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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Sembrado con Amor / Grown with Love

A Story of Regeneration: Moving towards regenerative agriculture on the southern pacific coast of Mexico

At Playa Viva, every aspect of our operation attempts to go beyond low-impact and actually make the place—the land and our community—better than it was. In other words, we practice regeneration.

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The farm.

Regeneration applies to everything that we do. What we do in food production is no different; we practice what’s called regenerative agriculture.

You might ask: what makes agriculture “regenerative”?

Regenerative agriculture is not just organic, and doesn’t just “do no harm”, but it actually improves the land. It represents a wide array of techniques that actively work to rebuild and regenerate soils, enhance biodiversity, increase resilience to climate change, and strengthen the health and vitality of farming and ranching communities.

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As the lead for Playa Viva’s social and environmental impact, I wanted to know… so are we actually doing that?

On an environmental level, I knew from working with our Farm Manager and Permaculture Specialist that the type of agriculture we are practicing is regenerative … but what about the social component? Are we raising awareness about sustainability? Are we changing perspectives? And if we’re raising awareness, is that awareness spreading to change agricultural practices in the region?

To begin to answer these questions, I decided to start by sitting down with the two people who grow our food: José Garza and Abel Vejar, both from the neighboring town of Rancho Nuevo. I wanted to know how they got into farming, how much they knew about organic farming and sustainable agriculture prior to joining the team, and how working for Playa Viva as a whole has (or hasn’t) impacted them.

But before I tell you what I discovered, I need to give a little context:

Today, most farmers in this region of Mexico hold a strong dependency on fertilizers and herbicides. During the mid-twentieth century, due to numerous policies and reforms, Mexico’s agrarian landscape was in a precarious state. Many rural areas of the state (as well as across the country) were suffering from poverty, land disputes, and hunger. In response to this, the Mexican government, in partnership with the United States, launched the Mexican Agricultural Program in 1943, which aimed to combat rural poverty through the use of modern agricultural technology and expansion. Through financial and technical support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the program created fertilizer subsidies, promoted the use of herbicides and pesticides, and distributed new hybrid varieties of maize and wheat, and trained farmers how to use them.

Coupled with a booming tourism industry, the coastline of Guerrero—once a verdant coastal forest replete with mangroves—was dramatically transformed through slash-and-burn agriculture into monoculture mango, tamarind, and coconut groves, and deforested for cattle ranching.

This created a significant decrease in biodiversity along with a reliance on fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to grow food for short-term gain in disregard of long-term social and environmental impacts. These developments have had severe impacts not only on the environment but also on the local economy. Lack of crop rotation, unbalanced crop nutrition and intensive use of pesticides and herbicides have all led to soil degradation, declining yields, declining water quality, and have greatly altered the rural landscape.

The current situation is a major concern for local farmers and policy makers, who are looking for ways to improve standards of living while strengthening the natural resources that abound.

In response, Playa Viva, along with its partner business Gente Viva, is working to provide solutions through the promotion of regenerative agriculture. The mission of Gente Viva is to create a resilient food system that provides sustainable economic opportunities to farmers by connecting them with international, domestic and local distribution for their healthy, organic produce.

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So let’s begin… What did I learn from my conversations with our food production team?

Abel Vejar, 31, and José Garza (better known as “Güero”), 31, are both from the same neighboring town of Rancho Nuevo. (Actually, they’re cousins born on the same day, same year, one hour apart!) They each come from slightly different farming backgrounds: Abel hadn’t had much experience working on farms—only some experience with fruit trees—while Güero had worked the land nearly his whole life, but never farmed organically. I wanted to know more about these two: how they made their way to Playa Viva, how and why they became farmers, and what impact working in organic food production has had on their lives.

Q: When and how did you make the decision to be a farmer?

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Abel: Well, I first started working in construction here at Playa Viva. I worked for about three months and remember seeing the lettuce in the greenhouse—they really caught my eye … They’re what really caught my attention and the reason why I wanted to come here to work and learn. I really like the job as I’m learning so many things here, which is most important to me: learning. Also, in respect to the lettuce, I had never seen them before nor knew them until now. I had never grown them—other fruits, yeah, like mango, banana, coconuts, all those kinds of fruit that we have here. But I had never seen these lettuces and they stood out to me because they are really beautiful and really tasty. And yeah, I really like working in food production, because nature really calls me.

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Güero: I personally was very young when I started working the land. I was eleven years old when I started to work on my own in farming to grow corn seasonally. I was growing corn, pumpkin, cane, beans—the essentials. And from there I began to familiarize myself with the land—I was learning to harvest, learning to work with a machete, learning to plow. But yeah, I was little when I began to work the land—well, work it alone. I started working the land with my family when I was really little, maybe 7, 8 years old—the easier stuff—but I started doing farm work then. Here in Playa Viva, I started just a little while ago. About three years ago I started working here, first at the hotel as a chauffeur, then I worked in permaculture for about another six months, and then I started here in food production. I’ve been working in food production for about two seasons. It feels like I’m still just learning—lots of things that I still don’t know—but that I’m going to be learning a lot.

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Abel with his lettuce
Q: Have you always farmed organically? Did you know much about organic farming before working for Playa Viva?

Abel: No—the fruit trees I worked with, we worked with chemicals. Because to clean them, you needed liquids; to get the tree to produce fruit, you used chemicals; you also used liquids to fumigate the fruit to get rid of insects, so yeah I came in not knowing much [about organic farming]. It’s here where I’m learning a lot. Here everything that we work, everything that we bring [to the kitchen], everything is organic, all the plants that we grow are worked purely by hand and not with chemicals.

Güero: Before, we used to use chemicals all the time. We used pesticides for weeds—not the worst ones—but in any case we still used them. And here at Playa Viva, from the start I began going to courses and started learning things, primarily that they aren’t good for your health. But while you don’t see it, you don’t believe it. Then later on you start to see that yeah it’s good to eat food grown without chemicals … I actually didn’t know anything about organic agriculture [before working at Playa Viva]. In the past, when we planted tomatoes, we tried to put as little chemicals as possible, but we always used them, when there was a pest or anything. But organic-organic, I never farmed organically myself. Not until two seasons ago, so now about a full year working on my own. Before I was working with Sapo (former head of food production), so we spent a season together, planting, and that’s where I started learning and they started bringing me to courses. So yeah, I’ve learned a lot.

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Visit to the local organic basil farm for a workshop on making organic insecticides and fungicides 
Q: Has your perspective changed about organic food or sustainable agriculture after having worked for Playa Viva. If yes, how? If no, why not?

Abel: Yes, because after trying different types of fruits and lettuces, I think it’s healthier because now I can invite my family to try this type of organic food. Our food that we grow is healthier than what’s available where I live—because all of the fruit that we have in Rancho Nuevo, all of it is grown with chemicals. Similarly, things like tomato and chile are also grown with chemicals. I would like it if we were all farming organically, because like that, you would see less disease and illness. It’s cleaner eating. […] I’ve brought some lettuce home for my family to try, and this type of lettuce specifically [points to lechuga tropical next to him], and my wife particularly loved it. She said it was delicious. My family had never tried it before, but they all really liked it.

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Guero and one of his WWOOF volunteers

Güero: Yes, a lot. About food more than anything else. But yeah, if I myself grow something, it will be organic; for me, for us, because, well, it’s better … Like I told you before, I knew that it wasn’t good, but I didn’t know how bad [pesticides] were. I thought what they said about [pesticides] was just tontería [nonsense]. I didn’t understand really until I started going to courses … From that point on, I started talking with people who were already inside the organic movement and they helped me understand that what I was doing before wasn’t good. And now, my mind’s changed, now I think differently, and I think it’s good to change and to make others change as well, but it’s difficult. You can see here that [organic farming] is difficult, but you are eating something healthy, something clean, something that you know won’t harm you. But not there [in the town]; it’s different.

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Preparing the harvest for the weekly farmer’s market
Q: Are the people in your town interested in organic farming? Do you see more people shifting to or practicing more organic farming in the future?

Abel: Well, I say yes because for example in my town, a lot people are already starting to grow organic sesame. In Rancho Nuevo a lot of people grow sesame, almost the majority of people who live there do, but they grow it with chemicals. I think that now there are the opportunities to grow organically, and from there they have the means to produce organically (through Gente Viva’s program). And I think it’s good because it’s a support—teaching them how to grow organically—and that support can give us more work in the organic sector. So, I think some people are going to be growing organic sesame with Nick (Gente Viva), and they like that. It would be a good change.

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Guero selling his organic produce at the Eco Tianguis Sanka in Zihuatanejo

Güero: I think so, because in Rancho Nuevo there are already two or three people who are joining the organic farming group with Nick (Gente Viva) … The only problem here is that a lot of people don’t grow organically because they don’t have the means—in the sense that you have to invest a lot in this type of farming, more than anything the supplies, those are more expensive, and it’s more difficult. Now it is at least — later that could change, but that’ll take time … I think it’s going to happen little by little. Little by little you have to tell and teach people about it because if you don’t tell others what you see and know, no one is going to be encouraged to do so. They’ll say it’s cheaper to go to the market and buy what they’re going to eat rather than cultivating it themselves. But if you eat a tomato here, for example, you know that little tomato is clean, you know that there’s no chemicals. You can eat it right from the garden … there’s no chemicals or anything like that.

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The sprout house amongst the cacao
Q: Would you say that Playa Viva has been a transformational experience for you?

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Abel: Yes. It’s a change. It’s a change in my awareness, my knowledge, to know more about what I’m learning here in food production. And I’ll also say it’s a change to improve economically for my family, because where I live there’s no work. I mean, wherever really in the countryside, you suffer when you live in the country where there are no job opportunities, but here [at Playa Viva] there are.

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Güero: Yes … If I hadn’t been working for Playa Viva, I still wouldn’t know about organic farming … And for example, this opportunity I was given here in food production—I had never really worked in area where I was at the front of it, in charge. It’s a big responsibility but at the same time it’s an experience that you get accustomed to; you get used to carrying out your work that you yourself are responsible for. You’re responsible for carrying out everything and seeing it through … I really like experimenting with what I’m growing, that’s what I like the most. If it doesn’t work out one way, I’ll try another and see if it works out.

——

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After speaking with Güero and Abel it was clear to me that working here at Playa Viva has impacted them. For Güero’s case, you see the transformation of someone who has been farming his whole life with chemicals, who now would never use pesticides again and sees the importance of eating organically. For Abel, you see someone without any farming experience, who was so taken by the leafy greens in the greenhouse that he wanted to learn more; now after given the opportunity, he sees and understands why growing and eating organically is so important.

What’s exciting is that this is just the beginning of everything: a change, a shift, a step in the right direction. We’re just beginning to scratch the surface — both in our work with Gente Viva, food production at Playa Viva, as well as understanding what kind of impact this work is having and will have in the future.

I’m left feeling overly inspired. On at least one level, we’ve provided at least two people with a livelihood as organic farmers who now are aware of the harmful effects of pesticides and herbicides. They can feed their families with healthy, organic produce, and share what they learn here with their community.

Lastly, I was taken aback at how proud they are and that what they do is a labor of love.

“It’s all grown with love. This is what I believe: if you grow something with love, it’s going to give you better results. It serves a plant well; watering it, including talking with it. For example, whenever I’m watering this lettuce, I’m always caressing it, giving it a loving look. I talk with them, I even sing to them.” — Abel

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Guero, Abel, and their three volunteers Beth, Alice, and Christabel

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Leonardo Palafox

 

 

 

2015 Mexico Peace Index

Reposted from Borderland Beat from content developed and distributed by Vision of Humanity’s Mexico Peace Index.  Playa Viva is located in the State of Guerrero which is rated as the Least Peaceful state. It appears that the factor contributing most to this rating is the high rate of homicide (most likely taking into consideration the 43 “disappeared” students). However, taking into consideration the other 6 evaluation criteria, Guerrero would rank closer to the middle.”  While safety is the number one concern of our guest, the overall trend shows an improvement in the Peace Index (and correlated safety in Mexico) and tourist areas such as Playa Viva continue to be safe for tourists.  We hope this provides valuable information to help you make an informed decision about traveling safely to Mexico and Playa Viva.

“The Mexico Peace Index, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, provides a comprehensive measure of peacefulness in Mexico from 2003 to 2014. This report aims to deepen the understanding of the trends, patterns and drivers of peace in Mexico while highlighting the important economic benefits that will flow from a more peaceful society.”
Highlights
  • Mexico has experienced a large decrease in violence since 2011, with the national level of peace improving by 16 percent.
  • Progress in peace has plateaued in the last year; it is too early to determine if this is the start of a new trend.
  • The level of peace as measured by the 2015 MPI is still 18 percent lower than in 2003.
  • The most peaceful state in Mexico is Hidalgo, followed by Yucatán, Querétaro, Campeche, Tlaxcala, and Chiapas.
  • Of the 76 largest metropolitan areas of Mexico, the most peaceful is Orizaba in Veracruz and the least peaceful is Culiacán in Sinaloa.
  • The eastern region remains the most peaceful in Mexico, while the northern region is still the most violent, although the gap between the north and the other regions is now at its lowest point since 2004.
“The Mexico Peace Index (MPI) derives from the work of the Global Peace Index, a leading global measure of peacefulness that has been produced by IEP annually since 2007. The Index follows a similar methodology to the United Kingdom Peace Index and the United States Peace Index, also produced by IEP, and defines peace as ‘the absence of violence or fear of violence’.
The MPI measures peace at the state level in Mexico. A key reason for choosing this unit of analysis is that, similar to the United States, Mexico’s state governments have wide-ranging powers allowing them to have a significant impact on the level of violence, therefore the response to violence may differ significantly from state to state.”
The Index is composed of the following seven indicators:
1. HOMICIDE
— Homicide rate per 100,000 people
Source: Executive Secretary of the National System for Public Security (SESNSP)—cases being investigated by the State Prosecution Authorities
2. VIOLENT CRIME
— Violent crime rate per 100,000 people
Source: SESNSP
3. WEAPONS CRIME
— Weapons crime rate per 100,000 people
Source: SESNSP
4. INCARCERATION
— Number of people sent to prison per year, per 100,000 people
Source: National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI)
5. POLICE FUNDING
— Federal Government funding to States for the Public Security Contribution Fund per 100,000 people
Source: Secretaria de Hacienda y Crédito Publico (SHCP)
6. ORGANIZED CRIME
— The number of extortions, drug-trade related crimes, organized crime offenses, and kidnapping per 100,000
Source: SESNSP
7. EFFICIENCY OF THE JUSTICE SYSTEM
— Proportion of convictions for homicide to total homicides
Source: INEGI
“All indicators are scored between 1 and 5, with 1 being the most
peaceful score, and 5 the least peaceful. After the score for each
indicator has been calculated, weights are applied to each of the
indicators in order to calculate the final score.”
There is a wide range in levels of peacefulness across both indicators and states in Mexico. A higher score indicates lower peacefulness. Scores out of five.
Most and Least Peaceful States
With a few exceptions, states in the southern and eastern regions of Mexico are more peaceful than the western, central, and northern regions. Of the ten most peaceful states, only two, Querétaro and San Luis Potosí, are not from the south or the east, while Guerrero is the only southern or eastern state amongst the ten least peaceful.
In the last two years, the most peaceful states, while decreasing very slightly in peacefulness, have had only small changes in rank. There has been a much higher degree of variance amongst the least peaceful states. Guanajuato and Michoacán have steadily declined to now be amongst the five least peaceful states. Juxtaposed to this, many of the least peaceful states have recorded large reductions in homicides and violent crime over the last two years. Tables 2 and 3 show the scores and ranks for the most and least peaceful states, both for the overall index, and each of its seven indicators.

Full Report:

Volunteers Come and Go….

The following is an article written by Samantha Orive as she completes her tour of duty as a volunteer at Playa Viva.  

2015-01-17 07.00.50Mornings in the quiet town of Juluchuca Guerrero start with a morning concerto starring the local roosters. Although rehearsals go on all throughout the day, it seems that the five am showing not only has the most beautiful voices, but there is a feeling of encouragement that manages to clear the mind and allows you to find energy for the long day ahead.

A much ruder awakening awaits you in the back of a pick up truck. A feeling of recklessness hits your stomach (not unlike a double scotch would) when you are going 80 km/hr and that sexy morning chill always comes on too strong, raising goosebumps in your arms and adventurous intentions in your thoughts.  A sense of well being spreads though out your body, it is not yet seven am and you are drunk on circumstance and high on life.

You come to doubt if Van Gogh’s starry night should actually be considered a masterpiece once you look at the canvass over you. The stars not only seem to perfectly describe their chosen constellation names, but to sit you on their comforting knees and whisper their tales in your ears. Orion The Hunter looks bright enough to jump out from the sky and continue his hunt on earth, followed closely by his loyal dogs. We all paint clumsy brushstrokes in our minds, never truly capturing the mysterious beauty of the sky.

2015-02-11 11.21.21Volunteers come and go, looking for something, someone, running from something, or maybe someone. And while you are digging trenches, weeding the relentless verdolagas, or planting row upon row of lettuce, you forget why you are here or maybe even who you are. Dirt finds its way under your nails, it changes the hue of your eyes and when it reaches your heart you conclude the questions are invalid and the answers are futile. Dirt is the absolute here.

Hunger. There is a deep hunger to learn, know, experience and share; but there is a more literal hunger that strikes exactly at eight thirty am. Stomachs rumble keeping tune with the sea and images of plump fresh handmade tortillas, dozens of eggs drowned in salsa verde, and those evil cups of coffee that seduce the strongest of wills with promises of productivity and stability come to mind. There is an instant gratification after meals at Playa Viva that turn into future life dilemmas, for how on earth will I go back to store bought tortillas?

A hammock is not merely a handy set of strings to rest, but a way of living. Within it lies enough entertainment for every evening. The trees like to divert you playing shadows with the sun, the characters in your book grow impossibly difficult to walk away off, and conversations with friends brim with candor and emotion. In the steady swaying of a hammock, a soundness anchors in the foundations of that little white house in Juluchuca.

2015-01-07 06.45.21The sun does not like goodbyes, it prefers a quick painful farewell at six forty two pm, and if you look away from the horizon you will miss it. The best comforting remedy is named Vicky, who is always more attractive when accompanied by just gathered limes and thick local salt. She may be cold hearted, but after a flirtatious conversation with her she will warm up your insides and you know you will fall deliciously in love with her every night.

The answers are there of course. The seeds will sprout in record time, the muscles will ache with pleasure, the children will laugh in bare feet, the skin will darken, the women will launder by the river, the men will sing their melancholic tunes, the smiles will grow more genuine, and at the end of the day it will not only be the sun saying a painful goodbye.

 

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.

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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.”

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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.”

Update from US State Department on Travel in Mexico

The US State Department recently updated it’s travel advisory for Mexico. While this is generally for US State Department employees, it also applies to US citizens traveling in Mexico. You can find the full advisory including specific updates for each Mexican State. Below we have included the first few lines of the General Conditions followed by an except from the specific update for the State of Guerrero where Playa Viva is located.  Your security is very important to us and we take certain security measuresUSPassports as well as ask you, our guest, to take normal precautions (many outlined by this advisory). These include traveling during the day on major highways; not displaying expensive cameras, watches and jewelry; and using common sense precautions when traveling.  Playa Viva makes sure that all transportation provided is with bonded taxis and tour guides (or well known employees and contractors).  We provide safe’s for your valuables, accept credit card on file for all payment so you do not need to carry cash and provide on site security 24×7.  We are happy to report that we have not had any incidents with guests to date and assume that part of this has to do with the great relationship we have built with the local community.  We appreciate your continued support of tourism in Mexico, to Playa Viva and support of the local community.

Below are excepts from the US State Department update on Travel to Mexico.

General Conditions: 

Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day.  The Mexican government dedicates substantial resources to protect visitors to major tourist destinations, and there is no evidence that organized criminal groups have targeted U.S. visitors or residents based on their nationality.  Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes. 

Nevertheless, U.S. travelers should be aware that the Mexican government has been engaged in an extensive effort to counter organized criminal groups that engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico.  The groups themselves are engaged in a violent struggle to control drug trafficking routes and other criminal activity.  Crime and violence are serious problems and can occur anywhere. 

Guerrero: Acapulco, Ixtapa, Taxco and Zihuatanejo are major cities/travel destinations in Guerrero – Defer non-essential travel to the northwestern and southern portions of the state (the area west and south of the town of Arcelia on the border with Estado de Mexico in the north and west and south of the town of Tlapa near the border with Oaxaca), except for the cities of Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, and Ixtapa. In those cities, you should exercise caution and stay within tourist areas. You should also exercise caution and travel only during daylight hours on toll highway (“cuota”) 95D between Mexico City and Acapulco. Use the toll road towards the Playa Diamante area and avoid the highway running through the city of Acapulco for travel to and from Acapulco. In Acapulco, defer non-essential travel to areas further than 2 blocks inland of the Costera Miguel Aleman Boulevard, which parallels the popular beach areas. Lodging for U.S. government personnel is limited to the “Hotel Zone” of Acapulco, beginning from the Hotel Avalon Excalibur Acapulco in the north and going south through Puerto Marquez including the Playa Diamante area. Any activity outside the Hotel Zone for U.S. government personnel is limited to the coastal area from La Quebrada to the beginning of the Hotel Zone and only during daylight hours. In general, the popular tourist area of Diamante, just south of the city, has been less affected by violence. Flying into the coastal cities in southern Guerrero remains the preferred method of travel. You should defer non-essential travel by land between Acapulco and Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa, travel to Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa only by air, and exercise caution while in Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa. If traveling by land, use toll highway 200 between Acapulco and Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa. You should also exercise caution in the northern region of Guerrero (the area north of the town of Arcelia on the border with Estado de Mexico in the north and north and east of the town of Tlapa near the border with Oaxaca). The state of Guerrero was the most violent state in Mexico in 2013, with 2,087 homicides and 207 reported cases of kidnapping, according to the Mexican Secretariado Ejecutivo Nacional de Seguridad Publica. Self-defense groups operate independently of the government in many areas of Guerrero. Armed members of these groups frequently maintain roadblocks and, although not considered hostile to foreigners or tourists, are suspicious of outsiders and should be considered volatile and unpredictable.