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Coasting along the Costalegre: Cuixmala, the Soul’s Resting Place December 26, 2013

Posted by Tracy in : ecotourism, Healing retreats, Latin America, Mexico, Nature tourism, Sustainability, Uncategorized , trackback

La Loma

Part 4 of a series

This fairyland of Moorish-style villas scattered about on a 25,000-acre nature preserve was once the private hideaway of British multimillionaire-turned-conservationist Sir James Goldsmith. The late Goldsmith’s family decided to open the estate to guests and the low-profile, exclusive resort has been visited by the likes of Madonna and Tom Cruise.

I’d received an invitation to visit this off-the-map retreat center, or I’d never have known about it. Had we seen nothing else on our journey along the Costalegre, our escape to Cuixmala would have been well worth the trip.

I passed the entrance without noticing it, a simple unobtrusive caseta and a white gate against the entrance into the Cuixmala-Chamela Biosphere Reserve. Thankfully my name was on the list when I found it and inquired with the guards at the gate; they greeted me like a VIP and welcomed me into the inner sanctum, letting me pass with a police escort. No small thing, a visit to Cuixmala.

Alborada 1I was guided down a winding road some 10 minutes into the depths of the forest until I arrived at Alborada, a terra cotta-colored villa where a four-person staff outfitted in traditional, colorfully embroidered white stood waiting, ice-cold red hibiscus tea at the ready, just for us.

Alborada was like a dream, perched up on a ridge overlooking this vast Shangri La; to the west, miles of rolling, forest-covered hills and, in the distance, the distinctive dome of La Loma, the estate’s most elaborate villa, with the backdrop of the sea. Here at Alborada, however, there was plenty to while away the time: a spacious pool, a staff set to prepare every meal with meticulous care, and a lineup of activities that would take days to exhaust.

AvionAvion2Avion3Unfortunately, I only had one – so I had to choose wisely. Relaxation, I decided, would not be on the menu, as there was so much to do. I chose an airplane ride over the estate and surrounding forest, an evening boat ride through the mangroves to observe the birds and the gators and a morning trip to Bird Island with one of the reserve’s biologists. The bilingual pilot, Ernesto, who grew up on these lands as the son of a hacienda manager long before they were discovered by Goldsmith, took the passenger-side door off the brightly painted red-and-yellow craft and gave me a clear shot of the miles of spectacular coastline and verdant forest. As we lifted up over a coastal plain, a herd of zebras took off running through the tall grasses like a scene from Out of Africa – an imported whimsy of the late Goldsmith, who was fond of them.

AvesAs the sun began to drop in the sky, we headed down to the mangrove forest, where another local character, Ramón Ríos, awaited with his immaculate white boat. In near silence he guided us through a mysterious dark tunnel of vegetation, stopping from time to time to gesture toward what looked like a floating bit of log. Peering closer, a pair of eyes would emerge just above the water level, or a tail would flash and the apparent flotsam would vanish into the depths. As we emerged from the leafy tunnel into a clearing under an orange-hued sky, a trio of roseate spoonbills soared over our heads.

An exquisite candlelight dinner awaited us followed by a moonlight dip in the pool, which we had all to ourselves. Nothing could have been sweeter.

Bird Island 3Bird Island 1Bird Island 2The morning was filled with its own set of surprises; Pablo and Ramon accompanied us once again, this time to Bird Island, one of a dozen as-yet unspoiled, wildlife-rich islands off this pristine stretch of coast. Clambering up from a tiny pocket-sized beach we encountered dozens of mother brown boobies hidden along a network of trails. Some squawked and flapped protectively, letting us know we’d ventured too close to their tiny, fluffy white fledglings. Others were working furiously in tandem with their mates, collecting insects and feeding them to a ravenous furry baby nearly their own size. The island was literally aflutter with hundreds of these curious birds and we had come at just the right time to see them with their young.

Finally it was time to bring our brief stay to a close with a visit with Cuixmala’s guardians: Maria and Efren Campos.
Efren, director of operations for the retreat center as well as for the foundation, shared his passion for the wild and pristine sanctuary and his concerns about the pending development in a conversation over a luscious chef-prepared meal at Casa Gómez, the elegant yet homey restaurant on site here at Cuixmala. Meals at the restaurant, as with all the meals prepared at Cuixmala, are sourced with ingredients grown mostly on the onsite organic farm or on Cuixmala’s sister property near Colima, Hacienda de San Antonio – a whole story unto itself, but that’s for another day.

Efren, other family members, biologists and lawyers together with Sir James Goldsmith, have been a force for the preservation of these lands since the beginning, working hand in hand with Goldsmith and with local, state and national government officials to have it declared a biosphere reserve, one of the largest dry tropical forest reserves in the hemisphere. Maria is more immersed in the day-to-day operations of the villas and also the bilingual school created here, a lively space for creative learning that the Goldsmith family has created, not just for their children but for the children of the workers and the nearby villages. The children were gone on an outing when Maria showed us around the colorful, engaging place, where a bilingual selection of children’s creations were hung for display.
Efren and Maria

Before I left, Maria, being the kind and complete hostess that she is, asked me where my next stop would be. I had no idea, really; I’d planned to mosey on up the coast and find a hotel along the way. She had a better idea. She made a call for me and, lucky for me, put me in touch with one of the owners of Costa Careyes, Cuixmala’s sumptuous neighbor. We were in for one more night of luxury on the Jalisco coast.
Alborada 2


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