This is a family truly needing little and giving much. Augustino Reyes is the family head. For generations, his family were hunters. When I asked Nichol, Augustino’s son, what they hunted, he said, “everything.” Their land is on the Pacific Ocean in southern Oaxaca, Mexico and includes beach front, but also an island, surrounded by a fresh water lagoon full of fish and iguana and crocodiles, birds and mangroves. On the island, there are deer and more birds and more iguana and countless other critters.
On their beach, the sea turtles come to lay their eggs. The Reyes family hunted the turtles. There was a turtle canning factory near La Ventanilla, so the hunting was not only for their own consumption. Turtle meat and turtle eggs were commodities. That is, until about twenty years ago when they were declared endangered and, thus, illegal to hunt or harm.
When their world changed, a man from the government who was a naturalist visited La Ventanilla and was inspired with the possibilities for eco-tourism on the Reyes’ land. Augustino listened and knew that he would be required to change if he was to keep his land. There would be others who saw possibilities and would offer him money for his land. If he didn’t take the initiative to make the changes to protect and repair what had belonged to his family for generations, someone else would develop and benefit.
Not a man, evidently, concerned with personal gain, a Cooperative was formed with eleven families who would work together to take care of the land and the animals. And to educate visitors who come to La Ventanilla for the experience of undeveloped beach land. Tours of the lagoon and island introduce visitors to a world of restoration and protection. Animals (like crocodiles in various stages of development and some other rescued birds and mammals being rehabilitiated) and a small museum are under the thatched roof where local artisans sell their wares and where Augustino’s wife, Lola, offers wonderful meals highlighted by fresh coconut milk and slightly sweet toasted coconut/corn tortillas. The Cooperative does not charge the vendors for space. It is another way that Augustino, who owns the island, is giving.
The Cooperative has a few employees who help with the tours and care for the land and animals. They also patrol the beach, every night of the year, protecting the turtles from poachers. When a turtle comes to shore to lay her eggs, the Cooperative members and employees harvest the eggs and bury them safely for 45 days until they hatch.
Then, they are released into the Gulf of Mexico, where one in one hundred will survive. It is a highlight of the afternoon tour to hold the little squirming, newly hatched turtles, then to watch them instinctively find the water. Education about poachers and endangered-ness is part of the experience.
Everyone lives simply at La Ventanilla. Electricity and running water are in every home. Televisions and cell phones are common (with poor reception). Vehicles are around, but used sparingly. The people there need little, it seems. They are content to continue to make their homes near the beach, raise chickens and hogs for food, and find ways to use every part of the coconuts that abound.
And they give a lot. They give to tourists from the cruise ships. To students from around the world. To turtles and crocodiles and deer. To the village. To the Cooperative. Augustino has successfully led his people in a transition from hunting and using to nurturing and restoring. His lifestyle is giving.