Puerto Vallarta and the Pacific Coast: Rancho Sol y Mar

Greetings everyone! 🙂

What an INCREDIBLE week it has been at the ranch. The last time I posted we had just spent a fabulous afternoon at El Cielto lounging by the pool, watching dolphins.

After a leisurely day by the pool, we walked over to the turtle camp near the ranch.

The University of Guadalajara manages this sea turtle rescue, which helps to restore the endangered sea turtle population. The organization is run by students and scientists from the university. Nightly, they head out to find turtle nests that are laid along the beach. They take the nests and bury them in this protected area, away from natural predators and poachers.Look at this cutie!turtles3After 45 days, the turtle eggs hatch and they dig up the sea turtle babies to release them back into the sea. These are Olive Ridley Sea Turtles, but there are six other species that currently inhabit Mexico. Each nest of sea turtles has around 90 turtle babies, which is why they use all the help they can get. Tonight, we helped release eight different nests. Here are the sea turtle shells.turtlesSo precious! These guys are pretty lethargic when we first dig them up, since they just exerted so much energy to burst out of their shell. During that time, we count all the turtles to make sure everyone is accounted for. The number of eggs buried is listed on the stick, so we know how many to expect. The kids decided to line them up military-style. 🙂turtles2After around twenty minutes, the turtles regain their strength and they  are ready to begin their trek into the sea. Look at all of them shuffling around in the bin as we move them closer to the ocean.

We all lined up to set the first batch free, and  to see whose turtle would make it there first. 🙂img_7695I named mine “Squirt” from Finding Nemo. img_7690

You can do it, little guy! 🙂turtles4img_7711


After an amazing turtle release at sunset, we headed back to camp for a good night’s rest. Monday morning was my first real day of the Experiential Education program. We started with a hearty breakfast of fruit, eggs, potatoes and veggies.img_7728Rancho Sol y Mar offers numerous programs including natural building and goat husbandry; however, my program covered a wide array of topics. Day one covered solar energy and natural building.

On the left of this picture is Dan, who is the owner of the ranch. He gave us a brief rundown of the ranch and their use of solar energy. I love how he didn’t preach about the topic and didn’t claim to be an expert, but is trying to constantly learn about energy conservation and make improvements at the ranch.
bathroom2The ranch currently uses solar panels and stores that harvested energy using these batteries. This is an example of a natural building using clay and other local materials. Not only did the building look beautiful, but the natural wood smelled incredible!ranch2You can see the solar panels on the left side of the roof.img_7731They also use compost toilets, which are actually very sanitary and environmentally-friendly. On a daily basis, they flush the liquid compost with a mixture of water to help nourish the soil. These facilities are rustic, but surrounded by the beauty of nature. Hey, how can you be grossed out when you see this cute little toilet flower? 🙂bathroomHere is also the vegetable and herb garden, where they get a lot of their produce for meals.ranch4Here is the kitchen bodega, which runs on solar energy. This is their washroom sink and source of clean drinking water. They do not have hot water, so we boil water before doing dishes and clean the pans using a bleach solution. All other surfaces are cleaned using vinegar.ranchLastly, we were able to see where Dan and his wife Holly live, which is another natural building. Their ceramic counter tops were stunning.img_7740The amazing part is that only 10 years ago, they were both living and working on the east coast of the United States. Dan was a commercial photographer and Holly was a Certified Financial Planner. The two were merely coming to this area to look for a spot to retire. After realizing the potential of the land, they began to build and establish the property as a ranch. Dan had taken a few courses in solar energy and Holly had studied cheese-making in Vermont. They were able to use their knowledge and business savvy to help this ranch prosper into what it has become today. This is obviously a shortened version of their journey and it probably came with many challenges, but it is really quite inspiring!

After a busy morning walking around the property, we feasted on a hearty vegetable soup for lunch. 🙂img_7744Each afternoon, we have the time to ourselves to spend reading in the hammocks or hanging out at the beach. I’m sure you can guess where I was! 🙂img_7748img_7746So incredibly beautiful and peaceful! I had the whole beach to myself, to walk, look for shells, and work on my tan. 😛

As a volunteer at the ranch, we are expected to prepare 3 meals during the week. This week we have 24 people and tonight was MY night to cook. I prepared garlic and mushroom linguine with fresh goat’s milk ricotta. The meal was served with a colorful salad and GIANT shrimp! Yum! 🙂dinnerAfter dinner, we brought out Cards Against Humanity. Warning: For Adults Only! This game is hilarious, especially after a few drinks, but only if the kids aren’t around.cardsOn Tuesday, we learned about goat handling and cheese-making. We started off with a delicious breakfast of fresh pineapple, tomatoes and cinnamon french toast.
breakfastOn our way up to the goat pen, we stopped by the donkeys and horses to give a few treats.img_7761The ranch raises free-range goats, which means they spend the majority of their day grazing the property.goat3goat2They want to provide the most natural environment for the animals, so they live a stress-free lifestyle. Stress hormones can also affect the flavor and quality of the milk produced. Since I worked with large animals a bit as a Vet Tech, I asked a lot of questions.  For starters, their milking regime starts by thoroughly cleansing the stall prior to milking, pre-treating the utter with iodine and using an bacterial disinfectant after milking.goatIt’s a very sterile system and I found out that most of their products have to be brought in from the United States, which makes me concerned about milking practices in Mexico. I will have to do some research on that. After we had enough milk, we were off to learn about cheese. 😀

Holly currently uses the goat milk to make yogurt, ricotta, chevre and feta. Here is the process for making fresh ricotta. Start with delicious and fresh goats milk that is STILL warm. Pour it through a filter to strain out any grass or fur. To make ricotta, Holly brings the milk to a temperature just below boiling and adds vinegar to help the curds separate from the whey. After separating the curds from the whey, the ricotta is placed in cheesecloth to remove excess moisture.making cheseMaking ricotta was SO easy! I feel like I could be Little Miss Muffet someday and make my own goats cheese. 😀

One of the batches that finished was then mixed with butter for us to try! Yum! We were also able to try the whey, which is the liquid portion of the milk. It was warm and sweet, plus whey is an excellent source of protein!drinking wheyHolly did not demonstrate the process of making chevre, since it does require specific cultures and more preparation, BUT she did bring out a sample of chevre rolled in fresh herbs for us to try. It is like a very flavorful cream cheese. Served on a sesame cracker, it was the perfect combination of salty, creamy and crunchy. Divine!goat cheeseAfter playing with the goats and learning a bit about husbandry, we were ready for lunch. We had vegetarian tacos with homemade corn tortillas, eggplant, tomatillo salsa, guacamole and fresh ricotta. 🙂lunchIn the afternoon, I had plenty of time to hit the beach. 😀img_7799After a beautiful beach day, we all gathered around to cook dinner. I also learned a lot about scorpions today. A little boy at the ranch was stung by a scorpion today while in the shower. They had to run him to the nurse for a shot of anti-venom. He was SO brave! I learned that the yellowish-brown scorpions are the most dangerous and this experience has cautioned me to look twice before stepping into my shoes or crawling into bed at night. Yikes!

I also learned about this CREATURE that was living behind my dresser.img_7729He may look scary, but he is a actually a scorpion killer. I named him Chauncy and wished him “buen provecho” each night on his venture to find and eat scorpions. 😛

Wednesday morning we were off to meet a local in the community who specialized in adobe brick making. We started the day with some green eggs and oatmeal. 😀 The scrambled eggs were mixed with a pesto sauce prior to serving. Yum!pesto eggs and oatmealWe showed up at his house unannounced and the man was so incredibly hospitable. At around 90-years-old, this man can still make around 150 adobe bricks each day! Our group leader Eric had asked him if he wanted something in return for his hospitality, like food or money. With limited material possessions, living in a small shack in the mountains, he replied, “What more could I ever need?” His response was more than humbling and definitely made me reflect on our need to always want bigger and better. Here is a man that is completely happy and satisfied with his life. 🙂img_7819Now let’s get back to the brick making. To begin, you must first make the clay, which is a combination of dirt, sand and water.
After mixing the ingredients and shoveling the clay into a wheel barrel, the clay scooped out and packed into brick molds. He even let us help pack a few of the molds. After the molds are set, they are left to dry for 3-5 days depending on the climate and sun.brick makingNear his house we were also able to view petroglyphs, which are rock engravings. These are supposed to represent three suns and there are different speculations about the meaning and origin of the carvings. The rock carvings are surrounded by lush vegetation and a natural stream. We even found a coati skull.skullBy the way, this is a coati.

Coati_roux_Amiens_4After a great morning, we headed back to the ranch because Wednesday night was also Christmas Eve! 😀

We spent the night dining at El Rinconcito, which is a hotel located a few blocks from the ranch. The hotel staff and guests had spent the whole day cooking over 300 tamales! There would be 60 guests at this potluck dinner and the tamales would be the star on the menu! 😀dsc_0113Tamales are made using a mixture of corn flour and lard that is spread across a corn husk and filled with a variety of ingredients.tamalestamalesThese tamales were filled with either roasted pork, or cheese and pepper.tamaleOnce filled, they are placed in a pot to steam-cook. tamale2People began showing up for the potluck around 6PM. A few retired foreigners from Oregon began playing Celtic Christmas music and dancing. Their family had strong Irish roots. Such a beautiful mix of cultures coming together to share a meal.christmas dinnerDinner guests included volunteers at Rancho Sol y Mar, patrons at El Rinconcito, family members of the hotel, and of course their furry friends. 🙂christmas dinner5My friend Patrick even snuck a picture of me on my phone messaging my mom before dinner. He said I looked sad and almost like someone waiting for the bus stop. Hah. I told him it was my first Christmas away from home and it felt a little strange. Internet has also been very unreliable, so it was one of the few times I was able to message my parents. Family, know that I love you and miss you dearly!dsc_0121Before dinner I snuck down to the beach to watch the sunset. Prepare to be amazed!beach2beach
Dinner was an incredible assortment including Spanish rice, roasted goat, beans, ceviche and tamales. The meat was so succulent, I am actually salivating as I recollect this meal. It was that amazing!christmas dinner2If anyone left room for dessert, we had chocolate coconut pie and apple crumble, among many others.img_7872These guests come from all over and it was wonderful to be able to share a meal with a bunch of new friends during the holidays. Lots of laughing and dancing. What a wonderful night!img_7858Thursday was Christmas and we spent the morning talking about permaculture. I had a nice cup of coffee and watched the rain come down during our meeting.morningPermaculture is sustainable agriculture. We just briefly skimmed the surface of this topic, but I found it very empowering and eye-opening. They always say, knowledge is power! 😀

After our talk, the sun came out and we were able to walk about the a bit of the property. Here is their new yoga platform. Check out that view!ranch3The knobs on this tree are supposed to possess curative properties when used correctly. Luckily, I am not suffering from any ailments other than bug bites and didn’t need to try it out! Hah.plantsHere is the property where our group leader Eric plans to build his house using natural materials. I can’t wait to see it’s completion!natural buidlingFor lunch I had a delicious jicama, cabbage, and carrot salad topped with tuna. Very light and refreshing! Jicama is a Mexican turnip.img_7902After lunch we learned about how to make chocolate by grating cacao and cooking the shavings with oil and coconut milk. Yum!img_7903Later we headed down to the ADORABLE fishing village of Tehuamixtle. I sorta look like I am giving the shark a dental exam. Open wide! 🙂oysters2Once in town, everyone sat down for a round of beers and seafood.oysters3Check out those oysters. So fresh!oystersThe gang listened to music and gazed upon the ocean. In my opinion, it was the PERFECT Christmas afternoon! :DThat was, until I ran into this little bugger on my way back. He was going out for blood and I was happy to make it across his path with all my toes. Hah! 😛img_7813Afterwards, we prepped for a huge Christmas dinner. I’ll be honest, a lot of my time at the ranch was spent preparing meals in the kitchen. That being said, it was an absolutely wonderful gathering place. When you aren’t at the beach, this is the place to joke, talk and laugh. The kids from Canada learned a lot about cooking and all of our meals have been incredibly nutritious!img_7802For dinner, I helped cook Brussels sprouts with bacon and mashed potatoes. It takes a lot of elbow grease to mash when you don’t have electric appliances! Other stars on the menu included Elijah’s string beans and Stephanie’s homemade stuffing with sausage. christmas dinner3For dinner, we invited one of the guests from El Rinconcito who actually owned a few successful restaurants in San Francisco. He sure knows how to grill a mean steak!christmas dinner4By 8 PM, we were ready to dig in!10885426_10152894039505586_8894521358978342907_nHere is a new guest from Guadalajara. She is originally from Germany and teaches both English and German. She is such a lovely person with a joyful spirit.chistmas dinner5
Since the ranch runs on solar energy, we usually loose power around 9PM and quiet time starts at 10PM; however, after a long day at the ranch and a heapful of this sweet potato pie, staying up UNTIL 10PM would be a struggle! Hah.img_7947Friday was a sad morning, since we had to say goodbye to the families from Canada. We will miss all 11 of them, but know they have an amazing journey ahead. One family will still be traveling for 6 months before returning back to Canada. Such a great experience for their kids.img_7948After saying our good-byes, I made a delicious breakfast of cinnamon raisin oatmeal and we were off to meet the medicine man. 🙂 Today we met a local medicine man who talked to us about numerous local plants and their health benefits.img_7949I tried a few leaves that had anti-parasitic properties. The leaves were kind of salty. No side effects so far. 🙂img_7950These leaves are helpful for numerous ailments including a sore throat, skin wounds and even kidney problems. This plant, when boiled into a tea, is very helpful for diabetic patients. The plants all looked incredibly similar, so I would NOT recommend going out and randomly eating a bunch of leaves in your garden. You might have some pretty gnarly side effects! Hah.img_7952After learning about medicinal plants, we went to collect COCONUTS! 😀img_7951These green coconuts offer a tasty water to drink and a soft flesh to eat. These brown coconuts are a great for coconut milk and oil.coconuts2After collecting coconuts, we took a machete to chop them up for a snack. We first cut off the top to drink the juice.coconut3Then we cut them open to eat their flesh. So sweet and delicious!PicMonkey CollageAfter returning home, I spent the afternoon cooking dinner and also witnessed the most beautiful sunset! Picture perfect!IMG_7968sunsetFor dinner, I cooked lentil burger patties, which got quite a few compliments. Hah! *pats self on back* 🙂

These are boiled lentils mixed with jerk seasoning, fresh cilantro and flour formed into balls and cooked in olive oil. I ate mine with a liberal serving of ketchup! 😀img_7978Saturday morning was my final day at the ranch. We started with a delicious breakfast of homemade granola, fruit and fresh goat’s yogurt.breakfast2Today we took those brown coconuts and began turning them into coconut oil. Here is the process. First, you have to cut through the shell to get to the coconut. Here is a short demo video:

Next you have to grate the coconut, which takes a lot of time. It really makes me appreciate the delicious coconut oil! After grating, you mash the coconut shreds with water and drain off the excess to get coconut milk. Later, you cook the coconut milk for around 2 hours until you are left with coconut oil. It was very time consuming, but the fresh coconut oil was absolutely AMAZING! The oil can be used in any cooking recipe and has an extraordinarily high cooking temperature.coconutDuring this lengthy process, we did take a break for tea time. 🙂 This was my first time trying yerba mate, which is a popular herb blend in South America.teaIt was also my first time trying noni juice. Noni is a superfruit with lots of antioxidants, but the taste and smell are supposed to be EXTREMELY unpleasant. Here is a video of my noni experience. :p

After a busy morning, we stopped for a hearty lunch of eggplant curry, cucumber yogurt and salad. lunch2

After lunch, I hit the beach for the last time. On the bright side, we ended the day with pizza night. Here is fresh sundried tomato ricotta cheese. 🙂pizza2pizza3After some delicious pizza and Frank Sinatra tunes, we headed over to El Rinconcito for my last night. I had a great time chatting with everyone there. By this time, they all knew me by name. Some were retired foreigners, others were resident Mexicans, but we all sorta of felt like family after this week.

For around $20/night, I learned so much at the ranch. They taught me a lot of knowledge, which was very empowering and they are all incredibly down-to-earth.

Mayto is such a heartwarming environment surround by striking natural beauty. I can’t wait to return, so no worries there. 🙂
img_8021This morning I was a little unsure how I was getting back to Puerto Vallarta, since there are no buses from Mayto.

Luckily, my friend Patrick was able to find a family traveling to Puerto Vallarta today and I was able to hitch a ride with them!I rode in the back with their two 17-year-old daughters. The father was so cute and kept telling me how he wished his car was bigger, so that we could have more room. So sweet. I was just fine back there and had an incredible view of the jungle as we drove back to Puerto Vallarta. 🙂ridePlus I was able to snap a shot of the ocean sunrise before we left. 🙂img_8018They were all super friendly on our 3-hour ride back and refused to take any money, but I did give them a jar of homemade coconut oil for their kindness. 🙂

Now I am in Puerto Vallarta, which is in stark contrast to Mayto. It is a crazy city with lots of people and parties.

That being said, my motive for coming to Puerto Vallarta is slightly different. 🙂img_8048That’s right, I am getting my PADI scuba dive certification. Woo Hoo! The next four days will be a blast and I can’t wait to update you along the way. Tonight I will be buckling down to complete the scuba readings, quizzes and watch the DVD’s.

I am staying at Bed and Pizza Hostel, which will become my studying hub.

Things are off to a riveting start. I went in for soap after using the restroom and accidentally mistook the air freshener for the soap. Haha. I got a nice spray of perfume directly in the eyes. Splendid.img_8049Hopefully there are no more mishaps and I can finally hit the books. Goodnight everyone! Until next time!

FYI: Here is the information for Rancho Sol y Mar if you are ever interested in staying at the ranch. Cheers! 🙂img_7981

www.ranchosolymar.com

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