Lessons About Resilience & Regeneration as a Result of COVID-19

COVID-19 is like a major jolt to our systems. Unlike a fire, flood, hurricane or other natural disaster, what is being destroyed here are human-to-human connections due to social distancing and our health and economic systems. Ironically, one is protected and preserved from the same behaviors that deteriorate the other.

We all know and understand the trade-offs of our health in exchange for economic viability. In this case though, our economic system is being destroyed as if by rapid fire. Property is not destroyed, no buildings burned, no cars flooded, no trees uprooted by high winds. We did this to ourselves to flatten the curve, and we can undo it in good time and in a manner that won’t jeopardize our health.

Resilience Relies on Complex Systems Coming Together to Self Repair

So what does COVID-19 teach us about our living systems, especially in the tourism business? Specific to resilience, when we look at resilient systems, the question is how quickly can they self repair. When you think about a fire, how quickly does a forest regenerate. I remember visiting Yellowstone National Park after the great fires of 1988, and while the forest was a desert of charred dead trees all silver and black, the ground was greener than it had ever been and full of life. Not all the trees were burnt. Where small trees couldn’t find new light, now they had plenty of sun to grow big and strong.

I was in North Carolina after the devastation of Hurricane Hugo, and the morning after the storm, as we walked around surveying the damage, the sound of chainsaws cleaning up the damage was already echoing all over.

We know that living systems can self repair. They do take time and energy. They may not be exactly as they were before the devastating event, but they do bounce back.

Build in Redundancy and “Save for a Rainy Day” (Disaster)

How quickly a system bounces back is an important question to ask ourselves about the systems we are part of. How can we make them more resilient in the future? For example, in the case of the U.S. medical system’s capacity to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, we had to flatten the curve because we did not have enough respirators, hospital beds and hospital personnel to handle the volume of cases that was expected. What are the points of failure in the system and how can these points of failures be strengthened? What would happen if we had more ventilators, had more beds on reserve, could bring up a reserve of health care workers?

If we had to flatten the curve to reduce the impact on the healthcare system, where that line is on the graph might alter how much the economy really needs to be impacted. The healthcare system and the economy are individual systems, which are inextricably intertwined. So building in redundancy reserves and “dry powder” in one system reduces the impact in the other, impacting the entire system.

Planning, Preparation and Disciplined Deployment

COVID-19 in particular is a shock to the human-to-human system. As we can see from Main Street and Wall Street, this crisis affects some businesses more than others. Businesses that rely on people coming together are particularly impacted by COVID-19, including events (sports, music, festivals, conferences), restaurants, bars, and especially travel. Who wants to board a plane full of people to breathe the same air when someone might be infected? Who wants to go to a hotel where they will be in close proximity or in the same room as someone with COVID-19?

This is where we need to take lessons from some countries in Asia that responded with aggressive testing and contact tracing. In this case, technology was used (and good old fashioned detective work in some cases) to limit the impact and allow for a more balanced approach rather than severely disrupting the economy through quarantining the population at home. Countries that had recent experience with other viruses (like SARS) had developed systems for rapid response.

COVID-19 teaches us that planning, preparation and disciplined deployment can make a huge difference in limiting the effect of a disaster on systems.

Flexibility, Reallocation, Creativity and Pivot

When watching how we in the U.S. are responding to COVID-19, what has been most interesting are the “feel good stories” and how much we rely on good news to get us by. A common thread in many of these stories is how a factory that once manufactured X is now making Y, which is needed more when global production and trade are also impacted. Flexibility, creativity and responsiveness are also key lessons.

When considering our hotel on Mexico’s Pacific coast, Playa Viva stopped hosting guests as travel came to a halt for our international and domestic markets, but we kept our farm fully functional. The key was to maintain production in a manner that kept our workers safe and food production hygienic. While the hotel rooms were vacant, the chickens were still laying eggs, the pigs still needed slop, buds were coming out on the trees, and veggies still needed to be harvested. Having this related but tangential business allowed us to keep our staff employed and fed while we focus more energy on the farm, while other areas of our business can wait. By relocating resources, one system could be strengthened while the other sits “idle.”

While hindsight is 20/20, and it will be more so after the events of 2020, we can learn some quick lessons from COVID-19 that we can all hopefully apply to our endeavors.

Read on for the full article in Regenerative Travel on “Why Regenerative, Why Now: Co-Founder David Leventhal on Ethos, Service, and Luxury.”

Let Your Transformational Story Unfold Naturally

 

Find Peace at Playa Viva

Playa Viva has this way of creating growth in those who cross its path. This sustainable boutique hotel is filled with an incredible energy that flows through all different areas of the hotel, the farm, the community. This energy is one of the things that make this place so special. That’s how people evolve in their years of work here, or even in a week during a family vacation or yoga retreat.

You can say there is a before and an after Playa Viva. Because you definitely shift perspectives here.

What is this mysterious energy I am talking about? It comes from the peace of the lands, the call of the ocean meeting the jungle where the hotel is blended—open to the ocean on one side and facing the Sierra Madres on the other. It comes from the harmony of the hotel with nature—its values of sustainability, community, ethics. The invitation to separate from an overly consumption-focused mentality, the urge to be constantly connected, the persistent fear of missing out.

It allows for our mind and body to finally get fed what they crave: rest, meaning, purpose, peace, kindness, digital disconnect. This is where growth comes in. It is when we all step into this safe, shared space, instantly finding our own place, that we start to grow.

Space for Self-growth, Room for Discovery

Permaculture Farm Tour

As the media volunteer for Playa Viva, I have had the chance to meet many of our guests and witness their paths. One day I joined a farm tour and was talking to a guest. After a few days with us, she could already tell me, “One’s life is not complete until they have been to Playa Viva.”

Now this can sound exaggerated if you’ve never been here. We’re just a hotel, right? But if you’ve been following along on our journey, you know we are much more than that. As this particular guest was listening to Amanda, our head of permaculture, speak about the land, she couldn’t help but feel inspired. She realized she is part of this ecosystem—that even she has a role to define and to fill. And this realization is not unique among our guests.

When a family comes to Playa Viva and each member feels at home as soon as they arrive, you can wonder how. Is their home also located on a serene, secluded beach? Probably not. What makes you feel at home here is the invitation toward simplicity, to disconnect in order to reconnect fully to yourself and to your loved ones. Disconnect from screens, yes, but also from over-stimulation, stress, “to-do lists,” expectations. Reconnect to nature, patience, simple moments, self, other forms of communication (both with your own self and your community). You are at home here because there is finally room for what matters to you, and you realize home will never leave you. What a beautiful feeling.

To see a solo traveler arrive with the intention to relax and actually meet themself is to behold the power of Playa Viva. There are times here when it is so quiet that you can hear the hummingbirds. The architecture so minimalist that you start noticing little details on your sunrise walk to yoga class or your sunset walk on the never-ending beach. Little hermit crabs and lizards running around along the path, a butterfly enjoying the colorful flowers, a whale’s tail in the horizon, the bioluminescence when you play with water at night. You start to see what is important in your surroundings and forget about the noise. You become a more balanced person.

There is space for every story, every path, because a place that allows growth knows there is wealth in each individual and values their presence.

Everyone Touched by Playa Viva has a Story; Mine is an Understanding of Resiliency

Planning for the future

Now let me share a bit of my story. My work with Playa Viva is mostly focused on communication. When, about a month ago, COVID-19 became a life-changing reality for us, my work took a new turn. I never thought I would have to create a communication crisis plan for a sustainable boutique hotel that was making the difficult decision to close its season early. So much of the local economy and community projects depend on Playa Viva. And this was all happening at age 22 and 10,000 km from my home in France.

But this is what Playa Viva is about. Giving space and trust to an individual because of who they are and what they stand for, and not because of their age, the prestige of their studies or their origins. Playa Viva trusts me, gives me the support I need, and all the while lets me have a voice. Here I can speak up, make mistakes and power through them, stand tall and feel empowered.

This crisis has opened my eyes. Now I understand what resiliency means because I get to witness it every day and have the honor to share it with the world through communication. I feel proud to work for a project I believe in. Playa Viva acknowledges issues but only sees solutions; this mindset is thanks to its values, the constant support of our guests and the inspiration from its community.

Through all of this, my desire to work on these types of projects has been confirmed. I know I want to dedicate my life’s labor toward those who face challenges with compassion, drive, genuineness. Those who see challenges as an opportunity to grow, learn and strengthen their values. This growth is a starting point, and I am full of hope for what’s in store for me in Playa Viva and in my life.

What will be your story?

Community at Playa Viva

What are Juluchuca’s Children Doing While School is Closed?

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, it is estimated that 9 out of 10 children around the world are currently out of school. For most students in the U.S., this means distance learning, with students studying online on tablets or laptops.

Here in Juluchuca, school is also out of session, but with little technology to support distance learning. It’s easy to wonder, what are these children doing all day?

Why Distance Learning is a Challenge Here

When Mexican quarantine measures were put into place on March 20, schools were notified five days prior that classes would be cancelled through the Easter holiday. Those measures have now been extended until April 30.

In Juluchuca, school closures included our four local schools—the kindergarten, elementary school, middle school and high school. The government’s advance notification gave teachers time to prepare printed homework packets for students to work on during the closure. Though some families in Juluchuca have wireless internet in their homes, few have more than a smartphone to work with, which makes any formal online learning programs virtually impossible.

Further up the watershed, there are three additional elementary schools, also without online learning. In communities like La Ceiba and Las Placitas, there is no phone service or wireless internet at all. For this reason, school leaders have resorted to printed homework packets for students to work on during the closure.

How Children are Spending Their Days

As we all know, children can only sit and do their homework for so long. In Juluchuca, this means that a large part of each child’s day is spent outside—whether playing marbles in the street or rummaging through the recycling for materials to build a homemade kite. Other kids are learning to ride a bike or play loteria, a local card game, with their cousins. The teenagers can often be seen biking to our local beach to test their luck fishing in the lagoon or the ocean.

While many parents are trying to keep their children socially distanced, it’s proving challenging in a small, close-knit community like Juluchuca. This is a place where neighbors and families are used to spending a lot of time together.

For parents who are fortunate enough to still have jobs, their children are often seen tagging along as they head off to work. This is the reality for

Brayan and Luis, two brothers whose parents both work on a nearby mango plantation. All four of the family members pile onto the family motorbike to head to the huerto, or farm, each morning. Brayan, who is in 6th grade, helps with the harvest and keeps an eye on Luis, who is in the 1st grade. Both Brayan and Luis are in our Adopt a Student Program, an initiative Playa Viva started this past October to support students and their families who struggle to pay school inscription fees, afford school lunches and manage other associated expenses.

Another student, who is also in our Adopt a Student Program, Sara, is using this time to practice her reading and her English. Sara is 13 but only in the 5th grade since she didn’t attend school for several years. Thanks to generous donations from Playa Viva guests, we had several teen novels in Spanish to give to Sara to keep her occupied. Ariel, our education coordinator, often passes by Sara’s house and shouts his greetings.

Her response? A return yell full of the details about what’s going on in the books she’s reading! As for English, with our usual language classes cancelled, Sara didn’t want to forget what she had learned so far. By using the internet at her neighbor’s house, she was able to download an English language learning app on her small cellphone, full of games and activities to keep her mind active.

More Family Time—Sound Familiar?

For other students, this chapter of school closures means more family time. It means longer meals, card games and afternoons at the beach. For the families up the watershed, it means they have their children around to help with household chores like hand washing clothes, grinding corn for nixtamal to make fresh tortillas, and tending to their farm animals. For everyone, it means more hammock time.

With the recent Easter holiday, families still gathered to share a meal and give thanks for what they have. While families remain optimistic and are taking advantage of this time to spend together, the economic impact of this crisis is still causing stress for many residents.

For those school children enrolled in our Adopt a Student program, we are supporting their families with a monthly food basket since there are no longer school lunches. For those students who will be graduating this year and enrolled in the Adopt a Student Program, we are still able to cover the graduation fees thanks to so many generous sponsors in the program.

If you would like to learn more about our Adopt A Student Program, you can email Colleen at colleen@playaviva.com. During this difficult time there are many other residents in our community who would benefit greatly from a food basket, so we also are working to expand their distribution.

And if you would like to purchase a food basket for a family in need for $40 USD, please visit our GoFundMe donation page make your contribution. Upon donating, Colleen will follow up with information about the family you’re helping to support. Thank you for your efforts and contributions toward Juluchuca’s students and their families.

What the Coronavirus Pandemic Means for Juluchuca

For anyone who has been to Juluchuca, it’s easy to tell that it’s a vibrant town for a community of just 500 residents. The morning rush is usually the busiest time of day, with parents shuffling their kids off to school and heading to work themselves. Then there’s always the midday lull when the sun is hottest before things pick back up in the evenings with youth soccer practices, English classes and adults running errands around town.

As has happened in towns and cities around the world, COVID-19 has upended daily routines and community interactions in Juluchuca. At first, many residents didn’t believe in the virus or take it seriously. With mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue and chikungunya a relatively common occurrence around here, people saw COVID-19 as just another affliction to add to the list.

Yet over the past few weeks as the number of cases continued to rise globally, locals have begun to view COVID-19 more somberly as a potential threat to their community. And this is despite not having a single confirmed case in the nearby cities of Zihuatanejo or Petatlan, which speaks to the communication channels of our era. Mexico isn’t necessarily following the same path as the U.S., but there are parallels to be drawn.

THE REALITY RIGHT NOW FOR JULUCHUCA RESIDENTS

Today, our local stay-at-home measures are very similar to those in most of the U.S. In Juluchuca, the new government guidelines have forced all nonessential businesses to shut down, including the coconut candy factories and many of the roadside shops along the highway. Many of these shops sell local products such as artisanal salt (harvested just down the road) as well as local honey, coffee, and homemade tamarind and sesame sweets. With less traffic on the highway, there are fewer potential customers.

While there is not much enforcement of the quarantine measures in small towns like Juluchuca, the community is taking the guidelines seriously by generally following the recommended precautions. Local schools and universities are all out of session. Our local beach, Playa Icacos is closed, with a few exceptions made for those who need to fish or those who do exercise on the beach. A few local dinner restaurants are also still open, with most of the customers opting for takeout. Tourism, both international and local, has come to a complete halt, affecting the livelihoods of many. This includes our beloved Johnny, who recently started his new tourism business, Johnny Adventures, and the Gutierrez family who received income from Playa Viva tourists who would visit their cacao and coffee farm.

How You Can Help Feed Families

With no unemployment insurance, families facing job insecurity are struggling to get by during this hard time. A number of previous Playa Viva guests recently reached out asking, “How can we help people during this crisis?” Our response: Sponsor a dispensa (food basket) for a family in need. With your $40 USD donation, we can order these dispensas from the local grocery store and supplement them from our permaculture farm. Colleen, our social impact manager, will work with the mayor of Juluchuca to make sure these get to the families who need them most. Colleen will also make sure you get a photo of the family who received the dispensa.

These food baskets include nonperishable items, such as rice, beans, milk, sugar, coffee, cereal and cooking oil. There is enough of each item in the basket to feed a family of four for one month. And with the addition of products coming off our permaculture farm, such as eggs, fresh greens, tomatoes, and eggplant, we will bolster the dispensas for these times.

In fact, the first of these baskets were distributed last week. They only included some of the farm products heading into the community, but we were able to introduce residents to new types of greens, such as arugula and kale. People here are eager to try new immune-boosting foods while also adding color and flavor to their regular diet.

Resiliency Remains Evident

It is in these small, now socially distanced interactions, like distributing the dispensas, that we feel most like a community. While we may not be bumping into each other on our morning commute, we are still saying hello from afar, checking in with our neighbors to see how they are doing, and sharing the harvests that we are especially grateful to have at this time. Like many communities grappling with changes due to COVID-19, Juluchuca is not so different. People are losing their jobs and losing income while prices of basic goods are going up.

At the same time, however, we know our community is resilient. Residents remain optimistic at this time. They have been through hurricanes, earthquakes, and financial and political crises before this. People here come together to support those who need it most. Residents are out harvesting mangoes and coconuts, and fishing on our local beach. Our mayor is already applying for government funding for dispensas for residents who lost their jobs. But we are not sure when this government support will arrive. Another uncertainty added to the list.

In the meantime, if you would like to be part of this movement to lend a helping hand, residents of Juluchuca and our other impact communities up the watershed would be incredibly grateful. To sponsor a food basket, please make a donation via our GoFundMe page for feeding Juluchuca’s families during COVID-19.

Together we can fill the gap until government assistance hopefully arrives. Let’s keep our communities strong, resilient and optimistic during these challenging times.

Our Message To You Regarding COVID-19

These are unprecedented times.  Below is an update on how Playa Viva is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how we can all help our community and ecosystem be resilient in our response to this crisis.

We will be sure to keep you updated on the situation here To get the most timely future updates from Playa Viva, please make sure to Follow us on Instagram.

Mar 19: Update from Playa Viva

Many of you are asking how the Playa Viva and Local Community are doing.  We are happy to report that we are safe & healthy and our community is very much aware of the situation.  Health is our priority and as of March 19th we will close the hotel for the safety of our community.  We will reopen when it is safe for all, and we hope you will join us then.  In the meantime, as the hotel is closed workers will unavoidably lose some income.  We have promised our workers, even those part time workers, that we will be there for them.  At minimum we will support them with food stipends and meet their needs to purchase medicines.

We welcome your help, so if you’d like to support our team and community please donate to our regenerative trust with this link.

In the Community

As you know, we are more than just a hotel.  Hospitality is our passion but only a small part of what we do here – our regenerative projects are what make us who we are, and why you chose to travel with us.  We are a project – which includes our dedication to the health, wellness and resilience of the local community and ecosystem.

For the time being, our community work will be limited due to the need for social distancing, but when that phase is passed, this work needs to continue in earnest.  Here are 3 ongoing projects support the resilience of the local community and ecosystem.

Adopt-A-Student

Help a Student stay in School and avoid dropping out from lack of resources.  Our Adopt-A-Student program covers uniforms, all school fees, school lunches, & school supplies as well as mentorship to help the students in the program succeed.

To support this project email Colleen@playaviva.com

Banana Circles

Banana circles are used to capture normal household water runoff, receive kitchen and yard waste, and to produce a diverse harvest for a family.  Your contribution towards a banana circle in our small town helps on different levels.  It reduces the health risks from standing water, encourages harvest and consumption of nutrient-dense calories in the home, and supports our social, ecological and permaculture efforts in our community.

To support this project, email Amanda@playaviva.com

Adopt-A-Nest

La Tortuga Viva needs your help in it’s conservation work.  Adopt-A-Nest for yourself, your family or someone important and you’ll help us make sure they get released safely in the ocean.

To support this project, email Lorenzo@playaviva.com

 

 

Juluchuca Limpio is Thriving!

Juluchuca is home to one of the only recycling programs on the Costa Grande.   

Why is that?  First, as with many services that many residents of modern cities might take for granted, the reality of a small community in rural Mexico is that local residents must come together to organize services for themselves that might be provided elsewhere.  But secondly, Juluchuca has this recycling program because of the tireless work of members of the community. 

Ernesto “Pato” Sandoval

Our project, called Juluchuca Limpio, was developed with Ernesto “Pato” Leon Sandoval,  an environmental advocate on the Costa Grande and resides in Troncones, a small surfing town about 1.5 hours from Juluchuca. The goal is to not only clean up and recycle waste in the area, but also raise awareness about the waste we create and how we can reduce our environmental impact.  As we enter 2020, Juluchuca Limpio is thriving!

“There’s a lot less trash littering the streets,”

Over the past year, we have:

  • Recycled over 675 kilos (1400 lbs) of plastic bottles from our impact communities
  • Hosted twelve environmental workshops, 
  • Organized over 40 beach and community trash clean-ups; 

 We have also hosted several combined public turtles releases and beach clean-ups that ended with a visit to Playa Viva. A key component of Juluchuca Limpio is also the creation of art — using recycled materials to make signs that go up around town to raise awareness about trash and recycling. 

using recycled materials to make signs that… raise awareness about trash and recycling. 

Adriana Palacio

There are currently over 20 bins for plastic bottle recycling in Juluchuca, Rancho Nuevo and La Ceiba. Residents use them regularly and they fill the rim after a week or two. Adriana Palacios is our local leader of the project. She and her family are dedicated to emptying the bins and storing the bottles until they can be sold to the recycling plant. They are supported by three other community members – Candido, Lazaro and Tomas – who are working at Playa Viva through the Jovenes Construyendo el Futuro Government Program. They assist Adriana and her family with emptying the bins, cleaning up the town, and making sure the plastic gets sold.  

 

The money from the sale of the plastic is reinvested in the project, oftentimes dedicated to the purchase of additional materials to construct bins and paint supplies for making signs. Every three months we make about 40USD from the sale of the plastic. The other operating expenses of Juluchuca Limpio come from generous donors from within the Playa Viva Community. 

Another key component of Juluchuca Limpio is to involve the local youth, and inspire a new generation of environmental advocates.  In 2020, we plan to continue Juluchuca Limpio’s aim of reducing plastic waste through recycling while emphasizing the importance of reducing single-use plastic consumption. Lorenzo (Turtle Sanctuary Volunteer Coordinator)  and Ariel (Education and Community Volunteer Coordinator) are working in the schools to teach “the three R’s” – reduce, reuse and then recycle. Each school group gets to come to Playa Viva to visit the farm, the turtle sanctuary and see the hotel installations. In this sense, Juluchuca Limpio begins by engaging students with the importance of clean communities and then slowly builds upon that idea to show how clean communities are connected to healthy bodies, healthy ecosystems and a healthy planet.  

Over the past year, residents of Juluchuca and Rancho Nuevo have already taken note of the program’s advances. “There’s a lot less trash littering the streets,” said Eli, the head of housekeeping at Playa Viva who lives in Rancho Nuevo. Her daughter participates in weekly trash clean-ups in her town with Ariel and the other children from the community.     

With Juluchuca Limpio, we’ve seen that progress is often slow and non-linear, but with the support of multiple local stakeholders, we are starting to see a shift in both mindset and actions in our communities. 

Colleen Fugate is the Social and Environmental Impact Manager at Playa Viva.  She lives in Juluchuca.  Learn more about her work engaging our local communities through our social impact programs.

Meet Lorenzo – Season 11 LTV Coordinator

La Tortuga Viva’s Newest Coordinator Has Hit The Ground Running

This past September we welcomed Lorenzo Locci to the Playa Viva team to serve as the La Tortuga Viva Sanctuary Coordinator. A native of the town of Terni in the region of Umbria, Italy, Lorenzo has spent most of his professional career working in conservation in Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America. Lorenzo has boundless energy, a bright smile and a deep passion for sea turtles. In just six months he has won over the hearts of the LTV members, the Playa Viva community and the residents of Juluchuca. I sat down with Lorenzo to learn more about his path to Playa Viva, what it is like to work with La Tortuga Viva and what to expect next for the rest of Season 11. 

La Tortuga Viva Sanctuary Coordinator Lorenzo Locci

Tell us a bit about yourself. What drew you to work in conservation and environmental science? 

Even though I grew up in an industrial town, I have always been drawn to nature and wildlife throughout my entire life thanks to my family and especially to my grandmother that transmitted me her passion for animals and plants since an early age. We used to go on excursions every weekend in the wonderful and green surroundings of the region where I come from. Based on my passion, I began my studies on life and environmental sciences at the high school in Italy and I completed my academic career with a master of science in The Netherlands that strongly oriented me towards the protection of the environment.

 

You’ve worked all over the world. What other projects were you at before coming to Playa Viva? 

For my very first project, I collaborated with a foundation in Curaçao, a small developing island state in the Netherlands Antilles, for the design of an educational program to teach agriculture and nutrition in schools. From Curaçao, I moved to Puerto Escondido on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca in Mexico to work for a retreat center in the coordination of guests and volunteers. During this time, I had my first experience with sea turtles at the local sanctuary.

Back to Europe, I have been committed to community outreach at the oldest environmental organization in Malta, BirdLife Malta. I was organizing many activities for the public, excursions, clean-ups, and workshops with the aim of raising awareness regarding wildlife conservation.

These last two years, I was living in Central America. In Guatemala, I was teaching science and leading environmental education programs in a bilingual school. In Costa Rica, just before coming to Playa Viva in September 2019, I was guiding groups of young volunteers into environmental projects with local NGOs.

What are your core responsibilities as the LTV Coordinator? 

The Sanctuary Coordinator is really a dynamic role that involves turtle camp coordination, environmental education, ecotourism, capacity building and community engagement. 

Besides engaging Playa Viva guests with visits to the sanctuary, nightly patrols and releases of baby sea turtles, a big part of my role consists of coordinating the sanctuary team in order to ensure the best conservation practices. La Tortuga Viva is run by 14 local volunteers that patrol the beach every night to save turtle eggs from predation.

I also fundraise for the sanctuary by collecting donations and adoptions of nests from Playa Viva guests and by collecting data on the releases in order to access other funds. Lately, I organized school visits and I developed educational activities to teach students about sea turtles and marine trash pollution.

What does a typical day look like for you? 

A typical day as coordinator begins before sunrise around 6.00-6.30 am. Someone from Playa Viva staff or turtle volunteers give me a ride or I walk along the beach from the local village to Playa Viva passing by the sanctuary. Around 7.00, if there are turtles hatched, I lead the release with the guests. Sometimes, I bring the guests to visit the sanctuary or I pass by to conduct some data collection, little maintenance and supervision of the activities of the local volunteers. In the afternoon, there is always some communication to do with the team for coordination of logistics. In the evening, from one to three times per week, I come back to Playa Viva in the evening for nightly patrols with the guests.

 

What priorities do you have for LTV for the rest of Season 11? 

Aside from continuing with the current activities, there are some aspects to improve but I would like to give priority to the cohesion of the turtle volunteer team and the education for the local schools and the local team.

In addition to your work with LTV, you are also an active member of the Juluchuca community. What has your experience been like living in Juluchuca? 

When I came to live in Juluchuca, I moved into a big family and I felt welcomed since the first day. Everybody is incredibly kind and there is no hurry but always time to stop by and speak with each person.

Colleen Fugate is the Social and Environmental Impact Manager at Playa Viva.  She lives in Juluchuca.  Learn more about her work engaging our local communities through our social impact programs.

Hotel Waste Streams and Permaculture Principles

We jumped feet first (literally!) into our own trash! 

 

We decided that 2020 was high time for Playa Viva to revisit our own waste streams inside the hotel.  Using one of the most important permaculture principles, apply self-regulation and accept feedback, I spent three consecutive days sorting our waste with the intention of understanding what we were producing, in what quantities, and thinking deeply about how we could reduce and reuse some of the things we were throwing away.

Permaculture is about evaluating what is already in place so that it can be made more efficient and effective for all involved parties. So where does our trash come from?  First, the kitchen. As a regenerative hotel, we want to provide our guests with a food experience that meets both their values around farm to table and their dining expectations.  Sometimes that means we buy ingredients to enhance our local production and offer the tropical flavors our guests are looking for during their stay. But at what cost? Does the vegetarian option of Mexican-grown oyster mushrooms mean we ignore the truth that a dinner portion serving requires three square feet of styrofoam packaging? When local milk production is running low, do we sacrifice our ethos and buy the mass-produced milk that comes in a non-recyclable Tetra Pak? These decisions force us to strike a balance between service expectations of tourism and conscious decisions regarding regeneration. 

 

So, let’s evaluate. What did we find in our trash, and how can we apply a second permaculture principle, produce no waste, to our attempt to reduce our footprint? First, as recently as late 2018, purchased kitchen ingredients were coming into the hotel in your typical plastic grocery bag. This one was easy. We pulled reusable bags out of our kitchen “bodega” (pantry) and asked our vendors to bag food products only when we arrived using our own bags. Sure, it added five minutes to the delivery time, but who doesn’t appreciate the opportunity to move a little bit slower in their day sometimes? 

One of the biggest contributors to our waste stream is alcoholic beverages. Now, you’re on vacation, we’re not saying don’t endeavor. As a regenerative resort, we take on the responsibility to find a new use for the glass bottles left behind from a relaxing sunset dinner or a beach bonfire. So, we bought a glass cutter and have started to turn wine bottles into glasses to be used at the hotel. Square glass bottles, from libations like local Mexican tequila, are stored on the permaculture farm to be used in future natural building projects.

The cardboard in which these products arrive is also destined for the farm where it is used to line paths between garden beds as a means of weed suppression and soil development. In our climate, the cardboard breaks down in three months and helps add nutrients to our otherwise sandy soil. When and if you try this in a temperate climate, throw lots of leaves and grass clippings on top of the cardboard (making it a bit less unsightly) and expect the decomposition process to take closer to 9 to 12 months. 

Moringa powder produced at Playa Viva’s Farm

As you may know, our permaculture team heads to Eco Tianguis every Saturday. This gathering space is a farmers market, a local craft market, a small concert and so much more. It is also a space where community members can drop off recyclable materials and trust they will find their way to the correct distribution center. Dedicated Playa Viva volunteers sort through our hotel recyclables and are responsible for seeing that glass, plastic and aluminum move to the market each Saturday. Volunteers also sort through what others drop off at the market to see what we can bring back to Playa Viva to be reused, instead of recycled. (If you’ve purchased farm-produced moringa powder in the Playa Viva boutique in recent weeks, you’ve helped to reduce the amount of waste that stays here in Mexico. Please try to reuse the glass bottle several times over once you return back to wherever you call home.) 

 

From a western perspective, it is sometimes hard to understand that the whole world does not recycle, but more often than not, recycling services are not available to the communities that want them the most.  In Juluchuca, key members of our community are working tirelessly to move plastic from the landfill to a distant recycling center through the Juluchuca Limpio program.  Our internal efforts to creatively reuse waste products diverts some of what cannot be recycled.  But there are still limits.

So what can’t we recycle?

Broken glass, which unfortunately accumulates substantially at the hotel – about 10 gallons of broken glass every two weeks. We are storing it for now, with the hopes that an artsy volunteer will use the clay and glass pieces to do some mosaic work with the school children in town.

Toilet paper and other waste from guest rooms at Playa Viva. This one is a bit harder to reduce and/or eliminate, but we are making efforts to collect the waste from all rooms in just one plastic bag, instead of producing a partially filled plastic bag from each room separately. Tetra paks are not recyclable in Mexico yet, and until they are, it is the responsibility of our kitchen team and our food production team to think through ways of growing or processing local ingredients into the products we would otherwise have to purchase in this non-renewable resource. 

Being able to recognize positive and negative feedback loops within a system is crucial within project development. There is no real end to this type of self-regulation. To date, the work to evaluate and reorganize our wastestreams has fallen to the Permaculture Team and our Executive Chef; and now, it is the responsibility of the leaders of each of these departments to discuss, inform and work with other team members at our hotel. In creating a collective consciousness around the waste being produced at the hotel, and the ways in which we can reuse some of the materials coming in, we carve out opportunities for this information to permeate into the communities where we live. 

Amanda Harris is the Permaculture Manager at Playa Viva.  Originally from Maryland, she made her way to Juluchuca by way of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Southeast Asia, and most recently, a beautiful, diversely planted “holler” in West Virginia.   

Proof of Impact Works

Data Collection Leads to Proof of Impact

For those who have had the chance to visit La Tortuga Viva’s sanctuary, you will surely remember the little blue signs that designate each individual nest. Each marker includes data about:

  • the quantity of eggs in the nest, 
  • each nest is assigned a number
  • the name of the volunteer who collected it and
  • the date of collection. 

When the turtles hatch and emerge to the surface, the volunteers write down in a notebook the date and how many were successfully released into the ocean. 

 

La Tortuga Viva has been collecting this data for years. Many of the volunteers ask why it is necessary since it often seemed like a lot of extra work for nothing. This season, however, we are starting to see the fruits of our labor through a new partnership with Proof of Impact (POI), an online marketplace connecting people who are making a difference on the ground with people who want to be part of the solution. 

 

Playa Viva Guest David Cooper

I initially heard about POI through a Playa Viva guest, David Cooper. He had a contact in the organization and put us in touch. We began chatting about Playa Viva’s Social and Environmental Impact work and La Tortuga Viva (LTV). We decided that LTV would be an opportune project since we had already data about nests collected and turtles released. I sent POI all the data that LTV had been collecting over the years, demonstrating the thousands of nests relocated and the hundreds of thousands of turtles released.

 

This past fall, we came up with additional “Proof Points” to ensure donors from POI that we are indeed releasing the turtles that we say we are. This includes photos and videos of the turtles making their way into the ocean and a signed witness form from the person leading the release. 

 

La Tortuga Viva Coordinator Lorenzo Locci

Lorenzo Locci, our LTV Coordinator, often works around the clock to help collect as much data as possible since some members of the LTV team do not have phones or know how to use a camera. Lorenzo also compiles all of the data into an Excel sheet and sends it off to POI, who in turn “sell” the released turtles as impact events on their marketplace. 

 

As of January 2020, we have received $1700 in funding from POI for the hard work LTV does. Some of these funds have already been used for the operating costs of the LTV.  Funds are mostly for materials for the sanctuary and food stipends for the volunteers who are generally individuals who most need these basic food items. 

 

If you would like to support our work through POI, you can find us on their new website. Each turtle released has a market cost of $3. POI ensures that you receive all the proof points associated with your donation. 

 

Today, the volunteers at LTV recognize that data collection can be challenging and tedious, but now truly understand the benefits of their hard work. We all owe Lorenzo a huge thank you for coordinating the data collection with the team, and of course the Playa Viva community for continually supporting LTV in their mission to conserve endangered sea turtles. 

 

Colleen Fugate is the Social and Environmental Impact Manager at Playa Viva.  She lives in Juluchuca.  Learn more about her work engaging our local communities through our social impact programs.

Prized Experiences at Playa Viva

What Will You Remember?

When we first purchased Playa Viva, I remember distinctly walking the land and coming across the volunteers of the Turtle Sanctuary located on a corner of the property. The leaders of the group approach us and asked, “now that you own the land, will you be kicking us off?” Wow! The question shocked me. “Of course not!” I answered, “If our hotel is Disneyland, the baby turtles are Mickey Mouse.” Wow! How naive of me.

Inevitably, they will turn to me and say, “Wow, this is a life-changing experience!”

Sure, the baby turtles are our mascot, attracting guests interested in the wonders of the ocean. I can’t tell you the number of times a guest, visiting probably from some landlocked city in the the US or Canada, stands next to me on the beach in the morning, watching the baby turtles instinctively charge into the ocean. Inevitably, they will turn to me and say, “Wow, this is a life-changing experience!”  Yes, “life-changing”. The first time I heard that exact phrasing, I was surprised. Then, I came to expect it and life-changing became normal.

The same was true about walking down the beach on any given October or early November night, within minutes, spotting a mother turtle laying her nest. Normal. Watching baby turtles return to the sea, normal.

So when a guests arrives and experiences these wonders for the first time, it reminds me of how exciting it was the first time I experienced these life-changing events myself.

Turtle Camp Volunteers on our old ATV

When those volunteers approached me all those years ago, I didn’t appreciate all the work and resources it took to keep their operation running smoothly and effectively. Their work and outside resources are what made these life-changing experience happen every day for our guests.

To make that work efficient, we need vehicles to patrol the beach. The volunteers head out every night to get to those nests before poachers and predators.  These are very real threats and time is of the essence. On a recent outing, as guests marveled at the mother turtle laying her eggs, a volunteer pulled me aside and beamed his flashlight into the brush just over the edge of the dune. Two red eyes reflected back at us, a tejon (coati mundi – in the raccoon family), just waiting his turn to come dig up the eggs and have dinner. The urgency is right over the dune staring back at us.

To keep these experiences special, memorable, life-changing, we need your help.  Due to generous contributions from folks like Michael Franti, Kelly Slater, Patagonia and many more, we have assembled a collection of wonderful auction items to raise money to purchase of new vehicle (4×4 ATV) for the turtle sanctuary. The current vehicle is in the shop being repaired for the last time and we need to keep doing the work.

Help fund a new 4×4 ATV through with amazing auction items. Bidding ends Feb 5th, 2020.

Work and resources comes in many forms. Thanks to 109 World and their social impact yoga retreats, we once again were able to make significant improvements to the turtle sanctuary infrastructure. With their funds for supplies and group of volunteers, they rolled up their sleeves and together as a community we accomplished what few could do alone.

109 World Retreat Group and Turtle Camp Volunteers

It does take a community, and while I prefer that our newsletters and our blog posts not be requests for money and I hate feeling like we are walking around with our hand out, like a panhandler on the corner, it does take a community outside of just Playa Viva to get the greater work done.  What I have come to realize is that we, at Playa Viva, are not the panhandlers, we are the broadcasters, spreading the word of the great work being done by volunteers who don’t have the same voice, the same access to like minded people like you. While the local team of volunteers know how to find the turtle nests before the predators find them, these same volunteers have absolutely no idea how to find donors like you who can make sure they get to the nests before the tejones do.

In that spirit, please spread the word of what all these great organizations are doing: La Tortuga Viva, Whales of Guerrero and Playa Viva’s Regenerative Trust. Please bid on one of these great items. Please make a tax deductible donation via our fiscal sponsor The Ocean Foundation. Please help us get to the turtle nests before the tejones. Please help us raise the funds necessary for a new ATV for the turtle camp.

Thank you for your support.  Your help keeps these prized life-changing experiences alive for the next person.  David Leventhal and the Playa Viva Family.
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