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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A Birthday Gift to Myself: The Way of St. James

Carnival in Ecuador

On my 47th birthday earlier today, checking out the sites on the first real day of Carnival.

“I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”  ~ Herman Melville

February 10, 2013.

My 47th birthday. Oh, the humanity.

I’ve almost always given birthday presents to myself. Over the years, sometimes I’d show others what I’d given myself. Other times, I’d keep it private.

The most special gifts I’ve given myself are challenges, or commitments that I’d make for the sake of nothing more than the personal satisfaction of facing the challenge itself.

On my 38th birthday, I challenged myself to run a marathon before I was 40. I did three. More recently I proclaimed I’d be a published author by the end of 2012. Still working on that one. But it will come to pass.

Those who know me best, know one of the things that keeps me motivated and at my best, is when a great challenge, or adventure, lies ahead. It took me 28 years to beat my best buddy in a single round of golf, but I never quit.

In 47 years I’ve learned that adventure rarely creates itself, so today, I’ve given a birthday gift to myself.

The narrow path, or The Way.

The narrow path, or The Way.

I’ve given myself permission to plan for a new adventure.

Within the next two years (sometime before my 50th birthday) I’ll go on a great pilgrimage to walk the Way of St. James, or the Santiago de Compostela, or the Camino de Santiago, whatever you wish to call it. It’s the 500 kilometer pilgrimage to the burial place of James, brother of John.

Completing the camino should take about 75 days of steady walking.

With a little help from Wikipedia, here’s some information on the camino.

The Way of St. James

The Way of St. James was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during medieval times, along with that of Rome and Jerusalem.

Legend holds that St. James’s remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where he was buried on the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.

The Way of St. JamesThe Way can take one of any number of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one’s home and ended at the pilgrimage site. However a few of the routes are considered main ones. During the Middle Ages, the route was highly traveled. However, the plague of the Black Death and political unrest in 16th-century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few pilgrims per year arrived in Santiago. In present day, the route attracts a growing number of modern-day pilgrims from around the globe. The Way was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in October 1987. It was also named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.

The Way of St. James

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The pilgrimage to Santiago has never ceased from the time of the discovery of St. James’ remains, though there have been years of fewer pilgrims, particularly during European wars.

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The Christian origin of the pilgrimage has been well documented throughout the centuries.

To the End of the World

The main pilgrimage route to Santiago follows an earlier Roman trade route, which continues to the Atlantic coast of Galicia, ending at Cape Finisterre. Although it is known today that Cape Finisterre, Spain’s westernmost point, is not the westernmost point of mainland Europe, the fact that the Romans called it Finisterrae (literally the end of the world or Land’s End in Latin) indicates that they viewed it as such. 

To this day, many pilgrims continue past Santiago de Compostela to finish their journeys at Cape Finisterre.

Scallop Symbol

The Way of St. JamesThe scallop shell, often found on the shores in Galicia, has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Over the centuries the scallop shell has taken on mythical, metaphorical and practical meanings, even if its relevance may actually derive from the desire of pilgrims to take home a souvenir.

Two versions of the most common myth about the origin of the symbol The Way of St. Jamesconcern the death of St. James, who was martyred by beheading in Jerusalem in 44 AD. According to Spanish legends he had spent time preaching the gospel in Spain, but returned to Judea upon seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary on the bank of the Ebro River.

Version 1: After James’ death, his disciples shipped his body to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. Off the coast of Spain a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After some time, however, the body washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops.
Version 2: After James’ death his body was mysteriously transported by a ship with no crew back to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. As James’ ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on the shore. The young groom was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, his horse got spooked, and the horse and rider plunged into the sea. Through miraculous intervention, the horse and rider emerged from the water alive, covered in seashells.

The scallop shell also acts as a metaphor. The grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims traveled, eventually arriving at a single destination: the tomb of James in Santiago de Compostela. The shell is also a metaphor for the pilgrim. As the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago.

Why do I want to walk The Way? Because it’s there, and life’s too short not to. And I have no idea what the experience will bring, but I know something’s waiting.

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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

Until next time…

Now that the moment’s upon us, I’m not quite sure what to say, or how to say it.

For six months now, Dana and I have awaited this hour, the time when we’d return to Ecuador to breathe new life into a very different future.

In 24 hours we’ll drive 70 miles to Memphis International Airport, take a quick flight to Steve and DanaAtlanta, then on 5,000 miles south to Quito, then Manta, grab a rental car there, and drive an hour further south to Puerto Cayo where our new home is finished and where we’ll set up shop for a new family of marketing-related businesses. Latitude 1 South. We’ve been laying the groundwork there for almost a year.

And quite a year it’s been.

My 71-year-old dad died in January, and for me it created a profound moment, when for the first time, I’d truly assess life’s “vaporish” quality. I began writing my first series of books focusing on redemption. Three months after dad’s passing we made an exploratory trip to Ecuador, purchased a 1/3 acre lot by the beach and began building second home. We joined a new church that helped us better understand our roles as “every-day missionaries,” and just more than 60 days ago the human resource director at the company where I worked called me into his office to say “the owners have decided to go in a different direction, (and you’re not going along for the ride).”

In six months, we've gone from this...

In six months, we’ve gone from this…

Enter Plan B.

Fortunately, the wheels in my head had been turning just enough to assess the possibilities for one last entrepreneurial adventure, this time in a “foreign” land. The moment we first laid eyes on Puerto Cayo, Ecuador, I told Dana it was soon to be something very special and you could see opportunities everywhere. So there’s a be-careful-what-you-wish-for lesson in there somewhere.

Now, we’re headed for a 99-day follow-up trip to see where it might further lead.

A read of Bob Buford‘s Halftime earlier in the year reshaped a part of the way I now think.

... to this...

… to this…

His book’s subtitle is, “Moving from Success to Significance.” What we’re about to do, Buford would say, is  a “seismic test,” a low-to-moderate risk to assess the bigger possibilities for the greater good. And so, our seismic test now begins.

It all means several things for Dana and me, including but not limited to:

  • A willingness to “unlearn” many of the cultural biases that are almost instinctive. We must leave behind the notions that the way we do most things is the correct manner in which to do them. That’s not necessarily true in a very big world.
  • We must exercise patience, and listen a lot more than we talk.
  • That even if this venture fails by our standards, it’s not the end of the world because you never, never, never quit, and God has a plan even when you don’t.
  • A greater understanding that life is a balancing act, and your best is all you can do.
  • Finding new ways to help others understand that redemption, in whatever form it may present itself, is a wonderful and powerful thing.
...to a view like this.

…to a view like this.

My wife saves everything. She’s not a hoarder, but somehow uses her skills to organize our chaotic life. Last night she showed me a few “fortunes” she’d saved from the cookies we’d broken over the last year during visits to some of our favorite Asian restaurants. Yes, she saved the fortune cookie fortunes. A few fortunes read:

  • “You discover treasures where others see nothing unusual.”
  • “Ideas you believe are absurd, ultimately lead to success.”
  • “Others take notice of your radiance. Share your happiness.”
  • “Every production of genius, must first be the product of enthusiasm.”
  • “God looks after you, especially.”

Amazing…

We’ve said our goodbyes to family and friends. And now we go.

To all the readers for whom I’m so very thankful, my next post, and all those that follow for the succeeding 99 days, will be from a new base in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. We’ll share stories of our new adventure, grab photos of this beautiful land and invite you to enjoy it all with us.

Until then, thanks for coming along. If you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further.

Vaya con Dios for now.

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Failure: Friend or Foe? (Part II)

https://www.dropbox.com/s/gdvnm5a7i6zj9od/Watkins_EverydayMissionaries_20121212.mov

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As a follow-up to this post yesterday, I’m attaching a 7-minute video clip produced by, and shown yesterday, at Fellowship Bible Church in Jonesboro, AR. Just click on the link above and enjoy.

For Dana and me, it chronicles our life during the last three years, how things seemingly fell apart, and then,  how God responded to it all with the most laughable dream we could ever imagine.

Life is good.

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