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.

Lynda Curtis 15

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

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

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

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

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

Lynda Curtis 9

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

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

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

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

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

Lynda Curtis 6

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

PV: “What have been the unpleasant surprises?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What you can measure you can manage

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

Solar Array

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

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

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

Playa Viva – Resource Utilization Averages – Season 4

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

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

Putting the Numbers in Context

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

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

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

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

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

Other Metrics and Notes

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

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

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

New Pair of Shoes and School Supplies

PFaP1Contribution by Evan Silberstein, host at Playa Viva.

On the first day back to school after Holiday break and fresh on the heels of Three Kings Day (Dia de los Reyes), Playa Viva visited three local schools and the library in Juluchuca to deliver the bounty of supplies our guests have brought with them thus far in Season 5.

Pens, pencils, markers, crayons, paints, books, pads , rulers, calculators and lots more, including over thirty pairs of sneakers and shoes, were safely delivered to the local Kindergarden, Elementary and High School right here in Juluchuca. The library also received a great pile of new reading materials and some sorely needed supplies.

Several guests joined Johnny, Evan and Oliver (our newest permaculture and garden volunteer) for a fun day meeting and sharing with the local community. We greatly appreciate each donation that our guests make and work hard to make sure they are shared equitably to those places in our community that are most in need.

PFaP3Our next scheduled delivery is later this spring for Niños Day on April 30. We thank you in advance for your generous donations to this community outreach and support program at Playa Viva.

NOTE from Playa Viva: School Supplies are brought by guests as part of our participation in the Pack for a Purpose Program as well as our relationship with Debra Reynolds, who on her own works with local shoes stores in the SF Bay Area to collect shoes as parents turn in slightly used shoes to buy new ones for their growing children. Rather than have those shoes become waste, they are donated to needy kids, in this case, in our community.  In many cases, these shoes are as good as new.  An internet search found this organization, Soles4Souls, with the same mission.   Thank you all for donations, contributions and for carrying entire suitcases of shoes to Playa Viva for distribution.

Season 4 Photo Contest – Winner Announced

Anna Hennings 1Season 4 Photo Contest is finally complete. The book has gone to the press. The judges all got their votes in and while we had way too many great images all three judges only had 4 images that they all three agreed upon. When the book went to press, this image by Anna Hennings won our grand prize, a free stay at Playa Viva.  So many great photos didn’t even make it into “the book.”  We thank you all for your submissions and thank our three photographer/editor judges: Jay Premack, Amanda Holmes and Bryce Lankard for their time and energies as judges.  Thank you and come visit us in Season 5.

So, how did we decide on which photos to include, first a photography had to have at least two votes to be included in the book. with over 500 photos submitted many had just one vote, but only a total of 37 images had two votes and 8 had three votes. The final selection of the winning photograph out of the top 8 photos came down to a very simple editorial process. Which of these photos looked best on the cover of the book and which embodied the themes of this years entries.  The themes that permeated the winning photos were fun/whimsy/sense of humor along with nature/peace/joy. The cover photo by Anna Hennings contained all these great qualities of the simple joy that we all share in heading out to the shore with a bucket full of baby turtles to release. Congratulations to Anna and thank you to all of you who submitted so many great photographs.

Que dia!

Martin FishContributed by Martin Goebel – As a fisherman you are usually prepared for anything, mostly disappointment.  Not on this day in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.  Organized by “Johnny,” one of the guides at Playa Viva, a wonderful, close-to-nature eco-resort, I went deep-sea fishing over Thanksgiving week.  It was magical.  The dolphins and turtles graced the deep blue water.  They were everywhere.  Then, at six miles out and about 11AM we started getting hit by sailfish streaking every which way like fine lances through the water.  At one point we had “four on.”  That was wild.  In the end, I think we counted eight landed (six released) and many more hooked.  “Capitan Jaime” annointed my largest a trophy of 80lbs!  It felt bigger.  Promise.

What a day!

NOTE: See video of dolphins click here – https://vimeo.com/82021769

About the author  – Martin Goebel is one of the pioneers of the sustainability movement was a recent recipient of the prestigious Earle A. Chiles Award for his contribution to the movement. His desire to find solutions that work for communities, businesses, and the environment during the timber and salmon wars of the 90’s led him to create Sustainable Northwest in 1994. Born and raised in Mexico, Martin’s conservation career includes leadership positions in The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, and World Wildlife Fund. He has helped found several organizations including the Mexico Nature Conservation Fund, Wallowa Resources, and Lake County Resources Initiative, and was a founding member of the Oregon Sustainability Board. Currently, Martin recently serves as founding principal of Moebius Partners LLC, a firm dedicated to assisting social entrepreneurs and enterprises to secure human knowledge and financial capital to grow and succeed. Martin is an avid scuba diver and fly fisherman, and enjoys exploring new cultures, rivers and reefs any chance he gets.

Turismo Sustentable – Playa Viva

Los invitamos a ver este vídeo producido por Oliver Velazquez sobre el tema de Turismo Sustentable y como Playa Viva esta haciendo su parte en promover biodiversidad, la comunidad local, energía y agua renovable y limpia y turismo “deluxe” que atrae la gente local y extranjera para el beneficio de la comunidad y el medio ambiente.

Disfruta. De lo poco que publicamos en español, me da gusto tener programas como este.