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
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)
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!
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!
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
contact info: Susana Valadez firstname.lastname@example.org
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
contact info: email@example.com
From within Mexico: 322-223-6182 From outside of Mexico: 011-52-322-223-6182
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
contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org
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
contact info: email@example.com
State/Region: Jalisco / Lake Chapala
Nearest City: Chapala
Type of Visit: eco farm + education + community development / volunteer work exchange
Name: Acá Centro Ecológico
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
Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org
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
Contact: local #: (624) 142-3794 US #: (802) 734-9808
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)
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: email@example.com
Central + South Central Highlands
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
Contact info: Dylan Terrell firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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 email@example.com
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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nearest City: Malinalco / Tenancingo / Mexico City (D.F.)
Type of Visit: organic farm, school & retreat center / volunteer work exchange
Name: Rancho Cazahuate
Contact Info: Anya Loizaga Velder www.ecomundi.info or
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 / 52+1+ 9671149914(cell)
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)
Nearest City: Playa Del Carmen
Type of Visit: Working organic farm / volunteer work exchange, 2 wk min.
Name: Tumbem Ha
Contact info: email@example.com
Nearest City: Vallodolid / Merida / Cancun
Type of Visit: Sustainability courses / volunteer work exchange (3 wk. min.)
State: Qintana Roo
Nearest City: Cancun
Type of Visit: Environmental & cultural educational tours offered (fee).
Name: Project Mayan Encounter
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
Contact Info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nearest City: Teopisca
Type of Visit: Education, community development, environmental protection
Name: El Porvenir
Contact Info: 52+9671107386
Nearest City: Playa Del Carmen
Type of Visit: rustic organic farm / volunteer work exchange
Name: Tumben Kuxtal
contact info: 52-1-998-133-4486
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
Nearest City: Juarez
Type of Visit: orphanage / volunteer work exchange
Name: Rancho Los Amigos
contact info: Patti Kidd ph: 407-232-3009
State/Region: Nuevo Leon
Nearest City: Monterey
Type of Visit: Relief Work (distribution of food & clothing)
Contact Info: Info@ammac.com.mx
Nearest City: Puerto Penasco
Type of Visit: medical clinic staffing
Name: Manos de Ayuda
Website/Contact Info: email@example.com U.S. (520) 760-8645
Pay-For Volunteer Programs
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)
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)
State: Nayarit & Jalisco
Nearest City: Puerto vallarta
Type of Visit: Pay-for conservation, cultural, and ecology-oriented “expeditions”.
website/contact info: http:
Nearest City: N/A
Type of Visit: 72 listings for (mostly) pay-for volunteer service organizations operating in Mexico!
website/contact info: http://www.goabroad.com
Nearest City: N/A
Type of Visit: Eco tours + some coordination with local NGO’s for more extensive volunteer / service options.
Name: Glocal Travel
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.
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.
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! ).
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.
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!
Purchasing Property In Mexico
Thinking of heading south of the border with dreams of homesteading? Don’t know how buying a choice little piece of land to farm could fit into the equation? Well, the great news is that yes, you can do it! Purchasing property in the interior of Mexico is very affordable, very do-able, and an excellent alternative for many reasons (see “secret sustainability” post below…). It’s actually really easy. Here’s how:
1) Obviously, step one is finding your spot. Take your time, do your homework, and take at least a month to travel around the area you’re interested in. Travel by bus is easy and affordable in latin america, the people are incredibly friendly, and there are plenty of others travelers out there who you will meet on the road. Holly and I knew the country fairly well before starting, but still spent a month in a rental car, touring the Pacific coast within 150 miles of a key transport hub, Puerto Vallarta, before settling on the exact spot where we ended up taking root.
2) Once you have a property in mind, be certain to seek out a reputable notario in the area near where you are considering purchasing. Make sure you talk to a registered “notario”, not a regular abogado (lawyer). Also note that real estate agents in Mexico aren’t licensed and there are many agents peddling property without oversight or exclusivity, so if questions come up, the notario is the person to confer with, not a real estate agent. Always check with a Notario first before making a commitment to anyone! Most city’s have english speaking Notario’s available.
3) Once you’ve settled on a place that you know to be titled (having an escritura), have the notario you are working with review all title doc’s to make sure there are no liens. (Usually a small deposit will hold while doc’s are reviewed. Title insurance is available from U.S. based company, Stewart Title).
4) Next have said Notario write up a “Compra y Venta” sales agreement, and then proceed with purchase… Bank $ transfers are straight forward, Titles are usually issued within several days.
Purchasing near the Coast
Condominium properties or titled private properties located in the restricted zone and less than 2000sq meters can easily and safely be put into a Mexican bank trust (Fideicomiso). The process is basically the same as above however title will be issued in the banks name with you named as the beneficiary (trust are generally 99year term & renewable).
For ejido property without previous title, or purchase of larger land tracts in the federal restricted zone (within 50 km of the coast), property purchase can get a bit more tricky. For other, more problematic purchase, almost anything is possible although the process can be long and grueling. Read on…
The following is offered as a quick start trouble shooting guide to any foreign nationals considering the purchase of ejido, or recently privatized ejido property, or property in the restricted zone. Blogger MexDog assumes no responsibility for accuracy as the rules change over time, and even by region/municipality. Make certain to seek advice from at least one reputable Notario before committing more funds than you’re willing to lose!
1) Any deal to purchase property that is still part of an ejido should be considered RISKY. Regardless of what you may be told, using a mexican national as presta nombre (borrowed name) or any other means to purchase ejido property in the restricted zone can never be a fail safe proposition regardless of having Powers of Attorney or a Will in place. While many people have successfully “owned” property for years in the name of a prestanombre, there seems to be increasing financial/development pressure that is making that vehicle for holding property ever less stable over time.
2) The litmus for determining if property is actually private, and not still part of the ejido, is possession of an escritura (title) for the parcela or lot from RAN in name of the ejiditario property owner.
(Note that property can be titled and owned privately by an ejido member (ejiditario) without still being part of the ejido land holdings). Privataization can be accomplished through either the Procede “regularization” or dominio pleno process only). Any deals involving property said to be “about to be privatized” should be approached with extreme caution – if at all.)
4) It is advisable that any deposit money paid should be accompanied by a formal compra y venta agreement, best reviewed by a Public Notario’s office. A formal compra y venta will be drawn up for privately titled property only, not ejido property. Any purchase agreement other than a formal, approved compra y venta shoud be consider extremely risky. Consideration should also be given to the facts that realtors aren’t licensed, escrow accounts are rarely used, and that even deposit money accompanied by a formal compra y venta may be at some risk.
Note here also that even with a compra y venta agreement in place, all members of the ejido are constitutionally entitled to a first right of refusal before the first sale of a property out of the ejido.
5) Final purchase, payment, and transfer of title should be conducted under the supervision of a Public Notario’s office only.
6) Final deeds and ownership will be in the name of either a bank trust (fideicomiso) or mexican corporation, not in the name of the foreign national directly, and title insurance is available once the final deed is issued, approximately 2 to 6 months after closing.