and education, because without the latter, the first one is impossible. So whenever I have an opportunity, I like to work in conservation, because our world and how everything is connected and finely tuned has never ceased to amaze me.

What were you doing before you arrived?

Before I arrived, I was working as an English teacher at a language center. I was also involved in an environmental education project at a lab with my university, where I am currently finishing my major in teaching and education in Science and Biology. I love engaging the local communities – especially kids! – with environmental issues, they are genuinely curious about nature and it is beautiful to see how they can get involved in conservation.

How did you find out about Playa Viva?

I got an email from my friend about this opportunity as a sea turtle sanctuary coordinator! Dankjewel, Thijs!

Why did you decide to volunteer?

I have worked with sea turtle conservation in small communities before and I have always enjoyed the exchange these experiences gave me, especially the exchange with the locals and their culture. I strongly believe it is vital to engage the local communities in conservation, not to focus only on “lab/desk work”, because in the end of the day, it is on the hands of the community to care about and to protect the environment. So when I got the email about this volunteer work I was really excited about this opportunity of working with my passion and here I am now!

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

I am working with La Tortuga Viva – a sea turtle conservation project which started on 2010 – in a sanctuary where we transfer the nests laid by mama turtles on the beach, so the eggs are protected against predators. I work alongside 14 local volunteers, who patrol the beach every night looking for freshly laid nests. In the morning, we check the sanctuary to look for hatchlings to be released on the beach. Right now we are working on capacity building, with workshops where we learn better methods to approach the sea turtle mamas and the handling the eggs and the nests. We also do hatchlings releases with Playa Viva guests whenever possible, so the guests can experience the beginning of the beautiful journey of a baby sea turtle into the ocean.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far and what are you most looking forward to learn and contribute during your service?

Definitely seeing Olive Ridley mamas laying their eggs on the beach, it is something one can never get enough of – along with releasing hundreds of baby turtles early in the morning and seeing them marching into the ocean. I am looking forward to, along with La Tortuga Viva volunteers, learn more about conservation and conservation within the community, to ensure we have more mamas laying eggs each year and more babies going to the ocean. I would love to involve the local primary school in conservation, with some talks and other activities with the students! Another highlight, definitely, has been my loyal co-worker, Viva (the hotel dog), the most beautiful dog in existence. I am quite positive she is part human too.

Share the moment you felt a paradigm shift (or were inspired) to get involved with conservation?

When I learned how much we, as humans, are impacting the environment we depend of, I felt the urge to study and work in conservation. The more I learn about it, the more inspired I get to work in conservation and education.

What motivates you to keep going?

Turtles and kids! – baby turtles making their way safely into the ocean every day and kids and their curiosity and interest about the world we live in!

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Alex Abbott, UK, Kitchen, Farm & everything in between

What’s your “story”?  Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived?

IMG_0152Howdy there, I’m Alex and am from the United Kingdom. I am originally from just outside of London, near a city called Guildford, but lived in London with some friends for two years before moving out to Mexico. I was working for a children’s charity that grants wishes to seriously and terminally ill children, in the fundraising department. I quit my job and moved to Mexico, planning on making my way volunteering through Latin America, starting in Cabo San Lucas, and finishing somewhere in the south of South America. I started volunteering in an orphanage and have since worked in an animal shelter, a hostel and for a crisis team helping the earthquake victims, travelling through Mexico before I found Playa Viva.

How did you find out about Playa Viva?

Just through the internet as I was looking for a yoga retreat/ turtle sanctuary place that was sort of on my planned route. So it was lucky that I stumbled upon them.
Why did you decide to volunteer?

I have done bits of volunteering in England in the past but had wanted to do a trip like this for a few years.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

I am still settling in but currently am volunteering in the kitchen of the eco hotel, at the turtle sanctuary and in the organic farm. I’m really enjoying the different environments and seeing all of the areas Playa Viva is working in.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far and what are you most looking forward to learn and contribute during your service?

I’m really looking forward to getting involved in local community projects, mainly environmental conservation and starting up some sports initiatives for the local kids in the village nearby, where all the volunteers live.

Share the moment you felt a paradigm shift (or were inspired) to get involved with [agriculture, marine conservation, whatever it is you’re working in/working toward]?

There wasn’t really a specific time as such. I’ve been wanting to volunteer at a marine conservation site and a self conscious eco company for a long time, just to gain some experience in the field and to see if I wanted to follow that career path. And when I found out there were free coconuts and a slackline I could use that was the deal maker.

What motivates you to keep going?

I’ve had such a fortunate start to life compared to most people in the world and working with people and animals is a huge passion of mine; even if it’s only being part of a small change. And Inés, she’s the best.

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Kyra Eddy, USA, Farm and Community Ag Intern

What’s your “story”? Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived?

IMG_0164-2I started university in San Francisco in 2012, studying holistic health. My sophomore year I took a semester off to travel through South America which really transformed my life and open my eyes to so many things.  Since then, I’ve done my best to travel as much as possible. I graduated university a year ago, and am now working on delving into my passions more, and learning as much as I can from my life’s experience.

It’s hard to say exactly where I’m from, but I call San Francisco, CA home. Before Playa Viva, I was traveling around California in my camper van. I spent a number of months camping and hanging out with friends, as well as WWOOFing on organic farms in the area.

How did you find out about Playa Viva?

I found out about Playa Viva through and instagram page I follow. I had been looking for the next step in my life, saw an ad for the internship here. The timing was perfect!

Why did you decide to volunteer?

I had been WWOOFing for a while and was looking for somewhere new where I could be learning more and offering more. This opportunity seemed like a great option to be able to travel and practice my Spanish, learn a whole lot about farming, and really help to make a positive impact.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

I am a farm intern. So far, I get to spend my days with Guero and Abel out on the farm. We do things like composting, weeding, planting seeds, and harvesting yummy greens and herbs for the kitchen.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far AND/OR what are you most looking forward to learn and contribute during your internship/service?

Living in town has been one of my favorite things! Casa Blanca, the house the volunteers live in, has baby piglets and colorful chickens strolling about the front yard every day. I’ve also been enjoying going out for sopes and tortas with the other volunteers.

Share the moment you felt a paradigm shift (or were inspired) to get involved with agriculture?

I truly believe that natural farming is a crucial component to a more sustainable world. Gardening has always been something I’ve been passionate about, but over the course of the past year or so I’ve been really focusing on learning and working more with plants because it’s something I absolutely love to do!

What motivates you to keep going?

Bringing the basket full of beautiful greens and fruits every day from the farm to the kitchen is super rewarding because I get tons ee the impact and importance the farm has on Playa Viva. Also ,living and working so closely with the staff every day has been really special.
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Nathan Ellermeier, USA, Farm & Community Ag Intern  

What’s your story? Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived?

IMG_8879While getting degrees in English and Spanish literature at the University of Missouri, I spent my time exploring the forests, working at a local gastropub, and working in various capacities with local food– at markets, on farms, and harvest celebrations. Since then, I’ve watched as the arc of my story bends ever back to the realm of alternative foods, medicines, and agricultural practices. In my free time, I live in my imagination. I’m a reader and a lifelong learner, a thinker, a mover, and a laugher, sometimes a little long winded.

I’m from Kansas City, Missouri, but I definitely came of age in a tight-knit local community in Columbia, Missouri where I went to university and so relate much more to the river floaters and local growers and makers of mid-Missouri. I’m from Columbia, MO. Before I arrived, I spent a season on a farm in Columbia and then several months travelling Peru, volunteering and eating.

How did you find out about PV?

I’m plugged into a listserv run by Tufts University called ComFoodJobs. Melissa Luna sent an ad for the position to the listserv. It was the exact sort of volunteer work I was looking for at the time. If you’re at all interested in working within sustainable agriculture and the new agrarianism we see developing in small, resistant pockets of our world, I highly recommend the listserv.

Why did you decide to come back?

I left Playa Viva after volunteering for nearly four months with the intention of returning home to see family and begin another service position in the states. But as I did some thinking on my myriad bus rides home to Kansas City, I started to realize how much of my heart I’d left behind on the Costa Grande. Along with a desire to continue working on my Spanish, I made a pretty quick decision after crossing the border that Mexico wasn’t yet done with me. I don’t know if it ever will be.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

In the Playa Viva garden, I am working with the farm managers and my fellow volunteers, Kyra and Alex, to increase on-site fruit and vegetable production through sustainable growing practices. Other projects involve working with local organizations to plant community gardens, some of them hanging, others in the ground. In our free time, we have been greening up the volunteer house by planting, starting a compost, and creating a fuel-efficient, wood-burning outdoor kitchen. I have also been giving workshops on making kombucha. Additionally, I have begun helping out with various Gente Viva Organic Sesame projects along the coast.

What has been the highlight of your experiences so far and what are you most looking forward to learn and contribute during your internship/service?

It’s safe to say that nearly every volunteer will say their highlight is living in Juluchuca, the town adjacent to the Playa Viva property. I’m no different. It’s the type of small town that seems to have frozen in time despite a federal highway running through it. I help one of our neighbors keep pigs from roaming into her family’s yard. There’s a group of kids that roams around town that like to go hunt crawdads in the town creek and teach each other curse words. Afternoons are spent in hammocks and evenings are spent eating tacos in hammocks. Kindness and contentedness sing the same note here. People here live enough to be able to listen.

Share the moment you felt a paradigm shift (or were inspired) to get involved with agriculture?

I spent a few months travelling around Peru earlier this year. On days with nothing planned, I often found myself wandering their sprawling open-air farmers markets and contemplating the nature of such agrarianism. Even though I’d worked on on farms and markets before, I still had yet to reckon with the stirrings of a passion for plant knowledge and people.

What motivates you to keep going?

Sharing food and drink friends at the end of each day. The joy in the rediscovery of life that comes when you work around living, growing things that inherently reveal a network of being much bigger than your single life or even humanity itself.

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Interested in volunteering? We accept volunteers year-round on a rolling basis. Please refer to our FAQ for more information or email our volunteer coordinator at volunteer@playaviva.com.

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Taking a hard look at sustainable seafood

I’ll never forget when a guest asked me the question,

“Was this fish caught today?”

Her head turned toward the sea as she watched a local fishermen stroll by on the beach. She asked, “did one of these local fishermen catch it?”

I was totally unprepared to answer her question.

Seafood had actually been on my mind since I arrived at Playa Viva nearly one year ago. My master’s degree is in the very subject—marine resource management—so Playa Viva’s involvement with local fisheries was something I had been wondering about. Before I knew how to fully answer her question, I was hoping for the best, but I also knew that around the world fisheries are in a precarious state, how difficult they can be to manage and how difficult it is to trace where your seafood is actually coming from.

Despite the challenges, I knew I had to and wanted to investigate the answer.

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“Huachitos” (Huachinango, red snapper) ready to be prepared in the Playa Viva kitchen. Photo credit: Nathan Ryan

As part of my duties to ensure Playa Viva is on track to achieving its regenerative goals, I decided that I needed to do some research to be able to give that guest, and all our guests, an honest answer. I started by asking our chef where our seafood comes from, what he purchases and why. He assured me that he only orders fish that he knows to be native to the region and knew about some local cooperatives down the road but that we didn’t purchase directly from them.

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Barra de Potosí – one of Costa Grande’s many fishing communities

I decided to seek some expertise from one of our partners, Katherina Audley from Whales of Guerrero Research Project, who has been living and working in the Zihuatanejo area’s fishing communities for nearly two decades. When I mentioned to her our seafood purchasing list in passing, her immediate reaction was a little alarming–something I had feared. She asked me to send her a list and would look at it in detail. Her response:

“Now that I see this list, I realize recommendations, etc. are more nuanced than I realized before. What needs to happen is to go to the market in Petatlán and talk to the vendors there. Ask them where the fish comes from and how they catch it. Catch method and how far away the fish comes from change how wise each fish is to consume. If someone can go to the market in Petatlán and map out the chain from catch to table for the different kinds of seafood, and also get copies/pictures of fishing permits from local fishermen, we will be able to move forward with creating a more sustainable fishery. Can you go to the market in Petatlán and do this research?”

I could, but I knew that I needed help.

While recruiting for a volunteer for La Tortuga Viva (our local sea turtle sanctuary) I came across Romain Langeard, a prospective candidate from France who had a background and experience in marine conservation and development, including conducting vulnerability assessments with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Burmese fishing communities. Instead of working with the turtle camp, I proposed and offered the position to help conduct the “Seafood Sourcing Sustainability Assessment”, better known now as the “SSSA”. Romain accepted the terms and began work for the project this past April.

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Romain on one of our supplier scoping visits — a shrimp aquaculture production facility in Barra de Potosí

The project had two main goals:

1 – To evaluate the sustainability of the seafood served at the hotel, but also

2 – To shed light on the state of fisheries in our area and identify potential ways Playa Viva can be a leader in creating change that supports local sustainable fisheries.

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Saturday morning in Cayacal

Our findings weren’t very pretty … but first, let me give you some context.

Playa Viva is located about 45 km south of the city of Zihuatanejo, a popular tourist destination with a population of around 200,000 people. Before becoming a popular tourist destination in the 1970s, Zihuatanejo existed for hundreds of years as a remote, sleepy fishing village. In 1971 the Mexican government invested in a large infrastructure project to expand and rehabilitate Zihuatanejo, as well as develop the area to its north, Ixtapa, as a resort destination (1).

Over the last 40 years, the infrastructure needed in this area to satisfy a growing population, as well as both domestic and international tourist needs, have all caused severe impacts on the environment (2). Poorly planned coastal development has greatly disturbed wildlife habitat and resulted in a loss of biodiversity, as well as drastically decreased water quality (2). These factors, coupled with an increased demand for seafood and with that a rise in industrial fishing, have all caused a steady decline in Guerrero’s fisheries (2,3). Consequently, residents, business owners, local fishermen, and conservation actors are all rightly concerned over the health, resiliency and productivity of Costa Grande’s ecosystems.

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Puerto Xapútica, El Cayacal

During interviews with the fishing communities, fishers stated that some of the main barriers to responsible fishing is the lack of demand for a sustainable product and poor enforcement by fisheries authorities. The fishers are numerous and demand is often inconsistent and fluctuates greatly depending on seasonal tourism. Therefore, due to inconsistent demand, economic pressures felt by the fishers and poor enforcement, the tendency to overfish is high. In turn, this has resulted in an attitude of

“Why should I follow the rules if nobody else is?”

Mexico is both party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and a member of the FAO, demonstrating their long-term commitment to ensuring responsible use and development of marine resources. Through these commitments, Mexico recently developed a long-term strategy for sustaining fisheries in Mexico at the national level (4).

However, based on our initial findings, while fishing legislation exists on paper at the local, national and international level, poor enforcement, monitoring, and thus compliance within Mexico, particularly in Guerrero, renders them almost ineffective.

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Fish frenzy in Barra de Potosí

Nevertheless, while enforcement of (and thus compliance with) regulations is poor, all cooperatives expressed grave concern over the health and prosperity of fisheries. One fisher commented:

“The biggest problem in all the cooperatives is that there is not enough fish. The fish are almost gone.”

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Cooperative meeting in El Cayacal

 

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Romain inspecting fishing permits

In response to this issue, some of the cooperatives have actually implemented some of their own conservation actions. The cooperative of La Barrita has established a rotation of no-take-zones in their respective fishing area and restrictions on certain species depending on the time of year. The cooperative in Barra de Potosí doesn’t (or tries not to) fish during reproduction periods. However, they said it was challenging to get all the fishers in the cooperative to comply. 

So, what did we find?

Playa Viva’s seafood is mainly purchased from a middleman supplier in Petatlán (“Pescadería Margarita”), a town of about 18,000 people located 13 km from the hotel. Most of the products purchased from the supplier in Petatlán originate from another supplier in Zihuatanejo, whose products originate from various parts of the country or from foreign and domestic fishing fleets on the high seas. Only some species, such as the more coastal species, like red snapper, originate more locally.

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It was difficult for the supplier to confirm with certainty where each fish originated. This low traceability at the market makes it all the more difficult for a business like Playa Viva to know when, where and how seafood products were harvested.

Additionally, we discovered that there was a lack in education among Playa Viva staff on sustainable fisheries topics, which has made it more difficult to make responsible seafood choices. Unfortunately without this knowledge, the hotel was unable to understand the impact of their purchasing patterns.

Consequently, the hotel has unintentionally purchased species whose ecological status is either unknown or depleted, as well as purchased species whose capture methods do not comply with local regulations.

Given the types of seafood purchase and the lack of traceability, we concluded that the seafood at the hotel is unfortunately not sustainable.

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As you can see, even though Playa Viva is located directly on the beach with fishing cooperatives just down the road, tracing seafood is often nuanced and complex. 

Nevertheless, while the future of Costa Grande’s fisheries may look bleak for now, there is an incredible opportunity to impact the way fisheries are managed locally.
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Romain and I with a fisherman from El Cayacal, inspecting whether the fish is to size regulation. Photo credit: Amanda Ryan

Playa Viva is committed to serve as a model for change and to help create that change in their ecosystem. Romain and I spoke with a lot of fishermen throughout this project and feel that Playa Viva is in an ideal position to work with local fishing cooperatives to begin to solve the “lack of demand for a sustainable product” problem identified by local fishers.

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At Juan Manuel’s shrimp farm. He used to be a shrimper but converted to shrimp farming about 5 years ago since the shrimp had all been overfished. “Se acabó el camarón.”

Playa Viva is committed to serve as a model for change and to help create that change in their ecosystem. Romain and I spoke with a lot of fishermen throughout this project and feel that Playa Viva is in an ideal position to work with local fishing cooperatives to begin to solve the “lack of demand for a sustainable product” problem identified by local fishers.

Naturally, it will take some steps to get there.

1. Implement a sustainable sourcing strategy

The biggest need the hotel has is a strategy for sustainable seafood purchasing. The lack of understanding about sustainable fisheries prevented Playa Viva from developing a sustainable purchasing strategy, which inevitably and undoubtedly led to unsustainable purchases. We suggest the new strategy to include: 1) finalizing research on all available legislation and stock status information, 2) supporting management and kitchen staff in adapting purchasing practices and menus through educating them about sustainable fisheries (and supporting in communicating these practices to guests), and 3) identifying and building new and existing relationships with local producers.

2. Lead the creation of a responsible seafood guide

Once Playa Viva has a sustainable purchasing strategy in place, the hotel can be in a keen position to promote the demand for a more sustainable product. Playa Viva could play a key role as a catalyst for positive change in the local ecosystem. The hotel could promote sustainable fishing and responsible purchasing practices through leading the creation of a “responsible seafood purchasing guide”. Katherina and her Whales of Guerrero Research Project have already expressed interest in a partnership with Playa Viva in developing and distributing this guide to other tourism actors, businesses, and individual consumers in the area.

More resources will be required

To successfully implement these two recommendations, we’ll need to bring in someone to support the Playa Viva team in implementing a strategy and also lay the groundwork for the creation of a responsible seafood guide.

If funds can be garnered to support the next phase of this project, Playa Viva has great potential to become a leader in sustainable sourcing, help promote the regeneration of Guerrero’s fisheries, and become a true promoter of regenerative development practices.

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Romain and fishermen from El Cayacal

Time is of the essence: it will take some work, but the regeneration of a degraded ecosystem is entirely possible. This region can once again be a resilient and thriving ecosystem, where fishing provides benefits for both fisher and consumer alike.

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Fishing boats in El Cayacal

If interested in supporting the next two phases of this project, please contact David Leventhal at david@playaviva.com. Or, please donate to our regenerative trust (please write in the comment space it is for the sustainable fisheries project).

If you would like to read the full version of the report, you can download it here: PV Seafood Sustainability Assessment_Aug2017_v2.

A report synopsis can be downloaded here: SSSA-brief-v2.

References

  1. World Bank (1983). Project Performance Audit Report: Zihuatanejo Tourism Project and Tourism Development Project.
  2. Ortiz-Lozano, L., Granados-Barba, A., Solís-Weiss, V., & García-Salgado, M. A. (2005). Environmental evaluation and development problems of the Mexican Coastal Zone. Ocean & Coastal Management 48(2): 161-176.
  3. Kennett, D. (2007). Human Impacts on Marine Ecosystems in Guerrero, Mexico. In: Ancient Human Impacts on Marine Environments. T. C. Rick and J. M. Erlandson, University of California Press, Berkeley.
  4. SAGARPA (2016) Strategy for Biodiversity Mainstreaming: Fisheries and Aquaculture (2016-2022). Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food.

Poachers to Conservationists: Sea turtle conservation in rural Mexico

Written by Lissett Medrano

As we celebrate oceans this month, today is specifically dedicated to one of earth’s most ancient sea creaturessea turtles. As we honor this incredible species, it’s important to also recognize the efforts being made at the local level to preserve these endangered species. For the past four months, I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with La Tortuga Viva (LTV), a turtle sanctuary ran by volunteers from the local community of Juluchuca, Mexico. I’ve learned that these efforts are not only helping save sea turtles, they are also providing empowerment opportunities for local communities.

Some background on LTV…

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Like many other small fishing communities in Mexico, Juluchuca was once a sea turtle poaching community not that long ago. Due to the large decline in the sea turtle population, the Mexican government established many community-based turtle sanctuaries to help combat this issue. LTV was created in 2001 by ex-poachers and Playa Viva has been collaborating with the camp since 2007, providing them with financial support and other streams of revenue brought on by hotel tourism.

Working with the Camp

I arrived to Juluchuca with two main priorities –  lead the camp relocation project and the camp permit renewal process. Within a few weeks, I discovered there were many internal issues that were hindering the ultimate goal of the camp- preserving sea turtles. So a lot of my time has been dedicated to capacity-building with the camp volunteers; understanding why and how they work, along with empowering them to address the issues, was the first step.

Challenges: Gender roles, Communication and Change

Being the first and only female to work in the male dominated camp, made relationship building quite challenging at first. My work schedule is flexible, but in general my working hours at Playa Viva, which include daily morning turtle releases with hotel guests, checking the sanctuary, and doing sea turtle research, allow for very little interaction time with the volunteers who work full-time jobs during the day. Also, being a new young female in town, it would be frowned upon to jump on nightly patrols with the guys without getting to know them and the community better, not to mention being constantly told that it was “more dangerous” for a female to go on nightly patrol.

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My main contact with the camp was through the camp President, Hector, who I could only communicate with in person since he has no phone or email. Surprisingly, not an easy man to find in such a small town! Through persistence, jumping on any opportunity for group gatherings (Sundays clean ups, meetings etc), and creating new communication channels, like Whatsapp groups for camp volunteers with phones, I’ve managed to build a solid relationship with Hector and get to know the guys more.

Once I established myself as a fellow turtle volunteer, I began to organize and facilitate more meetings where we discussed issues that many volunteers had long since given up on. Most of the time, the meetings didn’t solve any problems, but they were useful in starting a trend to talk openly about issues, rather than complaining in private, which was the norm.

Another challenge was and will continue to be the camp’s resistance to change, which is not too common in Juluchuca. Any suggestions to improve camp operations or try things a different way are often met with stubborn resistance. Even the smallest efforts, like using reusable bags instead of plastic, are met with reasons on why it wouldn’t work. I learned very quickly to approach new ideas carefully and always gather their opinions before proposing anything.

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In addition to everything I’m learning about sea turtles and management in community-based conservation, it’s been incredibly inspiring hearing some of the volunteers stories and seeing how some of them are already evolving into leaders through the camp. Many of these volunteers used to engage in sea turtle poaching and still have friends and family who continue to consume sea turtles. Living in a town with very little economic opportunities, the turtle camp provides these volunteers with a big incentive to shift from poaching to conservation through their monthly food stipends. One volunteer, that goes by Iguana, spent some time in juvenile facility as a teen for stealing turtle eggs. Iguana is now one of the more experienced volunteers and takes great pride in his work as a protector of turtles. He helps train new volunteers in turtle tracking and nest relocation and is also an advocate for turtle protection in a community where turtle consumption is still ongoing

Although challenges remain, LTV’s work has already contributed to the release of over 400,000 sea turtles. We’ve also taken some big steps in moving forward with the camp permit process, have shifted around responsibilities so the tasks don’t all fall on one person and we’ve identified the new turtle camp location and are working to clear the area to begin building. With continued efforts, we hope to have the camp in a place where the volunteers manage themselves, without relying on outside assistance.

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How to help

Understandably, not everyone can move to Mexico and volunteer at a turtle camp, but there are SO many ways to help. Here are a few easy ones!

  • DONATE to our Indiegogo campaign here to build a new sanctuary. The current one is in bad shape  from years of bacteria build-up and ant infestation and needs more security to protect it from the biggest threat on our beach- the badgers! Every dollar counts!
  • SAY NO TO PLASTIC. Plastics end up in our oceans and are consequently consumed by sea turtles due to their resemblance to jellyfish.
  • EAT SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD. The biggest threat to sea turtles is commercial fish trawling. Ensure your seafood is coming from a sustainable source- you can check here.
  • SHARE THE KNOWLEDGE. Know a thing or two about sea turtles? Share the info with friends- protecting the environment is a collective effort.

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“Our Oceans Our Future”

#WorldOceansDay

Happy World Oceans Day!

At Playa Viva (“Living Beach”) it’s in our name to keep our coast and ocean healthy, alive, and thriving. Our oceans are essential to life as we know it on the planet: 70% of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean, they help regulate our climate, provide a significant portion of our food, as well as a number of economic, cultural and recreational benefits.

When the owners bought Playa Viva’s land, it was heavily degraded: the coastal lagoon once replete with mangroves was dried up and mangroves were slashed and burned by cattle ranching and monoculture agriculture. Much of the coastal forest ecosystem that once protected the coastline and supported marine life was in a precarious state.

Playa Viva has been working to reverse that through a number of regenerative practices.

LA TORTUGA VIVA

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Some of the members of LTV

La Tortuga Viva (LTV) is one of our longest standing initiatives. LTV began in 2001 (before we were even here!) through a SEMARNAT (Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources) initiative to combat illegal turtle poaching in Mexico. The camp was started by members from the local community, many of whom were once sea turtle poachers themselves, and have since become conservationists. Playa Viva has been working with this sanctuary since 2007, providing them financial support and extra streams of revenue through the tourism brought by the hotel. We’ve been focusing even more energy on the camp with a new role: Turtle Sanctuary Coordinator.

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“I’ve been working with the turtle camp the past 4 months and although I have several projects from relocating the sanctuary to supporting the camp permit renewal process, most of my time has been dedicated to capacity building with the local volunteers. Through relationship building, frequent group meetings, and new communication channels like WhatsApp groups, many internal camp issues, that have hindered the volunteers’ quality of work, are now being addressed. Some positive steps have included empowering some of the younger volunteers to share and implement their ideas for improving the operations of the camp, and therefore sharing responsibilities so that all tasks don’t fall on one person. The goal of my role is to support the camp volunteers so they can manage themselves, without relying outside assistance. Slowly but surely we are moving in the right direction!” – Lissett Medrano, former policy coordinator at Conservation International

Right now this position is not funded. We would love to secure funding for this important role as it is essential for improving conservation management capacity. To donate to this important initiative visit our page on LTV (OR donate to our Indiegogo Campaign!), where we receive tax-deductible donations through our fiscal sponsor, The Ocean Foundation.

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Turtle volunteers transplanting nests into the hatchery

PARTNERSHIP WITH COSTA GRANDE COSTA LIMPIA

More than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans every year. Plastic pollution not only kills and harms marine life, damages and alters habitats, and has substantial negative impacts on local economies, but it also poses a great threat to human health. As plastic debris floats in the seawater and decomposes into microplastics, it absorbs other pollutants that are highly toxic, which have a wide range of adverse health effects. When fish and other marine species eat these plastic pieces, the toxins are absorbed into their body and passed up the food chain and ultimately passed onto our dinner planets.

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Photo Credit: Costa Grande, Costa Limpia

To combat this issue, in addition to the regular beach cleanup we do with La Tortuga Viva, we’ve partnered with Costa Grande Costa Limpia in their effort to clean up the beaches of Costa Grande in Guerrero and run campaigns about the importance of keeping our oceans healthy and free of plastic (80% of the waste found on beaches is exclusively plastic). Their objective is to improve the health of Guerrero’s coastline, to develop jobs for Costa Grande communities and to grow the regional economy through tourism. Villagers from each municipality undergo rigorous training so that they can perpetuate this effort, take care of their environment and change their own consumption habits.

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Costa Grande Costa Limpia brigades finishing for the day at Playa Viva

We hosted several brigades here at Playa Viva, who have collected numerous bags of plastic and other debris–large and small–from our town’s beaches and lagoon. We are overly grateful to have such an important partner in ocean health and conservation!

MANGROVE RESTORATION

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Mangrove restoration area

It has been estimated that in some areas of the world 70-90% of commercial fish species directly rely on mangrove ecosystems. Mangrove forests act as nurseries to many species of fish, crab, shrimp, and mollusk. These fisheries form an essential source of food for thousands of coastal communities around the world.

The dense root systems of mangrove forests also trap sediments flowing down rivers, which stabilizes the coastline and prevents erosion. These trees also filter sediments, protecting coral reefs and seagrass meadows (which are important feeding grounds of our beloved sea turtle!).

For many years mangroves were negatively (and are still!) impacted by the tourism industry. At Playa Viva, we are one of few tourism operations in the world actively restoring the mangrove ecosystem through the revenues generated by the hotel.

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Jose Vargas “Chenca” – the employee who spearheads all of our onsite mangrove restoration work!

At the start of our mangrove restoration project, we engaged with the local community about the importance of mangroves, who didn’t see much use to them other than firewood. They even used to cut some of the root systems down as they were seen as a nuisance when they went fishing in the lagoon and their nets got caught on the roots.

We have different areas of mangrove restoration at work on our property. Some areas we are letting nature take its course, in others we’re practicing an accelerated natural selection. We’ve opened waterway channels to restore the natural flow of the lagoon, created shade to shade out invasive species, planted mangrove saplings, and actively removed invasive species that would otherwise prevent mangroves from flourishing.

We’ve just begun phase two of the coastal lagoon restoration project and opened up a new area for mangrove restoration. We are currently looking for investors to help continue this important effort!

SEAFOOD SUSTAINABILITY

jaquorylunsford-11Playa Viva has just begun its first seafood sustainability assessment. The goal for food sourcing at Playa Viva is to provide transparency in our menus, build strong relationships with local providers, and use ingredients that are seasonal, organic and just.

Accordingly, with my role as Social & Environmental Impact Officer, I’m tasked with ensuring we’re doing all these things! When I first arrived at Playa Viva, I received a lot of questions such as, “Was this fish caught today? Did you purchase this from a local fisher? Is this seafood sustainable?” I honestly didn’t have the answers, so I began to investigate. My first stop was to talk with one of our conservation partners Katherina Audley, from Whales in Guerrero Research Project, an amazingly passionate woman who has fished for two decades in the area and actively working to promote a healthy ocean here in Guerrero.

I have been receiving a ton of support on this project from Romain, a “volunteer” with a lot of great experience. Romain came to Playa Viva to work on this project after having worked on a number of conservation and development projects in fishing communities in Africa and Asia, most recently with the FAO’s FishAdapt project in Myanmar. He has spearheaded the project, tracing where the hotel’s seafood is coming from, investigating local fishing regulations and ensuring that we are purchasing seafood that is socially and ecologically sustainable. The next stage of the project is to work with hotel management and local fishing cooperatives to source fish locally and directly from small-scale producers in order to support the local economy and regenerate healthy fisheries.

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Romain in Cayacal, meeting with local fishermen

A healthy ocean is integral to live in the coastal ecosystem of which Playa Viva is apart. We honor and celebrate the fragile strength and limited bounty of the oceans today, especially the delicate balance that people and the ecosystem must maintain in order to reverse the decline and regenerate this vital ecosystem.

 

Who are the Playa Viva Volunteers now?

See what our volunteers are up to now! We have a lot of exciting volunteer projects in the works and found some wonderful people to carry those projects out. Read on to find out more!

Farm to Table: Christabel Courtauld, UK

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Christabel in front of the volunteer house in town

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

I am from Bristol, England. Before coming to Mexico I was head chef at a restaurant called ‘The Canteen’ for 3 years. We practiced sustainability, local sourcing & minimal food waste. Now I am keen to learn about Organic farming to complete the farm to table cycle. I travelled in Oaxaca & Chiapas for two months before starting at Playa Viva.

How did you find out about Playa Viva and what drew you to Playa Viva? In other words, why did you decide to volunteer?

I discovered Playa Viva through WorkAway. I was looking for a farm with knowledgeable people to learn from but still a work in progress. The opportunity to cook in a local kitchen is always a bonus for me. I was excited to live in a village away from the usual tourist trail.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

I am working with the connection of Farm to table- spending time volunteering in the kitchen and in food production at the farm. I am hoping to build more information about the seasonal availability of all the produce at Playa Viva.

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Christabel working in the garden

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

The people who we work with at Playa Viva, and in our village of Juluchuca, have all been so welcoming. It has been brilliant balancing our time between the two very different places. Oh, and the food is incredible!

Seafood Sustainability & Social Impact: Romain Langeard, France

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Romain with fishermen from Cayacal

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

I am from France and was having a tour of some organizations in Latin America before joining Playa Viva. Before that, I took part in several conservation and development projects in Asia, India and Africa.

How did you find out about Playa Viva and what drew you to Playa Viva? In other words, why did you decide to volunteer?

Playa Viva offered very good TOR for two interesting missions, so I jumped on the adventure!

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Gathering info from the Cooperative’s Treasurer

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

I am supporting Melissa (our amazing volunteer coordinator) on a “Social Impact Assessment” and I am doing the first seafood sourcing sustainability assessment for the Playa Viva restaurant.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

When the pigs are coming! And more seriously, the meetings we’ve had with the fishing communities and gathering information have been the most interesting part so far.

Organic Farming, Local Sourcing and Community Gardens: Nathan Ellermeier, USA

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Nathan enjoying free time in the village

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

I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. But after spending 6 years in Columbia, Missouri for school, working and digging the town, I feel like Columbia is where I’m from. I did a lot of growing up around central Missouri, at the lively Saturday farmer’s market, cruising around on my bright green Peugeot, sipping growlers of local ales with friends at spring-fed watering holes

December this last year, I made peace with my town, rolled up my bed roll and packed away my portable Columbia life. After Christmas, I caught a plane to Peru to spend time working on my Spanish, alone somewhere that was completely different. Along the way, I worked on organic farms, met wonderful people from Peru and beyond, and learned heaps about regional cuisine.

How did you find out about Playa Viva and what drew you to Playa Viva? In other words, why did you decide to volunteer?

Travelling alone affords you with a certain amount of self-discovery that might only otherwise happen on long hikes in the woods. While in Peru, my multifarious interests in permaculture, cultivation and community building began to take shape as priorities. I wanted to invest time in community education, sustainable living, and delicious home-grown foods.

This revelation came around the same time that I’d become restless with travel and was looking for somewhere a little less transient, somewhere to invest my energy where it might be felt. Through ComFood, an email listserv run by Tufts, I found Playa Viva and its mission. With its focus on sustainable community development and regenerative agriculture, it felt like the position at Playa Viva had fallen into my lap.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

I spent my first three weeks at the hotel working out on the organically cultivated farm with Guero and Abel, learning the permacultural techniques they employ. We grow cabbages, kales, nopales, sesame, drying beans, corn, and a cornucopia of tropical fruits (cashew apples have me enchancted). Since the hotel is moving into its low-season, production has slowed down and plants have begun to bolt. So we have been harvesting and saving a lot of seed, which is exciting to be a part of. I’ve also been selling our greens at a local eco-market up in Zihuatanejo.

This past week, I’ve begun my preliminary survey on where I might install gardens to give workshops to people that live in Juluchuca and provide produce for the local soup kitchen. At Playa Viva, we hold monthly healthy cooking workshops for people who live in town. The problem is that some of the ingredients (i.e. fresh, nutrient-dense greens) are hard to come by here in Juluchuca. As a way to save water and create a space that is attractive for future workshops, I’ll be collaborating with the volunteers at the soup kitchen to build a vertical garden out of Upcycled materials. Along with this, I am researching grey water and water harvesting systems that could be practically employed in Juluchuca. By extending the use of each drop of water, I hope that the idea of gardening will become more practical and appealing to water-scarce Juluchuca.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

This question leaves me with too much I want to say, but I’ll try and keep it short.

One of the most lively spaces in Juluchuca is a taco stand that sits along the highway that runs through town. During the day, the spot is sweltering and filled with the exhaust from rumbling buses and the heat that radiates from the road. But when night comes, Lupe sets out chairs, carries her supplies out to the exposed kitchen space, and turns on a few orange incandescents. The energy from the town, lagging from a hot afternoon, feels like it condenses under those lights. Her restaurant has the feel of a roadside diner with all its quirks, service lingo, and mix of community staples and passers-through. But instead of breakfast, there are delicious tacos.

Ferments and tropical fruits/climate Another thing I’ve enjoyed is the endless supply of new fruits that fall in abundance as they mature. So with this comes opportunities ripe for fermentation, a particular favorite pastime of mine. So far, I’ve got a delicious tamarind kombucha on the brew. Attempts at baking sourdough bread over an open fire are also being made.

Tianguis The Eco-Tianguis market ever Saturday in Zihua is one of my favorite parts of the week. I’m the kind of person that’s excited to talk about the greens and whatever else I’m bringing to market. Since we are some of the only food producers at the market, the market feels like an exciting time for collaboration. Everyone brings something unique and handcrafted to the market. There is an exchange of knowledge and community there that I really love.

Okay, I’m almost done, but I can’t leave this post without talking about my office. Let me sketch a quick image. 50 years ago (maybe more), when this property was probably just beginning as a coconut plantation, some forward-thinker planted three little Parota trees and built a small adobe shed near one of them. Now these trees have grown into gargantuan granddaddies that throw they’re Elephant-ear seedpods everywhere, are habitat and play space for a handful of lively birds, retain water, enrich the soil, and cast beautiful patches of shade on the garden here at Playa Viva. I feel fortunate to work in such a beautiful, lush space. There are these white butterflies that fly through the garden that look like floating napkins. Adding to this are the shenanigans and camaraderie among Guero, Abel, and the rest of the food and permaculture crew. At moments tranquil and quiet, the garden livens up while the day is at its hottest.

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One of the beautiful parota trees that hovers over the garden

A new round of volunteers: Meet the team behind the scenes

Our volunteers come from all over–from close to home here in Mexico as well as internationally–to support our work in organic food production, organic food preparation, permaculture, sea turtle conservation, English tutoring, and our local eco-tianguis, a farmers’ market that happens every Saturday in Zihuatanejo. Volunteers stay on average from one to three months and have the option of pursuing a personal project during their stay.

We are incredibly grateful for all of their hard work, so we want to share with you our current and/or most recent team of wonderful volunteers.

Lissett Medrano, USA, Turtle Sanctuary

lissettturtlesWhere are you from and what were you doing before you arrived? I grew up just a few minutes south of Washington D.C in Alexandria, VA. I was working in international policy at an environmental NGO- mainly planning for UN meetings we engaged in and some research on climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development policy.

How did you find out about Playa Viva? I saw the posting on a marine conservation newsletter I follow called SEVENSEAS.

Why did you decide to volunteer? After working in the conservation policy realm for years (at a desk), I had a strong yearning to get out to the field and work in community-based conservation. I was drawn to Playa Viva’s values and of course the chance to work with baby sea turtles in a beautiful country!

What are you working on at Playa Viva? In addition to releasing turtles into the ocean everyday, I’m working on improving best practices for the turtle program as well as engaging the local volunteers and community to build environmental awareness.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far? Riding the ATV on the beach in the dead of night under a blast of stars in search of turtle nests and observing a mama turtle make her way back to ocean after birthing 93 eggs- absolutely magical!

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On the way to the turtle sanctuary

Liza Couse, Canada, Farm to Table

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Service: January 20th – February 21st

Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived? Originally from Toronto, I now call Vancouver, British Columbia home. Before I arrived here at Playa Viva, I was volunteering on a family-run herb farm on Vancouver Island taking care of plants, children, and goats! Previous to that, I was running a food truck for a cold-pressed juice company in Vancouver.

How did you find out about Playa Viva? I found out about Playa Viva from the website numundo.org that helps to connect people with meaningful volunteer opportunities around the world.

Why did you decide to volunteer? I came to volunteer at Playa Viva because I was seeking an educational adventure. I have a background in holistic nutrition, herbal medicine, and sustainable agriculture and Playa Viva has been the perfect place for me to put my education into practice. I am also here to practice Spanish, swim in the ocean every day, and enjoy Mexican cuisine.

What are you working on at Playa Viva? I have been spending my time working in the gardens, in the kitchen, and creating an informative plant / permaculture guide for the Horticulture Hike. In the kitchen I have been experimenting with ferments to add to the menu. This includes kombucha and a Mexican sauerkraut (complete with tomatillos and jalapeños). I also help the kitchen staff make tortillas and fresh juices in the mornings. For the Horticulture guide, I have been researching the medicinal and culinary uses of many of the plants growing here. This guide will serve as an educational tool for hotel guests to learn about the botanical offerings at Playa Viva and the permaculture techniques being applied to sustain the hotel and regenerate the land.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far? I have really enjoyed attending the Eco Tianguis – a local market in the nearby town of Zihuatanejo that takes place once a week. Playa Viva has a stand where we sell greens, coconuts, chocolate, and coffee. It has been awesome to mingle with locals and tourists, listening to great music and enjoying tamales.

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Eco-Tianguis Sanka, Zihuatanejo

Josh Milowe, USA, Farm to Table 

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

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Service: January 21st-February 16th

 I grew up on the East Coast, in upstate New York and later in Boston as well. I’ve been living in Brooklyn for 8 years, working as a graphic designer and video editor in advertising and film. I’m super grateful to have had so much freedom to take time off and travel to many places around the world for extended periods of time.   

Two years ago I completed a 3 month apprenticeship in Costa Rica at Finca Luna Nueva. We studied so much! We covered many principles of Permaculture, Biodynamic and Organic agriculture, soil science, nutrition, carbon sequestration and learned the properties of a huge array of medicinal plants. We even made chocolate, tea, cheese, butter and kombucha from scratch.

As an earthling, I love learning the many processes rooted in ancient traditional cultures in regard to food production, preservation, plant medicine and other practical knowledge. These technologies have not only stood the test of time, but have allowed many people to thrive across the world. I’ve been informally studying herbalism over the last two years and I am constantly seeking out new opportunities to learn about Permaculture principles being implemented in many different forms.

How did you find out about Playa Viva? Numundo.org !

Why did you decide to volunteer? I was very curious to learn about the permaculture technologies being used at the hotel. I was also eager to help out in the kitchen as well as on the farm. I wanted to be in an environment where I could continue studying Spanish and learn more about Mexican culture. Finally, with tropical blood running through my veins, missing some winter in New York City was a super easy decision.

What are you working on at Playa Viva? The first week I arrived, I was primarily helping out in the garden, weeding and shoveling compost, sweating and enjoying the sunshine. I spent a few days helping out in the kitchen, and two days working at the Eco-Tianguis, the local farmer’s market held every Saturday in Zihuatanejo.

My primary focus has shifted to designing a booklet for the Discovery Trail, in collaboration with Liza and a few of the other volunteers. The booklet will serve as a self-guided tour, as you walk along the trail that runs through the property. It highlights over 20 plants, including medicinal, culinary and traditional uses, as well as some information on local fauna and permaculture technologies being used here. I’ve created 30+ illustrations and I am designing the whole booklet… it should be ready soon!img_0212

What has been the highlight of your experience so far? First of all, there are so many amazing abuelitas around here! From the Grandmas who have little restaurants open for dinner in Juluchuca, to some of the incredible women selling food and crafts at the Eco-Tianguis market, and finally Lupita who holds traditional Temazcal ceremonies at her place in Playa Larga, which I was lucky enough to attend during my stay.

I’ve have also really enjoyed my time getting to know everybody at Playa Viva, including all the farm, kitchen and hotel staff. But especially working alongside Melissa and the other volunteers, spending the majority of every single day this past month together, you really grow close, quickly. We have had tons of great conversations and experiences together. It has been super fun running around with this gang of women 🙂

 

Corina Callejo, México, Sustainability and Hotel Management

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Service: February 1st-March 1st

Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived? I am from Cuernavaca, Morelos. Recently I finished my masters degree in sustainable tourism

How did you find out about Playa Viva? One day I saw a Facebook add or news about the treehouse in a hotel in Mexico, so I decided to check it out

Why did you decide to volunteer? I wanted to get to know the hotel and the people working there, plus, I was interested in learning about the hotel management

What are you working on at Playa Viva? Another volunteer and I are working on the signs for the horticulture hike

What has been the highlight of your experience so far? Learning about the different aspects of the hotel, the different chores and responsibilities

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Carpooling back to town

Mariana Kameta, México, ESL and Farm  

Where are you from and what were you doing before you arrived? I’m from Mexico City. Before I came to PV I was working at a small company as an industrial designer.

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Service: February 1st-March 1st

How did you find out about Playa Viva? I found out about PV from a friend who had also volunteered here this past July.

Why did you decide to volunteer? I wanted to volunteer, because I had never volunteered before and I wanted to take a time off the routine and learn about organic farming.

What are you working on at Playa Viva? I’m working on the farm, making some signs for the horticulture hike and teaching English in the Primaria (primary school) and Prepa (high school) in Juluchuca.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far? I love working on the farm and learning new things every time.

 

Interested in volunteering with us? We accept volunteer applications on a rolling basis. We are also looking for committed farm volunteers with some experience to come work for us for a minimum of three months. Find out more here.  

How Playa Viva Guests and Local Community Work Together

Around mid-November a yoga retreat from Breathe Together Yoga Studio in California graced us with their presence at Playa Viva. During their stay a few of its participants took a local tour with Johnny around town, visiting the schools, the local coconut candy factory, and the small stands selling homemade jams and other edibles. During their tour, they saw something peculiar happening: they noticed large barrels of water being trucked in and families washing clothes in the river. They asked Johnny what was happening and he explained how the town’s water pump had failed.

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A couple weeks prior to the retreat, the pump that brings water into the town of Juluchuca had given way, leaving families to either purchase water or, for those who could not afford it, make trips to the river every day. The cost to replace the pump totaled about 2,000 USD. Raising funds proved to be a real hardship for the town, only garnering about $150 USD during the first round of collections. Most families simply could not afford to pay for the new pump and the supplies necessary to install it.

Guests who went on the local tour brought this need back to the rest of the group who immediately jumped on board with support and offers to help. They discussed with Johnny how much money the town needed, learning that the town still needed to raise $900. A second round of collections was in process where officials were going door-to-door trying to collect money for the pump from the residents.

The group decided collectively to donate a minimum $700 to the purchase of the new pump, which PV would buy and then receive reimbursement from the president, town, and The Ocean Foundation (our fiscal sponsor).

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Everyone in the town who made the pump possible!

After receiving the generous donation from the Breathe Los Gatos Retreat, a new pump was purchased and water once again flowed to Juluchuca. Helping restore water to the town was an enormous victory — leaving the town grateful and its donors filled with compassion.

“Helping restore water to the town for me was the highlight of my vacation. Unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and inadequate hygiene – is one of the leading causes of death among children under the age of five. It also plays a large role in keeping people poor. I was beyond thankful for the privilege to join the retreat at PV and being able to share that thankfulness by giving back to the town who hosted us, warmed my heart and filled my soul.” – Charlene Chen, Retreat Participant