Faraway: Get Out of Your World
Roofs Over Mexico
Ecotourism is a rather well-known term, but have you ever heard of Responsible Tourism? Perhaps you have, but I had never heard about it until I was in Mexico last month handling public relations for my Rotary club’s volunteer project that remodeled a high school in the small farming village of Las Varas. While there, I stayed in a “Techos de Mexico” inn which is like a bed and breakfast in America, but a little different. Let me explain.
The idea for “Techos de Mexico”, which means “Roofs over Mexico”, was started about twenty-five years ago by a young engineer from Mexico City. When Jose Enrique del Valle finished college he ventured west across Mexico with his two sisters (also university graduates - one a medical doctor, the other an educator) to the fishing village of Chacala. They looked around and saw a picturesque cove, with a smooth sandy beach, and a few businesses geared mainly for the locals. Jose found people who had lived in Chacala for generations without much contact with modern life - the only road leading in to the village was a troublesome rocky path that only a mule could navigate.
The three siblings decided that their newly acquired education could be put to best use in Chacala. Laura, the doctor, set up a medical clinic in the larger nearby town of Las Varas; Om, the educator, started a small school; and Jose, the visionary engineer, saw the palm-log and leaf-thatched huts in Chacala where most of the villagers lived - all within walking distance of the beach - transformed into new homes with roof-top vista-filled rooms where tourists could stay. Jose told himself that it was only a matter of time before big developers would descend on this gorgeous little cove and turn it into a rollicking jam of high-rise hotels. He wanted to make sure that the people of Chacala did not become low-paid workers of an impersonal tourism industry. Jose said, “I will make them into entrepreneurs instead of servants.”
I interviewed Jose about his story and discovered a man with a heart for helping others. I asked him how he set about to share his idea for the roof-top inns with the villagers - and how he built their trust. Jose’s story is about leadership - not the sort that imposes an outsider’s view, but the sort that listens to the actual needs of those being led, and gives them a chance to become leaders themselves.
He began by convening the community at meetings where all sat in a circle. He laid out his plan with actual drawings, and then described the process. Early questions from the villagers surrounded the problem of funding. Jose explained that a revolving fund would be set up that he and a few friends of his would initially finance and after the villagers began to earn money from their inns, and had repaid their loans, would serve to provide loans for other villagers. It sounded logical but the villagers could not believe that after the improvements had been made to their homes, that the early investors would not kick them out and assume ownership. The people had no reason to believe Jose. All he could do was to just get started and show them that he was not going to take over their property.
Villagers were selected by a point system that measured the greatest need, i.e., if you owned a car, or a boat, or had running water, or electricity, you did not make it to the top of the list. Alicia was the first chosen. All the villagers who were interested in the Techos program participated in building Alicia’s house. When the first trucks showed up to dump the huge pile of bricks for the construction, Alicia cried - not because she was over-joyed - but because she was sure that she could never live long enough to repay the loan!
Jose told me that in one of the early meetings, it was revealed that the villagers were struggling with the concept of running an inn. Would this mean that guests would be living with their families? What about privacy? Jose had difficulty explaining the difference between a house-guest and a tourist. No one at the meeting had ever even seen a hotel let alone stay at an inn. That prompted a field trip to Puerto Vallarta, some sixty miles down the coast, so they could experience staying at an inn.
Today, there are about twenty Techos in Chacala. I stayed at Aurora’s which was one of the early ones. Aurora has managed everything wisely, keeping track of every penny, and now has five guest rooms built onto her house where she lives with her husband and extended family. I stayed in one of the smaller rooms on the main level with an outdoor kitchen on the porch. I loved sitting on the porch in the early mornings listening to the tropical birds lighting up the day with their beautiful songs. Aurora’s front yard is a lush garden full of flowers, vines, and a mango trees (the photo at the top of the story shows the garden - my porch is hidden on the right behind the trees). Her husband, Beto, is out there every morning raking up the leaves and tidying up.
The upper rooms are more like suites with a bedroom, kitchen, living room, and an upper terrace. This is the second time I’ve stayed at Aurora’s. I plan to go back as often as I can! To stay at a Techos means that you will have the opportunity to exchange cultures, learn about Mexico, and most importantly - make real friends - which is something that would be difficult to do at a large resort. Aurora invited me to share meals with her family several times during my month-long stay. The language barrier was never a problem. So much can be communicated with a smile, nod, and a laugh.
As for Jose Enrique, he continues to promote the Techos program and owns a very nice inn himself! The Majahua Hotel (Jungle Hotel) was designed by Jose and reflects his good taste and strong sense of design. Everything is artfully done and nothing is ordinary - from the bathrooms to the guest rooms to the restaurant. If you are in need of restoring the romance in your life, book a few nights at Jose’s place. It will do your heart some good! I enjoyed a fine meal there one evening, sitting on his patio overlooking the ocean, watching a spectacular sunset.
As for Laura, she went on to open a wellness, yoga, and vacation retreat center just down the hill from Jose. Mar de Jade (Sea of Jade) draws visitors from all over the world. I visited Laura many times during my month in Chacala and enjoyed dinners on her meandering terrace which has a breathtaking view of the cove along a never-ending horizon.
As for Om, she lives in a lovely home by the beach and continues as an educator, working as the director for the Montessori school in Chacala.
Responsible Tourism is a form of travel that allows tourists to make life better wherever you go by connecting with the local people, learning about their culture, and helping in the community where you can. In this way, you get to enrich your sense of humanity. You also can support the local community and increase economic development. You’ll relish the chance to build a true cultural exchange by staying in local inns where you will make new friends! Responsible Tourism builds goodwill and strengthens peaceful relations between cultures. Techos de Mexico is Responsible Tourism. What a way to travel!
You can contact Aurora and Concha, two great innkeepers in Chacala: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
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