Surfing and Sustainability in Mexico’s Zihuatanejo

12.12.2017 Arts & Culture
Kristina Pedersen
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Arriving in Zihuatanejo, Mexico is like arriving at the very best part of life. There is a giant Corona plastered on the airport control tower. The green mountainous region is hot with the energy of another world. Getting off the plane I instantly regret not having murdered someone who deserved it and fled here to never leave.

Playa La Saladita, a best-kept-secret as a surfer’s retreat and home to the newly founded Mexi Log Surf Fest, hides on the shores of a small village called Los Llanos. The spot is known for its forever left-curling waves, and along with Troncones, the neighboring town, the area boasts uncharacteristically bougie surf lifestyle boutiques and eateries like Present Moment, Lourdes and Loot.

There is not too much “beach” in Saladita, which is okay, because surfers have no interest in sand. Sand is merely a functional element to get in and out of the surf. Looking out at the Pacific always reminds me of heaven, but in a death-y kind of way. The waves here are big, reaching 8-10 feet during the high season, though we have so far seen 6 foot waves at most. The clear blue is freckled evenly with beginners and pros.

Back in town, people sit around in circles, some swinging in hammocks. It is easy to imagine this becoming your entire life, a calm rotation of swinging, sitting and surfing. It is peaceful and there is no pop culture to politicize or idolize, there are no words in need of constant and varying reiterations for opposing agendas. There is only “Salud!” and, every now and then, the mantra de Chucho: “difficile pero no imposible.”

The mantra is more than the idea that you can accomplish anything, it is the idea that impossible things just don’t exist here so abundantly. No one bothers to create them, no one bothers to attempt them. ‘Impossible’ is a city idea that comes from overreaching, overworking and barrelling blindly towards ‘progress.’ Impossible comes from fatigue: when everything is difficult, some things become impossible… however, when things are too simple you may find yourself faced with something difficult.

Bringing Sustainability to Zihuatanejo

One activist in the area has been attempting the seemingly impossible for 12 years. I met with Pato ‘El Orgánico’ to discuss his environmental program ‘Troncones Limpias’ which teaches composting and organic farming practices to local citizens, farmers and hospitality organizations.

“People in Mexico don’t know about chemical warfare or pesticides. Here, pesticides are not linked to cancer. Environmental information is deliberately not taught or shared, even in institutions of higher education. It is simply not part of the country’s vocabulary or culture,” Pato tells me. “When I say words like ‘biodiversity,’ people think I am speaking French. People burn their plastic bottles like they burn the leaves to get rid of them.”

Pato’s project educates locals and other rural farmers in the most basic of ways. They have set up a recycling system, taught basic composting workshops, started a weekly organic farmer’s market, and lead workshops on everything from alternatives to pesticides. They have also collaborated with local schools to lead children’s workshops on environmental protection and recycling. The ultimate goal is to create a new education model for organic agriculture practices.

Seeing the success of Troncones Limpias, the environmentalist is now taking his project and expanding to Saladita with ‘Saladita Limpia.’ The effort involves reaching out to local hotels, Airbnbs, cottages and hospitality organizations — almost all of which currently implement virtually zero sustainable practices. Pato’s program would train the organization’s housekeeping and landscaping staff in sustainable gardening, cleaning, recycling and composting practices. After training, the organization would be invited to promote themselves as part of this program — the idea being that the eco-conscious traveler (as most surfers are) would rather stay at an establishment that participates in this local and sustainable practice than one which does not.

With a strong sense of community (and being located just far enough north of the big resort towns), Saladita and Troncones remain some of the best kept secrets in Zihuatanejo and are becoming some of Mexico’s most fertile grounds for sustainable travel.

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