We originally started to get ready to go over 18 months ago. That was before we decided it would be a good idea to have another child before going. So things were postponed for some time while we waited for Sabine to come along. She is here as of July 24, 2006, so we are now ramping up to go once again.
We made the decision to go some time ago, and I semi-obligated us to go by shipping some chocolate manufacturing equipment down before my last visit at Christmas so that I could produce more chocolates. Now I have the incentive that a large part of the needed investment to get started is now sitting down there waiting to be used.
Now that the moment of truth is just around the corner, we have been starting to second-guess ourselves, wonder about the wisdom of our decision, look at other options, and exhibit all the typical symptoms of self-doubt. Back when our departure was not just around the corner, it was “We’ll go when we have enough money.” We soon realized that to reach “the number” we would have to stay here another 15 years, or wait for retirement.
“The Number” would have made it easy, would have made it safe-and when is something easy and safe fun? When is it an adventure or a challenge? We thought if we can just hit “the Number”, that that way, if we failed in the business we would still have enough money to continue to live decently, and barring any major calamities, in perpetuity. Well, we realized that was never going to happen, or might happen when we reached retirement (a big might); in which case it wouldn’t happen it all. That would have made moot our primary reason for going. We finally just figured we’d have to go and give it a try.
Now we are realizing this is pretty much a no-return trip. Nothing is irrevocable, but in this case, failure is not an option. We have two kids to take care of. Now, we know we must succeed and if we don’t, we either have to look for another option for employment there (of which there are almost none) or come back to the US, sans all our belongings which we are taking with us.
The other big issue is finances. We figure we have enough cash, once we sell our house, to get set up and stay put for two years or so, while setting aside a large chunk to invest. But if we don’t start making money, we will have to start using those funds. We could use that money to buy a house in Ecuador and thus have no rental costs, but there is one major drawback to owning real estate in Latin America, that is usually not pointed out to you in all those ex-pat websites about living like a king on the beach in Central America or elsewhere.
Real estate is not a liquid investment in Latin America like it is here; that is, once you buy something, you can’t turn around and sell it several months or even years later-your cash is fully tied up. It could take years to sell, or you may never sell at all. There is no dynamic real estate market.
Most people here I talk to tell me “Go!” A lot of them say they wouldn’t have the courage to do something like this, and they admire us for having made such a decision. I don’t know if this is all true and they are thinking in the back of their heads “What idiots! Why would they want to go to a poor, underdeveloped country with no job opportunities!”
I see it like this; we can stay here slaves to the grind, my wife in a well-paying job where she feels the days are just passing her by, while I am at home taking care of the kids for the next few years (I’ve been at it now for three, and would have three more to go before I could go back to work). Our kids will grow up knowing most of their extended family as only strangers they might see once a year a few weeks at a time if that, around whom they hardly feel comfortable. Slaves to the idea that we have to have our hefty 401k/retirement account, our paid-off house, and all the trappings…etc. etc. Or take the risk, allow my wife to do what she wants which is take care of the kids, allowing me to do what I want which is make chocolate. Have our kids grow up with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles around all the time, maybe poorer materially, but richer in spirit and family. Our conviction is that family comes first, and our mental and physical health will be better with it around. Which would you choose?
My wife and I have been thinking about moving back to Ecuador for a long time-at least 5 years now. After a 2 year stint in Nicaragua with USAID, we both decided that living a mellower kind of life-the kind you might only have in Managua or some other underdeveloped town in an underdeveloped country outside the borders of the world of mass consumerism-was for us. We didn’t even remotely consider this possibility before living overseas for an extended time. Not that Managua is Paradise.
Potholes the size of craters, ox carts on the main boulevard, trash burning in the street, muddy rivers flowing down the street, fires in our backyard because the “peasants” were clearing the land for next season’s crop. Power outages, torrential rains, constant dust, the list goes on. But no constant barrage of media informing you how much you need this, you want that, or how much better your life would be with that next gadget. No constant reenforcement that you don’t have enough, that you should be gnawing at yourself from the inside out to acquire, acquire, acquire. No fancy restaurants to eat at, gourmet aisles in the supermarket, no noisy radio stations, no need for the latest and greatest…you fill in the blank. Ok, there is hardly anywhere left on earth free of these messages, but Managua was pretty close. Home cooked meals every day, a vegetable garden in my backyard, the radio announcing the time on the half hour-because nobody wears watches and they still aren’t slaves to the clock. I have spent over five years living and working in Latin America, and it continues to call me back, in spite of, or rather because of, all these things.
Just before leaving Nicaragua in September 2001, I made a trip to Ecuador and we bought some land in a small town called Cotacachi, planning to eventually build a house there. We haven’t gotten around to that part yet. But when we returned to the US from Nicaragua, we said we’d stay five years in the US at most, before going out on another overseas job (which we figured would come up, but for a number of reasons just hasn’t). Or before moving to Ecuador. So the five years is up, and we’re now counting five years and three months.
The main question has been, just what in hell were we going to do in Ecuador to make a living? A little over two years ago, I went to work in a chocolate shop in Alexandria, VA. An idea was born…I did some research over the web, and discovered via the US Commercial Service in Ecuador that there’s a big demand for chocolates, snack foods and other such items, and that items of US origin (or, in this case, made by a North American) generally have a winning reputation in Ecuador from day one just because of their provenance.
Last year I made two trips to Ecuador to do some test marketing. I turned out chocolates, caramels, candy cremes, brittle, toffee and other candy items. Both times (once at Mother’s day and once at Christmas) I nearly could not keep up with demand. And my only sales person was my mother-in-law, with some additional help from my sister-in-law and general word-of-mouth via the family. It looked good. The plan was hatched.