Secret Sustainability South of the Border! (sh-h-h-h-h)

Thinking of moving off the grid? Starting an organic farm or CSA? Are you part of a group considering pooling resources and homesteading together?

Well, shhhh-h-h-h, come closer, I’ve got a few well guarded secrets I can share with you…

Secreto Numero Uno: get your hippi ass south of the border! Be it Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia, or wherever, there are many reasons that you should consider the southern option. The reasons? Listen in:

Reason #1: Two to Three growing seasons. Yes, you can find extended growing in the southern U.S., but 1000 miles south of Texas you really do get an entire second or even third season. What’s not to love about growing outdoors, year round!

Reason #2: The cost of land & living. Land is cheaper (well maybe not Costa Rica anymore), but equally important for the long haul is that property taxes are nearly zero. On our one hundred acres we pay $200 a year. Tell me that doesn’t help the bottom line! And while some things like farm & solar equipment are expensive there, once you have property you are allowed a one time exemption to bring a moving van’s worth of “household goods” into Mexico without import taxes. Also, the cost of ongoing basic staple goods is roughly half what one pays in the U.S.

Reason #3: Save energy and reduce your carbon footprint: So how much of your precious time and energy do you want to spend every year preparing for the coming winter? 30%? 40% 50% or even higher??? Well how does 0% sound as an option for you? If you are situated in Mexico or further south, the cost of winter is a thing of the past. And then there are the ethics and nuisance factors of winter heating to consider. How much of your life’s energy, not to mention the planet’s carbon resources, do you really want to commit to heating your home, or even, in extremes climes, avoiding the possibility of freezing to death?

Reason #4: Less Regulation: Face it amigos, you just can’t fart in the U.S. anymore without a permit! Seriously, come south of the border and you’ll discover a sense of freedom you would never have dreamed of back in the United States or Canada. Whether you plan to sell in a farmer’s market such as one of the three or four thriving ones in Puerto Vallarta alone, or if you’re planning on having a CSA, selling to restaurant’s, or simply just growing for yourself, you can count on minimal regulation once you’ve crossed the border and made your way south.

Reason #5: Security in the face of what lies ahead. Really, you ask? Is he seriously suggesting that life in Mexico can be more secure than life here in the good olde U.S.A.??? Well, yes, actually, I am. As for the narco violence, there are a few simple, common sense rules to be followed such as staying out of the areas of drug production or major transport corridors. The vast majority of the violence I hear about is limited to three or four states, and even with that, it’s the narcos and cops getting perforated, not tourists, travelers, or organic veggie farmers. (I could go on and on about this subject, but will save that for another post…). So what do I mean by security for what lies ahead? Well, the way I see it, if the energy infrastructure gets disrupted for one of any number of reasons (troubles in the middle east, peak oil, climate change) then simply surviving, let alone thriving anywhere north of 30 – 40 degrees north latitude could get really expensive if not downright impossible. Personally, I’d rather build my off grid infrastructure in a place with great public transport, and where access to plentiful, renewable, energy is a bonus, not a necessity!

Reason #6: Quality of Life. Having shuttled back and forth, splitting parts of the year between the two worlds for nearly a decade now, I can with some authority that QOL south of the border is, in general, superior. Yes there are issues with sanitation, schooling, crime and such, but over all life there is really sweet. The Mexican people are, on the whole, far more open, warm and friendly to strangers than has been my experience in the northern countries, and the pace of life, much more focused on friends and family, is more relaxed, and even festive, than north of the line.

So there you have it. Starting your Permaculture journey in a location with high property taxes or heating demands is like setting off to hike the Pacific Coast Trail with two ten pound rocks in your pack. Why would you do that? Mexico and other points south can help eliminate these handicaps.

If you’re still not sure and want to make a test run first, come spend some time with us in beautiful Mayto! Our off grid goat ranch + sustainability center has a campground and guest house where you can beat the winter and hang out for a while. We also have work exchange programs, a very affordable, hands-on education program, and even the possibility of longer-term involvement. Check us out! www.ranchosolymar.com

 

Dan Gair, his wife Holly Hunter, along with their daughter Hillary  Abrams own and operate Rancho Sol y Mar. Entertaining stories of their Permie adventure in Mexico, from scorpion stings & Narco uprisings, to rescuing chickens from boa constrictors, and paying bribes with fresh goat cheese, are all presented in Dan’s upcoming memoire “The Mexico Diaries (A Sustainable Adventure, South of the Border)” scheduled to be published later this year.

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This entry was posted in Camping, CSA, CSA’s, Farming, homesteading, Mexico, Mexico, off grid living, off grid living, Organic, peak oil, permaculture, permaculture, recycling, sea turtle, solar, solar, Sustainability, Travel and tagged beach, campground, camping, CSA’s, energy, energy issues, farming, food, food production, goat, goat cheese, Jalisco, latin america, Mayto, Mayto Beach, Mexico, off grid living, organic. CSA, peak oil, ranch, solar, sustainability, Travel on September 29, 2012. Edit

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PDC’s – Free Online vs. Paid For Location Courses?

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PDC’s – Free Online vs. Paid For Location Courses?

Ever wondered why on-location Permaculture Certification Courses (PDC’s) charge the big bucks, while their kissing’ cousins, online PDC courses, are free, or practically nothing to “attend”?

The following is an excellent general primer on PDC’s, and explains clearly and fully why live PDC’s are well worth spending your hard earned pesos on: (click link)

seven-benefits-permaculture-design-certificate-course

January PDC (Permaculture Certification Course) in Mexico!

January PDC (Permaculture Certification Course) in Mexico!

view of beach and lower hamlet

Join us for this transformative experience in a welcoming, traditional village

 – just steps from one of Mexico’s most pristine, swimmable beaches! Jan. 10-24, 2016

Come Grow Your World!

Learn regenerative food growing, energy production, natural building,

and water systems, adaptable to any climate.

This is the Permaculture Design Certification (PDC) course laid out by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, and refined since it’s inception in the late 1980’s. Participants receive 72-hours of theory and hands-on practical training not possible with online courses.

Camping, all meals, and ground transport provided. Lodging upgrades, early bird discounts, & limited scholarships available.

Instructors:

Andrew Jones: Founding Member of BajaBioSana, and PDC Instructor on 5 continents.

Shenaqua Jones: Permaculture Instructor, Yoga, Health & Raw Foods Educator.

Axel Gutierrez: Master’s Degree in sustainability. Trained with Bill Mollison & David Holmgren.

Daniel Gair: Natural Building & Solar Instructor

Holly Hunter: Artisan Cheese Maker and Animal Care Instructor.

For Further Info/Registration: www.PDC2016.com

Natural Finishes Workshop at Proyecto San Isidro

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Agave

 Top Above: One of several new building projects underway at Proyecto San Isidro featuring a wonderfully crafted “mashup” of Cob, Straw Bale, Traditional Adobe, and Pajareque (including bottles) construction techniques. Natural building has it all: minimal environmental impact, lowered construction cost, long lasting durability, beauty, and comfort (earthen buildings are well known by Mexicans as being “fresco” (cooler in hot weather than contemporary cement based construction). So what’s not to love???

Bottom Above: Agave and fields of Rancho El Pardo, home of the inspired San Isidro project.

 

I’m happy to report that the movement to pursue sustainable living practices is gaining ground in Mexico. This last week (October 2014) I attended a natural finishes workshop at the inspired Proyecto San Isidro at Rancho El Pardo  in Central Mexico, along with more than twenty others from all around the country and representing a terrific variety of Mexican social strata. The workshop itself was extremely well organized and covered topics from natural plasters ( primarily variations on mixes of builder’s lime, earth, sand, straw, and cow poo) to the making of paint, applying frescos (natural pigments painted directly into fresh lime plaster), waterproof tadelakt (a burnished lime surface used for showers, sinks, and other applications where waterproof finish is needed), and earthen floors.

One thing quite amazing to experience and be part of is the growing web of connections in the Canadian, U.S., and Mexican natural building movements. Much of it originated with Llanto Evans, who single handedly saved cob construction techniques which had been a standard of construction in the British Isles for centuries, but which had gone virtually extinct during the 1900’s. Lanto, and his wife Linda breathed new life into this wonderful building art when they transported the knowledge back to their home in Oregon in the 1980’s, and began experimenting with more sculptural use of the materials than had been used previously in the U.K. It was the combination of practicality and the new artistic expression that Lanto & Linda brought to it, that captured imaginations, and propelled the medium to new life. Lanto later introduced Cob to the Las Cañadas sustainable community in Vera Cruz state of Mexico, as well as builder Pat Hennebery of British Columbia and many others in the Pacific Northwest, and a cross pollination of builders migrating between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico has been evolving ever since.

Like much of the other explosion in cross cultural mashups happening in recent years, the new generation of natural builders are combining cob with other techniques such as straw bale, super adobe, compressed earth block, rammed earth, traditional adobe and others. This all seems to fit the new generation of Mexicans well as they push to cast off their machismo heritage and find identity more relevant to new global realities we’re all grappling with. And no where I know of can this cross pollination of cultural and generational building styles be found in more beautiful expression than at Proyecto San Isidro.

Following are photo’s and descriptions of the various techniques and material mixes taught at the workshop:

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above: Proyecto San Isidro Director & Natural building Architect Alejandra Caballo demonstrating a sample of hardened cob mixes.

 

 

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above: Guest instructor and fresco muralist Pedro at pigment making demonstration (pigments later used in a separate paint making class).
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above: Various naturally occurring mineral elements used for making paint pigments.

 

 

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above: Participants examining earthen floor samples.

 

 

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above: Cob, Straw Bale, & Pajareque composting toilet room under construction.

 

 

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above Resident Maestro (master builder & teacher) Guero demonstrating the application of fermented cow dung exterior finish coat.  

 

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above: Cob serpent atop Pajareque wall
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Unusual  example of a vaulted boveda ceiling constrcuted with traditional adobe blocks rather than fired brick.

 

 

Urban Permaculture in the Mexican Highlands

I’d like to share an inspired project friends of ours Seth & Cris Phillips and their daughter Katia, have going in Guanajuato, a jewel of a city in Mexico’s central highlands. 
Several years ago Seth & Cris purchased their large, rundown city lot in the heart of bustling Guanajuato and set to work. The first couple of years were spent tearing down numerous, decrepit, old adobe structures, and creating a comfortable house and guest cottage in their stead. Where most “normal” people would have done away with the old adobe, Seth, a committed recycler, painstakingly stacked and saved the adobe blocks which have since been repurposed into a beautiful expansion of the living space. Over the years the family has also created wonderful Permaculture gardens and other systems (although I don’t think I’ve ever heard Seth or Cris call it that exactly).
Seth, Cris, Katya, & Pecos
Seth, Cris, Katya & Pecos at home in their urban garden…
Every time Holly & I visit there are fun new additions to take in, and we always find the project inspiring in its modestly. In particular, and unlike me, Seth is a minimalist who always searches out low tech solutions to energy & water usage challenges. While swapping ideas, we often share a friendly partier about his ultra basic approach vs. the more costly and complicated solutions I am usually prone to. “Why go to the time and expense of building an elaborate solar cooker”, Seth will chide me, “when a simple foil reflector blanket and black, cast iron pot can cook almost anything”? Hmmm, perhaps he has a point!
 
During the early renovations Seth created grey water storage and a network of direct irrigation channels and tubing to help sustain the various plantings during Guanajuato’s dry stretches which can last for months on end. Gradually, shade from the 30+ fruit trees is replacing the harsh noontime glare, and the walled, interior garden space is now a profusion of vegetable gardens, pathways, and chicken coops. Every day Seth feeds the chickens buckets of fruits and vegetables discarded from the neighborhood fruteria.  Once a week the resulting organic material is shoveled out of the chicken run and into a compost that is used to improve the soil.
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The Gardens…
Along the way Seth has also puttered around with various low tech energy saving add-ons including a home-made solar food dehydrator, solar water heater, solar distiller, a rocket oven, a “humanure” style composting toilet, and a hay box cooker.
 
The most recent addition is a 20,000 litre water collection cistern capable of spanning the ever longer water outages the city suffers. 
 
As the oasis grows greener, Seth and Cris remain committed to simplicity and a pragmatic yet seemingly joyful exploration a the good life, right there, in the heart of the city!  

Searching Sustainably!

ecoasia logo

This is a very cool search engine we’ve started using and want to pass along! Super easy to install as your primary browser, Clear, concise search results with fewer ads, and in exchange for forgoing Google’s goofy grafix, you’ll get to watch the number of trees your search clics help plant! Now that’s what we call a worthwhile trade off!

ecoasia

Here’s the link to get started: http://www.ecosia.org then select “more” in the lower left corner.

And here’s a link to their blog showing how our clicks get turned into planted trees! http://blog.ecosia.org/post/91850071905/the-trees-for-the-forest-more-than-700-000

A few factoids from the ECOSIA website

* 80% of the ECOSIA ad revenue goes to the rainforest tree planting program

* The funds from ECOSIA have resulted in over 670 thousand trees planted to date.

* Proof of ECOSIA donations audit is reported to The Nature Conservancy

So what’s not to love???? Give it a try…

Sustainable Travel, Volunteering, & Living in Mexico

Thoughts on the pursuit of living sustainably SOB (south of the border), plus a vetted listing of cultural, environmental, and educational programs where you can actively give back to the environment and local communities that you visit while in Mexico! 

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Do you want to make your trip to Mexico truly memorable and one of meaning? Do you want to contribute to real sustainability while having fun and seeing the country? If so, then this post is for you!

The following is a listing of places where your touring dollar or volunteering efforts can really make a difference. These listings are not typical eco-tourist destinations operating loosely under the guise of being “green” or culturally beneficial. Rather, these sites all have proactive environmental sustainability, education, or relief services as core aspects of their operating mission. These organizations have been individually selected and vetted as places where you can enhance your experience of mexico by actively participating in legitimate projects that really do provide a benefit to the planet.

Please note that many of these locations are working organic farms, ranches, research field stations, schools, etc. and, as such, take volunteers or other visitors on an advanced approval basis only. Unless noted, please be sure to contact the site ahead to make any necessary arrangements for your visit.

I hope that you’ll comment on your experiences, and suggest your own secret spots for helping to have (our) touring dollars & volunteering efforts make a positive difference! This list will be updated frequently and your suggestions will be added. Please provide links, or any other contact info in the comments section (click on comments bubble above).

Bien Viaje! Enjoy the tour!

Pacific Coast

Nearest City: Tepic / Sayulita

Type of Visit: school + center for preservation of indigenous peoples (Huichol) / volunteer work exchange (2 month min. + spanish). Advance arrangements suggested

Name: The Huichol Center for Cultural Survival

website/ http://www.thehuicholcenter.org/about-us/

contact info: Susana Valadez  huicholcenter@juno.com

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State: Jalisco (El Tuito)

Nearest City: Puerto Vallarta

Type of Visit: eco tourism + education / extensive tropical gardens & organic restaurant. No advance booking required.

Name: Vallarta Botanical Gardens

website: http://www.vbgardens.org

contact info: info@vbgardens.org 

From within Mexico: 322-223-6182  From outside of Mexico: 011-52-322-223-6182

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State: Jalisco (Mayto)

Nearest City: Puerto Vallarta / El Tuito

Type of Visit: working organic ranch + campground / guided horse, botanical and educational tours / volunteer work exchange programs (10 day min. – by application) + longer internships & homesteading options

Name: Rancho Sol y Mar

website/ www.ranchosolymar.com

contact info: ranchosolymar@gmail.com

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State:  Jalisco (Mayto)

Nearest City: Puerto Vallarta / El Tuito

Type of Visit: Turtle Research Camp / nightly turtle releases in season (no advance booking required). Volunteer work exchange programs (contact for further info)

Name: Campamento de Tortugas

website: http://www.facebook.com/campamentomayto

contact info: israel_llamas@hotmail.com

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State/Region: Jalisco / Lake Chapala

Nearest City: Chapala

Type of Visit: eco farm + education + community development / volunteer work exchange

Name: Acá Centro Ecológico

Website: www.greatgreens.org
Contact Info: Mari Prudent marimexico@gmail.com

 

Baja Peninsula (California Sur)

State: Baja (Cal Sur)

Nearest City: Cabo San Lucas

Type of Visit: eco tourism / working organic farm / eco visit or volunteer work exchange

Name: Rancho La Venta

Website: http://www.rancholaventa.com/RanchoLaVenta/Home.html

Contact info: rancholaventa1@me.com

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State: Baja

Nearest City: San Jose Del Cabo

Type of Visit: wellness / creative arts center + organic farm + CSA / volunteer work exchange

Name: La Semilla / Raices y Brasos

Website: http://raicesybrazos.com/la-semilla/

Contact: local #: (624) 142-3794  US #: (802) 734-9808

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State/Region: Baja

Nearest City: Tiajuana

Type of Visit: Cattle Ranch being converted to organic farm / volunteer work exchange

Name: El Papalote

Contact Info: 52+661-100-0000 (land) 52-1-664-194-7514 (cell)

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State/Region: Baja California Sur

Nearest City: La Ribera

Type of Visit: botanical gardens / teaching center / volunteer work exchange

Name: Buena Fortuna Jardin Botanico

Website (blog) http://buenafortunapermaculture.wordpress.com

Contact Info: seeds.forever@gmail.com

Central + South Central Highlands

State: Guanajuato

Nearest City: San Miquel de Allende

Type of Visit: center for sustainability & appropriate technology workshops (contact for workshop schedules)

Name: iCATIS Mexico / Instituto Tierra y Cal

Website: http://www.icatis.org/catis-mexico

Contact info: Dylan Terrell  dylan@icatis.org

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State: Oaxaca

Nearest City: Oaxaca

Type of Visit: off grid living / volunteer in exchange for learning about solar, chickens bee keeping, and grey water

Name: Sn Fco Lachigoló

Contact info: Daniel Ellsworth 52-1-951-142-1849

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State/Region: Oaxaca

Nearest City: Oaxaca

Type of Visit: urban / relief work with children, primarily education. No advance necessary.

Name: Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots

Website/Contact Info: http://www.oaxacastreetchildrengrassroots.org yjimenez@oaxacastreetchildrengrassroots.org

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State/Region: Oaxaca

Nearest City(Guevea de Humboldt)

Type of Visit: organic coffee plantation / volunteer work exchange

Name: Linda Vista / ConDoy Coffee Farm

Website (blog): http://condoycafe.wordpress.com

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State/Region: Michoacan (Lake Pátzcuaro)

Nearest City: Pátzcuaro

Type of Visit: organic permaculture farm / retreat center / volunteer work exchange (2 wk. min.

Name: Bosque Village

Website/Contact info: bosquevillage@gmail.com

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State: Mexico

Nearest City:  Malinalco / Tenancingo / Mexico City (D.F.)

Type of Visit: organic farm, school & retreat center / volunteer work exchange

Name: Rancho Cazahuate

website: www.centronierika.net

Contact Info: Anya Loizaga Velder www.ecomundi.info or

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State: Chiapas (Teopisca)

Nearest City: San Cristóbal de Las Casas

Type of Visit: non-profit farm & community development / volunteer work exchange (1 month min.)

Name: El Porvenir

Website/Contact info: 52+9671107386 (w) / 52+1+ 9671149914(cell)

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State/Region: Morelos

Nearest City: Amatlan

Type of Visit: Yoga/Healing Center

Name: Garden of Eden Healing Community

Website/Contact Info: http://www.moving-overseas-guide.com/2012-awakening.html

Yucatan Peninsula + Chiapas

State: Quintana Roo (Tulum)

Nearest City: Cancun / Playa Del Carmen

Type of Visit: Eco tourism, biological reserve park & lodging. Nature Tours. Reservations suggested.

Name: Sian Ka’an Bio Reserva

Website/Contact info: (http://www.visitsiankaan.com)

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State: Quintanaroo

Nearest City: Playa Del Carmen

Type of Visit: Working organic farm / volunteer work exchange, 2 wk min.

Name: Tumbem Ha

Website: http://www.tumbenha.com(http://www.facebook.com/TumbenHa)

Contact info: alexis@tumbenha.com

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State/Region: Yucatan

Nearest City: Vallodolid / Merida / Cancun

Type of Visit: Sustainability courses / volunteer work exchange (3 wk. min.)

Name: Lodgecol

Website: lodgecol.com

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State: Qintana Roo

Nearest City: Cancun

Type of Visit: Environmental & cultural educational tours offered (fee).

Name: Project Mayan Encounter

website: (http://accessecotours.com/tours_7.html)

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State/Region: Chiapas

Nearest City: San Cristóbal de Las Casas

Type of Visit: After school student center in indigenous Mayan Community.

Name: La Chozita / Chiapas Children’s Project

Website: http://www.lachozita.org/ourwork.html

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Contact Info: info@lachozita.org

State/Region: Chiapas

Nearest City: Teopisca

Type of Visit: Education, community development, environmental protection

Name: El Porvenir

Contact Info: 52+9671107386

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Nearest City: Playa Del Carmen

Type of Visit: rustic organic farm / volunteer work exchange

Name: Tumben Kuxtal

contact info: 52-1-998-133-4486

Gulf Coast

State: Veracruz

Nearest City: Xalapa

Type of Visit:  aquaponics classes / urban organic farm / volunteer work exchange

Name: Semilla Verde

website/contact info: http://www.facebook.com/semilla.huertoshidroponicos

Northern States

State: Chihuahua

Nearest City: Juarez

Type of Visit: orphanage / volunteer work exchange

Name: Rancho Los Amigos

contact info: Patti Kidd  ph: 407-232-3009

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State/Region: Nuevo Leon

Nearest City: Monterey

Type of Visit: Relief Work (distribution of food & clothing)

Name: Ammac

Website: http://www.ammac.com.mx/#!inicio/mainPage

Contact Info: Info@ammac.com.mx

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State/Region: Sonora

Nearest City: Puerto Penasco

Type of Visit: medical clinic staffing

Name: Manos de Ayuda

Website/Contact Info: webmaster@manosdeayuda.org U.S. (520) 760-8645

Pay-For Volunteer Programs

State: Various

Nearest City: N/A

Type of Visit:  Pay-for volunteer programs (teaching, medical, schools, etc. – $270 U.S. per week to participate)

Name: International Volunteer HQ

website/contact info: International Volunteer Head Quarters (volunteerhq.org)

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S State: Various

Nearest City: N/A

Type of Visit:  Pay-for volunteer programs (promote peace & justice, work with children – $2,295 U.S. per week to participate)

Name: Global Volunteers

website/contact info: (www.globalvolunteers.org)

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State: Nayarit & Jalisco

Nearest City: Puerto vallarta

Type of Visit: Pay-for conservation, cultural, and ecology-oriented “expeditions”.

Name: EcoTeach

website/contact info: http:

//www.ecoteach.com/announcing-new-opportunities-to-see-turtles-in-mexico/

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State: Various

Nearest City: N/A

Type of Visit: 72 listings for (mostly) pay-for volunteer service organizations operating in Mexico!

Name: GoAbroad

website/contact info: http://www.goabroad.com

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State/Region: Various

Nearest City: N/A

Type of Visit: Eco tours + some coordination with local NGO’s for more extensive volunteer / service options.

Name: Glocal Travel

Website/Contact Info: info@glocaltravel.net http://www.glocaltravel.net

Passive Eco Tourism Destinations

In researching this post I came across numerous quasi eco tourist establishments that adorn themselves with green labeling but have little if anything to offer in the way of active environmental or cultural payback. Following is a link to tourist resort properties that appear to be offering truly low impact, mostly sustainable amenities, even if they don’t offer opportunities for active service.

http://www.eco-tropicalresorts.com/centralamerica/mexico.htm