My Takeaway from the Ecuador Chautauqua


This comprises much of the general Ecuadorian landscape

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.


Our “hotel” was almost 200 years older than America.

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.

Ann (hilarious lady) and Mrs. Moneyseed posing.

Ann (hilarious lady) and Mrs. Moneyseed posing.

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.


Mrs. Moneyseed and I enjoying American refreshments abroad.

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.


No idea what’s happening here, but it was hilarious.

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.

Read other perspectives relating to the Chautauqua:

Mr Money Mustache, JD Roth, and Jim Collins

  22 comments for “My Takeaway from the Ecuador Chautauqua

  1. September 17, 2013 at 12:49 am

    Sounds like a really incredible experience. As you mentioned, there is a lot of poverty that you encountered, which can be very humbling to see in person. Did it feel weird or out of place to be having money talks about freedom and financial independence when most people in the country you are in can barely get by? I’m asking because I’m curious and I’ve been in a similar situation. I studied abroad in Chiapas, Mexico where our privilege was so very apparent. It seemed we worked for the people, but not with the people. It feels weird to come to a place for a short time, and exert your privilege and feel so grateful, then just to leave, when nothing has really changed for that community. From a more activist perspective, I wonder how we can help the financial situation of everyone, in all countries. Regardless, it sounds like you bonded with a lot of folks and it was a great experience.

    • AnnW
      September 22, 2013 at 4:35 pm

      We went to Ecuador because Cheryl Reed, the organizer, lives there and wanted to start a series of seminars there. A portion of the proceeds went to some of Cheryl’s local causes. The speakers donated their modest speaking fees to rebuilding an earthquake ravaged house for a local family. While we were there we visited a local orphanage to give them backpacks and gifts purchased with some of the proceeds. Cheryl donated some more proceeds to the orphanage and several participants donated cash. The participants are discussing starting an education fund for these deserving children. We helped the local economy quite a bit by purchasing tons of native crafts at the Otavalo market and the nearby town of Cotacachi. I felt privileged to go to Ecuador, spend my money there and to meet the people. I plan to go back.

  2. September 17, 2013 at 8:40 am

    Nice write-up Johnny and it was great having you there. You are someone I’ve wanted to meet for awhile now, and being introduced to Mrs. Moneyseed was a wonderful bonus!

    Since I was curious, I clicked on the link highlighted by my name in your post. It leads nowhere. You trying to tell me something? :-)

    • Johnny Moneyseed
      September 17, 2013 at 11:03 am

      Jim — I was looking forward to meeting you as well. It’s quite unfortunate that we never had a one on one sit down, but hopefully we can plan something for the future. We should convince Cheryl to start working on Chautauqua 2014!

      I fixed the link to your site and encourage readers to check it out if they haven’t already.

      • September 17, 2013 at 12:40 pm


        Yeah, me too. You were one of the few I missed having in-depth conversations.

        Let’s make it a point to get together at FinCon and/or make your way up to NH and I’ll buy the coffee!

        Oh, and I’m pretty sure Cheryl is up for another!

  3. September 17, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    Sounds like a wonderful experience. There’s nothing like experiencing what’s it’s like to live in poorer conditions to really understand that money cannot buy happiness. In high school, I attended a 7-day immersion trip to Tijuana, Mexico and although their streets and homes exuded poverty, the people had the richest personalities.

  4. September 17, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    Sounds fun and different :)

  5. September 17, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    Sounds amazing! Are there plans to make this trip an annual occurrence?

  6. September 18, 2013 at 7:24 am

    Wow, Johnny – what a cool experience! My dad’s been to SA and had the same experience about realizing quickly how damn spoiled we Americans are. So glad you got to go to this – sounds super fun. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  7. Marla
    September 18, 2013 at 9:30 am

    Hi Johnny – it was so great to meet you and Mrs. M in Ecuador. A great write-up – especially loved the photo of hilarity (kind of describes much of my week). I’m so sorry we didn’t find you at the airport to say goodbye (we waited and waited but never found you). I find your journey toward early retirement particularly compelling. You guys are so far ahead of me, it’s inspiring! I look forward to keeping in touch and being a regular reader. Give Mrs. M a big hug for me!

    • Johnny Moneyseed
      September 18, 2013 at 11:29 am

      Hey Marla! By the time we made it through to the terminal you would have already boarded your plane. It’s unfortunate, but at least we were able to say goodbye beforehand. Thank you for being part of such a great experience!

  8. September 19, 2013 at 5:15 am

    Americans don’t know poverty unless you go to a third world country. It seems like the trip of a lifetime.

  9. September 19, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    I’d heard about the Chautauqua via MMM several months ago, and have been eagerly awaiting the details, since I was unable to go myself (THIS TIME). Happy to learn about another blogger to check out in the process. Finding people who understand this crazy desire to live below your means and retire early can be exhilarating! I look forward to checking out the rest of your site. :-)

    • Johnny Moneyseed
      September 19, 2013 at 9:17 pm

      Robb — Yeah, we’re a bunch of weirdos I guess. That’s fine by me. We’ll be the ones who don’t need to work until we’re 65.

      The Chautauqua was great. I would sign up for another one in a heartbeat. Hopefully you can experience the next one.

      • September 21, 2013 at 10:38 pm

        We may be weird, but we are also awesome. ::fist pump::

  10. September 20, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    So far I’ve read JLCollins and J.D. Roth’s account of your chatauqua. It sounds like it was a great experience for all of you! And yes, I bet it was great being with like-minded people who get what you’re all about when it comes to sustainable living and early retirement. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Doug
    September 22, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    I’m just wondering if Mr. Money Mustache gave you a face-punch upon disembarking from the plane? It just seems kind of odd that a person writing about early retirement would spend, I would guess, $10,000 plus to go on a trip while not even being debt free. I don’t find that particularly inspiring.

    Must be nice to rub elbows with the rich and famous, though.

    • Johnny Moneyseed
      September 22, 2013 at 9:43 pm

      It was just over $2,000 including airfare. Plus it was a business expense. My wife and I save well over 50% of our income every year, plus we bring in side-hustle money that I don’t even include in that figure. Why criticize me for going on a trip that encouraged Financial Independence, when people waste just as much (probably more) every year to bring their families to Disney?

      When you say “debt” are you referring to my mortgages? Even MMM agreed with me that paying off the mortgages at a faster rate was a dumb idea, considering we could make so much more from investments.

      Thanks for your comment, Doug!

      • December 9, 2013 at 5:21 pm

        Wow… you just can’t please some people!

        I’ve seen people criticise MMM for taking a flight to Hawaii saying it totally wipes out his efforts in cycling everywhere. Talk about missing the point!

        If he kept living the normal lifestyle of most Americans (the lifestyle of the person who critized I am 99% certain) he would still be working, driving to work everyday, consuming conspicuously AND STILL flying to bloody Hawaii anyway!

        I would also note Dougs comment could just have just been down to plain old jealousy… I would have loved to have gone on that trip, it sounded great! :)

        • Johnny Moneyseed
          December 11, 2013 at 6:19 pm

          Yeah man, that was just a jealous blogger using anonymity to conceal his identity, although I did figure out who he was 😉

          We got such a good deal on that trip, and it wasn’t about rubbing elbows, or even about traveling to exotic places. It was about being with people with similar interests. All 25 of us were almost instantly best friends, because we all value the same things.

          • December 12, 2013 at 3:21 am

            Good sleuthing skills!

            Yea must have been great to meet like minded people in real life. The internet is great but nothing like putting the world to rights over a cold beer or two ay.

  12. Chris
    September 24, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    I have read all the others recaps one heir trips and then realized I hadn’t visited your site in awhile, well look who went on a trip too! That’s awesome you had a wonderful experience and I would have been in FI heaven. I will watch for next years trip. By the way, the new theme is much easier to read and navigate. I feel simpler is better , much like the road to FI . Cheers

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