"It's a magical place. There's a saying that the lake here just traps you,” says architect Samantha Calzada, who is also the designer and a co-owner of Azul Nomeolvides. Bacalar, where it is located, is a paradise near the Mexico-Belize border centered around life on a Caribbean-blue lake.
Aptly, those who live here also have an eye toward sustainability. The area is home to many natural treasures and has consciously avoided growing too fast. Calzada and her husband, photographer Bernardo Buendía Bosch, moved here in 2017 and opened the six cabins that make up Azul Nomeolvides a year later.
A mix of yesterday and today, with structural elements rooted in the past and sustainable practices focused on the future, the cabins were consciously constructed with love for the region and a way to immerse yourself in it. “You come to nature to connect to it, so the architecture has to reflect that. Architecture and nature are integrated,” says Calzada.
We connected with the couple to find out more their story, and about this magical property.
WHAT ARE YOU TWO DRAWN TO IN YOUR WORK?
Samantha Calzada: “I'm an architect who specializes in bioclimatic architecture and sustainability and I believe in architecture that really connects with people and their environment. One project I really loved was designing centers for both blind and deaf people - it's fascinating work and you have to dig deep to involve all the senses.”
HOW DO YOU CREATIVELY INVOLVE ALL THE SENSES IF ONE IS IMPAIRED?
SC: “Blind people can detect light, so you need to use it wisely to design a comfortable space. You can put a fountain in the middle of a building and aromatic plants throughout to serve as a compass and compass points. For deaf people, it's the opposite: you need much more open spaces so they can see what’s ahead. You don't want sharp corners or hard edges. It's just making something special for them to make their use of the architecture easier.”
WHAT ABOUT YOUR WORK, BERNARDO?
BB: “I do a lot of documentary stills, a little photojournalism, and I work a lot with the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico, photographing Mayan ruins that aren't open to the public or are in the middle of the jungle. After living completely “off the grid” for over four years in Bacalar, I’ve turned my lens toward the sustainable activities and ancient knowledge that can bring us closer to environmental awareness.”
HOW DID YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH BACALAR?
SC: "We're both from Tabasco but have lived all over Mexico. We'd been dreaming of doing some cabins in Oaxaca, because it was our favorite city here, and then eventually we came to Bacalar on vacation. The first time you go in the lake – it's huge – you honestly can't believe it. Bacalar is one of the last stops on the Mayan aquifer, before it goes out into the sea. So here, life sort of revolves around the water.
BB: "Bacalar itself is a Pueblo Mágico, a magical town, designated by a Mexican program to identify towns with history and protect their culture. It qualifies because it has a Spaniard fort from the 1800s that used to fight pirates that would come to raid and steal precious woods. It has a lot of Mayan culture and it's a village where many of its residents are actually from here. It's not like Tulum where the town came about rather recently.
TELL ME MORE ABOUT THAT, BECAUSE THERE ARE ARTICLES THAT SAY BACALAR IS "THE NEXT TULUM." HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT STATEMENT?
SC: “I think people say that Bacalar is the next Tulum because of how the Riviera Maya developed. Cancun was first, then in the Eighties and Nineties, Playa Del Carmen became the laid-back small town next to Cancun for people who wanted more of a hippie vibe. Playa del Carmen grew a lot and then Tulum was carved out of the jungle and became the new Bohemian place. And now that Tulum has developed so much, it’s logical for people to think that Bacalar is the next laid-back place to go to.
“We’re growing, but it’s not fast and there are order and laws. We are focused on a sustainable, conscious way of living. One reason why is that here we have stromatolites, which are cyanobacteria that leave behind a sediment product of their growth. They look like rocks, but they're alive, like coral. They produce a lot of oxygen and that's why we get the crystal-clear water. Very few places in the world have them, so we are very focused on protecting the environment. This is not a place to come to party."
HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR AZUL NOMEOLVIDES?
SC: “Well, we wanted to live here and we knew that the cabins were a way that would help financially support our creative projects. And we wanted to make something that was our own, a way of sharing why our way of living has turned to sustainability.
BB: “So, during that two weeks we stayed here, Bacalar had already caught us. We walked it all over, saw some properties, talked to people, and when we got to this place, we had to have it. It just called us. The land is up high and only about 20 meters from the water at the widest part of the lake - the view is beautiful from everywhere.”
SC: “And then it started to take shape, according to what we had in hand. We actually had a small mountain of local stones already on the land, so we used them as a building material. And the traditional housing here has gabled roofs, because here in Mexico, we have a lot of rain. Our design became an A-frame as a way to respect the local architecture, but a bit more modern. Also, it gives you very high ceilings, which creates a chimney effect where the wind comes in and the hot air goes through the top which is good because we don’t have AC – we produce our own electricity.”
BB: “Having no electricity was actually the grand challenge - there was nothing here when we got the land. So we had to build everything outside of the property, in a warehouse, for that reason, and also, so we wouldn’t affect the environment directly. Construction can be aggressive. We wanted to have a more respectful introduction of this property."
WHERE DOES THE NAME COME FROM?
SC: “Bacalar Lake is nicknamed ‘The Lagoon of Seven Colors,’ and when we first came, we made a game of asking 'Where are those colors?' Navy blue, baby blue, turquoise... and then we found out that Azul Nomeolvides is a shade of blue: it means ‘Forget-Me-Not blue,’ referencing the forget-me-not flower that also symbolizes 'eternal love'. Maybe a little corny [laughs], but it stuck.”
WE LIKE IT! HOW ARE EACH OF THE CABINS SIMILAR OR DIFFERENT?
SC: “We like to say to guests that they should stay in more than one cabin, because they all have their own personalities. One might have a more open feeling and another is more like a treehouse. We didn't want to have like a hotel of six rooms that were all the same.”
“And technically, Azul Nomeolvides is our house, so the decor came from things we already had: furniture and Mexican crafts, masks. They came from our travels in Oaxaca the central area in Mexico - Chiapas and San Miguel.”
WE HEARD THAT YOU HAVE A LOVE FOR THE DESIGN OF VERANA. IS THAT TRUE?
SC: “Yes! We have always looked up to it. It was one of our inspirations actually. We have such an appreciation for the artsy, special and attention to detail, and hope to go see it one day.”
HAVE YOU HAD ANY GUESTS FROM BOUTIQUEHOMES?
BB: “Yes! Some Californians that were so cool - they actually extended their stay by three nights and ended up trying three different cabins.”
WHAT IS A PERFECT DAY AT AZUL NOMEOLVIDES?
SC: “It starts with the sunrise on the lakeside, you can actually see the spectacle from your bed. The sound of nature waking up with daylight will accompany you while you take a good cup of coffee (or tea) on your terrace overseeing the lake turning turquoise as the sunshine bathes the water. Relax on your comfy hammock, take your favorite book and read, enjoying the silence of being far from the city. Take a deep breath and dive into the lake, swim for a while and relax on one of our floating platforms or take a kayak to explore the area. Have a fresh cocktail and a coconut ceviche and finish your day wandering the lake on a private sailboat that will take you to the most amazing places with a beautiful sunset finish.”
To book a stay at Azul Nomeolvides, click here.
Photos by: Bernardo Buendía Bosch