Brien Crothers: Not Average. No Way.

 

(Blogger’s Note: Brien Crothers of Hidden Valley Lake, CA and I “met” online a few years ago because of mutual interest in the Way of St. James. Just last year we missed one another at the end by only one day.  But Brien is much more than your average Camino pilgrim … he’s an extreme athlete with dozens of achievements to his credit around the globe. In November, he’ll tackle the world-famous Marathon des Sables, 155 miles across the deserts of Peru. I asked Brien a few questions as he prepares for this incredible event. Brien has written a book on the Camino de Santiago titled Su Camino…  and you can follow his adventures on his blog at grandpasgoneagain.com)

 

Q: What prompted your interest in outdoor activities like hiking, walking, and running?

A: Growing up in a very small rural community on the north coast of California, in a time when we were encouraged to get outside and play, I knew every kid on my street. Hiking, exploring, fishing, building forts and creating our own toys were how we filled our free time. Also, my father and his four brothers grew up on a ranch where we, as I got older, would get together, usually to trek around in the hills hunting deer. It was great passion for them, less so for me, but I enjoyed and came to respect the outdoors. After our daughter was grown and my career brought better finances, running and cycling put me back in the outdoors.

Q: It seems you’re even more drawn to distance events in extreme conditions. Why not just take an easy walk in the park? Why the extreme?

A: There are two answers to that, I suppose: In my late thirties, I was introduced to a group of people who ran marathons, ultramarathons, and did extreme events like Eco Challenge and serious mountain climbing. For whatever reason, I found myself drawn to the extreme stuff. Now, I jokingly say that I am not a fast enough runner (with a 3:52 marathon personal best), so I do the longer events so my slow pace doesn’t show so badly. Second, and more accurately I think I just don’t want to be average. To look at me in a crowd, I’m average, white, and forgettable. I don’t want to be average.

Checking gear and preparing for a 155-mile desert run in Morocco.

Q: List for me the extreme or ultra events you’ve participated in.

A: California 1995 Mt Whitney climb*
Several summits of Mt Shasta*
Washington 1996 Mt Rainier climb
Kenya & Tanzania 1998 Mt. Kilimanjaro climb
Peru 2000 Inca trail and Machu Picchu trip*
Viet Nam 2002 Raid Gauloise ten-day adventure (multi-sport) race
Nepal & Tibet 2005 Everest advanced base camp hike, north face of Everest
Russia 2007 Mt. Elbrus climb
South Africa 2010 Cape Epic 440-mile eight-stage mountain bike race
Argentina 2003/4 Aconcagua expedition (unsuccessful attempt to summit)
2009 Aconcagua expedition (unsuccessful attempt to summit)
2015 Aconcagua expedition (unsuccessful attempt to summit)
(Aconcagua is the tallest mountain in the western hemisphere.)
Morocco 2014 Marathon des Sables 155-mile six-stage foot race
Spain 2015 Camino de Santiago via Camino Frances*
2016 Camino de Santiago on Via de la Plata*
Have completed over forty marathon and ultramarathons, including Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, 3 times (WSER is considered the premier 100-mile trail run in the world).

* = Not terribly extreme, but fun

 

Q: What are the unique challenges in the upcoming Peru event?

A: The unique challenge of such events is why the organizer has created the race where it is and containing what it does. For Peru and the Ica desert, it’s all about sand and distance. There’s also the route. You can pick just about anywhere for a race and take an easy route or a difficult route. Race officials always find the tough stuff. The required course will direct runners over mountain passes and through vast sand dunes rather than through a valley, for example. To top it off, there’s the 50-mile stage that runs well into the night hours.

Q. Discuss both the physical and mental preparation techniques you use.

A: Physical: Run, eat right, rest, run again. I use a progressive training program. One that builds up mileage requirements over four weeks then is reduced, only to build to a higher weekly mileage in the next wave. This schedule has me running 100 miles per week by the first weeks of November. Mental: I’ve never had much trouble here. I know I’m not likely to win a race, having done so only once (it was a small field), so I go out with a pace I should be able to handle and then adjust up or down as the race unfolds. I have a competitive nature, and use that to push myself harder when I can; I see a runner ahead and start tracking them down.

Q: Speaking of mental and physical, what are the unique challenges you encounter in events like this?

A: Finishing such events is all about managing resources and staying healthy as a result. One must manage water, as it is rationed out at checkpoints; manage to repair, or have repaired, blisters and any other injuries before they become serious, race ending; manage input and output, meaning eat your daily allotment on schedule, and run as hard as your conditioning will allow. It’s all about making it to that last mile and putting out that last bit of stored energy before the finish line.

Q: In what ways does the benefit from these experiences carry over into your every-day life?

A: I’ve come to understand that when we push ourselves beyond normal comfort zones [perceived] hassles of everyday life just don’t seem like a big deal. Our capitalistic society is built on a trance of scarcity, one of lack, and a sense of not being worthy, not pretty enough, not perfect. That’s all bollocks, and we (well, I) need to be reminded of that reality, of my own wisdom.

Q: One thing we share is our experiences along the Camino de Santiago. What are your feelings about the Camino?

A: Wow, that’s a big one. I’m not religious, but something called to me when first introduced to the Camino. On one level the Camino is physical, challenging. On another, it’s adventurous and outside normal life, outside that comfort zone. But, the real reason I have enjoyed every kilometer of the two Caminos I have completed is spiritual. I feel as if I am walking in a peacefulness and calmness that I believe to be the combined traces of energy fields left behind by all those that have taken that path before me, for their cause, in common cause, to find ourselves, to find or be with God.

Q: I’ve always said that everyone knows what it’s like to be tired, but very few know the sensation of complete physical/mental depletion. Would you agree, and can you describe that?

A: I certainly agree that most of us won’t actually dig down to complete depletion. In our modern society we just don’t ever have to go there. Sometimes, when I have been in that state of complete exhaustion but still moving forward, I have experienced some freaky hallucinations. Those occurrences have been like what I might imagine it to be when experiencing hallucinogenic drugs. I have marveled at and enjoyed those experiences, enough so that I look forward to them, but not enough to take the lazy approach.

Q: Not everyone is cut out to be an extreme athlete. What words of encouragement would you have for people who just wish they were in better shape and would like to make some lifestyle changes for the better?

A: It takes some serious self-evaluation to know what your own goals might be. I am driven by accomplishment. The best advice I can give is just get out there and walk. I know a lot of people who haven’t walked more than a few blocks in decades. I don’t get that, but to each their own. For those who do ask me, I’ll ask, what do you want from your question? (I’ve not met anyone ready to do what I do.) Nearly all have said they just want to be healthier. There is nothing easier than walking your way to better health. Start with a city block, then a half-mile, working your way up to whatever works for you and have enough time for. This is very important: do what you can make time for. The key is, consistency. I train six days a week. Five is good. Three is okay. For most people, working up to and walking three miles, three times per week will bring a level of healthiness they haven’t felt in years.

 

BONUS QUESTION: In the days/weeks following an event like this do you experience a certain emptiness or depression because the lack of intensity and anticipation in your life is temporarily gone?

A: Yes. I always enjoy the reduced urgency to be out there for hours at a time, but I also feel that something is missing, there’s a hole in my day. The best thing for me at that moment is to find the next event. Even if it’s months away, I have something to sink my teeth into.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add about your interest in these events?

A: Yes. For several years now, I have been involved at the local level in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life. The Relay For Life campaign is one of the most successful fundraisers in America. And, the advisers and students at my alma mater, Middletown High, are the absolute best. Also, staying on the school track and running as much as 100 miles in 24 hours has encouraged others to get involved, to be healthy, to understand the benefits of pushing beyond perceived limits, or at least question their own self-imposed limits. For the Marathon Des Sables Peru, I have partnered up with our local Rotary club (my wife, Kathey, is president-elect of that club) in a campaign called “Polio’s Last Mile” to raise funds for Rotary International’s End Polio Now campaign—to finally eradicate polio from our world.

From a recent article in local papers: “Rotary International has been instrumental in collective efforts around the world to put an end to the dreaded disease that once crippled 35,000 children a year, in the US alone. The Rotary Club of Middletown has long been active in raising funds toward that end.” Year to date, there have been nine reported cases worldwide.

Rotary International and the Gates Foundation with a two-for-one fund match are making a big push this year, because “We are this close.” #poilioslastmile

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My Day in Jipijapa

The streets of Jipijapa. This is an extremely calm scene relative to most times.

The streets of Jipijapa. This is an extremely calm scene relative to most times.

Notice the name on the commercial tienda. "El Gato." Everyone has a nickname here, and this is the store owner's moniker. Every fourth man here is nicknamed El Gato. Why would any guy want to be called The Cat?

Notice the name on the commercial tienda. “El Gato.” Everyone has a nickname here, and this is the store owner’s moniker. Every fourth man here is nicknamed El Gato. Why would any guy want to be called The Cat?

Pretty typical scene. You don't even want to know how low the prices are.

Pretty typical scene. You don’t even want to know how low the prices are.

Also pretty typical.

Also pretty typical.

We have a presidential election here coming up in two weeks.

We have a presidential election here coming up in two weeks.

This is AgriPac, a store where you buy seeds, feed, chemicals, kind of an old time feed store. There is no rhyme or reason to how you get waited on in these stores. Patience carries the day, especially if you have fair skin and blue eyes.

This is AgriPac, a store where you buy seeds, feed, chemicals, kind of an old time feed store. There is no rhyme or reason to how you get waited on in these stores. Patience carries the day, especially if you have fair skin and blue eyes.

Shoes for the ladies.

Shoes for the ladies.

Maria "la Chihuahua" Blount on a mission TCB.

Maria “la Chihuahua” Blount on a mission TCB.

Street meat. Not for the gringo gastronomy. Don't go there people.

Street meat. Not for the gringo gastronomy. Don’t go there people.

The sno cone guy. Every town has several sno cone guys with carts like this. For 50 cents you can get refreshed.

The sno cone guy. Every town has several sno cone guys with carts like this. For 50 cents you can get refreshed.

Centro de Jipijapa. Center of government and commerce. Where everything happens.

Centro de Jipijapa. Center of government and commerce. Where everything happens.

Check out the price. You'd be surprised how some things are considered a luxury here. Shaving cream is one. Unfortunately, I needed it.

Check out the price. You’d be surprised how some things are considered a luxury here. Shaving cream is one. Unfortunately, I needed it.

Almuerzo.

Almuerzo.

Ciao por ahora. Hasta luego.

Ciao por ahora. Hasta luego.

House Hunters International in Ecuador: Answers to the Questions

(Blogger’s Note: The House Hunters International episode featuring our home buying experience in Ecuador will air this Thursday night at 9:30 Central on HGTV.)

***

Setting up living quarters in another country isn’t something you do every day. Dana and I always dreamed about it, but until about 18 months ago never knew if things would come together in such a way that we could actually pull it off. So because written communication is what I do, and is actually the way I process things mentally, we decided from Day 1 to take the unique experience and chronicle much of it on my blog so family and friends could take part, too.

The whole ordeal has made for some interesting conversation, and we get lots of questions almost every day about all sorts of things. People want to know what it was like to do what we did, and what it was like to be on the show.

house hunters international in ecuador

Our “realtor,” Joel Lewis, getting wired for sound in one of the three homes we toured on the show. The mother and daughter in the left background are from Australia, and are the actual residents of this home.

These are some of the questions we’re often asked, and the answers we give:

Q: Is House Hunters International real? I’ve read it’s fake.

A: The short answer is this: It’s television. HHI is a reality show, and in my opinion, an entertaining and educational one. The television medium has lots of restrictions. It’s not easy to convey a couple’s home buying experience on another continent in 22 minutes. So for the sake of television, concessions are made. No one in their right mind flies into a new country, looks at three houses in a day and decides to buy one at the end of the day. Our actual experience in deciding to build a home in Ecuador was a 10-day process, and I would never recommend anyone move as fast as we did because that’s very fast. Still, the producers worked very hard to replicate our experience as best they could, and I think the show will be an accurate reflection of what it’s like to buy a home in Puerto Cayo. It glosses over a lot of the hard stuff, and our experience in building a home and acclimating to a new culture posed some real challenges, but that’s not what the show’s about. Is House Hunters International real? It’s more real than most of the television you probably watch.

Q: What did you enjoy most about being on the show?

A: Dana and I became fans of HHI during a formative time in our marriage. In 2009, the economy and a few bad decisions forced the closure of my publishing business and a career that I loved. For the first time in my life, I was uninspired, very uncertain about the future and pretty depressed. There were many nights when we’d watch the show, and for 30 minutes I’d be rescued from that depression. HHI actually inspired me to dream again, and ultimately took our life, and our marriage, in a direction I never imagined. The day we learned we’d been chosen for the show, it felt like a victory over something that had been a very hard fight. So being on the show was very much a celebration of that victory.

One of my best Ecuadorian friends named Duver, was a huge help to me when he helped get our yard in shape just before the HHI crew arrived.

One of my best Ecuadorian friends named Duver, was a huge help to me when he helped get our yard in shape just before the HHI crew arrived.

Q: Have you seen the show yet?

A: No. We will see if for the first time when it airs.

Q: What is life like in Ecuador?

A: That’s a lot like asking what life is like in the United States. It depends on where you live. The coastal region where we built our home is not a tourist or expat destination as you might imagine. Ecuador is a wonderfully diverse country and life can be radically different depending on your locale. The Ecuadorian coast is actually very rural, and has a relatively poor economy. Locals make their living fishing, farming or making crafts. The infrastructure (roads, utilities and other basic services) is in its infancy. We’ve driven lots of gravel roads, and became accustomed to very sporadic electric service. I think many times people believed we were sipping pina coladas by a pool every day, and nothing could be further from the truth. Latin America is not for everyone.

Q: So why would you want a home thousands of miles away in a place like that?

A: Many reasons. First of all, because it is the education of a lifetime. Learning to live a new way, and making friends in a different culture is riskiest, and most educational thing I’ve ever done. Dana and I are never more alive than when we are pushing our comfort zones in Ecuador. Secondly, it gives me an entirely different perspective on my writing, and our lives in general. And finally, even though the economy is still very much emerging and developing, we are going to see unbelievable opportunity on the Ecuadorian coast over the next 15 years. I want to see that, and be part of it.

Q: What do you do when you’re there?

A: Mostly, I write a lot and take a lot of photos. Travel and major changes of environment really inspire my writing. But when we’re there, the culture forces us to slow down a lot, and that’s another reason we enjoy it. We spend a lot of time visiting with local friends, sharing new experiences and we learn something new almost every day.

Q: How did you find a realtor?

A: We didn’t. There are some people who call themselves realtors in Ecuador, but most have no formal training or licensing credentials, and a good number of them are fairly corrupt. Not all, just most. Dana and I conducted our search on our own which made the learning curve even higher.

One thing we learned in South America, was not to freak out over creatures like this monster I found on our front porch. Those clampers could take a finger off.

One thing we learned in South America, was not to freak out over creatures like this monster I found on our front porch. Those clampers could take a finger off.

Q: Is it safe in Ecuador?

A: In the US, I think we unfortunately stereotype Latin America to be unsafe. I’ve never been fearful in Ecuador, but I also always use a lot of common sense, and am very respectful of the culture. Any international traveler I’ve ever visited with said the media almost always paints a darker picture than that which really exists, and that’s true all over the world. Ecuador is quite safe.

Q: Biggest challenges?

A: (1) Driving in the big cities is madness. Crazy madness. If you don’t have nerves of steel, avoid it. (2) Always remembering that even though I’m a property owner there, I’m still a guest. This very much requires us to forget everything we think we know about right and wrong, take one day at a time, lose our judgmental nature, and laugh a lot. (3) Knowing that when someone in Ecuador says that something conforms to US standards, it will never be true. Only two or three people in Ecuador even know what US standards (especially in construction) mean. That’s partly joke, mostly truth.

Q: Biggest perk?

A: Gas prices regulated by the government at $1.48 per gallon. No contest.

Q: Do you have any regrets?

A: I think anyone who builds a home from the ground up knows what it is to have hindsight. We definitely made some mistakes. But do I regret even the most difficult experiences we had? No way. And I’m eager to see what future adventures are in store.

Q: What advice to you have for other people who are even remotely considering doing what you did?

A: (1) Do a lot of research, but understand that no amount of research can substitute an exploratory trip to wherever you may be considering. (2) It’s very easy to get into a mindset that you could never do something like this. Lose that mindset. Barriers are easier to overcome than you think. (3) If you are close to buying a new house in a foreign country, never, never, never close the deal until you personally witness how the property reacts to a heavy rain. Oh, the humanity.

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House Hunters International: How We Got On

(Blogger‘s Note: For four days during late March and early April, Dana and I filmed with House Hunters International, for an episode that’s coming up on HGTV in a few weeks. Until then, I’m writing an occasional blog post about the experience. This is the first in the series.)

***

It was December 21 last year. After building a house in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador for nine months (with 100% of the communications via internet) Dana and I got on a plane, beside ourselves with excitement to fly way South, and spend just more than three months in our new far-away, get-away. Truth is, we really didn’t even know if we’d come back.

In my 47 years it’s among the most exciting adventures I’ve taken.

Three days after our Memphis departure, we arrived, just as the workers were putting the finishing touches on our Casa Azul. That’s actually what everyone calls our house, and it’s even our “official” address, as much as addresses exist in Puerto Cayo.

After nine long months, it seemed, in the blink of an eye, we were home owners in Latin America. Crazy stuff for a couple of country kids from Arkansas.

Dana, during a filming break at the Agua Blanca mud bath. This is a scene you'll see on House Hunters.

Dana, during a filming break at the Agua Blanca mud bath. This is a scene you’ll see on House Hunters.

During the next few weeks, we learned about things like cisterns, suicide showers, scorpions, freshly caught langostinos , driving where driving rules don’t exist, and we “unlearned” everything we thought we ever knew, embracing life in a new culture. I hate the cliche’, but it’s true. Our lives have never been, and will never again, be the same.

Puerto Cayo (key port), is a small and beautiful, but remote village on Ecuador’s central Pacific coast. The town has about 4,000 people with maybe 100 “foreign” expats.

Its remote proximity and small size add to the irony that two couples who ultimately became our friends, had previously done their own shows with House Hunters International. When the filming company that produces the show contacted them about anyone else they knew who might be interested, they recommended us, and the lines of communication quickly opened.

A few days later, we found ourselves Skyping several times zones away with a casting director in London, where it really all begins.

The phone call was surreal. There had been days when things (about life in general) weren’t so hopeful. Just a few years earlier we’d invested all we had in our own business – dynamic publishing company – that was born just about the time the economy crashed. I closed its doors in less than a year, and spent a long time wondering what was next. It was during this uncertain time that we became HHI fans and spent many nights dreaming the craziest of dreams despite the circumstances.  It was crazy, irrational and unrealistic that we would dream such dreams. But I’m oh, so glad we did. I’m glad we never gave up on dreaming.

House Hunters International is one of those shows that appeals to both men

Me, getting a much needed and first haircut in Latin America. My barber, Antonio, shows the approval of his handiwork.

Me, getting a much needed and first haircut in Latin America. My barber, Antonio, shows the approval of his handiwork.

and women – especially couples who love adventure and don’t mind stepping out of their comfort zones. And there are many things about buying a house in a far-away country that will NOT feel comfortable.

For 45 minutes on the Skype call we shared our story about all the things that had drawn us to Ecuador … childhood dreams, a crazy sense of shared adventure, and a touch of rebellion, all carefully mixed together with a pinch of mid-life crisis … and I knew the conversation was going well. At the call’s conclusion, casting director Michelle James said she’d like to move the process to the next step, and asked us to produce our own three-minute casting video about us and our lives in Puerto Cayo.

I told her it would be ready in seven days.

I couldn’t believe we were really, seriously talking to the people who could actually make it happen, and that they wanted to continue a conversation with us.

Fortunately, Dana had enough foresight early on to bring a tripod on our trip. Over the next three to four days we filmed in our house, on the beach, shopping in town and any number of places that would help convey life in Puerto Cayo. I was the creative director and logistics guy. Dana was executive producer. Three minutes quickly became seven, and we let the length stand, uploaded it to Vimeo and waited. We thought it would be three to four weeks before we heard a peep from them, if we heard back at all.

Four days later, Michelle responded, said the producers loved it, and invited us to work with them.  I’ll never forget telling Dana we were going to be on the show.

In life’s grand scheme it’s pretty insignificant, but it felt wonderfully redemptive.

And filming the show was … so … much … fun.

(Future stories in the series: A feature story on our director, Linda Benya, who talks about why she loves HHI; another profile on our videographer, Doron Schlair, who’s filmed just about every star you can imagine; a behind-the-scenes look at some things that happened during our filming that you’ll likely never see on TV; HHI: is it real or is it fake, you tell me; and what it’s really like to live in Ecuador.)

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Goodbye, Ecuador. For a Time.

puerto cayo ecuador

It’s time to go home.

One hundred days that Dana and I have been in Ecuador now. Beginning today at 10 a.m., we’ll drive an hour to Manta, take a domestic flight into Quito, cool our heels 8 hours in the new Mariscal Sucre International Airport, fly all night to Atlanta, run through customs, and take a final leg into Memphis. An hour’s drive later, we’ll be home. Jonesboro, Arkansas. It’s a 24-hour travel day.

Our emotions have run the gamut here. Especially in the last week.

In the first two months we felt everything you can imagine. Excited, anxious, curious, hopeful, disheartened, uncertain, happy, sad, joyful, desperate, awestruck, blessed, and frustrated just to name a few. Oh, at times how we felt frustration.

Many times, I wondered to myself, “What have we done?” And soon thereafter, it would all come clear. Every single time, it came clear.

We were sent here, on a personal mission of sorts, to learn, and grow and understand. We came here to understand how to be less judgmental, less rigid, less know-it-all perhaps. It’s a good place to learn patience, that’s for sure, and on many occasions to unlearn all the things you thought you ever knew.

I will miss some things in this special place …

*My international friends, especially, Duval and Maria from Ecuador. Samuel from Switzerland. And the way they all talk and laugh about the hyperactive Ethiopian, Marise, who’s building a home with a glass bathroom across the street. They are so concerned they’ll be seeing him “do his business” when nature calls. And I will miss the occasional afternoon beer at Samuel’s place and so many of this fascinating man’s animated stories.

*Watching the progress that other expats are making on their homes, seeing their excitement, and yes, sharing our mutual frustrations in the midst of it all.

*My garden, which is beautiful, but 100 times more difficult to maintain than a garden back home in the states. Searing sun, week-long rains, crabgrass and weeds that can completely take over in 24 hours, never-before-seen insects, an endless list of challenges.

*Early morning scooter rides and the friendly beeps that other moto drivers now give me. Three months ago they would barely return a wave wondering who the heck I was. Today, they enthusiastically say good morning and flash me a wide smile.

*Critters. Lizards everywhere. Weird insects as I’ve never seen. Beautiful birds, even turkey vultures on our front porch. I see a new creature here every single day.

*The sound of the Pacific. Even with our house at 500 yards away, I can clearly hear the sea crashing against the beach. It’s relentless, and wonderful.

During the last three days, I’ve had trouble focusing my emotions, not sure what I felt about any of it. I’ve been happy, and sad.

And when I read Dana’s blog post today, I realized she said it perfectly well.

She wrote … “We have loved the people here, and they have loved us in return.”

And that’s all that matters, anyway, since it’s the only reason we came in the first place.

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House Hunters International: Our “Tryout” Story

In one form or another, I’ve worked in mass communications my entire life – and 99 percent of that as a print journalist.

Never, I repeat, never, did I have the ambition to work for a single, solitary moment in broadcast journalism, especially television.

At best, I’ve always had a face much better suited to radio.

So there’s a quirky irony that for the next three days Dana and I will work withhouse hunters international a film crew from New York to produce an  upcoming 30-minute episode of House Hunters International set to air on HGTV this fall.

Here’s the short story of how it happened.

On December 21, 2012, we left Jonesboro, AR bound for Puerto Cayo, Ecuador, in search of an adventure we’d remember a lifetime. We were looking to put down some roots here on a part-time basis that would allow us to pursue a different kind of lifestyle several months out of the year. One where, above all things, we could immerse ourselves in a different culture, broaden our horizons a bit, and live out a life on mission in a place where circumstances don’t exactly hand you a dozen roses each and every day.

We’ve been here almost 100 days now.

Steve and Dana WatkinsBut a month or so into our stay, I received an email from a friend whose family was featured on House Hunters International about six months ago. HGTV was looking for new families interested in filming, and was soliciting the help of their alumni.

So she forwarded the information to me, including a casting contact based London and said we should drop her a line if we were interested.

For years, Dana and I had spent time watching the show, living vicariously through the featured couples who pursued crazy dreams in far away places. We didn’t even think twice about giving it a go.

So early that evening I fired off an email to an HHI casting director, told her our situation, background and a few other details, pretty sure I’d never hear another word. Early the next morning my inbox contained a reply that said, “Let’s talk.”

Honestly, that was pretty exciting.

A few days later, we orchestrated a Skype session from our home base in Puerto Cayo to Michelle James in London. We discussed our goals, our interests, our cultural philosophies, etc. Mostly, I’m pretty sure she just wanted to get a good look at us. By the end of the conversation, Michelle said she’d like to move forward with our story, but we’d need to produce our own four-minute “casting video” to give the producers better insight into our personalities.

We told her we’d have it ready in a week.

Did I mention I am a print journalist?

The next day, Dana and I sat down and drafted a rough film script outlining where we’d film ourselves and doing what exactly…

We filmed ourselves from the top of Puerto Cayo’s overlook, where we’d first seen this picturesque fishing village and its beautiful coast. Took shots on the beach riding our moto-scooter. Shopping and relaxing in Puerto Lopez, and several other special locations. Going into the self-made casting video, the producers told us they really wanted us to express our personalities and give them a glimpse of what we are really like.

We’re not shy. So we let it all hang out and went for broke.

Dana downloaded it all to Vimeo and the producers said we’d hear back in a few weeks. I put it all out of mind, and life went on.

Just a few days later I had an inbox email from London.

I’m quite sure they say this to everyone they bring on, but nevertheless, Michelle said the producers loved our story, and they invited us to come on the show.

Dana was cooking breakfast when I looked up from my computer to tell her.

“House Hunters wants us on the show,” I said.

“What?!” … was her reply … and I think the eggs and toast burned at this point.

Dozens of Skype sessions and a plethora of emails later, we have our casting call today and filming begins at sun up tomorrow. Ten to 12 hours a day for the next three days, and a full day of filming back home in Arkansas on April 4.

The show should air in late July or early August.

Fun times.

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