Day 8: The Reckoning
When people recount to me stories of their visit to Mexico there’s quite often a part when someone says, “…then there was that day(s) we were sick.”
I consider myself a reasonably seasoned traveler and have a few simple rules.
- I don’t drink the local water. Incidentally, while on a trip a colleague once was advised to only drink water from the designated plastic water coolers stationed throughout this particular overseas embassy. Later that day he saw the local staff refilling the giant, plastic jugs from a hose hooked to the local supply.
- I try to stick to fully cooked food. If you turn the temperature up hot enough and let it sit long enough, anything will die.
- Stay away from Typhoid Mary. If a group of five to ten are on a trip together, one will get sick. Stay away. Offer to help out of courtesy, but when in close proximity to the afflicted, breathe through your collar and throw relief supplies at no less than 10 feet away.
At Playa Viva all drinking water is put through a reverse osmosis filter. Check. All the food is prepared by an awesome chef, Abraham, or several other incredible cooks. What doesn’t come out of the garden, comes out of the refrigerator and is well cooked. Even the seafood in the ceviche is blanched before served. Check. Finally, a few people had some rough hours from time to time but nobody had been seriously ill since we had arrived. Check, check, and check.
Little did I know, but for several days my body had been harboring a nasty stow away that I had picked up from some wary traveler and several hours into the evening I was to experience Petatlán, Mexico’s local town healthcare system.
Donde es el bano?
…is one of the only Spanish phrases I remember from high school and probably just grammatically butchered. However, when I stepped out of the back alley and into the waiting room of the 24 hour clinic, the phrase’s English equivalent was the only vocabulary I could utter.
I had come to the decision that I needed a doctor by use of a self test I’ve perfected over the last 10 years. If after vomiting I use the sentence, “Wow, I didn’t know there was that much liquid in my body,” it’s time to go. Through experience I have learned that when I am surprised by the volume of liquid exiting my person, that staggering amount of fluid is no longer in my body and must quickly be replaced.
The office wasn’t much to look at. The waiting room had an old couch and their were a couple of chairs here and there. After entering the doctor’s office (his literal office), I laid beside his desk on a single cot that was directly below the only air conditioner I had seen in a week. I answered a few questions about my health through my gracious translator Julia, the manager at Playa Viva, and then the magic happened.
This doc and his nurse fixed me up quick. Before I could blink there was a needle in my arm and within an hour’s time they filled me with antibiotics, anti-nausea, fever reducer, and two bags of IV fluids. As I listened to the lady one room over giving birth, the cold liquid pumped through my veins at an incredible rate. When I finally stood up and walked out, my body was in a weird limbo of confusion. He told us to come back the next day and as we drove away I realized, no one filled out a single document.
Day 9: Recovery
We did go back the next day. I was prescribed an antibiotic and Brandy got some because she had started to feel a little under the weather. So, doctors fee, two bags of fluid, intravenous drugs, two visits, and prescription meds … Total: $240 USD and still no paperwork.
As we arrived back at the resort, I crashed on the couch and was to remain there for the rest of the day.
Day 10: Power
I slept well that night and woke the next day a few pounds lighter but with more color and feeling a lot better. David, one of the co-owners, had shown up two days before and after breakfast we found ourselves chatting about the power system and several minutes later I was given a personal tour.
Playa Viva originally had a 36 solar panel system and later they stepped it up with 24 more panels. David said that because of the advances in solar panels, the 24 they bought most recently produces the same output as the original 36. As the system has grown, so has their knowledge of producing energy more efficiently.
Case in point is the implementation of a diesel generator for backup power. In the beginning the backup generator would turn on to feed power to the complex whenever the batteries were running low. The generator would burn diesel while the batteries charged up from the solar panels. Over time, however, they modified the system a bit. Now when the batteries get low and it’s not a particularly sunny day, the generator only kicks on to charge the batteries. This type of system, which is similar to a hybrid vehicle, proved to be more efficient and saved on diesel.
David commented that not only are the solar panels eco-friendly but they are also economically helpful. To get power from the grid would require a sizable payment to the local utility company. The costly line would have to be run from the local village several miles away but for now the existing solar system supplies the energy needs for the complex. The resort would have to scale up dramatically to make the investment even worthwhile but David commented scaling to that size wouldn’t be happening anytime soon.
Correction 7/21/2013: I have been informed since the publication of this article that the current generator at Playa Viva is powered by LP gas but future plans call for a bio-diesel system. The diesel will be made on site.
Wonderful, Fantastic People
When Brandy and I travel, we pick spots for a reason. We don’t generally stay at hotels. We prefer a bed and breakfast. We don’t like huge crowds but we do enjoy a few friends. We like to meet people and hear about their lives and on this trip we were not disappointed. Below are just a few of the interesting people we came across.
- The cab driver and his wife that met, how else, but by him picking her up in his cab one day.
- The fireman and nurse who decided for their tenth anniversary that they were going to run an Iron Man.
- The hard working lady from Michigan that happens to know everything in the world about sea turtles.
- The hospitable lady that raises her young son herself and finds time to take a sick, skinny American to a 24 hour clinic.
- A rock star, lead guitarist that toured Australia and the US with his band and several years later became a rock star, environmental engineer.
- His girlfriend that wanted nothing else but to become a fashion designer at a young age, studied fashion in Italy, and now works at a fashion house in Melbourne.
- Her Dad who works in New York at a drug company and on the side is a semi professional jazz musician.
- The family man who has been on the same farm in the mountains since the 1930’s without electicity and grew the chocolate I will be consuming throughout this coming winter.
- The yoga instructor who is traveling the world and overcoming obstacles to follow where her heart leads her.
To all the people we met, we would like to say You Are Inspirational! You all have made our lives richer. May God continue to bless your endeavors and may your lives keep motivating and enriching others.
For those wanting to read about our full adventure, I’ve listed the articles below.
Day 5: Turtle Release
Nothing gets the crowd going like a turtle release. Part of Playa Viva being an eco-resort is that they have a turtle sanctuary on the property. One of the perks of being a guest is getting to see the little guys being released in the mornings. When a new batch hatches, they are freed on the beach in front of the resort area.
As soon as they are poured out of the bucket, the race is on. What impressed me most about these little guys is how tough they are. After flailing their way through the sand, they finally reach the surf where they are violently sucked out to sea, spun around in a couples of waves, and sometimes pushed back onto shore. Inevitably they find a way to get some distance from land, come up for a few gulps of air, and push on into the ocean.
Day 6: R&R
We read, we relaxed, we drank coconut water. Ahhh….vacation.
Day 7: Hiking Through the Mexican Wilderness
“Are you going on a hike? You must go up by the lake. The birds are out today.” Julia, the manager at Playa Viva, had been on a hike earlier in the day and was enthusiastically recommending to us a route we were sure to enjoy. You can drink only so much fresh coconut water so we decided it was time to explore the many trails cut through the green landscape. We strapped on our sandals and headed up the trail for an adventure.
The first thing we noticed was that there are a ton of lizards in the area. As we walked along the dirt road, they darted out everywhere. Every 20 steps we took, the bushes would shake and out ran a critter.
We eventually made it to the small lake Julia referred to us and she completely undersold it. The lake and the trees surrounding it were covered in cranes, storks, and flamingos. As we approached, one quarter of the lakes population decided I was too close and began circling overhead looking for a new perch. It was fantastic.
Along the rest of the trail we met a horse that we were later to learn is called “Horse.” We also came across some beautiful mango trees and finally the beast.
While walking through a particularly thick, green part of the trail around the backside of the lake, we saw the beast dart into the undergrowth ahead of us. At first I only caught sight of the hind quarters. It was orange (Brandy description: Red/Gold) in color with fur and had a fluffy tail. It had the build of a medium sized dog but it moved like a cat. I could see evidence of strong muscles as it moved through the forest.
Not knowing how to react, we waited several seconds and continued on only to find another specimen of the same variety ten minutes later. This time Brandy caught full sight of it. She described the face as being halfway between a cat and a raccoon. At the time we labeled it the exotic Mexican cat-bear and went, all be it more cautiously, on our way.
Upon our arrival back at the resort we describe this beast to several of the locals and we were told it was this:
The pictures you are seeing are of a Mexican Tejon. It’s looks like the mix between a badger and a raccoon and it is definitely not what we saw. When we returned home we still couldn’t shake the fact that what we saw was different, so to the interwebs we did go. After about 20 minutes we found our animal.
We immediately sent an email back to the resort and here is the actual reply.
Well, I just showed this pic to Julia and she screamed. These are endangered. The fact that there are any is a very good sign. Serafin saw these about two years ago, we showed the pic to him too, and no one believed him!!!! This is amazing. We are going to forward the pics to David and hopefully get their pics in the book! This is also really great because it means that Playa Vivas preservation efforts are bringing animals back to the area. Yay!!! Thank you so much sharing this!!! -AmyThe animal you see is consider in danger of extintion, jaguar, Serafin the maintenance guy see them 2 years ago, may be the same. It´s so exciting I´ll check more when I walk around Playa Viva. It´s very nice to see that this Jaguars chose Playa viva as their home. -Julia
Although Wikipedia does not show the animals as being threatened, in this part of Mexico the animal’s habitat has been steadily shrinking and sightings have become less frequent. The staff was very excited that all their hard work is paying off.
While we were there a farmer had started clear cutting the land around Playa Viva to make way for cattle. As a result much of the wildlife was taking refuge on the resort’s land. Also, a developer came to look at the property. We had a side conversation with his architect. The developer wanted to put a 200 room hotel further down the beach on the land he owned and the architect was trying to convince him otherwise. As the architect put it, “This is the country. You shouldn’t do that sort of thing out here. It doesn’t fit. It’s not sustainable. You have to build to your surroundings.” Wise man.
In the next post I’ll be showcasing Playa Viva’s solar power grid and will introduce you to Poncho the Frog. Also, I’ll be sharing some of our best memories.
Day 4: Getting Fit
The night had only yielded three more bug bites from the previous day, so I counted my midnight bathroom break a success. It was morning and in only three days time, I had developed the habit of jumping in the ocean upon crawling out of the mosquito net. I found that a morning ocean dip helped cauterize the previous night’s wounds.
Today however I decided to try something different before my plunge. I had made up my mind to go beach jogging and would continue to do so a couple more times throughout the trip. I expected my legs would be entirely worn out but I didn’t expect the cuts and scrapes from the seashells on the bottom of my feet. This morning and each morning after, I came across these guys.
They would spend most of the morning walking up and down the beach catching bait. Later during the day you could usually see a boat out fishing just off shore but I couldn’t be sure it was the same guys.
After my run and my daily fall into the ocean, I learned that this morning was a yoga morning. Several days a week Playa Viva offers yoga classes.
Now yoga. I’ve tried yoga, usually with Brandy, and have seen a variety of teachers. The different types are as follows:
- The Med-i-taters: This particular lot likes to sit still, and think about nothing. At the same time they encourage you to “touch your third eye.” I’ve yet to find my third eye, and, if I ever do, I would be hesitant to touch it.
- The Killers: A killer is the yoga teacher who also teaches pilates and the spin class and the water aerobics class and the cross-fit class all before lunch. His or her job in life is to show you how inferior you are. When a killer says the phrase, “If you are a more advanced student, try doing this pose,” he is the only one in the class doing that pose. Spare time consists of doing 100 push ups and then popping a power bar before chasing down an antelope and strangling it with bare hands.
- The Balanced: These people know what they are doing. They practice yoga because it keeps them healthy and sane. They know that yoga isn’t the whole answer, so they also encourage healthy nutrition, massage, cardio, and other positive things we all know we should be doing anyway.
Amy Zimmerman, our instructor and resident massage therapist, fell in with the balanced approach. We got to know Amy during our 10 day stay. She’s been doing yoga and massage for 15 years and is currently traveling the globe while plying her trade. We were lucky enough to have arrived during her several month stay at Playa Viva.
During class Amy was quick to walk around and help people. No one was left behind. She was patient, professional, and knowledgeable. She’s a great teacher.
Later during the trip, Brandy started having some significant muscle pain in her neck. Usually she would have to go to her chiropractor to get things worked out, but without a chiropractor on site, she decided to try massage for the first time. Amy did a fantastic job. Brandy went from having no mobility in her neck to being able to turn it again within hours. By the next day the therapy had done wonders. So if any resort out there is looking to hire a fantastic yoga instructor and massage therapist then contact Amy.
Johnny, resident all around guy of everything, asked us all if we would like to participate in a staff vs. guests soccer game to which most of us replied in the affirmative.
I’ve never played soccer with people who knew how to play soccer. I didn’t grow up with it, so every time I played some semblance of the game in the past, I recall it involving a lot more contact. Eventually someone would get tired of the uselessness of trying to kick the ball and would pick it up. The game then became “kill the man with the ball.”
The game started with me on the team of the two playing staff members, Johnny and Abraham. Midway I had to run to the restroom and when I got back the teams were all turned around. Anyway,the pictures below say a lot more than I can write.
What I learned about playing soccer on the beach in Mexico:
- You can’t use your hands.
- Or an arm.
- You can’t set picks.
- You can’t kick through someone else’s leg(s).
- Kicking the ball should not be accomplished with your toes.
- Sand will stay resident in your nose for no less than a day and a half.
- Kicking the ball at the goalie accomplishes nothing.
- Kicking the ball too far away from the goalie accomplishes the same.
- When you see a someone getting to kick the ball without defenders (the penalty shot), a wall of guys will form ahead of him. If you are in that wall of guys, it is customary to take one hand and place it over your heart to salute your country and put the other hand respectfully over your junk (i.e. picture #7).
- Passing it to someone who knows what to do with the ball is a strong option.
Day 3: “You Can’t Be Scared All Your Life”
…is a saying I heard from my Dad on many occasions. Working in security, you learn a few things about international travel.
- Obey US Department of State warnings. They are there for a reason. Much of Mexico outside areas of tourism are off limits to US government personnel due to continuing drug problems. A friend of mine was assigned to the Monterrey Consulate and some of his stories are chilling.
- Always know your route and destination. If things go wrong, you’ll have an idea of how to get home.
- Stick to the populated areas.
We had signed up the day before to go on a trip to a local farm. The brochure had mentioned chocolate. No other convincing was needed. We were to meet this morning at 8:00 am to leave. Johnny, Playa Viva’s tour guide/bartender/concierge/translator/purveyor of awesome, was to be our leader.
Today we will be taking ATV’s (four wheelers) to the farm. It will take about 1 and 1/2 hours. If you look at the farthest mountain ridge on the horizon, that is where we are going. There is no electricity. We will space out the ATVs because of the dust on the dirt roads that lead up to the ranch. Two people will sit on the back of each ATV and I’ll take two small people on mine. –Johnny
Rural, mountainous Mexico, check. Arrive at unknown destination via backwoods dirt roads, check. Disobey warning of the US government, check. All aboard!
(Note: At no time during the trip did I feel as though my life were threatened in any way. Playa Viva has round the clock security plus the Mexican Army and Marines had stepped up their patrols in the area prior to our departure.)
Farming Like It
After seeing the electric poles end, we crossed over the top of a mountain ridge and arrived at the farm. Jesus, the owner, quickly stepped off of his front porch and greeted us all warmly. We were then escorted to an outdoor pavilion adorned with hammocks and colorful plastic chairs. Jesus talked to us about the farm and his family while Johnny translated.
The farm primarily grows coffee and cacao but also has a huge variety of crops. He told us no chemicals or pesticides were used on any of his crops. All crops are fertilized with natural fertilizer, and the only crops that get any other type of fertilizer is the corn because the government sells corn that requires it. Any corn he tries to get elsewhere has poor yields. Incidentally the government will sell you the fertilizer as well.
They raise all manner of animals: pigs, chickens, cats, donkeys, and birds. While we were there, we noticed the baby chickens and the kittens eating under the table together. When we asked how this works, Jesus said they are content to be this way.
Because of their remoteness, they have a pavilion on the property to host a local church and also due to the remoteness, the newest member of their family was recently born on the farm. The baby was so new when we arrived that he didn’t even have a name yet.
After talking to us for awhile, Jesus then took us on a tour of the farm showing us trees, produce, farm animals, and the land. He explained that the farm did have electricity. They had acquired a solar panel that charged a 12V battery. This was there sole electrical power source. As we continued to follow our guide, the ladies of the farm were busy preparing us lunch starting with the corn.
As we walked corn was ground into meal, the meal was worked into dough, and then the dough was shaved into the best tortillas God has ever let grace planet earth. As we ended our tour, lunch was served. Rice, beans, BBQ goat, salsa, and all manner of delights that I lack the skill to pronounce were laid before us on a covered, wooden table. As the meal progressed, fresh coffee and chocolate were served. Then fresh coffee and chocolate were sold. Four pounds of chocolate later and we were headed back to the ATVs.
One More Thing I Wasn’t Supposed to Do
Jason, whatever you do, don’t do any cliff diving. We want you back in one piece. –My Boss
Before we loaded up, Johnny asked us if we wanted to see the waterfall. What waterfall? The waterfall in the middle of the jungle between here and Playa Viva. Yeah!
A short 20 minute drive later, we dismounted. After ducking behind a lady’s back yard, walking through a cow pasture, hiking through the forest, and jumping over pipes that gravity fed water to the houses below, we emerged into a fresh, cool lagoon.
The water was clean and refreshingly cold. After swimming, then came jumping from the boulders. The jumping got progressively higher until towards the end several of us, including Johnny, had trekked to the top of the falls.
Stick it to the man. Check. Sorry boss.
Me: Johnny, if the farm we visited didn’t have electricity, then how did they know we were coming? Who told them to get everything ready?
Johnny: They didn’t know. We just show up and they take care of everything.
In the next post I’ll be discussing my ignorance of soccer, no football, no fútbol. Miss the start? Then click here.
Sometimes it’s time to go, not for a weekend or even for a week, but get-out-of-town-as-long-as-you-can-afford GO. This was one of those trips. Brandy and I rarely have these trips. As travel is part of my job, we usually get a few hours to see new places, experience new cultures, and try exotic food. It’s immensely fun but it’s usually not restful and there’s really no time for a recharge.
So after traveling, working, and being inundated by all the stimuli and challenges of living in an urban environment, there comes a point when we want to get absolutely away from everything and press the OFF button on life. Our last trip like this was 6 years ago to Prince Edward Island, Canada. This time we headed south to the village of Juluchuca, Mexico to stay at a remote eco-resort, Playa Viva.
We scheduled all 10 days of our vacation at this location. Its top features include no telephones, TVs, or communication devices of any kind in the rooms. On the whole, huge plot of land this sanctuary resides, there is only 1 place to get WiFi internet access. Guests refer affectionately to that small corner of the commons area as the “internet chairs.” The place is gloriously and wondrously disconnected from everything (even the power grid). Think about it. For 10 whole days we had no idea what has happening in the world. Fantastic!
Day 1: Poo, Bugs, and Fleeting Sleep
Our first day was a travel day, and we arrived at the resort with two other travelers Mario and Christine. We had a wonderful meal and then settled into our room for the remainder of the day. Our room was the Private Casita.
By private I mean private to other humans but as you can see from the pictures, the rest of the jungle has a perfectly clear idea of what’s happening.
When traveling to a resort of this kind, there are a few things one must get comfortable with.
- Take the time right now to read the sign in the last picture. That’s right, your used paper goes in a basket, not a bowl. It’s eco. Get used to it hippy.
- There is no inside. It’s all outside. So when a grasshopper chirps, you hear it. When a cicada decides to sing and 1,000 of his cousins join him, you embrace it. When the whole forest decides that tonight they’re going to have a concert to show you that the 4:30am cargo train horn from DC to Philly can’t touch the ceaseless echo of the swarm, you remember you brought ear plugs.
- In the middle of the night you will have to pee. You will not be able to hold it. When you leave the fortress that is the mosquito net, you are done for. Baring a mason jar, I highly recommend having pants and a long sleeve t shirt nearby for emergency runs.
- It’s hot. Sleep naked.
The first night’s sleep reminded me a lot of what it’s like the first night you’re out hiking. You hear everything and you don’t get much sleep, but unlike my hiking experiences I wasn’t starving, I wasn’t on the ground, and I didn’t really fear a rat running across my face in the middle of the night.
Day 2: Glorious Morning and Wondrous Nothing
The next morning I awoke to no alarm clock, I did not stumble to the shower, and finally I did not drive down the expressway like a zombie drinking milk and eating cold cereal from a bag.
I awoke to the rising sun, I stumbled over to my bathing suit, and I plodded across the sand and fell headlong into the ocean. GOOD MORNING!
The rest of the day cycled between food, ocean, pool, books, and back again. It was a wonderful cycle of getting absolutely nothing productive done. What a dirty word at a place like this. Productive. HA!
Stick around for subsequent posts where we visit a farm with no electricity, I destroy my feet, and I display my inability to play soccer.
Somewhere between this week and last week, life started to spring back into my influenza ravaged body and my misery was reduced to mild discomfort. Having a break from DC in the slightly more humid but just as cold conditions of Williamsburg, VA seems to be aiding in the recovery. With aspirations of seeing more than the four walls of our hotel, I crept outside last weekend while Brandy continued to battle the crud.
Williamsburg, Va is most notably known for its colonial historic district where reenactors work in shops, give carriage rides, deliver addresses, and carry out daily life as if it where hundreds of years ago. It’s all very fun. One moment you may witness a gardening demonstration and the next a primitive form a baseball being played in the street.
If you’re lucky, you might even get to see troops drilling or hear rumblings of colonial independence. It’s a wonderful atmosphere that all ages seem to enjoy, but please check your cynicism at ye ole threshold.
Yes that is a soda fountain in the refreshment shack, and yes those are asphalt streets. No they wouldn’t have electric lights, indoor plumbing, or fire hydrants. Everyone sees that, but for the unimaginative dream killers that love a good dose a realism with their fantasy, feel free to point out with a smirk what the colonist would never have and how it doesn’t seem very colonial to you.
I’m glad those smaller bits of the modern world are there. To me it makes the whole place easily approachable. It’s not so stuffy that things must be historically exact in every single instance, and it’s not so modern that the experience is ruined. Williamsburg is a place to play ‘pretend’ again. It’s a wonderful balance between historical conservation, immersion, and tourist comfort. Even the locals take full advantage of the historical area and it’s wide pedestrian paths for walking, biking, or jogging.
If you haven’t been, it’s well worth trip and only a 2.5 to 3 hour ride from DC. Give it a shot on a slow weekend. If you’ve been, I’d love to hear what your thoughts are. Too Touristy? Too Stuffy? Just Right? Leave a comment.
The very first time I walked through an international terminal, boarded an airplane, and ended up on the opposite side of the world, I didn’t realize it would be the beginning of a lifestyle. My first experience with traveling out of the US was in 1999 on a trip to Poland.
After coming to my senses after 2 to 3 days of traveling (airport strike in Brussels), I woke up my first morning in Zielona Gora, Poland experiencing uncertainty and a little anxiety. As I looked out the window of the hostel at the Soviet era apartment buildings, it dawned on me that things were very different here than in rural Georgia.
I distinctly remember coming to a crossroads and giving myself a decision. I could either stay nervous, cautious, and withdrawn throughout the next three weeks or I could approach this new, strange experience in a different manner. I had the option to open my arms wide, drink in the differences, and trust God to take care of every uncertainty. I chose the later and began an adventure that hasn’t stopped for 13 years.
For the last 9 years my travel has been subsidized by the US Department of State via the Foreign Service. Most people think that to join the Foreign Service, you have to be a stuffy diplomat at a large, oak table bargaining deals with other countries, however there are other options. Enter the Foreign Service Specialist.
In order to accomplish its main purpose of diplomacy, the Department of State needs people to support embassies and missions with specialized skills. Foreign Service Specialists provide a number of auxiliary services at missions abroad: medical care, clerical work, computer support, radio and telephone support, security, etc…
If you’ve been bitten by the travel bug and are looking for a great way to get around the world, I would highly recommend checking out:
For specialist vacancy announcements:
Check the above link regularly as openings become available from month to month.