Meet the Owners Series: Jim Starkey and Maria Zache Starkey (Casita Limon) By: Stacey Elkins Will you please tell us your name and a little bit about yourself? We are Jim Starkey and Maria Zache Starkey (owners of vacation rental, Casita Limon). We have been together for 24 years, married for nine, and met at a punk bar. Jim was a photographer, journalist and director for a good-sized newspaper in the U.S. and has been a fine artist (oil paintings) all of his life. Jim paints many scenes of Sayulita and his work can currently be seen at Libreria Sayulita on Miramar. Maria worked for many years at fine art galleries before finally working in her degree field of political science (urban planning) as part of a community organizing team at a neighborhood association in an historic district, our former neighborhood. We did a massive down-sizing two + years ago and now live in a downtown condominium in an 1875 brick building. We drive each winter from the Midwestern United States with two cats and a dog (who Sara from SayulitAnimals matched us with) about 3,200 miles. We love seeing the sights in Mexico and the U.S. along the way and feel that traveling by car through the many ecosystems is a much more human method of making the transition each year. We have both done volunteer work with and for the amazing Sayulita organizations Pro Sayulita and SayulitAnimals, as well as work with Sayulita Life and Sayulita Magazine. The past two winters Maria has also helped to make mattresses for local, indigenous children from plastic grocery bags; this is an amazing project started in Sayulita by the tireless efforts of Carolina and Fernando Lazaro. What is it about Sayulita that made you want to buy a vacation rental here and how long after your first visit to Sayulita did you purchase your house/lot? We always had in the back of our minds that we would “retire” somewhere warm and had thought for quite some time that would be in the Caribbean. Slowly it dawned on us that we could drive to Mexico and that Mexico offered way more culture than just about anywhere. Sayulita has that unquantifiable “thing.” During our first visit in April of 2005, Jim met Barry DuMont of Galeria Gypsy on Marlin. Barry really liked Jim’s artwork and suggested that we come back for a show at the store. We did so in December of that year and both started looking at property online. It was not our intent to buy; it just seemed so right. Barry suggested we look at property with Israel Preciado and we Fruit Truck in the plaza painting by Jim Starkeyended up being Israel’s first real estate sale when we purchased Casita Limon. “Back in the day,” it was: Visit Sayulita / Buy Land. Then it became: Visit Sayulita / Buy a House. There are many, many stories around town from foreign owners (many of whom are now our friends) who purchased after their first or second visit to Sayulita. What is it about Sayulita? The people, the dogs, the roosters, the dirt and cobblestoned streets, the immediacy of life being lived, the beach, the ocean, the hills, the jungle, the food, the culture – we liked everything about Sayulita. There was also the comfort of the foreign community and being neighbors with like souls. I’m sure that over time, the influx of foreign owners has been at times challenging for the long-time national residents; this community has certainly changed Sayulita and not all change is good. Did you build or remodel your home? If so, please tell us one of the classic "you won't believe this" stories. We have added a second floor to our Sayulita home and several years later, added another room to the new floor. (Our house is now a duplex and we live on the second floor when in Sayulita.) Working with the Mexican architect and craftsmen was a delight, but we encountered a surprise when we first went to obtain the building permit."Your property is too small to build a home on". What? Our house is already there! When our property was divided and the first building completed, the minimum lot size was smaller. They did give us the new permit and in effect, “grandfathered” our house in. How long have you owned your home in Sayulita? We bought our home in 2005. Can you share with us some of the changes you have seen around town? Sayulita is cleaner, busier and more comfortable. Within one hundred yards of our home there are more than a dozen new structures. Because our neighborhood is hilly, it doesn't seem crowded. The beach is way busier. There used to be only one chair rental; now they cover much of the main beach. What in particular made you decide on this house rather than other listings available at the time? We loved the traditional architecture, the location, and an affordable price. Israel took us to see some other lots and we both kept saying: “What about that small brick house?” We hadn’t realized that the other had been looking at the same house online! Maria likes to joke that we would not have had the opportunity to buy our house had the real estate photos been better. They were taken in the middle of the afternoon and made the house look very hot when it is really much more like an oasis. Another couple (who had stayed at the very same Sayulita vacation rental unit right before us, coincidentally) hemmed and hawed too long about whether this was the right decision / investment for them. Maria can remember lying under the Christmas tree that December looking up at the lights and ornaments, after our offer had been accepted and we had made the non-refundable deposit. Jim asked: “Are we doing the right thing?” Maria answered: “Do you ever really know? You just follow your heart and go.” We’ve heard many similar stories from homeowners in Sayulita. How would you describe the neighborhood your vacation rental is in? Our neighbors are divided equally between established Mexican households, rental properties owned by foreigners who visit occasionally, and owner-occupied rentals. Who is the most interesting guest you have hosted at your home? We had a delightful several-time renter who rescued an opossum that some workmen had thrown into the street. She took the animal and gave it a Reiki treatment. The grateful animal revived and went on his way. What are your favorite things to recommend your guests do while in Sayulita? Everyday things take on more enjoyment. A walk through town, sitting in the square, a trip to the store, an afternoon at the beach or dinner on a street-side table can all be an adventure. What do you feel sets your house apart from other vacation rentals in Sayulita? Although our casita is a short walk to the square and the beach, it is in a quiet and private setting. Many guests appreciate the traditional Mexican architecture, the lush garden and fountain, and that we’ve kept the modern conveniences to a minimum. We do offer wifi, but not TV or telephone, providing a true chance to unplug, if so desired. What advice do you have for someone searching for a home/land in Sayulita? Look for property or homes that aren't automobile or golf cart dependent. This is a walkable town. Enjoy it. Don't add to the congestion and spend your time and energy finding a place to park. Follow your heart. Encore Story Published about owner Jim Starkey: AFTER A CELEBRATED CAREER AS A PHOTOJOURNALIST, THIS ENCORE RETURNED TO HIS FIRST LOVE -- PAINTING As a youngster, Jim Starkey’s father was as apt to ask him not only “What happened in school today?,” but also “So, do you think you’ll ever amount to much?” He chuckles good-naturedly. “I don’t know if I have,” he answers, “but that idea of being worthwhile has always stuck and I don’t mean financially.” Meet a guy who earned his first dollar working as a pre-teen in a carnival and lost his mother at 17 and his father just five years later. By then, Jim was already an old hand at the newspaper business, as he started shooting photos as a “stringer” for his hometown newspaper in Downer’s Grove, Illinois while still in high school. But even as he completed a journalism degree at the University of Missouri and went to work at a career that spanned 37 years at The Grand Rapids Press (The Press), Jim kept one hand on the artist’s palette, leaning on classes he had taken not only through community education programs, but at the esteemed Art Institute of Chicago. He and his photo staff won awards during the 1970s and 1980s that garnered The Press national attention on numerous occasions. And these days, he still loves shooting black and white images that capture people and their personalities. What he’s accelerated since retiring from The Press in 2007, though, is his art – vibrant paintings that capture the work and whimsy of everyday people both here in Michigan and in the Mexican village of Sayulita, where he and wife Maria own a year-round casita. “When I was little, I made a lot of art on my own. I remember getting copies of “Arizona Highways” and I would sketch those photos with pastels -- the cacti and the sunsets and the highways.” As he matured, Jim realized that “I wasn’t enough of a go-getter to make a living at art…so I became a photographer.” During news meetings, he remembers “making little scales where I would grade places on their scenery, the food, how easy it was to get there and are the girls pretty. And after my first time to Sayulita, its score always ended up higher than anywhere else.” A bit of a maverick even at an early age, Jim appreciated a paint-by-number set given to him by his grandparents, but he ignored the number scheme in favor of laying in his own colors wherever he wanted. That technique persisted some, as his paintings reflect intense color, contrast and texture. While he and Maria winter in their Mexican haven, they also keep a place above the old Peck’s drugstore building in Grand Rapids at the northeast corner of Monroe Center and N. Division Avenue. They live above Jim’s studio, which doubles as a gallery he shares with other artists – a lively scene where passersby can watch artists in action while pondering a purchase or discussing a commissioned work. “Have you ever been to an art gallery where people are working?” Jim asks. “There aren’t a lot of places like that. And we really enjoy talking to people; we’re even a little giddy about it.” Of course, given the fact they’re located in the hub of downtown Grand Rapids, not everyone stops in for the sake of art. Every now and then, says Jim, someone comes in and asks, “Say, do you have some quarters for the meter?” ABOUT ENCORE Encore is a burgeoning national movement created to tap the skills and experience of those in midlife and beyond to improve communities and the world. Encore sets out to define this new stage of life. An Encore can combine work, service and social impact. Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s Encore is leading the way in Kent County by seeking to inspire individuals in their 50s and beyond to engage in meaningful work and service that makes a difference. In addition, we seek to challenge organizations in our community to pave the way and increase their capacity for experienced talent by identifying innovative pathways and opportunities for service.