Category Archives: Mexico

Where To Go In Mexico?on

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 Ajijic on Lake Chapala. Easy living with gorgeous views. Look, but don’t swim!
Photo copyright©Daniel Gair. All Rights Reserved.

Daniel Gair is the author of Amazon/Kindle’s top-rated romp through the Mexican underbrush ‘The Mexico Diaries: A Sustainable Adventure‘ (https://goo.gl/FHJ94q)

It’s a damn vast country, so where to go???

As the wave of U.S. Baby Boomers looking for a warm, cheap place to retire begins cresting on the shores of Mexico, the question of potential relocation spots comes up in blogs and FB pages daily. Those nervously planning their first trip to Mexico, while trying to get a handle on all the possible destination options, are also searching for solid advice.

Having traveled in Mexico for decades, lived here full-time for ten years, and visited virtually every region, Holly and I love to share our thoughts on the subject. Of course there are dozens of books and websites to help guide prospective ex-pats and travelers, but most we’ve seen are either hopelessly vague, primarily meant to address the mechanics of resettling, or are hyping one specific location or region (Mexico has a way of making people feel ‘born again’, and those posting on social media tend to proselytize as if their spot was a new religion). This post was prompted by the fact that we’ve never found a truly concise guide that outlines the many, varied locales, while clearly stating the pros and cons of each, particularly for those planning to relocate. 

Of course we too are biased to where we’ve settled, here on the mid-Pacific coast near Puerto Vallarta, however in this post I share (ahem) ‘objective’ thoughts on the many alternatives and their pros and cons. I realize that by stating the disadvantages for each region I risk insulting every born-again Mexpat who reads this and has an emotional or proprietary interest in their own specific area. All I can say is that I’ve attempted advanced, bend-over backward yoga moves in order to stick to the facts and ladle out the downsides in equal measure, including the cons of our own little slice of paradise.

My first recommendation for those looking to relocate is to rent for a minimum of a month in several different locations before cashing in your chips and committing to any one spot. Mexico has a wealth of relocation possibilites, many with subtly different vibes that appeal to some folks, but not others. The website Housesit Mexico is a great way to sample places free, although the listings are heavily oriented to the Lake Chapala area, and many are only available in the low season. Hopefully this is changing as it’s a well-run service, and their listings seem to be expanding.

The first, main consideration for those planning to visit, or relocate here permanently, is usually whether to head toward the beach or the mountains. In a nutshell, the beaches tend to epitomize the laid-back, tequila-swigging, Mexican hammock lifestyle, while the mountains and central highlands represent a deeper cultural experience with a more comfortable, year-round climate. If Holly & I had it to do over, we’d probably have chosen a more flexible condo or renting lifestyle, spending time in the mountains in summer, then beaching it winters. 

Following are the most popular options, both regional and local, including their flaws and favors. 

If the beach is your thing, then…

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Yucatan, Sugar-white sand beaches (when not covered in Sargasso 😦      Photo copyright©Daniel Gair. All Rights Reserved.

The Yucatan

Advantages & Disadvantages: Mexico’s best snorkeling and diving, cool cenotes (etherial saltwater-filled sinkholes), gorgeous white sand beaches, spectacular Mayan ruins, and easy hop to the U.S. On the other hand, the Yucatan tends to be crowded on the coast, dreadfully flat, and fairly short 3-4 month season unless you happen to like one hundred plus degree days with high humidity. Crime is becoming more prevalent, especially in Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. Beaches fouled with Sargasso Seaweed has become a significant problem the past couple of winters, and is something that is likely to continue and worsen with the warming waters (of course, if you’re a sustainability nut like me, all that sargassum equals endless biomass just itching to be used for mulch or composted. There’s even a guy squashing and drying it into blocks to make houses out of!) The fact that the Yucatan is a major hurricane alley put Holly & me off from investing there originally, even though we liked it and visited regularly in our early days of exploring Mexico.

Cancun, a hopping cluster of high rise hotels and all-inclusives is Mexico’s spring break capital, and Merida is a colonial city with a thriving ex-pat population. It is touted as being remarkably crime free, although we hear that’s changing (like many other places). We’ve also seen waves of criminality enter other supposed safe zones, practically overnight, so I wouldn’t base long-term relocation decisions on this aspect. Water contamination is yet another issue surfacing in Merida and many other locales.

The best Yucatan options for getting off the beaten path are the beach areas north of Chetumal and Lake Bacalar near the Belize border or Campeche on the Gulf Coastkeeping in mind that either area puts you more than a six-hour drive from Cancun’s international airport and medical servicesAlso a note of caution about Lake Bacalar – it’s drop-dead gorgeous, but also a drop-dead scary place to swim according to recent reports of extensive fecal coliform contamination. Other interesting places to visit are the Mayan ruins distributed like giant stone party favors throughout the Yucatan (Chichen Itza is the most spectacular, but too crowded for us); numerous, cool, old sisal plantations, many of which have been beautifully restored and turned into five-star resort properties; Valladolid with its massive cenote; the islands of MujeresHolbox, and Cozumel (dive with sleeping sharks!); and the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve. Palenque, located in the Isthmus of the Yucatan, is the place to go to munch on magic mushrooms, explore the jungle ruins, and get in touch with your inner Mayan. Don’t miss swimming in the nearby aqua blue river (Aquas Azules) and spectacular Misol Ha waterfalls. 

Overall, Holly and I love the Yucatan as a place to visit but consider it to be uninhabitable for much of the year due to the heat and humidity. That’s just us though. Many have made their ex-pat homes here and are extremely happy with their choice. In fact, of all the retirement spots in Mexico that people rave about, Merida’s denizens are among the most vocal.

The Baja (including mainland Sea of Cortez)

Advantages: Easy U.S. driving access and reasonable year-round climate in the northern part. Todos Santos is a particularly hip and artsy, though pricey, surf town. Rosarito/Enseñada on the Pacific and the San Carlos/Puerto Peñasco/Guaymas at the top of the Sea of Cortez (just over the border into the mainland from The Baja) share the prize for easiest jog back and forth from the U.S. (although I’ve heard that Tecate is the easiest and most affordable border-hopping expat option of all, other than fuming Tijuana.) Disadvantages: The Baja is basically parched, dry desert. This region also has the feel of still having one foot in the U.S. (which is a good thing for some). Narco activity on the Baja has been ramping up in recent years, particularly around Cabo and the mainland side of The Sea of Cortez is a region of perennial narco activity. Cabo San Lucas is the obvious choice for those seeking sport fishing, golf, and an upscale, high-rise, all-inclusive type environment. Nearby La Paz is a calm seaside town, similar to the vibe of Zihautenejo, but not a lot going on (a snorkeling trip to Isla Espiritu while visiting La Paz is a must!). Nearby La Ventana attracts a winter population of kite-boarding and mountain biking enthusiasts. A vineyard tour of the Valle de Guadalupe region of northern Baja is a definite winner! And a one to two week camping and kayaking trip down the length of the baja, especially during whale rutting season, is worth the effort, though it didn’t live up to our once-in-a-lifetime-adventure expectations.

 

North-Central Pacific Coast

A hundred miles of cities and beach towns with Puerto Vallarta and the sprawling Bay of Banderas at its center.

Advantages: Live-able year-round climate, though somewhat hot and sticky summers. Plenty of culture, good restaurants, amazing farmer’s markets, and overall vibrant expat living, especially Puerto Vallarta area with its many year-round festivals, excellent private hospitals, gay-infused art galleries and nightlife (PV regularly shows up on top-ten lists for international retirement destinations).

There are lots of lifestyle options up and down the mid-coast from big city living to gated golf or sailing communities, to sleepy beach towns. Some of the great beach town options include hip-but-crowded Sayulita, and the more upscale San Pancho in Nayarit state to the north, or the yoga Mecca of Yelapa to the south. Closer into the hub of PV is the sailer’s haven of Cruz de Guanacaste, and the Canadian stronghold of Bucerias (excellent kiteboarding in the spring). We also like the beach towns of Barra de Navidad and La Manzanilla several hours south. Near to Barra de Navidad is Malaque a Canadian favorite, and there’s also Costa Careyes for the mega-wealthy. Nueva Vallarta and Punta Mita are the Bay of Banderas’ most upscale yachting and golf-centric destinations. About a 6 hour drive north of Vallarta is Mazatlan with its beautiful historic center, hotel zone and malecón waterfront popular with Mexican nationals, and some limited golf and yachting options. One could think of Mazatlan as being Puerta Vallarta with a quarter of the buzz and services.

Disadvantages: The entire mid-cost turns into “Gringolandia during the winter months, and Puerto Vallarta’s “Romantic Zone” is going through an overwhelming growth spurt that is likely to bring problems, Robberies are notably on the rise throughout the region.

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Puerto Vallarta – specialized in outrageous sunsets. Photo copyright©Daniel Gair. All Rights Reserved.

South and Central Pacific Coast 

Advantages: Big Surf around the resort city of Puerto Escondido. Huatulco, Puerto Angles, and Mazunte are nearby beach city/towns that have their following. Zihuatanejo further north, with its sleepy tourist beach town feel, is similar to La Paz in the Baja, while nearby Ixtapa is a good southern option for golf and high-rise hotels, not unlike Cabo San Lucas or Cancun.

Disadvantages: Unfortunately, like the Yucatan, you’ll boil like a lobster summers, so the south-central coast is not a great year-round ex-pat option, in our opinion. It’s also a bit of a hike from the U.S. or Canada. Aculpulco, once Mexico’s most high-rolling, high society beach resort city has been all but written-off to crime in recent years.

The Coast of Michoacan north of Zihuatanejo is a gorgeous no man’s land only visited by renegade surfers, fishermen, and true adventure types due to the narco fear factor. A trip there is like having California’s Big Sur all to yourself!

The Mountains and Central Highlands

These regions offer a wealth of relocation options, especially if your more a fan of colonial culture and cooler weather than you are of sand and sea.

Advantages are great culture and climate, while the disadvantages are, for us, that you’re trading in laid-back beach lifestyle, for more of a bustle.  San Miguel De Allende is Mecca for the monied, art gallery, fine dining set. It’s just plain hard not to like San Miguel, though, admittedly, it’s had its share a crime over the years, and water quality is emerging as a serious issue. While there be sure to check out the picturesque, art gallery laden mining town of Pozos about 45 minutes north. Holly and I also really like, and have owned properties in, nearby Guanajuato, a terrific, artsy, visually stunning, university city. Other very liveable cities that have expat communities include Puebla, Queretaro, Morelia, Cuernavaca and Oaxaca (arguably Mexico’s cultural and culinary heart). I’m going to stick my neck way out here and say that these highland cites are fairly comparable with their good-to-excellent health care, affordable housing, beautiful historic centers, and increasingly upscale dining and shopping options – vibrant change driven by the influx of gringo expats, and Mexico’s own emerging middle and upper-middle classes. Aquas Calientes is yet another alternative in this group, but one with more of an international expat population, and very affordable. Smaller, popular mountain towns include Tepotzlan and Tequila (among others) and the culturally rich city of San Cristobal de Las Casas further south in Chiapas. One highland locale that blends beach-like feel with great climate is Lake Chapala and Ajijic  with its stunning Malecon waterfront (see photo at top), a short one-hour drive from Guadalajara where one can find cheap international flights and excellent, affordable medical services. Flies in the ointment for this Mexpat enclave are that the Chapala area has its fair share of robberies, and the lake, though beautiful, is badly polluted by the Lerma River watershed. Same pollution issue goes for the fascinating and beautiful, Day-of-the Dead center of Patzcuaro (think the movie “Coco”), several hours away.

The Copper Canyon in the north is a great place to tour. Lots to see and do, but brutally hot summers. The train trip through the canyon, with overnight stops, is a must. The mining town of Alamos near the western end of the canyon is also worth a layover, especially if driving down the west coast from Nogales. There are expats in this region, but they seem to be scattered few and far between.

Then there’s the Huasteca Potosina region of San Louis Potosí state, over toward the Gulf Coast. Again, plenty of outdoor adventure; caves, aqua blue waterfalls and cenotes, and the not-to-be-missed surrealist jungle art installation of Sir Edward James at Xilitla. Like The Copper Canyon, there are no significant expat populations in this area that we know of, however, as is true anywhere in Mexico, you will find the occasional North American or European emigres scattered here and there amongst the creosote bushes.

Another must-stop on your Central Highlands tour is Real de Catorce. Near the Texas border, this über cool, ancient-feeling mining city is the main spiritual pilgrimage site and peyote gathering grounds for the Huichol Indians. If you like to dance with aliens, this could be your place.

Finally for the highland options is Mexico City. We love “CDMX” for its wonderful museums, dining, and cafe culture, but, not being city people, we couldn’t imagine ever living here full time. The air pollution is also quite bad spring-through-fall.

Trav-Mex-06-07-127Guanajuato, an exuberant cultural center with a comfortable climate.   Photo copyright©Daniel Gair. All Rights Reserved.

Veracruz / Gulf Coast

Catamaco is a funky little lakeside town, and Vera Cruz is a beautiful port city, but both wilt in the summer heat. Xalapa and Orizaba are very liveable cities with better climates, higher up in the mountains, that are gaining popularity with expats despite Veracruz state’s violent reputation.  Advantages to this region are that is hasn’t been nearly as overrun by gringos as other areas. Disadvantages are that the summer heat & humidity on the coast, and the fact that this region is a perennial center of narco activity.

Resources:

There are endless FB groups for specific cities and regions, too many to mention here. Following is a list of our favorite, more general online resources for digging in further: 

Mexico News Daily (https://www.mexiconewsdaily.com) – The very best English language news source for Mexico!

Surviving Yucatan (https://yucalandia.com) – Yucatan-centric, but still a great source of general life and retirement info for Mexico. 

MexConnect (http://www.mexconnect.com) – One of the best overall Mex info sites with extensive chat boards.

Mexperience – Slick, professional Mexico info site with plenty of useful info but geared toward selling their products & services (https://www.mexperience.com/lifestyle/living-in-mexico/moving-to-mexico/)

Make the Right Move to Mexico on Facebook: One of several move to Mexico FB pages (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1581227251953242/)

On The Road in Mexico (Facebook) – Fine, well-informed travel page.

For a list of the 121 designated “Pueblos Magicos” (Magic Villages), the spots the Mexican government is most highly touting check out Mexico Desconocido Magazine online at: https://www.mexicodesconocido.com.mx/pueblos-magicos-de-mexico.html  (Spanish Only but you can cross-reference the list with Google). While many of these towns are, uhm, “magical”, others tend to be cutesy places barely worth a visit, so do your research.

And last but not least, a shameless plug for those interested to learn more about the ‘real’ Mexico or hankering for an over-the-top adventure story: The Mexico Diaries, A Sustainable Adventure! chronicles the insanity that Holly and I treated ourselves to by moving to rural Mexico (4.7 stars on Amazon/Kindle: www.amazon.com/Mexico-Diaries-Sustainable-Adventure-ebook/dp/B07GMYGB7T ). Also available locally in Mexico at Under the Volcano Books in Mexico City, A Page in the Sun in Puerto Vallarta, NV Books in Nuevo Vallarta, and The Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens. The Mexico Diaries, a lively romp through the Mexican underbrush, is both encouragement to choose Mexico, as well as a cautionary tale!

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Plaga, Plaga, Plaga!!!

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Sad Tomotes…

Plaga, Plaga, Plaga!!!

Anyone who has tried growing food organically in tropical or sub-tropical Mexico knows the meaning of the “plaga” – the ubiquitous Mexican word for any bug or fungus friends that love your fruit & veg as much you do!

Following is a collection of local, organic, folk pesticides, plus some store-bought remedies purchased at the Gaia store in Uruapan, and one other ingredient smuggled in from NOB (north of the border):

The Local Brews:

Jorge’s Spicey Chili/Garlic Mix (yum!): 

  1. Soak 250gr. of chopped habanero chilis + garlic in alcohol in a small jar for 3-4days
  2. Add liquid to 1 ltr alcohol rubbing alcohol or equivalent
  3. Add this mix to 10ltrs of water

Jorge says this mix is a good pesticide for general nuisance bugs such as Whitefly (“mosca blanca”), Aphids, and “Escabajos” (small hard-shell insects common with citrus), or larger “mayates” (beetles such as Palm Weevils)

Jorge’s Pretty Flower Mix:

  1. Soak 250 grams of red bougainvillea flowers in jar of alcohol 
  2. Follow steps 2-3 above

Jorge claims this mix is good for virosis/hongos (fungual infections and/or viruses), especially those effecting tomatoes.

Note also that the two recipes above can be mixed together.

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Me with my fancy new sprayer. Photo by Holly.

Commercial Mixes:

Store Bought Salvation (unless otherwise noted, ingredients for the following recipes were purchased at the Gaia store in Uruapan, Michoacan (www.gaiaorganicos.mx) and use their generic Emulbiol (jabón agricola / liguid agricultural use soap) as an emulsifying agent.

Caldo Sulfocálcico (azufre/sulfer + cal/calcium oxide in solution): (originally used to combat sarno (mange) in pets, this product is good for ácaro (mites), cochinilla, trip (thrip) and other insects common with avocados, mangos, and citrus.

1) Mix Caldo Sulfocálcico with Emulbiol and water in the following ratios:

a. When the plant is flowering: 1ml Emulbiol:1ltr water: 10ml Caldo Sulfocálcico

b. When the plant is not flowering: 2ml Emulbiol:1ltr water: 20ml Caldo Sulfocálcico

Note: the vendor says that it can also be mixed with diatomaceous but I question the efficaciousness of diatomaceous when wet

Alomon (garlic/onion extract used for general nuisance bugs such as Whitefly, Weevils Mealybugs, Aphids, Thrips, and Psyllids):

  1. Mix 1ml Emulbiol with 1 liter of water 
  2. Add 3 – 6 ml per liter of Alomon per each Liter of Emulbiol & water

Neem Oil (used for general nuisance bugs such as Whitefly, Weevils Mealybugs, Aphids, Thrips, and Psyllids): 1- 5ml per liter of aqua mixed with 1 – 2 ml Emulbiol

Note: Vendor says use Caldo 1st. If it doesn’t work, then go to Alomon, then Neem, substituting in Alomon or Neem for Caldo Sulocálcio (I think this may be prioritized for cost as Neem is the more expensive ingredient of the three).

Beauveria bassiana: Lastly comes the super, duper, pest-party pooper, (a fungal mycoinsecticide for Whitefly, Weevils Mealybugs, Aphids, Thrips, Psyllids, grasshoppers and beetles. We brought this fairly pricey product down from the U.S. but later found to be available for more reasonable cost in Mexico under the trade name Beauverimic. This wonder product can also be used for bedbugs and is being investigated for use in controlling mosquitos!

Use = 1 tablespoon  per gallon.

Diatomaceous Earth: Our go-to anti-parasite supplement for us and all of our animal brother and sisters. It is also good for control of any insect with a carapace, and we have even had some luck using it to deter the dreaded leaf cutter ants. Sprinkle in their nest, they will sometimes leave, or it can be used to block their nightly commute to the harvest. We bring this from The States in 25pd bags.

Mix liberally with animal feed, or take a teaspoon occasionally as a dietary supplement.

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And one last note: while all of the above can be applied with hand pump sprayers, we recently made the $250 investment in a motorized power sprayer (pictured), and can’t say enough about the help this is for larger scale applications such as our 1-acre Permaculture food forest!

Good Luck Amigos. Happy hunting!

Mexico Sustainability With A Twist!

Thirteen years ago Dan Gair & Holly Hunter bought land in a small village on the coast of Jalisco. Three years later they sold their U.S. businesses and moved to the property full time. The experience since became a rogue experiment that overran the lab – fun, challenging, and even scary at times.

In September 2018 “The Mexico Diaries, A Sustainable Adventure”, a memoir about their journey, was released on Amazon & Kindle. To date the book has received an astounding 4.7 average rating on Amazon/Kindle and 4.44 on Goodreads (30+ reviews on each). SurvivingMexico. com / Book Reviews calls The Mexico Diaries “A whirlwind Mexican journey to sustainability and beyond…”.

In the book you will find scores of eccentric people, outrageous animal stories, narco encounters, corrupt cops, and even a splash of Voodoo or two! The book is also a narrative about switching up our lives and pursuing a more sustainable lifestyle on foreign soil.

For those of you considering Mexico as a place to retire to, ‘The Mexico Diaries’ can serve as both encouragement, and a cautionary tale.

That’s it then. Hop on Amazon using the following link (https://goo.gl/FHJ94q), purchase a copy, and enjoy the ride! Please also consider giving it a review (the Amazon sales game is all about reviews which drive rankings) knowing that 50% of any profit will be donated to The Environmental Defense Fund!

#Mexico #sustainbility #adventure #Permaculture #photography #sustainable #travel

 

 

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!  

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

Sustainable Mexico, an overview…

Sustainable Mexico? Is there such a thing? You bet! And as environmental protections, governmental programs, and NGO’s  are coming online at a rapid pace, I thought I’d create a blog that explores the various ways that we can all participate.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s buzz out to 80,000 feet for an overview.

First of all, let me ask if you are any of the following:

Are you a volunteer, looking for the right spot to make use of your fine energies. Do you want to meet others operating at the same frequency; working hard, having fun, doing right by the planet.

Are you an experienced Wwoofer, looking to take it to the next level. Maybe you’ve got a bit of money saved. Maybe not. Either way, Are you looking for some good soil and, hopefully, some good community, where you can sink your teeth in deeper? Plant some roots?

Are you a seasoned farm hand or CSA worker, looking to homestead or start your own business?

Are you looking for intentional community to join, or thinking of banding together with friends to buy some land and forming one?

Are you a farm family, facing yet another harsh northern winter; stacking wood, canning veggies, worrying about heating oil contracts, thinking that there must be another, better way…

Well, if you’re any of the above, or anything like it, then this blog is a place to share ideas, options, and stories of what you think about, struggle with, and strive for.

My disclosure: I’m not an expert with pat answers to the above. I have enough experience with setting up solar photovoltaics systems to give specific advice and recommendations on that. My wife and I have an off grid working ranch, campground, and sustainability education center in mexico (www.ranchosolymar.com) and have enough knowledge of animal care (specifically goats & chickens), food production, managing water resources, and running businesses, to have some good, solid, practical advice to offer on those fronts as well. But really, there are plenty of other informational sites where one can find advanced farming and off-grid living knowledge. Instead, with this blog, we’ll be exploring topics that we considered vital to our basic decision making process, but which we’ve been unable to find to be well considered elsewhere. We’ll also be getting postings from time to time from some of the volunteers that have helped us at our ranch, to get their perspective, to find out what works and what doesn’t. Hopefully we will  be drilling down more deeply into specific sustainability topics as the blog it evolves, hopefully offering some fresh perspectives and some useful advice!

General Topics This Blog Will be Covering:

  1. Consider Moving toward the tropics! One theme we’ll be revisiting frequently is the role of LATITUDE in the pursuit of sustainable living. One of my growing pet obsessions is the idea that living north or south of 35 degrees latitude presents inherent physical challenges, that, in many ways, simply don’t make good , common, practical sense. It’s all a matter of energy, really. The energy is takes to prepare for and survive winters (heat energy, and also “life” energy) can be put to much better use if one is living closer to the equator. By moving south (although this could be “north”, of course, if you’re located in the southern hemisphere. For simplicity here, I’ll be using “south” as the general catch all direction for considering a move) you can automatically liberate much of your life energy for other pursuits – pleasure and/or leisure time being not insignificant! There’s also a very basic baseline of security to be had by leaving winter behind.
  1. The costs and benefits of having animal “partners”. On this topic we’ll bounce around a bit; from the responsibility and expense of animal husbandry, to the practical benefits and shear joy of life with animals, we’ll explore many of the considerations that having animals “brings to the table”.
  1. “Farming Photons”: A general discussion of the use of renewables, particularly solar, as well as the practical considerations; costs, benefits, off-grid vs grid tie, siting, general equipment recommendations, and other specific information. (see “Our Solar Story” below for the first post on this…)
  1. Defining your goals and figuring out how to make them profitable: Having both run & sold successful businesses, Holly and I have spent a lifetime developing tools & strategies for defining and promoting one’s own niche market. Whether you are growing veggies, raising animals, or producing a value added product, we’ll explore some simple techniques for figuring out what “makes you sing” and how to turn it into a profitable business.
  1. Crossing Borders: We’ll look at both the literal implications of seeking out a sustainable life across the border, (in our case Mexico, but much of this discussion can apply to any cross border situation) but also the more metaphysical aspect of re-mapping one’s own life. What are the possible challenges and benefits of breaking out of your old, often worn out, geographical paradigms??? (see “Secret Sustainability South of the Border” for more on this…)
  1. Stories of sustainability: Stories can entertain as well as instruct. We’ve got a growing collection and would love to hear yours!

So, there you have it. It is my intention, above all, to make this blog a useful sounding board for your own pursuit of sustainability. Working toward true sustainability can and should be a joyful, fulfilling, lifelong experience. The hours will be long, and we’ll each have our own path to follow, but we’ll also have much commonality to share and helpful wisdom to impart. I hope that you’ll participate and make this blog part of your own virtual homesteading community – a place to cultivate, share and learn from!

Our Solar Story; one couple’s journey in search of solar living…

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Me wrapping up the array install. The home made racking system saved $ and functions well, but ended up being a major pain to install

Note: the following post describes, step by step, how my wife & I went from total solar neophytes, to living completely off grid and harnessing the power of the sun for its help with much of the daily work and comfortable lifestyle we enjoy here in Mexico. I’ve included a fair amount of techno speak for those who, as I once was, are craving the empowerment of understanding and implementing solar, but are struggling though some of the initial phases. Readers are encouraged to post questions or comments about the systems or processes described here in that all questions, no matter how basic, may be of some help to others that follow…

The first couple of winters visiting the property we had purchased near Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast of Mexico (2005-2007), my wife Holly & I were still in the process of securing title, and thus reluctant to put any money into infrastructure improvements. The modest, one bedroom mexican ranch house we occupied had one existing 15 watt solar panel direct wired to a 12v marine battery and running one long string of 12v incandescent lights when we bought it. Despite twelve hour days of cloudless skies, we had, at best, an hour of light once the sun went down. For refrigeration we parked our faithful old pickup truck camper next to the house and used the onboard dometic gas refrigerator. Around that time I had launched and was chairing a municipal energy commission back in the states, and was growing increasingly interested in sustainability in general, and solar in particular.

By the second winter, we hand carried down three Sunsei 17w panels and I began learning about charge controllers, inverters, and the always dreaded “voltage drop”. At that early stage of learning, it took quite a while to figure out that voltage drop inherent with using the existing #12AWG house wiring for 12v, combined with a tired old marine starting battery, far too small solar panel array, and energy sucking incandescent bulbs, were all conspiring to keep us literally “in the dark”.

“Poco a poco” (little by little) is a favorite expression of our mexican neighbors, and poco a poco it was learning the ins and outs of solar. Around the second year in, a mexican neighbor told me he knew of someone with some panels, and soon four Sharp 175‘s, of unknown origins, were purchased for a good price, and stored safe & sound in our rickety goat shed. Using the SEI guide “Photovoltaics Design & Installation Manual” plus help from Lee Consavage, an engineer friend, and other input from online chat groups such as Arizona Wind & Sun, I began designing our first real PV system. Finally, after stumbling int the dark – literally – we were well on our way to a brighter future! On the next trip SOB (south of the border), Holly and brought down in our carry-on luggage an Outback MX60 Charge Controller, a 1000watt Go-Power inverter, and miscellaneous fuse blocks and cable connections. Three sweaty days later, much of which was spent crouching gingerly atop spanish roof tiles, drilling holes through cement walls, and making numerous, nervous, electrical decisions well above my pay grade, I flipped the switch, and lo-and-behold, “the miracle of the ranch” had finally occurred! Truly; seeing that little green light go on for the first time, hearing the gentle hum of the inverter, and realizing that we were now sucking power, real power, 120v power sufficient to run ample lights, a small 7cubic foot refrigerator, blender for margueritas, play music, and charge computers, right out of the sky, right out of the either, felt as close to something miraculous as I expect I’ll ever experience!

Since those early days, we have upgraded our batteries from the original 4 trojan T 105’s and now have 8 Trojan L-16’s for over 700amp hrs @ 24volts DC, plus a larger, 1500watt Xantrex inverter to run a heavier duty washing machine than we had originally. Still, even with the larger battery capacity, we rely on a small, portable gen set to top off the batteries from time to time in extended periods of rain during the summer months.

A note on inverters: 1500watts with a 2000peak load capacity seems to be the break point providing enough amperage to run a decent size washing machine and virtually any home power tool except a welder. Pure sign wave inverters run quieter and provide cleaner power, while the more economical modified inverters tend to hum, both the unit itself, as well as through stereos and certain other electronics. We have also experienced two appliances that wouldn’t run at all on the Xantrex modified sine wave inverter; a yogurt maker, and also a dehydrator which actually burned out as a result.

Fast forward another year from building the original house system, and I had completed my NABSEP coursework from the AltE learning center in Hudson Massachusetts, and I was ready to take on much more significant solar project. By this time Holly and I had also expanded our vision for the ranch to include an off-grid campground, solar water pumping & heating, and various other projects. In the fall of 2009 we both sold our companies (I had been a commercial architectural photographer and Holly had a financial planning firm) and we committed ourselves to the dream of living and promoting sustainability full time. Currently we rent out our house in New England most of the year and we’re forging ahead with creating a broader scope, regional, sustainability center. Our ongoing projects include building with stone, compressed earth block, & other local material, organic farming & gardening, goat cheese production, composting, tree planting, water recycling, biofuels experimentation, and numerous other initiatives.

In the winter of 2009/2010 we learned to mix mud for adobe, and with much help from visiting family & friends, and our mexican neighbors, we built the campground bath house and solar shed which houses showers, bathrooms, a laundry room, a workroom, the 2.4kw solar array, an Outback 3600w pure sine wave inverter, sixteen Trojan L16 batteries for 700amp/hrs at 48volts, and the balance of the electrical system. Our campground “Camping Sol y Mar” (Camping Sun & Sea) is, as far as we know, the first completely off grid campground with RV hookup sights in the americas, if not the world. This winter are building on a new backpacker bunkhouse, and with that in place will begin hosting workshops and work exchange Volunteers.

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putting the finishig touches on the campground bath house and solar array instal.

The entire project has been a huge learning curve but we have an increasingly steady stream of adventure campers and wonderful volunteer work exchange participants using the facilities. In addition to the solar which produces up to 15kw per day (enough to budget 2kw for each of the 5 hookup sites – sized for small to mid-sized campers – plus a couple more kw for a modest sized cheese cooler for Holly’s goat cheese making operation, the building also boasts solar hot water showers, and grey & black water recycling systems. The increasingly “edible” campground also features an herb spiral, rapidly growing fruit trees (see “Eat This Campground! post below) and a natural wood fired pizza oven coming online soon Thank you Katy & Alex, our amazing summer caretakers this year! ).

Finished 2.4kw system inside adobe bath house at campground. i decided against using a battery enclosure due to having plenty of open air venting and to help keep temperatures as low as possible.

I wish I could say it’s been easy and smooth getting this far. Sometimes it feels as though every step is a battle. Attempting to cut costs, I opted for creating my own array racking. Big mistake! The thousand dollars saved cost me countless hours piecing together a custom aluminum framework on a completely uneven roof made from timber milled with a chain saws and machetes. Simple tools like a drill bit and bolts long enough to through-bolt the 6” timbers all had to be brought down from the states as needed. After my experience of working atop spanish tiles on our home system, I opted to leave off having tiles under the bath house array, and instead lay down a roofing of clear polycarbonate laminate. Constructing this, and making it all waterproof and structural enough for potential hurricane force wind loading turned out to be incredibly tedious, and much more of a project that I had ever bargained for. Still, the roof works really well, in that it provides nice passive daylight to the workroom below where the rest of the system is housed, as well as the fact that the laminate stays perfectly cool under the panels, even on the hottest of days.

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long view of campground and finished bath house with land scaping starting to come in…

Yet another error I made was the purchase of the Outback FX inverter rather than GV model. The FX series won’t accept the voltage vagaries of supplemental charging from generator backup (a subtle distinction missed by both myself, and the sales agent that recommended the FX unit for my specific application). Outback was kind enough to supply me with a replacement board to convert the FX model since bringing the inverter back to the states for replacement was impossible. Still the changeover meant dismantling the guts of the system after it had been already been completed.

Occasionally my wife and I ask ourselves, “if we had it all to do over, would we simply have tied in to the power lines less than 100 yards away?” That definitely would have been the easier, less expensive route to take. But

then we realize that if we’d wanted easy, we would’ve been better off just staying in the states. Rancho Sol y Mar increasingly is our home now anyway. A crazy, inventor friend of ours just finished building us a fuel alcohol still, so tackling renewable transportation is the next learning curve looming. We also have 100‘s of fruit & coconut trees planted, a small, first crop of corn coming up, and loving, productive, adorable animals on all sides, Our dream of 100% independent living is increasingly becoming a reality. We realize we’re a little crazy, and a more normal life would be easier, however were strapped in now, and taking the ride. I guess that as long as the sun keeps shining, we’ll be here in Mexico seeking to sustain ourselves and others from it!

View of campground and Mayto Beach.


campground, summer 2012