When you think about Ecuador — or pretty much any South American country — the first thought that may come to mind is “tropical paradise”. In reality, the first thing you would probably think when you see how many Ecuadorians live is: poverty.
After arriving at the beautiful airport “in” Quito (actually about an hour outside of the capital), we were taken by shuttle about an hour and a half North to the Hacienda Cusin in San Pablo. The houses that lined the highway were made primarily of cinder blocks and mortar with exposed rebar for possible future expansion. Most homes have empty square holes where windows would normally be, and stray animals line the streets eating whatever garbage they can find. Not exactly paradise.
Taking in the initial sights of Ecuador was definitely a very humbling experience. The entire shuttle ride, I couldn’t help but think of all of the excess and waste in my own life. Yet, even though the country is stricken with poverty, Ecuadorians are genuinely super friendly (at least everyone that we encountered). The old adage that “money doesn’t buy happiness” can only be truly understood when you realize how little people need for survival and how amiable people with literally next to nothing can be.
The ride ended outside of a large walled-in establishment that could only be the Hacienda. The front gate opened up to a lush courtyard filled with rich vegetation and buildings that were built circa the 17th century. Further exploration of the grounds revealed colorful gardens, a monastery, a cozy library, a gift shop filled with hand-crafted souvenirs, and an array of wildlife from humming birds to alpacas.
Our week was spent enjoying various activities including presentations by Cheryl Reed, Mr. Money Mustache, jlcollinsnh, and J.D. Roth; watching folkloric dancing and a shamanic cleansing (WOOOSH!); shopping at the local market; and eating gourmet meals almost continuously. Perhaps the most interesting thing that happened was also the most unexpected, the emergence of an amazing bond formed between all of the participants and the hosts, which couldn’t have been pre-planned no matter how thorough the logistics.
The age ranges and occupational backgrounds of the attendees was surprisingly diverse; from 27-67; some lawyers, a doctor, a couple of Wall Street tycoons, software developers, and Early Retirees to name a few. But we all had something in common: we all respect and enjoy talking about money and have the goal of Financial Independence. In short, we all have goals that almost no one really understands. We are all told daily that our thinking is unrealistic by people who “live in the real world”, and “know what life is really like”. For some it was the first time EVER that they were able to express their financial desires and future plans without being scoffed at. If your goal is to Retire Early then you would probably understand completely the struggles of conveying your plans outwardly.
Three days into the trip my wife ‘Juanita’ Moneyseed and I were having a discussion about how truly inspiring everyone was. We noticed that people seemed to legitimately care about what you had to say, evidenced by the fact that people would retain a lot of (normally) forgettable details told in passing. I realized that I could rattle off more information about many of the participants — that I had just met — than I could about people I’ve worked closely with for months.
Our commonalities created friendships that are sure to last years longer than our 7-day shared experiences. While we did some great things for the local community, participated in once-in-a-lifetime events, and saw many breathtaking sights (the Equator, a lake inside a volcano, a church lined floor-to-ceiling in gold), my greatest takeaway is the relationships that were cultivated. The presenters and all attendees were normal, down-to-Earth people, fostering a very relaxed but consistently educational atmosphere.
Sometimes things fall into place and you naturally end up having everything you need. Other times, you have to travel to South America to meet people that can help you reaffirm that your efforts are worth it, and that there are people out there that have the same goals and ideals as you. If the chance for a trip like this ever falls into your lap, I strongly suggest that you attend. You might meet some lifelong best friends that you wouldn’t have otherwise known existed.
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