Tales: Riviera Maya By Bruce Bouchard: Shai and the Green Village: A treehouse sanctuary in the heart of Playa

Editor’s note: Bruce Bouchard, former executive director of The Paramount Theatre, and his partner Maureen McKenna Padula have traveled from Rutland to the Riviera Maya for the past three years. This series covers adventures, food, and testimonials from Vermont to the tropics.

This is a story about how the power and beauty of an eco-village in the jungle outside of Playa came to influence first the aesthetics and later the ethos and spiritual direction of a special destination in this tourist mecca, The Green Village, and the story of the two men who made it happen.

But, first, let’s back up… The primary character in this story is the single-named Shai. After four years of serving in the Israeli military (mandatory service), Shai, at age 22, set out to travel to the U.S. and Latin American countries. He quickly adapted to the vibe and the culture of many Latin countries, but when he arrived in Playa del Carmen in 2006, he had found his new home. He set up shop selling cosmetics on the storied Fifth Avenue, working with a friend from Israel, Ran, on the sales staff. During his time in Playa, Ran had perused an investment opportunity and was the owner of a four-story townhouse on Calle 20 (central Playa), a multi-unit rental property in the rapidly growing tourist destination. It was called The Green Villa. Over the years of successfully running the property up from 2016 to 2018, a dream began to emerge about changing the business model from a straight-up business rental property into something more, a combined hostel or hotel with wider community-based offerings.

During this period, Ran took Shai to a place he had discovered just out on the northwestern edge of Playa, in the jungle: an ecological off-the-grid village, an evolved community with homes and shared structures conceived and built out of the natural habitat and informed by Mayan rituals. It was clearly a “sanctuary place.” This collective of evolved thinkers named their pueblo Sacbe, Mayan for “Lime Road.” In the Mayan Civilization, the roads were constructed out of limestone, which was illuminated by the moon, allowing for travel both by day and by night between their cities. It was evident that highly skilled builders and artisans had dug deeply into their imaginations to “build and decorate” both indoor and outdoor buildings, common spaces, and private dwellings. It was as if, like the fauna of the jungle, the buildings had grown through the jungle floor from seeds planted by the Maya.

An idea evolved: to bring this place of sanctuary, this vibe of Sacbe, into the city. The Green “Villa” was to be re-branded The Green “Village.” Ran was at a point where, in order to achieve this dream, he needed investors. Shai was invited in, and he readily accepted, and their shared passion for a new model, both physically and emotionally, was now about to become a reality. Shai followed by bringing in another two investors. With capital now secured, plans began slowly to emerge, and the buildout began in earnest just before the pandemic. 

By Bruce Bouchard
The front door was crafted in India.

There was another event at Sacbe that was to shape Shai’s future. He had discovered that regular “healing place” ceremonies, called Temazcals, were offered at Sacbe. Conducted without stimulants or substances, these hot rock “cleansings” were curated inside of a tightly confined yurt, utilizing the four elements (earth, water, wind, and fire), and were fashioned to rid demons and blockage in the service of enlightenment. With a long-term relationship ended, Shai was confronted with some difficult challenges. His Temescal cleansing was profoundly freeing and led to an entirely new way of being. He had breakthroughs in physical and mental wellbeing, he began practicing yoga, eating carefully and mindfully, and even committed to walking barefoot at all times (my tender feet cringe at the thought), transforming himself like the transformation of the building — and was ever more committed to helping move the new project through to the finish line.

By Bruce Bouchard
Pack, lead artisan, at Green Village in the heart of Playa.

Building and expanding the hotel commenced. Highly talented artisans were engaged, and the concept, born of their time at Sacbe (sustainable construction incorporating elements from the habitat), was now about to become a reality. The Green Village construction and renovation evolved as imagined: a hostel, an apartment rental facility, expanding the number of beds, and the first steps toward realizing the community meeting place. The four-story winding staircase in the center of the building was transformed into a tree-house staircase. A stunning entry door, made in India, was granted to them by a Sacbe resident and became the much-admired new front door of the Green Village. Decorative marvels inspired by the jungle began to appear on walls and behind the bar in the new, expanded kitchen, punctuating door frames and windows throughout. Traction and propulsion kicked in and helped the partnership through the period of Covid. An organization, The Yoga Group, approached Shai about a residency. The roof, with its wonderful views, had been transformed into an outdoor classroom, which was a perfect fit for the two entities, and yoga classes were instituted by masters from Canada, Russia, Italy, Mexico, and elsewhere. Other classes quickly followed: dance (salsa and ecstatic dancing), sound therapy, tantra, etc. Weekly films were added, screened onto the wall across from the kitchen. and the newly branded Green Village emerged from Covid as a vibrant “community place”—truly a place of sanctuary. 

By Bruce Bouchard
The “guardian” of The Garden at Green Village stands guard.

The full effect of the inside of the Green Village today is that of a townhouse renovated into a tree house, with the entry level functioning much like a warm ground floor of a home: a front door registration desk, a Japanese garden to the left of the entry, a kitchen, a dining room, lounging areas, libraries, and even a small indoor wading pool — all areas adorned with decorative touches inspired by the homes and common places in Sacbe.

In addition to the expansion of the facility and the added classes, the village became a home for students traveling abroad, with annual groups from Denmark filling the facility to capacity. Shai hopes to capitalize on this new energy and attract small conferences to the village. One thing is for certain: it will be a vibrant future for the many-faceted Green Village.

By Bruce Bouchard
Interior common space at Green Village sets the right mood.

Having now spent time with Shai, including a trip to Sacbe in the jungle two weeks ago, I know him to be an egalitarian man of the people, a seeker, a conduit—in possession of a fine, elastic mind and a wisdom beyond his years. Yet another terrific new friend, with years more to come.

Author’s note: Should you find your way to Playa del Carmen, be certain to stop at the Green Village, have a seat with a juice drink, absorb the vibe, and say hello to Shai, “from Bruce, in Vt.”

By Bruce Bouchard
The Green Village yoga tribe smiles and poses as a group.

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