After 85 Days in Ecuador: 10 Things I Can Say

“No one ever became poor from giving.”

~ Anne Frank

Today,  Dana and I log our 85th day in Ecuador. The next three weeks will be a time of busy preparation and list checking before returning to the United States.

Anne Frank

Anne Frank

Today, we waded through the Ecuadorian bureaucracy of a successful visa extension, and during the hourlong drive home I reflected on a few things.

These are some things I’ve learned, come to understand, or believe even more because of our time here.

1. I don’t care what anyone says, … generally, most people in the world are good. I said most!

2. There’s a great irony in the notion that we spend a lifetime learning, and yet I’ve discovered that oftentimes, and in many different situations, the best attitude I can have is to be present in the moment, forgetting everything I ever thought I knew.

3. As much as I detest labels, on the liberal-conservative, left-right spectrum, I’m probably more of a leftist-liberal than ever, and for that, I make no apology. Three months in a third-world country causes me to believe even more that government’s role is to provide:

  •  creative reinvestment and philanthropic scenarios for the wealthy;
  • stability for the middle class;
  • opportunity, a safety net and support system for the poor.

4. Church is not a place you go, but rather an attitude you embrace, and it’s found wherever you are at a given moment in time.

5. The American educational system should require that students be at least bilingual, and preferably have fluency in even more than two languages.

6. Charity, and a charitable spirit, is a fine quality in a man or woman.

7. A smile, and a friendly pat on the back, speaks volumes between those who otherwise may not communicate so well. And between those who do, for that matter.

8. Fear absolutely can be eliminated from your life.

9. As much as I love to stand up for what I believe is right, it’s not necessarily always the best thing to do. Oftentimes, yes, Always, no. It’s tough.

10. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone use the cliché’, “it changed my life,” after an extended trip abroad, I’d be rich. I’ve always hated that cliché’. And the interesting thing about this time in Ecuador, well, of course, it’s changed my life.

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Saturday in Jipijapa

rainy season in ecuador

"The more a man reads, the more he realizes how much he doesn't know."

“The more a man reads, the more he realizes how much he doesn’t know.”

Dana Watkins in Ecuador

A small roadside waterfall.

A small roadside waterfall.

As I was climbing to the top of a hill for a shot of the jungle, these guys gave me a shout-out.

As I was climbing to the top of a hill for a shot of the jungle, these guys gave me a shout-out.

The strawberries here are delicious.

The strawberries here are delicious.

living in ecuador

Juan xxxiii movement

When a gringo walks down the street with a Nikon around his neck, everybody wants their photo taken. I obliged this local banana and plantain entrepreneur.

When a gringo walks down the street with a Nikon around his neck, everybody wants their photo taken. I obliged this local banana and plantain entrepreneur.

Carnival in Ecuador

The world stops when it’s Carnival in Ecuador.

It’s yet another time when nationals from all across the country descend on the coast for the four-day holiday, and many of them come to Puerto Cayo. It’s probably the busiest I’ve seen this town since our arrival.

And it is major, big-time hot here today.

Umbrellas everywhere. Why? Because on a sunny day like today at this latitude, 30 minutes in the sun can  send a fair-skinned gringo to the hospital.

Umbrellas everywhere. Why? Because on a sunny day like today at this latitude, 30 minutes in the sun can send a fair-skinned gringo to the hospital.

Carnival in Ecuador

We traded some snacks with these three young girls who were catching a little shade near our beach spot. Here's the thing about shade and shadows on the equator. From 11 a.m. to 1 or 2, shade is almost non-existent because the sun is directly overhead.

We traded some snacks with these three young girls who were catching a little shade near our beach spot. Here’s the thing about shade and shadows on the equator. From 11 a.m. to 1 or 2, shade is almost non-existent because the sun is directly overhead.

A new buddy who was kind enough to share a little lunch with me.

A new buddy who was kind enough to share a little lunch with me.

Carnival in Ecuador

This may not be so impressive to you, but when a stage like this goes up on the beach in Puerto Cayo, a serious (and very loud)  party is only hours away. Ecuadorians take their party music very seriously.

This may not be so impressive to you, but when a stage like this goes up on the beach in Puerto Cayo, a serious (and very loud) party is only hours away. Ecuadorians take their party music very seriously.

Carnival is a time when it's pretty much okay for young children to pull pranks... water guns, water balloons, etc. The diablitos (little devils) also purchase this colored foam to spray on unsuspecting victims.

Carnival is a time when it’s pretty much okay for young children to pull pranks… water guns, water balloons, etc. The diablitos (little devils) also purchase this colored foam to spray on unsuspecting victims.

Biggest hat on the beach.

Biggest hat on the beach.

Snowcones for 50 centavos. It always makes me think of the Tropical Sno stand in our home town where we often pay $5.

Snowcones for 50 centavos. It always makes me think of the Tropical Sno stand in our home town where we often pay $5.

Again, the importance of shade cannot be overstated, even if you're on the move.

Again, the importance of shade cannot be overstated, even if you’re on the move.

Our local restaurants are packed.

Our local restaurants are packed.

Road Signs of Ecuador

It’s a 20-mile drive from our home to the nearest “major town” in the Manabi province. And from our back door to Jipijapa we go from sea level to 2,500 feet in just a few miles.

I recently took note of the various road signs on this drive and how interesting they are. It’s an interesting commute….

Yes, the inclines are this steep.

Yes, the inclines are this steep.

Puerto Cayo Ecuador

Not to worry, but falling rocks or a mudslide could kill you on this drive.

Not to worry, but falling rocks or a mudslide could kill you on this drive.

For all my associates with the National Rifle Association: Please refrain from shooting the monkeys.

For all my associates with the National Rifle Association: Please refrain from shooting the monkeys.

Puerto Cayo Ecuador

Very typical.

Very typical.

Honestly, I have no idea what this means.

Honestly, I have no idea what this means.

See photo below.

See photo below.

See photo above.

See photo above.

Not a top had, but a speed bump - they are everywhere.

Not a top hat, but a speed bump – they are everywhere.

After a day like we've had, this is precisely where I should be spending my time.

After a day like we’ve had, this is precisely where I should be spending my time.

DSC_0209

Take precaution against the heavy mist. (you are driving through the jungle)

Take precaution against the heavy mist. (you are driving through the jungle)

DSC_0195

Otavalo – South America’s Most Famous Market

A 30-minute flight from Manta to Quito, then a 90-minute drive north to Otavalo. Sounds easy enough. Not necessarily.

A 30-minute flight from Manta to Quito, then a 90-minute drive north to Otavalo. Sounds easy enough. Not necessarily.

Some of the world's finest artisans live in this remote town.

Some of the world’s finest artisans live in this remote town. Dana bought these two pieces.

Spices.

Spices.

We purchased the hand-woven rug on the right as a wall hanging in Casa Azul.

We purchased the hand-woven rug on the right as a wall hanging in Casa Azul.

Yarn.

Yarn.

From the market in town, we traveled to this spectacular property owned by a friend. It's the rim of a volcano- Mt. Imbabura where I set a new personal best for elevation above sea level at 15,190 feet. The water in the crater lake is so acidic that it will not sustain life.

From the market in town, we traveled to this spectacular property owned by a friend. It’s the rim of a volcano- Mt. Imbabura where I set a new personal best for elevation above sea level at 15,190 feet. The water in the crater lake is so acidic that it will not sustain life.

Otavalo Market

Two old friends stop for conversation.

Two old friends stop for conversation.

The bold colors of Latin America are among my favorite things.

The bold colors of Latin America are among my favorite things.

Many of the indigenous people carry coin cups and will ask you for change on the street. It's hard not to give them money.

Many of the indigenous people carry coin cups and will ask you for change on the street. It’s hard not to give them money.

Otavalo Market

The art of embroidery is at its finest here.

The art of embroidery is at its finest here.

These coca "products" are  for sale everywhere, and are said to cure just about anything that ails ya. I'm sure that's true ,but I passed on the opportunity.

These coca “products” are for sale everywhere, and are said to cure just about anything that ails ya. I’m sure that’s true ,but I passed on the opportunity.

Catching up on her reading.

Catching up on her reading.

Otavalo Market

Otavalo Market

Mud Baths at Agua Blanca

Agua Blanca in Ecuador

Today, we visited Agua Blanca, a spring in the Machalilla National Park near Puerto Lopez.

Agua Blanca is a beautiful forest, wild animals everywhere and a type of sulfuric spring where people go to bath and cover themselves in mud that is believed to have some kind of anti-aging quality.

I already feel 25 again!

Agua Blanca in Ecuador

It's about a three kilometer hike through the forest to the spring ... and it's been very rainy this week and we have lots of mud.

It’s about a three-kilometer hike through the forest to the spring … and it’s been very rainy this week and we have lots of mud.

Everybody loves the mud.

Everybody loves the mud.

Especially the kiddos.

Especially the kiddos.

The swimming spring at Agua Blanca. It's sulfuric qualities are said to reinvigorate a youthful feel.

The swimming spring at Agua Blanca. It’s sulfuric qualities are said to reinvigorate a youthful feel.

Agua Blanca in Ecuador

Agua Blanca in Ecuador

Miss Ecuador 2013. Not really, but we played it up!

Miss Ecuador 2013. Not really, but we played it up!

Mother-in-law's tongue. It's everywhere.

Mother-in-law’s tongue. It’s everywhere.

Termite nest near the spring.

Termite nest near the spring.

View from the park's highest elevation on a misty day.

View from the park’s highest elevation on a misty day.

My New Hair Fashionista: Antonio Delgado

The finished product. Hombre es muy guapo!!!

The finished product. Hombre es muy guapo!!!

It’s been 45 days since my last haircut in the U.S. For me, that’s a long time.

Today, 6,000 miles from home, I found a new hair cut guy. He works from a bamboo shack, and his name is Antonio Delgado from Puerto Lopez, Ecuador.

All that style for only $5!

And I must say now, I’m too sexy for my hair!

My Interview with Samuel Haerri

Sam Haerri, my neighbor and new friend who shares his gardening expertise with me.

Sam Haerri, my neighbor and new friend who shares his gardening expertise with me.

(Blogger’s note: I met Samuel Haerri about 10 days or so ago through the introduction of a mutual friend. Sam’s just the kind of guy that tells your intuition he’s a fascinating man. Today, he told me his story.)

***

“You must have seen the entire world,” I commented an hour into our informal interview as Samuel Haerri recounted the endless miles he’s traveled en route to retirement in Ecuador.

“No, I think maybe just about half the world,” he says before showing me the next photo in his scrapbook.

Sam, during our interview this morning, as he recounted the experience of sailing around Africa.

Sam, during our interview this morning, as he recounted the experience of sailing around Africa.

His scrapbook is actually more of an autobiography he’s assembled through the years. He’s titled it, “My Way to the Sea.” And for this Swiss native, the sea was his way to the world.

“From the time I was 10 to 15 years old, the only wish I had was to be away from home,” Sam said, recalling his father’s beatings that came almost daily. “He was a very harsh man, and as a child I did not know what it meant to be on a ship, or that it would be my escape.”

When his 27-year-old mother took her life, Sam was 5. She was so distraught from her husband’s infidelity that she ended her life by drinking the poison used to kill insects in the grape vineyards.

His father remarried, and his relationship with Sam never improved. At 9, he sent Sam to be evaluated at a psychiatric hospital, and the young boy was ultimately placed in a home for children with 80 other residents.

But a year later when his dad lost a leg in a farming accident, Sam was returned home for work.

“He treated me as an employee, and it was never as a son,” Sam said. “If I did anything wrong, or complained, he hit me.”

Sam's gardening skills are impeccable, and this photo is a very small example of his work.

Sam’s gardening skills are impeccable, and this photo is a very small example of his work.

Two years later was the start of a new beginning for Sam. His father purchased a restaurant where the 13 year-old began work, and a waitress there, who frequently saw Sam  literally beaten “black and blue,” told him the story of her son who’d gone into training as a hand on a river ship.

“I asked her if she could get me an interview and help me meet the shipmaster, and she did help me get all the papers in order. When the shipmaster interviewed me, he said I could begin work in three weeks and when I told my father about it I think he was glad to be getting rid of me.’

“I needed thirty dollars for a suitcase and he would not buy one for me. He sent me away with this old chest,” he said, showing me a photo of an old wicker case. “For me, this was a great shame not to have a suitcase.”

At 15, Sam left home for good, completely and entirely on his own. A young man out to conquer the world, he was.

His first three years in training were on a river boat that sailed between Switzerland and Holland, and in 1967 at 18, he boarded his first sea-going vessel bound for the Hudson Bay.

After 15 years of feeling trapped and being beaten, Sam, for the first time, felt alive on the open sea.

“We made our way into the United States and the drinking age was 21, so we could not drink beer as we liked,” he said. “But we had a mess boy who was 21, and I often asked if I could borrow his shore pass. That allowed me to drink all the beer I wanted,” he said, with his wide Swiss grin.

“When we returned to the homeland, my father asked to see me, and we met for lunch one day and he offered me 100 Swiss franks.

“I said, ‘This is a lot of money. What is this for?’ And he said it’s just something I want you to have.

“And I said thank you, but I do not need the money as I now have money of my own. I think he was trying to buy my forgiveness.

“Two weeks later, the shipmaster came to me and asked how old my father was, and I said he was forty. He said, ‘I’m sorry, your father is no longer living. He died.’

“He had killed himself, and I think we was very sorry for the way he had lived. All of my family was crying and I could only feel empty and there was no crying or sadness,” he said.

Sam spent the next 20 years serving as a volunteer in the Swiss military and traveling the world on sea-going cargo ships.

“We would make six-month voyages to China around the horn of Africa during the years the Suez Canal was closed,” he said.  There was Portugal, Angola, Malaysia, Philippines, Brazil, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuala, Togo, India. The list of countries is almost endless.

In 1975 he was paid a weekly salary “just to be present” on a yacht owned by one of the wealthiest men in Switzerland.

Two years ago, Sam purchased this old fishing boat and converted it into a lounge/bar on his property. The first day we met, he offered me a cold beer at this unique and special venue.

Two years ago, Sam purchased this old fishing boat and converted it into a lounge/bar on his property. The first day we met, he offered me a cold beer at this unique and special venue.

In 2009, Sam retired from the cargo and shipping industry, and he’s now making a home in Ecuador, preparing a new home for his wife who will soon join him when their daughter completes school in Switzerland.

Sam spends 10 hours every day working in his enormous yard and overseeing a private construction crew that’s building his home on an acre of property overlooking the sea.

“I work when I like, and I stop working when I like,” he said. “The retirement is a good life.

“So many people are fearful of the travel, but for me it was the way I learned everything. I was traveling the world alone when I was 18, and I think it is a good way for people to learn and not be fearful.”

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How to be the Most Popular Guy at Nawi Fest

Dana fits in just about anywhere, even her first Nawi Fest.

Dana fits in just about anywhere, even her first Nawi Fest.

How does a fair-skinned, blue-eyed gringo at his first Nawi Fest become the most popular guy on the Malecon?

Mostly, he just acts himself, and walks the streets full of several thousand partying Ecuadorians, carrying a high-powered Nikon camera. The rest takes care of itself.

Nawi Fest comes to Pto. Cayo, Ecuador once a year. What is Nawi Fest? Well, it’s the opening of a bar – and not a particularly extraordinary bar. It’s bamboo construction just like all the others on the beach, but for some reason when Nawi Bar opens each January, time stands still in Ecuador.

Nawi Bar opens around the third weekend of January each year, and remains open for six weeks, not necessarily every day, or even Monday through Friday, but it’s open sometimes, all the time, during that six weeks, and yes, it’s a big deal.

More precisely, this is what Nawi Bar is:

Beer, sun, beer, food, beer, dancing, beer, hard liquor, beer and more beer.

In my 47 years I’ve been to a Jimmy Buffet concert on the beach, Wrigley Field and Busch Stadium. I’ve even toured a Coors distillery in Denver and Anheiser-Busch in St. Louis, and I’ve never seen the quantity of beer that Nawi brings to Pto. Cayo on opening day.

A few photos from our first Nawi Fest…

This is about 1/100th of the total number of cops in Puerto Cayo on Saturday. When you see this happening eight hours before things ever get rolling, you know you're in for quite a party.

This is about 1/100th of the total number of cops in Puerto Cayo on Saturday. When you see this happening eight hours before things ever get rolling, you know you’re in for quite a party.

I thought it was necessary to contribute to the local economy by having at least one cold Pilsener.

I thought it was necessary to contribute to the local economy by having at least one cold Pilsener.

Nawi Fest in Ecuador

When there is so much beer on hand, you might as well go ahead and construct your tienda from beer. A house of beer, if you will.

When there is so much beer on hand, you might as well go ahead and construct your tienda from beer. A house of beer, if you will.

Did I mention there was beer on hand?

Did I mention there was beer on hand?

Nawi Fest in Ecuador

Ten minutes after we arrived, this young scholar offered me a joint. His special blend, I presume. I respectfully declined, but to commemorate the moment, we posed for this impromptu Polaroid.

Ten minutes after we arrived, this young scholar offered me a joint. His special blend, I presume. I respectfully declined, but to commemorate the moment, we posed for this impromptu Polaroid.

What's in the bag, God only knows.

What’s in the bag, God only knows.

Entry to the beach dance.

Entry to the beach dance.

The Red Cross was on hand, in case things got rowdy, and a natural disaster ensued.

The Red Cross was on hand, in case things got rowdy, and a natural disaster ensued.

My take on the cops. Most of them were there to pick up chicks. Actually, they did a great job of keeping things manageable.

My take on the cops. Most of them were there to pick up chicks. Actually, they did a great job of keeping things manageable.

The shirt says it all.

The shirt says it all.

Mr. Bean is pretty big in Ecuador.

Mr. Bean is pretty big in Ecuador.

No power for your street-side tienda? No problemo! Just run a few copper wires up to the city lines, and "borrow" some juice, and your in business. Perfecto!!!

No power for your street-side tienda? No problemo! Just run a few copper wires up to the city lines, and “borrow” some juice, and you’re in business. Perfecto!!!

These molecules of toilet paper cost Dana 30 cents. She didn't have a square to spare.

These molecules of toilet paper cost Dana 30 cents. She didn’t have a square to spare.

nawi fest in ecuador

I'm pretty sure I got gringo-taxed on this ear of corn.

I’m pretty sure I got gringo-taxed on this ear of corn.

You don't even want to know.

You don’t even want to know.

A hammock rental for $1 around 7 p.m. was a great investment, and the views weren't bad either.

A hammock rental for $1 around 7 p.m. was a great investment, and the views weren’t bad either.

Nawi Fest inEcuador

Our last photo of the night, Dana snapped this photo when she saw these guys pouring cologne all over their bodies. The gentleman on the left offered to pull down his pantalones for the photo, but Dana told him it would not be necessary.

Our last photo of the night, Dana snapped this photo when she saw these guys pouring cologne all over their bodies. The gentleman on the left offered to pull down his pantalones for the photo, but Dana told him it would not be necessary.


When Leading With Your Gut is Not a Whim

I wound up in this place by gut instinct and 25 years of failing forward.

I wound up in this place by gut instinct and 25 years of failing forward.

“There is no instinct like that of the heart.” ~ Lord Byron

***

Here’s an equation I’ve learned to accept as truth in the way I view both business and life.

(Time x Failure) + Experience² > (Common Sense + Rational  Thinking)

***

Earlier today, Dana and I took a break on the back porch to assess the whirlwind of activity we’ve encountered during the last 10 days.

In the hour previous, she’d noticed my distractedness, and suggested she take action to get me focused. There was no way to get really focused, I responded, until I could soak it all in, and consider what it all meant.

During the last 10 days, we’ve encountered opportunities with eight new business clients.

We’re getting an on-the-job, crash-course lesson in Latin American business.

We’ve seen more possibilities here than we ever imagined.

New friends have overwhelmed us with hospitality.

And one or two opportunities have opened up, that are positively outrageous when we consider the directions to which they could lead.

“And it was all pretty much on a whim,” she said, as I paced our gravel driveway.

***

“No, not a whim,” I responded, recalling the first time I laid eyes on Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. “A gut instinct based on 25 years of failure.”

It’s failure, I’ve come to learn, that moves us toward a greater success, and perhaps more importantly, lessens our fear of failure for all that lies ahead.

“You’ll always miss 100 percent of the shots you do not take.” ~ Wayne  Gretzky

I’ve failed enough in life, you see, that risk is a less formidable foe than it was 20, or even five years ago. Risk, when juxtaposed with 25 years of lessons learned from failure, is just another day in life, and joy cometh in the morning, so who has time to be scared?

And all other things aside, I turn 47 in less than a month. I no longer have time for fear.

Was it crazy to dream about launching a new business in a “foreign” country 6,000 miles from home?

Was it absurd to think there was another frontier longing to be conquered?

Was it laughable to pack the bags and pursue it all?

Absolutely. But I don’t care, because I know my gut, and I trust it as an old friend.

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