While in Sayulita, I made the acquaintance of a cheerful middle-aged American guy at a Torta shop. He sparked up a conversation and I found out that he is from Whidbey Island in Washington State. “We’re neighbours,” he exclaimed. Fred works for a company that develops solar technology and he and his wife Laurie have been living part time in Sayulita for a few years. They recently purchased a 7 acre piece of property with the intention of creating a self-sustainable eco-village. I told Fred that I was volunteering during my trip and was particularly interested in natural construction methods and organic farming and would be stoked to visit the property. He drew me a shockingly confusing napkin map and we agreed to meet up at the property the next morning.
The name of the village is Tierra Luz (Land/Light) and the couple had already sold a large percentage of the 15 or so lots to local residents and through their website. Prices range from $35 to $55 thousand dollars depending on the view. The property is lush and still in a very natural state and extends up a steep slope with distant ocean views that get better as you climb. Fred conveyed that the land at the top of the hill would be kept as communal land for the enjoyment of all the residents. The purchase agreement includes a covenant of rules which all owners need to follow with respect to the construction of their dwellings and the use and protection of the land. No one had yet begun construction but there is a full time caretaker; a 25 year old lad from Alabama who lives in an airstream on the property with his wife and newborn daughter.
When I went on the walk-through with Fred, we saw that the caretaker has just completed the job of running a few hundred feet of plastic pipe up the hill to provide gravity-fed water to all the lots from a well at the base. They had dug and constructed the well and installed a solar pump the season before. The caretaker has also, incredibly, pushed two huge water tanks to the top of the hill by himself. I warned Fred that his caretaker was going to burn out pretty quick doing all the labour by himself in the hot Mexican sun. I suggested that he open up a spot on the acreage to let travelers camp for free in exchange for their labour. I explained the concept of WWOOFing and Fred seemed enthused by this. (Apparently I also found him his first volunteer. Kevin was a Couchsurfer from Quebec who was staying with the same host as me in Sayulita. He wanted to stay in town longer but didn’t have a lot of money for accommodation. I introduced Kevin and Fred in town and apparently it worked out because while writing this post, I saw a picture of Kevin on the TL website working on the land. Bringing people together…love it!)
Fred was really excited after our walk through and said he would definitely put some thought into the ideas I had. He articulated that it would be really helpful to have someone with my skill set and work ethic to take a lead in organizing construction of the infrastructure. I took this as an offer of employment and was pretty sure, if I wanted to stay, this would probably parlay into a free plot on the property. Not a bad way or place to live at all. Doing good honest work in a beautiful natural setting working with like-minded people that want to protect and live off the land. I thanked Fred graciously but said I still had a lot of kilometers left on my journey and I wasn’t interested in laying roots yet. Still, very nice to know that there are opportunities like this to explore in future.
I met Corrina through Couchsurfing and although she wasn’t able to host me she suggested we go for a bite to eat while I was in town. Her profile mentioned that she had been volunteering for 3 years in Mexico with an organization called Investours. I was impressed with the commitment of time and was curious to find out more about what this group was all about. We met in downtown Bucerias, a quaint old colonial town, now essentially a suburb of Puerto Vallarta 30 minutes further up the coast. Bucerias, as I was to learn while watching the Seahawks-49ers wildcard game, is a haven for Canadians. Almost everyone at the bar was cheering for Seattle. Corrina is from New York City. She is actually the COO of Investours, a micro finance program operating in Mexico and Tanzania. Essentially the program works by taking tourists to visit the companies of local people who have received micro loans from the organization in the past and showcase their abilities to now support themselves. I thought this was a marvelous concept and was excited when Corrina informed me there was a tour scheduled for the next day.
The tour participants consisted of myself and a wealthy-looking Indian family from Chicago. I was disappointed at the small turn out considering the many hundreds of tourists and western ex-pats I had seen in Bucerias over the past couple days. As well as Corrina, there was another girl from Switzerland named Ely who spoke perfect Spanish and conducted the tour. There were also a bunch of university students who were doing a cooperative for school by working with Investours for a month. The first lady we met had a business making and selling banana bread. She used her loan to upgrade her kitchen at home and purchased 144 bread pans. Each morning she gets up at dawn to make the bread and then sets up a stand in the main zocalo to sell her bread through the day. She also has regular customers such as cafes who purchase a certain number of pans each day. She is able to sell her entire inventory each day which provides income enough to support her and her three children. A short walk from the plaza brought us to the house of a fisherman. He used his loan to purchase equipment consisting of an inner tube with a bottom, piece of rope, a spear gun and a flashlight. Everyday at 4am he goes swimming just offshore near some underwater caves where he catches fish with the spear gun and loads up the inner tube he’s tied to left floating on the surface. Phenomenal! He then sells his catch to restaurants in town. He has recently received another loan and is in the process of building his own seafood restaurant down the street from his house. The family was extremely friendly and they offered us some ceviche at the conclusion of the presentation.
The last man we met was another restauranteur who runs a successful breakfast spot with his wife. His story was very moving. He told us that the first loan he received was from the Mexican federal government. Extremely poor and with four sons, he wrote Mexican president Vincente Fox asking for a plot of land to start a restaurant. He promised that if he received the land he personally guaranteed that he would produce four productive, hardworking sons who would contribute to the Mexican economy. The alternative was the risk that his sons would grow up being a drain on social services. Unbelievably, the President responded and fulfilled the man’s request providing him with a parcel of government land for which he could set up a restaurant. With the help of microloans, he has since created a very profitable business and his two eldest sons are now in university. The man was very overcome and started to cry as he told his story expressing gratitude for the help he has received and how blessed he feels for having raised such healthy, happy family. His wife showed us how to make tortillas and we enjoyed an incredible meal of quesadillas and a delicious birria; a stew made with lamb, roasted peppers, onion, cilantro, lime and chocolate. We were all very moved by the people we had met and hearing their success stories. This was the ideal time to ask for donations which could be used to provide loans to other industrious local people in need. I gave quite a bit more money than I had intended and the father of the family from Chicago apparently gave a couple hundred dollars. Such an amazing organization, run by committed thoughtful people to a truly uplifting end. This tour was definitely the highlight of my trip to Nayarit.
Link to Investours website: http://www.investours.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=29&Itemid=33