Image Source: El Patio 77
A stray dog scampers by on the search for food. I get an apprehensive sideways glance, her belly straining against her unborn pups. The sun leaves behind beams of light in the haze as it retreats behind the crumbling façade of a once beautiful building. Perhaps I have come to take the comforts and relative security of my home in Northern California for granted but this city, with its panhandling street children and ubiquitous police sirens, makes me long for home. If it were not for the business trip that brought me here, I probably would not have come. The warnings about the ever-increasing violence in Mexico from friends and family are ever-present in my thoughts, making me question my choice to extend my stay for a day of sight-seeing. But my whole perspective is about to change.I reach a large iron door. This is what I have been looking for, exactly as it was described. I ring a doorbell and moments later the door pushes open giving way to a luscious courtyard and the friendly face of Diego Le Provost. He greets me with a firm handshake and we go inside. I have come to El Patio 77, billed as Mexico City's first eco bed and breakfast. Located in Mexico City's San Rafael neighborhood, it is a refreshing and welcoming enclave in surroundings that seem alien and dangerous to me.
I discovered El Patio 77 by entering Mexico City Eco Hotel into a Google search. I had already emitted 624 kg of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere with my 3762 mile round-trip flight, so why not stay in an environmentally-friendly hotel? El Patio 77 began its environmental journey last year when Diego and his partner purchased this 19th-century building and restored it into the magnificent home that it is today.
So many "eco hotels" are constructed from the ground up, filled with technological solutions, and cards asking you to reuse your towels. The environmental attributes of El Patio 77 are as much about what it doesn't have as what it has.
Timbers from the original structure were recovered and made into designer furniture by El Patio 77's craftsman-in-residence. The floor of the covered courtyard where breakfast is served is made from wood used at construction sites and inlaid with LED lights. The rooms, which are each uniquely decorated and feature high boveda brick ceilings, do not have television sets. And who really needs to watch TV in a fascinating city like Mexico City?
Given the extreme water scarcity facing Mexico City, it is not a surprise that El Patio 77 features an innovative graywater system that treats and reuses shower and sink water to flush toilets. Shower water is also heated by two solar water heaters on the roof.
My room features ceramic folk art figures that I wish I could have taken home. The lighting consisted of four elegant bare bulbs suspended from the ceiling. Each bulb is surrounded by a swarm of faux butterflies, tethered by thin wires. When the light switch is toggled off for the night these butterflies gently glow in the dark as you drift off in the comfortable bedding.
In the mornings you are treated to an excellent breakfast. I received two Mexican pancakes topped with a fruit pico de gallo made from in-season mango, papaya and cantaloupe. The breakfast was rounded out by mango juice and freshly brewed coffee, all served with a smile.
I spent the better part of my day exploring the pyramids at Teotihuacan as part of an organized tour, returning to El Patio 77 at dusk. I was exhausted from seven hours of sight-seeing but I was determined to see a bit more of the city. I left the comfort of the hotel and walked several miles across Paseo de la Reforma and Chapultepec to the Roma Norte neighborhood. I had a great dinner and walked back in the warm evening air past street vendors and strolling couples.
Back at the hotel I settled in for a short night before I needed to head to the airport for an early morning flight home. Now I was wishing that I had more time to explore. My fears of being robbed, killed or held for ransom turned out to be completely overblown. While an abundance of caution and common sense is still recommended I felt much safer than I had expected and would encourage anyone to visit Mexico City and El Patio 77.
Pablo Päster is a weekly columnist for TreeHugger.com, an experienced greenhouse gas engineer and the Senior Environmental Program Manager at Hara Software. Send your questions to Pablo(at)TreeHugger.com or submit the via this form and connect to his RSS feed.
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