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.”

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How Lucky to Participate in Protecting a Life So Rare

Guest blog, submitted by Debbie Greenberg

Turtle at Sunrise
Photo by to Anna L. Hartmann

One week ago I was fortunate enough to accompany members of the La Tortuga Viva turtle sanctuary on one of their nightly patrols of the beach near Playa Viva and beyond. They search for sea turtle nests in order to protect the eggs from poachers and predators by moving them to their nursery for safekeeping until they hatch and are released.

It was very interesting to see first-hand the work done by these local volunteers and better understand the effort they make every night and early morning (one patrol is from 10 p.m. to about midnight and another begins at 4 a.m.) The stars over the ocean were incredible as we bounced along on the group’s one all-terrain vehicle.  Elias, head of Tortuga Viva and my guide for the night, explained how to look for turtle tracks and nests. We were unlucky, though: we found two nests, but unfortunately human poachers had beat us to them and the eggs were gone. We also saw 3 dead turtles at different points along the beach, most likely drowned at sea by the nets of fishing trawlers.

All was not lost, we were tremendously lucky because when we got back to the nursery enclosure at midnight a nest was hatching, and I actually got to see the baby turtles making their way up through the sand! Elias gently began moving sand aside and carefully collected handfuls of baby Olive Ridley turtles for release back to the ocean.

One week later, when we WWOOF volunteers arrived at Playa Viva for work at 6:30 a.m. we were told by the Playa Viva team that a turtle was on the beach right in front of the hotel. We ran pell-mell down to the sand, scrambling for our cameras, fearful of missing the sight; lucky for us the turtle wasn’t moving too fast, so we were able to watch as she lumbered back into the sea. It was a very big turtle (about 3-4 feet long) and it turns out we were really lucky because it was extremely rare Black turtle, called “Prieta” by the locals (chelonia agassizii).

The turtle sanctuary volunteers were on hand, waiting for her to go back to sea before protecting her eggs by securing them from predators in the sanctuary. It was so exciting to see the tracks she had made coming up the beach, the two false nests she had made (apparently a natural defense mechanism against predators) and her tracks going down. The volunteers who were there gently probed the sand with a long stick, trying to find the true nest, but were worried they might damage the eggs. One went back to town to fetch a couple of more veteran Tortuga Viva members while the other stayed here to mark the spot and guard the nest against possible interference. He explained that although they had been working on the patrol for a year, they had never found a Prieta nest before. Once senior patrol members Elias and Hector arrived, they knew right where to look, and began to dig. Hector is tall and has long arms, but he dug down until he was leaning almost completely into the hole before finding the eggs. He began to gently bring them up, two or three at a time; they were round and about the size of large golf balls. 81 eggs in all!

By this time they had an audience of all the WWOOF volunteers, a Playa Viva staff member who had brought down a shovel to help if necessary, and several Playa Viva guests. The eggs were placed in a couple of bags and taken to the turtle sanctuary, and we followed them watch the rest of the process of securing the eggs for incubation. Once the eggs were safely buried in their new, man-made nest 65 cm deep, we were given a ride back to Playa Viva.

The Black turtle is highly endangered; lucky for her to have concerned volunteers on hand to safeguard her eggs, and what luck for us to have witnessed a species so rare to be almost extinct.

Birthday Without Presents? Yes, This Is a Happy Story…

Maya with her sister and a poster she made of the marine turtle rescue work by La Tortuga Viva

When Maya celebrated her birthday recently she did something very, very special. Rather than contribute to conspicuous consumption she made a sacrifice few kids would make. She forsook the treasure trove of toys in exchange for giving back to nature. Read the details in our interview with Maya below.

Playa Viva” How did you get the idea to raise money for the turtle sanctuary?”
Maya “Because I always got presents and I knew how long I played with them which was just one day, and I thought maybe I should do something else for this birthday. “

Playa Viva – “How did you pick La Tortuga Viva?”
Maya – “Because it is the only one I know of and I really like how it helps save the most endangered turtles.”

Playa Viva – “How did you raise the money?”
Maya – “I asked everybody that came to my party not to bring gifts and to instead donate that money they would have been spending on presents.”

Playa Viva – “Did you learn anything about turtles and how people rescue turtles?”
Maya – “Yes. I learned that turtles are very endangered because people eat them and take the eggs from their nests and eat them too.  That causes there to be fewer turtles in the world, and their population is going down.  To rescue them, they cut off the beaches from cars and people.  After they hatch, they help the baby turtles into the ocean so they can be free.”

Playa Viva – “Was it fun and what did you enjoy about doing a fundraiser for your party?”
Maya – “It was fun because I knew the turtles would be safe and I knew I was doing something good.”

Maya, we applaud you for your sacrifice and commitment to making a contribution to promoting biodiversity and improving the chances of survival for marine turtles.  The funds raised by Maya were used to purchase cyclone fencing to expand the turtle sanctuary in order to have room to protect more eggs and thus more turtles. Thank you Maya and to all who attended your party and gave generously.

Perfect Timing

The day after I arrived at Playa Viva I hopped on a 4-wheeler and rode a few minutes over to the Tortuga Viva turtle sanctuary. The rows and rows of markers looked a little like miniature headstones, but instead they served the opposite purpose. As the mother turtles had come onshore the night before to deposit their eggs, local volunteers were there to gather them and transfer each batch to the safety of the sanctuary. Now, they were marking last night’s finds so they’d be ready when in two months’ time these eggs hatched into baby sea turtles.

¿Número?
174.
¿Fecha?
7 de agosto.
¿Huevos?
63.
¿Tipo?
Golfina.

As I watched, the volunteers marked each of the previous night’s finds—recording the nest number, the number of eggs, the type of turtle, and the date.

Fast forward one week and I’m back at Playa Viva, relaxing before the start of a new week, when I hear the 4-wheeler headed down the beach from the turtle sanctuary. The volunteers arrive carrying a bucket, and when I peer inside I see tens of scrambling baby sea turtles – the first hatchlings of the year!

My timing couldn’t have been better: one week earlier I was watching eggs go into the ground for their two month incubation period, and now here I was looking at the season’s first set of turtles ready to be released into the ocean. Julia (Playa Viva’s manager), the two volunteers, and I made our way down to the waves where they poured the turtles onto the sand and we all watched as they scrambled toward the ocean.

Tortuga Viva’s volunteers told me that last year they released more than 100,000 baby sea turtles into the ocean. My fortunate timing—seeing eggs buried one week and baby turtles entering the ocean the next—is the result of the time and dedication these volunteers devote to gathering and caring for the eggs that mother turtles leave on Juluchuca’s shoreline. They protect the eggs from predators and poachers and shepherd the baby turtles back to the ocean when they hatch. Playa Viva supports and partners with local volunteers to support these conservation efforts.

Check out the video below to see this year’s first release, or, better yet, come down to Playa Viva to see it for yourself!

Nick’s Turtle Video from Playa Viva on Vimeo.

Do Your Part in Saving over 100,000 Baby Sea Turtles

It’s been a while since we have posted statistics for the turtle sanctuary.  See updated statistics in the graph to the right.  The good news is that we are now supporting La Tortuga Viva, a group of local volunteers who have worked hard this year in protecting and releasing close to 100,000 baby turtles. We hope you will join us in continuing to support the turtle sanctuary through your donations. For more on our transition from La Tortuga Feliz to La Tortuga Viva – see our annual report online.

How can you help:

For just $20 you can buy a baby turtle as a gift for a friend or relative over the holidays, please go to The GreaterGood.org.

Alternatively, make a tax deductible donation of $50 or $100 or more directly with our fiscal sponsor, the Ocean Foundation, by clicking here.

We just purchased 4 new tires for the ATV with the assistance of a grant of $2000 from the Minnesota Foundation. Next year we have the opportunity to double the number of turtles we can protect and release back to the ocean. Please help us in reaching our goal of raising $10,000 for the turtle sanctuary to purchase a new ATV and provide gas for a year of operation.

Thank you for your support.

Dia de la Tierra en la Comunidad de Juluchuca

Dia de la tierra, que gran oportunidad para convivir con la comunidad y como regalo de la naturaleza tuvimos tambien el nacimiento de las tortugas del nuevo campamento.

La liberacion de las mismas la hicimos enfrente de las cabanas de Playa viva al atardecer, invitamos a todos los empleados de Playa Viva, Los chicos de Permacultura y por supuesto a todos los Voluntarios del Campo tortuguero y sus familias, esperabamos tener alrededor de 50 invitados y al final tuvimos mas de 100, fue fabuloso ver como todos llegaron muy emocionados y llenos de espectacion para presenciar el evento. Fue maravilloso ver las caras de los niños y sus padres cuando las primeras tortuguitas fueron alcanzadas por las olas. Despues todos se quedaron a cenar y la convivencia fue muy agradable. Es muy satisfactorio sentir la aceptacion de la comunidad hacia Playa Viva, esto es precisamente lo que buscamos, crecer en armonia, crear un ambiente de fraternidad donde todos vayamos en la misma direccion hacia el mismo ojetivo, que al conseguirlo los mas beneficiados sean la comunidad y el medio ambiente que nos rodea.

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.