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.



Green Detox Juice: As You Like It

Olga washing freshly-picked veg from the garden.
Olga washing freshly-picked veg from the garden.

When I ask one of Playa Viva’s cooks, Olga. for the recipe for the delicious green juice we’re serving the guests at breakfast, she simply responds ‘como tu quieres’ (as you like it).

As my time here so far has proven, this phrase pretty much sums up the entire Playa Viva experience, in which each element is designed to fit snugly around your own particular set of conscious-living values.

From how you’d like your freshly-laid eggs in the morning, to daily activities (or daily inertia), how you interact with your surroundings at Playa Viva is dictated by you and you alone – a refreshing and relaxing change to a world in which we’re constantly bombarded by external pressures and generic messaging.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, my initial feeling is one of anxiety, when Olga asks me to prepare Green Juice the next morning, yet doesn’t follow her request by handing me a detailed recipe with the precise quantities needed, and the exact order of steps to follow.

(It seems that I, like so many of us, are a little out of practice when it comes to relying on my ‘inner guru.’)

And so armed with nothing more than a list of ingredients,   an encouraging smile from Olga – and of course, my neglected instinct – I set about making my very own version of Green Juice, just ‘as I like it.’

At first my mind gets in the way…self-doubt creeps in, I imagine a movie-worthy series of worst-possible-outcomes, …but then slowly – as the soothing rhythm of washing and chopping and blending takes over – I find myself lulled into a quiet sense of ease; my body intelligence seems to take the reins, and soon I’m throwing an extra stick of celery into the blender, and making confident declarations like ‘that’s enough lime’ without a moment’s hesitation.

In fact I didn’t even ask for a second opinion before pouring it out for our eagerly-awaiting guests!

And the verdict? A unanimous ‘Different but equally delicious’ – perhaps the very lesson that Playa Viva intends to honour and remind us of…

Try our Mexican Green Detox Juice recipe yourself at home and see what delicious creations you come up with! All you need is a blender, a willingness to freestyle, and the following ingredients: Celery, Cucumber, Spinach, Lime (juice), Cactus, Pineapple.





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copal: Used against influenza, rheumatism and fever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Casita de Permacultura en Playa Viva

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

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

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

Canasta Viva – The Bounty Just Begins

Canasta Viva basket includes staples such as tomatoes and limes as well as basil, mangos, melons, nopales and zucchini

This is a photo taken by one of the members of the Canasta Viva CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). This is just the second basket delivered, and while it is a little heavy on tomatoes and limes (staples of the Mexican diet), our goal is to start adding leafy greens and other produce not readily available in Mexico, much less as organics.

Members of Canasta Viva, please send us your feedback on the contents of the box, send us recipes to include in the next newsletter and most importantly please tell your friends about the value of getting local organic produce delivered to your door.  Thank you for your commitment to supporting local organic food in Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa.

For  more information about Canasta Viva, please contact Morgan at PlayaViva.com or click here for more details on Canasta Viva.

Earth Day, Juluchuca – Community in Action

This Earth Day the community of Juluchuca, where Playa Viva is located, were so engaged, involved and excited about the trash clean up, turtle release, tree planting and recycling endeavors that it could have also been called Community Day.

This Community Earth Day started in the morning with the Playa Viva team working jointly with the 80 students of the the Juluchuca elementary school.  We started the day explaining the concept of Earth Day to the students and asked what they loved about the earth.  A chorus echoed through the school yard as the children called out the names of favorite plants, animals and activities.  I explained to the students that this part of Mexico, their home, is very special and important because it is a dry tropical forest.  Tropical forests cover only 7 percent of the earth’s land surface, yet contain over half of all know species of plants and land animals in the world.

We talked about the river that runs through Juluchuca and how it serves an important ecological purpose in connecting the land to the lagoons and ocean.  I told them that one billion marine animals and birds die every year  from eating discarded plastics.  We discussed that much of this lethal plastic comes from trash in rivers spewing into the oceans.  So the students set out as self proclaimed “Guerreros Verdes” (Green Warriors), with a mission to help save the plants and animals they love by cleaning up the river.

After filling bags with trash from the river, children ended their day planting two fruit trees in the school yard and celebrating by having a pizza party (pizza’s courtesy of Playa Viva’s Chef Alejandro).  As we enjoyed the pizza, we discussed ways to reduce waste and increase the amount we recycle.  All the children were fascinated with my metal water bottle, and I encourage them all to reuse bottles to reduce waste.  The teachers were also very enthusiastic about the children’s response to Earth Day that they are now communicating with a recycling center in Zihuatanejo, about 40-minutes drive from Juluchuca. The recycling center provides support services to schools that become community recycling pick up locations.

Coincidentally, the first turtles that hatched at the new turtle sanctuary at Playa Viva were ready for release on Earth Day. So later that afternoon, family members of both the Playa Viva staff and of the members of the turtle sanctuary also converged on Playa Viva to celebrate Earth Day.  This group of close to 100 started their Earth Day with a project to clean the beach. Afterwards, all were invited to celebrate the release of the first baby turtles from the new turtle sanctuary, 57 baby turtles in all.  The group ate tacos and enjoyed the fruits of their labor as volunteers celebrated the work they do for the Earth as volunteers rescuing endangered sea turtles; as the permaculture team planting organics, restoring mangrove and regenerating coastal forest; as team members in a boutique sustainable hotel promoting…well exactly what we were all doing…protecting the Earth.

Earth Day at Playa Viva was enchanting, beautiful and successful, with all age groups in the community contributing to and appreciating the richness of the ecology around them as well as the importance of protecting it for generations to come.