House Hunters International in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador: The Inside Info

Remember the pop-up videos on VH1?

I enjoyed those little factoids and tidbits because they revealed things you’d never know, even if you watched a hundred times. I’ve always enjoyed knowing the story behind the story. It gives you a whole new appreciation and perspective on what everyone else just wants you to see.

If you enjoy House Hunters International, and tune in to our show tonight, here are a few things you’d never know without reading this post.

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A final fun shot with our crew in Ecuador. That's a wrap!

A final fun shot with our crew in Ecuador. That’s a wrap!

*The entirety our show was filmed in chronological reverse. We filmed in Ecuador for three days, came home to the U.S., and filmed the “back story” 10 days later. Furthermore, the first scene we filmed in Ecuador was the “reveal” scene at our home, one of the last things you’ll see on the show. It went backwards from there.

*Two days before we began filming in Ecuador I walked outside to our backyard and smelled a terrible stench. It was as if something had died very nearby, times 10. Further investigation proved that our three-month old septic tank had backed up and was overflowing into the yard and toward the house. Panic ensued. We were unable to flush our toilets for about 36 hours, and some very unfortunate Ecuadorian workers had the job of pumping barrels of raw sewage from our septic tank 12 hours before the HGTV crew arrived. I felt so bad for them. Such is life in Ecuador.

*The “realtor” on our show is an American named Joel Lewis. With his red hair, fair skin and freckles, Joel is a gringo personified. He spends most of his time as an English teacher in nearby Jipijapa. We met only a few days before filming, became good friends, and have stayed in touch.

*One of the opening scenes where we “meet” Joel to provide our wish list was

Saying goodbye to Roberto and Jaha at Sanctuary Lodge on the day we returned to the U.S.

Saying goodbye to Roberto and Jaha at Sanctuary Lodge on the day we returned to the U.S.

filmed at Sanctuary Lodge, the very nicest hotel in Puerto Cayo. Sanctuary is owned by our friends Roberto Cristi and Jahaida Delgado, and their daughter Isabella. If you ever visit this part of the world, it’s highly recommended lodging.

*We had the same director, but two different film crews in Ecuador and the U.S. Our Memphis crew had experience filming “Great Balls of Fire,” and worked on several of the John Grisham films made in there.

*One of the homes we filmed in Ecuador was rented by an Australian couple and their three children who spent much of their time on mission for the Jehova’s Witness Church. They are lovely folks, and were actually in the house the whole time we filmed. As we moved from one room to another, so did they, just out of camera sight.

Doron Schlair of New York, takes time to let an Ecuadorian child look through his camera lens on our first day of filming. Doron is a real artist behind the camera.

Doron Schlair of New York, takes time to let an Ecuadorian child look through his camera lens on our first day of filming. Doron is a real artist behind the camera.

*I’ve always admired talented people who work behind the camera, and our chief videographer in Ecuador, Doron Schlair, is immensely talented. He’s filmed documentaries on Billy Joel, Arnold Schwarzenegger and climbed to the top of Mt. Ararat in search of Noah’s Ark. I sat down for a long conversation with Doron one night and we were discussing his work – the intricacies and interplay between light and dark. In his work all across the world, Doron told me at sunset, it gets darker in Ecuador faster than anywhere he’s been. I’d noticed the same thing, but never thought about it until he mentioned it. I suppose it’s because we’re on the equator and the earth’s bulge at the horizon is more prominent than other parts of the world. But that’s just a guess.

*You’ll see some scenes of us riding our blue scooter on the beach. During the filming I made a turn on some rocks, and Dana and I shifted our weight in different directions. The result was a pretty good tumble with the scooter landing on both of us. It caused quite the scene on the beach. I know the director thought we were going to sue for damages. We were just really embarrassed.

*You’ll see lots of Ecuadorian people in background shots. Every person you see signed a release for the show. The director was very strict about that.

*There’s a scene at the Agua Blanca mud bath where Dana and I jumped in the water for an impromptu swim race. As we jumped in I accidentally swallowed some of the water (which tastes just like sulfur) and nearly choked. I tried not to let the camera see it because we had to get the shot in one take.

*Speaking of takes, it’s interesting that our entire show was filmed with one camera. But each and every scene is filmed from three different angles. This obviously means each scene is filmed three times, and that’s why it takes 40 hours to film 22 minutes of television.

*In the hours before the crew arrived for Ecuador filming, we were working feverishly to clean the house. As we finished cleaning, and just as I was about to take my shower, on cue, the electricity went out, and stayed out. I filmed the entire first day without the benefit of a shower.

*To make the show interesting, the director always wants a little conflict going on between husband and wife. So for us, it was Dana’s focus on a beach house, versus my interest in staying on budget and living close to the locals.

I can hardly wait to watch the show and see which one we choose!

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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.)

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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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