It was one of those gorgeous afternoons.
As our airliner descended over the turquoise coast of Guerrero, Mexico, passing the built up resort cities of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo it circled over arid flatlands and landed at Zihuatanejo’s modest international airport. The dry, fragrant heat, the old rescue vehicles stationed off the tarmac and the sway of coconut trees behind the one and only hangar gave us that inescapable rush of adrenalin you feel when you know you just set foot on foreign soil.
We could smell the sea.
We were whisked through customs and jumped into a taxi and headed south, in the opposite direction of Zihuatanejo. We drove for forty minutes or so on the main highway -Carreterra Federal 200- through a cluster of tiny towns until we reached Juluchuca, a small village where it seemed sleepy dogs and scampering chickens outnumbered the population. We entered Juluchuca and traversed its only lumpy, sandy road and pulled up to a shack of a house on the edge of the tiny community. There the driver rolled his window down and asked a woman in Spanish, “Si pasamos?” (“Can we pass?”). She beamed and nodded with a laugh. He turned to me and said. “Vamonos!”
Thus began our love affair with the casual and friendly nature of the people we were to meet on the next two weeks throughout Mexico.
Within a few minutes our little taxi forged across a river with laughing, naked children and sweaty women doing their laundry. We continued on along the solitary road for another ten minutes or so, cactus and hardy, knotty foliage hemming us in on both sides. Suddenly we came up over a rise and found ourselves at the end of the line.
If there are two words that can sum up a getaway that captures the essence of luxury rustic and yet is a model of harmony with its natural surroundings, then here it was, right in front of us…
A team of architects and ecological experts from the Bay area of California headed by David Leventhal have created an off-the-beaten-path escape that not only defines everything a self sufficient, sustainable retreat should be but takes it to another realm that all visionaries should follow.
We didn’t even have time to get out of our taxi before we were surrounded by the ear to ear smiles of our wonderful hosts. We were led over sand to our guest quarters, a stunningly designed open-air suite that summed up what beach living is all about. But perhaps the crowning touch was that the adobe-like walls and palm frond roof of our “hut” were separated by a gap through which the warm breeze and sounds of the ocean would fill our dreams for the next few days.
Within seconds our sandals were off and we were standing in front of a wild, honey-colored, sweeping beach that disappeared in either direction. The sight of rolling, jade-colored waves cast its spell as we stood hypnotized and watched a giant, glowing red disc dissolve over the horizon in what would be our first of memorable sunsets.
In the days that followed we would walk this 10 kilometer stretch of beach for hours, not a soul or dwelling in sight…seriously. We watched as whales breached and dolphins frolicked seemingly just beyond our fingertips, as manta rays and fish skimmed along cresting waves and pelicans glided by on their mysterious missions. Playa Viva literally means “Beach Alive” and it became easy to see why it had been given this title.
I could go on forever about the sensational hospitality of the on site crew that took care of us at Playa Viva, of their wonderful, sincere smiles and the mouth watering, traditional dishes they prepared every day. I could describe how special it was to visit the nearby Turtle Sanctuary , a shelter built down the beach to provide a protected, birthing habitat for the threatened turtle species in this part of Mexico.
The superlatives quickly pile up.
But there was something else about Playa Viva that struck us and needs to be mentioned.
Playa Viva was not only a gorgeous escape from our daily grind elsewhere but a reminder that a more conscious focus on the conservation and nurturing of our surroundings is possible…while traveling. From the organic gardens that supplied virtually all of the food we ate, to the rainwater-trapped irrigation system and solar powered energy, Playa Viva was not only a profound example of what little impact we can achieve abroad while chilling out but of a philosophy and practical approach to our environment that we should take with us when we go back home.
As travelers, vacationers, beach bums, thrill seekers, whatever, it’s critical to be aware of how we tread over this planet. If there was one thing we appreciated above and beyond the staggering beauty of this beach haven it was that we ended up indirectly being some small part of a project –not just a retreat- that pays respect to the very soil it was built on and strives to protect the environment that surrounds it.