Relax. You’re on Beach Time.

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The photo above shows a sign I keep on the pantry door of our little Casa Azul in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. It has a purpose. Probably not the one you think.

On the exterior, I can be just about whatever you need at the moment. Extrovert? It’s not my natural style, but I can play it well enough just about any time if that’s what you need. I made a good part of my livelihood as an adjusted-style extrovert. Curmudgeonly hermit-like introvert? Yes, it comes quite naturally, thank you. Business guy in suit and Johnson and Murphys? Sure, no problem. Country farmer with dirt underneath his fingernails. Even easier.

On a positive note, my bougainvillea is looking pretty good for such dry conditions.

On a positive note, my bougainvillea is looking pretty good for such dry conditions.

But my comfort zone is being my own boss making enough money to pay bills and travel a couple of times a year, and focusing on whatever my limited attention span is interested in for the next few months. I don’t mean that in an egotistical or sarcastic way. In fact, up until not so long ago my proclivity to boredom was the think I disliked most about myself. But during the last year it’s a simple truth truth I’ve accepted – even embraced – and knowing who I truly am, supercedes most, but not quite all, things these days.

I’m no longer caught up in things like image, public opinion, social status, or chamber of commerce award banquets. I just kind of like to be my own guy. Is that so wrong?

It’s easier some places than others. If nothing else, Ecuador has taught how to chill every expectation.

There’s a radical and immediate shift in time somewhere between Arkansas and Ecuador. I’m a high-strung traveler, anxious on airplanes, exhaustively pro-active in heading off unwanted potential surprises, hyper conscious of where everything is all the time. Travel Mode begins the night before a trip and doesn’t end until wheels down at whatever destination. It took me a while to learn that wheels down in Ecuador means time moves sideways into a different dimension.

High-strung doesn’t work here. And you’d better lose the attitude fast if you don’t want to drive yourself and everyone around you nuts.

I recall the time a carpenter finally showed up at the house a week after the initial appointment. He came in, surveyed the work, and immediately left because he didn’t bring his hammer. “Back in an hour,” he said. It’s always, “back in a hour, or tomorrow, maybe.”

The time three guys made an emergency call to save us from raw sewage overflowing a septic tank onto our back yard? You don’t even wanna know.

We have a water shortage here. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to get it through a municipal line. Other times, you call a tanker to fill your cistern. Need a shower desperately? The tanker guy will be there when he gets there.

Sometimes I’ll hear people talk with a wistful romanticism about their travels to exotic locations such as Cancun, Fiji, Madrid or maybe Puerto Vallarta. “Time stands still,” they say, dreamily imagining a life with so many umbrella drinks.

Maybe so, but in Ecuador, time gets turned upside down and “beach time” isn’t always the most romantic thing in the world. The key word in the sign on my pantry is “Relax.”

Tranquillo.

It isn’t perfect, but life is good in Ecuador.

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Three of My Favorites from the Ecuadorian Adventure

Was watching a sunset to the west, then turned around to see this beautiful sight over Los Suenos del Mar toward the eastern mountains.

A mile high looking down on the crater of an imploded volcano 1,400 years ago … now some of the most fertile farmland you can imagine. The clouds are actually below where we’re standing.

On the beach in Puerto Cayo, I love the ray of light coming down from the left in this photo.

Our Relational DNA: It Spans the Globe

This sweet lady sold me a pancho at The Middle of the World equator monument in Quito. She reminded me of my grandmother. The pancho is a rather GQ look if you ask me!

Dana and I had a number of reasons for undertaking a 10-day adventure in Ecuador, but chief among them was to immerse ourselves in the culture.

We knew there would be a number of challenges. We have an elementary grasp of the language, knew we would be traveling in unknown territory and had established only a few on-line relationships with a few American expatriates prior to our journey into Guayaquil and our ultimate destination to Puerto Cayo.

This Ecuadorian group of family and friends was on holiday at Los Suenos del Mar, and as they were posing for a group photo I ran to them to get a photo of my own. They were thrilled that I would want a photo for myself, and we spent the rest of the day, posing for more group photos together and sharing stories about our families.

For certain, there were many challenges, and we embraced them. Some have asked about our takeaway from the trip, and for one, I can say to no small degree that my faith in humanity has been restored.

This group of local tourists had been partying all night. As I walked to breakfast, bleary eyed at 7:45 on a Sunday morning, I was yet to have my first cup of coffee when they insisted that I share in a drink of the local spirits. I couldn’t say no! Viva la Ecuador!

People are good. I believe that again. And our last day in Puerto Cayo confirmed that belief.

This is my new friend, Manuel, and his two young sons. We are tough hombres!

Whoever we are, and wherever we live across the expanse of this globe, we have an innate desire to be relational … and it only takes a single kind gesture to make a lifetime of memories.

The woman at center is an Ecuadorian school teacher. She insisted that her daughter practice her English with my wife, Dana.

Vacation Not – Adventure, Yes

Dana and me in one of our more relaxed moments in Montanita, an hour north of our base in Puerto Cayo.

While we’re not particularly die-hard fans of anything on television today, Dana and I have always been drawn to the CBS reality show, The Amazing Race, where paired couples are challenged daily to travel the world in unknown territories and uncharted waters while the clock ticks away.

Unlike most of the other reality series’, Amazing Race carries a certain sophistication, and the huge benefit of taking people out of their comfort zone to experience a world created by the most creative of artists.

A few months ago when I began thinking about the possibilities for Dana’s 39th birthday, I wanted to create something memorable for her. A new blender and a pair of earrings, just didn’t seem pass the test for her upcoming milestone. She would have well appreciated anything she received, but an experience with a lasting memory was the gift which I sought.

Nearly three hours into our drive from the airport, we came across this scene on the extreme southern coast of Ecuador. At this point, we pretty much knew we were lost, though it’s not an uncommon scene anywhere you go.

A few years before we were married, Dana, at various times, served as a missionary in Mexico, Greece and Morocco. Among the things she’s experienced in her life, those times created some of her fondest memories. Her time in Greece and Morocco was solo, without the benefit of a guide or tour group, and so there’s a proven adventuresome spirit God put in her from the beginning.

So as the birthday possibilities streamed through my mind, I determined to create yet another memory – but this time, one that would be shared. I wanted an experience that would challenge us both, push us outside our comfort zone as a couple, so that every day would be a source of memories for years to come.

About a week prior to her birthday I purchased gifts that would have been adequate enough. They would be nicely wrapped with a loving card, presented at a nice surprise birthday party with a gathering of friends and family … but on one particular day the feeling came across that it just wasn’t enough.

Going back through some research I had done in the previous year, my heart led me to Ecuador. And to make a long story short, within the next 24 hours, the flight was booked, and rental car accommodations were made.

What would we be doing while we were there? I really had no clue. We’ll figure it out when we hit the ground, I decided … and so the adventure took form.

Though I’m not the most cosmopolitan of world travelers, I’ve been around some. Gulf Shores, Cocoa Beach, Bahamas, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, I’ve been there, done that and sipped all the poolside pina coladas a man could ever want.

The 10 days we would experience on the Ecuadorian coast, inland highlands and rainforests would not replicate our “vacations” of the past. We would push ourselves in territory that is literally uncharted. We would not be afraid to get lost, and we would immerse ourselves in the culture of this diverse land and its people.

After 9 hours of driving on what should have been a two-and-a-half-hour drive, we finally arrived at this scene, our base for the week, Puerto Cayo. Beautiful as it may be, the tranquility can be deceiving. This is a fishing village where the average monthly income is $300.

And it lived up to every expectation.

Five minutes after packing the rental car (A Chevy Spark with 9-gallon gas tank, stick shift and approximately 3-square feet of space within its four doors) we were as lost as two people could be. Our first miracle was simply finding a road that would lead us out of Guayaquil, a city of 3.1 million where the roads have no lines, no rules and it’s every man for himself. It was a driving fiasco. It took two hours to find our way out of the city and another 7 hours to get to our destination at Puerto Cayo.  Properly driven, it should have been a two-and-a-half hour leisurely road trip…

I left home with full intention to blog daily about our experiences in Ecuador, but it was not to be. In the beginning, 10 days sounded like a lot of time to read, write and record our adventure, but we realized quickly that every moment was precious. Too many experiences were to be had. Every moment was an investment in learning, and so I took feverish notes as time would allow to come home and share those experiences later.

This is 3-year old Carlos, the nino of Manuel and Ivonne, two friends we made at Los Suenos del Mar.

In the short time we’ve been home (less than 24 hours now) a few people have asked about our takeaway from the Ecuadorian adventure. It’s a hard thing to pinpoint, but to some degree, I can say, in a general sense, my faith in humanity has been restored.

We met and enjoyed time with some bold American expatriates who, over the next few years, will make a huge difference in the Ecuadorian economy. They are entrepreneurs of the highest caliber, and our time with them was well spent.

But we also found ways to spend invaluable quality time with local Ecuadorians who welcomed us with open arms, and even though the language barrier could be a challenge at times, the sharing of a drink, firm handshakes and hugs and kisses, warm embraces and smiles of realized friendships touched our hearts in an unforgettable way.

Yes, God’s people are good, and we find it in His finest creation (that which He created in His own image) around the world.

Over the next few days, I’ll be documenting the specific experiences we shared, and some tips should you ever decide to explore what many expatriates there now call the world’s last undiscovered frontier.

I’ll write about the best ways to travel, food, transportation, Ecuadorian culture, the economy and its potential, people and many other topics. We learned a lot. Some of it the hard way – just as we planned!

At one point in our travels I made a joking Facebook post about one night at dinner when Dana asked me this: “What’s the most amazing thing about being married to me?” All our friends wanted to know my response and so I’ll close by paraphrasing my response to those requests for an answer.

“You all tell me the right response is that Dana has a great heart, that she is beautiful, trustworthy, genuinely good and a bright spot in the lives of everyone she meets. Well guess what? I already know all that. But here’s the real deal.

“We’re not on your typical vacation here, and never planned for it to be such. We’re working with roads and roadmaps that have no similarity or relationship whatsoever, so you can pretty much throw the maps out the window. There are 3-foot potholes about every hundred yards. Donkeys, pigs and dogs dart out onto the road from nowhere. We have only an elementary grasp of the local language. There are no mohitos or cabana boys serving our heart’s every desire. Hot water for a shower happens about 33 percent of the time, and toilet paper is to be treasured. Yes, you’d better carry it with you at all times.

“This is not a vacation, it’s an adventure … and so any girl who would come along on an excursion like this and love every minute of it, is my kind of girl.”

That’s what I said.

Next post: “Day One: What in the World Have We Done?”

Dear Daddy…

 

I was thinking of you at this moment.

For just a fleeting second I was thinking how much you would enjoy this view…then I remembered you see something greater every day.

I wish I could look into your eyes again.

I wish we could embrace and I  could feel your chest against mine. I wish my hands could feel the strength in the broadness of your back.

I wish you could give me some good advice while we sat in the backyard watching the martins.

I just wish I could reach out and touch you again.

I’m doing my best to carry out the things you said. I really hope you are proud.

I wished you were here for this moment … and then I realized you were, but I still miss you so.

I know you are enjoying the everlasting Light in which you now bask. You will show me around won’t you?

See you soon. I love you so.

Steve.

Just a Few Quick Shots from Ecuador

Dana and Me

Time has been too valuable to blog since our arrival in Ecuador six days ago now. Every minute is exploration. Wanted to post a few quick pics, though, and will recap all when we return home.

We have some great stories.

Tomorrow, driving from Puerto Cayo to Manta and taking the early flight into Quito to stand on the equator for a bucket-list check.

Good night, from the middle of the World.

Playing tourista in Montanita!!!

Sunset on the Pacific: Latitude Zero.