Pirates of the Pacific

One night, a friend of mine, named David, and I were sitting around his gorgeous penthouse condo, overlooking Salinas Bay in Ecuador.  As we sipped a cocktail…or two…David commented on the wayward journey that had independently brought us both to the shores of Ecuador.  At once, he incisively affirmed, “It is like we are modern day pirates.”  Modern day pirates, indeed.  It stuck with me.  If you think about it, we have traveled across the seas, to a foreign land, in an effort to claim a new port in the sea – a place we could newly call “home”.  I only hoped that at the end of this life’s journey, unlike the pirates of lore, we would leave behind more largesse than we plundered, from the beautiful shores of Salinas, Ecuador.  Perhaps a bit too romanticized, but we were to be the “good pirates”. So, it was but a limited stretch that when I opted to take on the responsibilities of operating the Escape Artist (EA) Ecuador Portal, knowing that a key component would be covering the journey of fellow expats, I chose to label this feature section, “ Pirates of the Pacific ”, with our common expat port of call being the intoxicatingly beautiful country of Ecuador.  If I am going to ask my fellow “pirates” to”belly up to the bar”, well, it is only common courtesy of the “pirate’s code” that I wander up there myself, first.  So, listen closely, as here is the tale of how I meandered my way to the shores of Ecuador.

I had been working, pretty much my whole life, since the age of 14.  Since the age of 20, when I started my first business, while still a full-time university student, my profession of choice has been as a global real estate investment consultant.  First, operating a business out of Chicago and when my corporate interest was sold to existing partners, subsequently opening a second business in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.  I have now been in the business for 30 years.

Somewhere around corporate years 24-25, I was not so much “burnt-out”, but in need of a life reassessment.  When I was in high-school, I worked and went to school.  When I was at the university, I started a business, while I went to school.  During the first 25 years I operated my successful business enterprises, I was also heavily involved, behind the scenes, in all things political.  In short, I had pulled “double duty” for a long time.  I had to reassess if that was the way I wanted to spend the next 25 years of my life.

Normally, one would think that either personal lifestyle issues or my core business, real estate, would drive that critical decision.  However, it was my political involvement for 25 years that really sparked the first of many “drastic turns” in the road.  Working with politicians at literally every level of government, allowed me a unique perspective on the evolving “American” way of life.  I saw many a great political champion, riding into Washington, D.C., hoping to bring “change to the USA”.  Two years later, all too often, the politician had not brought change to Washington, Washington had changed the politician.

I saw a USA, still with much potential in its people, stumbling about lost in a political wilderness, with its economy in free fall due to an almost insurmountable debt crisis.  I also saw little change being effected to make things better.  In short, it was not so much a repudiation of what I witnessed in the USA, but a hunger to find a place where opportunity was still thriving and values were more attractive, which led me on my global search for a new home.

I had already spent the better part of my life traveling abroad for business.  Truthfully, for at least 20 years, I had probably spent as much time overseas, if not more, than in the USA.  I had been preaching global investments in real estate, long before it was popular, or even much thought about in any serious manner, especially in some of the “value play” emerging markets upon which we focused. It was not much of a leap to ponder, “If I preach a global perspective for my clientele, why not consider a global lifestyle for myself?”

My personal journey could fill out the pages of War and Peace.  I can be, at times, a fairly intense guy.  Think about it, in essence, my exploration was very similar to my core business – analyzing opportunities.  So, yep…I am the guy with the 92-column wide spreadsheet, comparing dozens of economic, political, social and business factors, across my original targeted 25 countries.  I will spare you all the painstaking details.  In short, my 14-month analysis went from 25 countries to 20-15-10-5-3-2…1!  Ecuador was it!  It was more attractive from a value and lifestyle perspective than anywhere else, with fabulous future growth opportunities and the Salinas sub-market, where I chose to reside, had the perfect climate for me…warm…sunny…arid…and that beautiful Pacific Ocean.  Set sails…land ho’!

Arriving in Ecuador, I quickly discovered the place was even more perfect than imagined.  The domestic national population was warm, friendly and inviting.  The expat community was equally accommodating, although my preference was not so much to immerse myself in an “expat world”, but rather to embrace the social-cultural life of Ecuador.  At first, the latter was not easy.  My real estate business called for a great deal of involvement with the expat community.  I felt my time was their time.  I was committed.  It was a wonderful and enjoyable commitment, but eventually I found a better way to balance the business aspect of my life, with how I spent my personal time.  It was a zen-like, life affirming realization.  The very refreshing evolution I longed for, when I was still back in the USA.

Because of my career industry, no two days, here in my new found home, are ever exactly alike.  However, a typical day finds me enjoying a wonderful, home-cooked breakfast, with many ingredients form the local fresh-produce market, in the town of La lIbertad, while leisurely sipping some wonderful, locally harvested Ecuadorian coffee.  Then, I am off for my first round of client meetings, whether previewing real estate with buyers, or securing new listings with sellers.

I then, generally, take a brief break, maybe sip something cool and refreshing, such as a freshly made strawberry milkshake, bang out about an hour’s worth of emails, before heading back out for my second round of client meetings.  Never quite enough time for lunch, but trust me…your personal lifestyle, here, can be very different than mine.  I then return home for either a hearty, home-cooked meal, or set off for one of the many enticing restaurants, some owned by expats, others owned by Ecuadorian nationals, which line the streets of resort town, Salinas.

My nights are filled with following up on more emails, scheduling the next day’s appointments and enjoying the Ecuadorian lifestyle. The latter can include anything from a stroll across the La Libertad Malecón (boardwalk), to a home visit with Ecuadorian friends, or maybe just a night at the local cinema, conveniently located in our regional mall, with flicks featured in Spanish with English subtitles, or English, with Spanish subtitles.  Fortunately, I am fluently bilingual and either option suits me perfectly.

In short, my lifestyle should not be anyone’s ideal lifestyle, as the specific lifestyle of others  may not be perfectly suited for me.  I constantly get told, even here, that I “work too much”. However, I have always enjoyed my career profession.  It is not “work” to me, but my passion.  For me, this is “taking it easy”.  For the first time I can remember, I am not pulling “double duty”.  No politics…no scholastic pressure…just my career and the time to enjoy my life, in my new home.  It is my personal “zen”.

For the readers, your experience can be totally different.  You can make your new “pirate’s life” here in Ecuador whatever you choose to make of it.  Rather than over-dramatize and romanticize my lifestyle for print, I endeavored to present it in as “real world” a manner as I could illustrate.  For me, it is a lifestyle of simplicity.  I hope that when I go out and interview other expats, as part of the “Pirates of the Pacific” feature piece for the Escape Artist Ecuador Portal that all will be as candid and as “real”, as I have endeavored to be in this article.  I think expats and “want-to-be expats” really require a dose of reality.  A true understanding of what awaits them, if they set sail with us to a new land.

The one promise I can make is that if your explore coming ashore in Ecuador, you will find a land with gentle people, beautiful ocean vistas, exceptional opportunities and almost unparalleled value.  If you stay…even just a while…and you watch enough sunsets, climb enough Sierra foothills, wade across enough Amazon rivers and immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of this land, I’d be willing to bet a “dubloon or a piece of eight” that you will make this port of call, your new, permanent home.  ” Har, welcome aboard mateys.” It may be a bumpy ride, but it is going to be one major adventure!