Mike Airhart met his wife Aileen five years ago, when they were both working as English teachers in South Korea. In 2012, they decided to leave their old lives behind and embark on the adventure of a lifetime. After liquidating their assets, the couple moved to a small town in southern Mexico and began building a boutique beachside resort from the ground up.
After over two years of design and construction, Gecko Rock Resort opened for business in late 2014. Located on the breathtaking Oaxacan Riviera, between the surfing mecca of Puerto Escondido and the high-end tourist destination of Huatulco, Gecko Rock offers a relaxing, intimate getaway in an unforgettable paradise. With four casitas, each equipped with private rooftop balconies, the resort provides a unique brand of personal attention and service. While sipping margaritas by the pool is always enjoyable to pass the time, for those wishing to get out and explore, the Puerto Escondido region offers some of the world’s best snorkeling, horseback riding, and mountain bike adventures.
To learn more the resort and the hidden oasis of the Oaxacan Riviera, visit www.geckorockresort.com.
What was your childhood like, and how did it shape who you are today?
I grew up on the outskirts of a small town and so, while my friends and I certainly played our fair share of ColecoVision and Nintendo, we spent much of our free time building forts and playing in the woods. My parents weren’t travelers, but they definitely encouraged us to find entertainment within our own imaginations rather than on the television. I think that a big factor from back then that still sits with me today is the value of money and hard work. From a very young age, my sister and I were given lists of chores to do if we wanted extra spending money. Of course, sometimes we would be given a few bucks just because, but in general, if we wanted something special between our birthday or Christmas we were taught to work and save up for it.
What was it that initially drew you towards the Puerto Escondido region?
The year before Aileen and I met, I spent two months backpacking around Mexico, from the U.S. border all the way down to Chiapas (near Guatemala) and back. During this trip, I spent some time on the Oaxacan coast and fell in love with this part of the world and Mexico in general. It sounds cliché, but I kind of knew that one day I’d wind up living here.
What inspired the design of Gecko Rock Resort?
Aileen did most of the design work, as that is one of her fortes, but honestly a lot of the design was a work in progress that we just kind of figured out as we went along. We knew we wanted a gorgeous pool and a comfy palapa area to be the centerpiece of the resort and just kind of went from there. We didn’t have blueprints for the property as a whole, just construction drawings for the individual structures.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during construction of the resort?
The biggest challenge by far was construction itself. Building is tiring work and, along with the physical exhaustion, you quickly run into decision fatigue because every day you have to make decisions that are pretty permanent, particularly when you are building with brick and concrete.
If you were to turn back the clock to the beginning of the design and construction process, would you do anything differently?
I think that with any project like this there are a million little things you’d change but life doesn’t work that way and hindsight is 20/20 no matter what decisions you make, but no, there aren’t any major changes that we would make with regards to design/construction. There are changes we’d make with regards to marketing/advertising but even that is always going to be an evolving guess and check process.
What was the most exciting or rewarding aspect of building and opening Gecko Rock Resort?
At this point the most rewarding aspect is simple, to walk around the property and see people having the best vacation and just think, “Wow, we really did it.” The most exciting part is that soon(ish), we’ll have successfully set up a lifestyle for ourselves that where we don’t have to work all year.
When it comes to marketing your resort, what methods have you had the most success with?
Honestly, every single paid advertising attempt has failed miserably. Word of mouth has been huge. We had several couples find us in year one and liked it so much they came back again this season with three more couples to rent out the whole place. Reddit has also been huge for us. In terms of online bookings, we get more reservations from people who read our story on Reddit than anywhere else, even more than TripAdvisor. At this point, we are done paying for advertising. Our new philosophy is to invest that money into making sure every guest we have has an unforgettable time and can’t wait to tell all their friends about us.
What are your long-term goals with Gecko Rock?
Our long-term goal is to build a clientele of return customers who come back every year. That way, every single guest we have will eventually be a friend of ours. We aren’t doing this to get rich, we’re doing this to have an awesome lifestyle and have fun in paradise.
What does a typical day look like for you and Aileen?
With a business such as this, there really is no such thing as a typical day. When we’re booked, Aileen is more or less busy in the kitchen from dawn to dusk and I am taking care of the guests. When we’re not booked, there is always some sort of maintenance that needs to be taken care of as well as shopping and preparing for our next booking. All the while, we’ve got to manage our online presence and answer customer-related emails as well as scheduling activities for our guests. Then, of course, some days all we do is lounge around in the pool and drink beer!
What’s the best meal you’ve had recently?
To me, our signature dish is Aileen’s Slow Roasted Sweet Chipotle Pork. She’s always kind enough to purchase extra meat whenever we serve it so that I can have some, too. For dessert, I am torn between our carrot cake or New York cheesecake.
Which professional athletes have you most enjoyed watching over the course of your life?
Right now, Richard Sherman. I love the way he plays tough on the field but displays exemplary intellect off the field. He talks trash, but he’s also a lot more humble and respectful of other players than the media gives him credit for. As a kid, I was a big fan of Larry Bird.
If you could change one thing about the world or society, what would it be?
The mistreatment of animals. There’s simply no excuse for taking your frustrations in life out on an innocent animal. Period.