A Garden in Bloom

I once heard that a friendship is like a garden, as it must be tended to for it to thrive.

Plants and Flowers

For as long as I can remember, friendship and socializing were important aspect of my life.  Having been travel nursing and distant from friends for 3 years now, I’ve had much alone time to reflect.  Closely examining current and past relationships, I have embraced the value of a true friend.  I remember always being broken hearted by fair weather friends and offering trust to those who hadn’t earned it.  In my younger years, I thought every person I met was supposed to be my friend.  One of my favorite sayings was: we’re not strangers, just friends that haven’t met yet.

As I have gotten older, and wiser, I have realized that not every person is destined to be my friend.  Instead, the universe plants people along our path; each has a purpose, a lesson to be learned and sometimes even friendship.

I have had many ‘friends’ along the way. A few are lifelong pals.  Others have taught me life lessons.  Many reminded me of who my true friends really are.  As I learned more about myself and what friendship meant to me, the time had come to let go of relationships that had long ago been left without water.   Pulling up these roots wasn’t easy at first…maybe that is why I left them in the ground for so long.  I found by weeding the garden, space was made for so much more to grow.

Captain and I had plenty of time to relax and unwind while in Ecuador but that was not our focus on this trip. First was finding a place to rent near our property so we are close during the building process. Next important was finding a safe place to store our Lada, Old Yeller, until we come back for good! Networking was going to be very important for our agenda.

I am a country girl and there is little that appeals to me living in the city; it’s just not in my blood. I was not overly excited about staying in Atacames. But with the city comes opportunity! Despite my distaste for city dwelling, our time spent living there would surely be worthwhile.

What is the first thing that comes to mind that every city has to offer? Pizza, of course! As you may know, Captain loves his pizza, so one of the first things we did was find the local pizza joint. Finding pizza was easy…a parlor that was open on a Tuesday for lunch was not. Captain had been set on having pizza, so there we stood along Atacame’s Malecon. What were we going to eat now?

Captain and I were deep in thought when a hand landed on both of our shoulders. It was Boatmaster!!! We happened to be standing in front of his favorite restaurant where he and the Mrs. were having lunch. Even on the busy street of Atacames, it wasn’t hard to spot the two of us in a crowd. We obliged when asked to lunch. Approaching the table I noticed a new face with The Boatmasters. There sat an incredibly fit man with a white head of hair and bright pale skin, wearing a Barcelona soccer jersey.

Glowing Gringo

Boatmaster, the governor of the north was giving him the grand welcome. Barcelona was a Canadian scouting out Ecuador for possible real estate investment.   Captain took a liking to Barcelona right away.  “I thought you Canadians like hockey, not soccer.”   Barcelona explained that he is from Northern Canada where it’s arctic cold.    Hence the reason he had no summer attire for the trip to Ecuador.  “I walked into the store and this was the first shirt I saw…I just thought it was a plain old tank top.” ‘Football’ is THE SPORT in South America~Barcelona hadn’t realized that his yellow shirt was going to make him the most popular gringo in Atacames. Barcelona!!!!

Barcelona!

When Barcelona mentioned he owned a health consulting firm, I was intrigued and wanted to know more.  He said it was a much too long story for lunch and I said, “Great! I’ll hear it over dinner!” His response was, “let me check my schedule.” When he pulled out his imaginary datebook from the pocket of his swim trunks, I realized he was a jokester…

Captain and I took Barcelona to dinner at my favorite Ecuadorian restaurant.  Azuca is located in Same and the owner is a sweet and kind-hearted woman who has turned her open air eatery into a piece of art. Sugar’s beautiful paintings hang on the walls beside wind chimes made of shells.  Her food is cooked with love and she makes the BEST yucca fries. I feel a deep connection to her and hope someday conversation will flow freely between the two of us.  Our exchanges mostly consist of teaching one another English and Spanish words from the menu and me admiring her work.  There is surely much for us to teach one another.

Having been out of the country for 3 months, Azuca had changed since we were there last.  The kittens were bigger, the seasonal menu was different and Sugar had rearranged her works.  It was as if I was seeing the place for the first time again!

The moment I took my seat, this sign caught my eye:

Yoga Fest

I  squealed!  Ecuador Yogafest!?!  Yoga and meditation are tools I utilize for weight loss, managing stress and releasing anxiety. First, I was amazed that anyone was talking about yoga in these parts and even more impressed there is a yoga festival!  What a beautiful sign from the Universe.

The conversation flowed with ease and Barcelona had so much insight for me building my wellness retreat…I was inspired, touched and wildly excited for our plans!  When we parted ways, I hoped we could meet again. He said he was searching for property more south but would be in Atacames for a while and suggested we meet up again. Of course!

That evening the Barcelona ‘football’ team won a big game and it was madness in Atacames! From our penthouse view, the city scene was legendary. There was a line of at least forty vehicles.  They were making loops around the main streets.  With our view we could see the caravan raising hell through almost the whole city.  When we couldn’t see them, we could hear them. Beep be-beep beep beep!!! Beep be-beep beep beep!!! It may have been the adrenaline but it sure looked like everyone was crazy drunk!  There were people riding on the roofs of cars and moto-taxis were packed with 10 people.  Even the city’s over-sized water truck was part of the celebration.

Riot in the Streets

The next morning we ran into Barcelona on the beach. Captain asked him if he’d heard the ‘riots’ overnight. Barcelona’s reply? “I was in the middle of it! They were carrying me on their shoulders through the city! ” The Ecuatorianos loved the golden gringo. I knew that yellow shirt was going to make him the coolest gringo in the North!

Over the next week, we ran into Barcelona on the beach every day. Our days were spent telling stories, discussing culture and, of course, body surfing in the warm ocean waters. Wasn’t he supposed be searching for property? There was never a dull moment with Barcelona. Walking around town with this boisterous man was hilarious. “Hola mi amigos! Que pasa? Quiero cervesa!”

The more we got to know Barcelona it was clear he was brought into our lives for a reason. He was a successful business man who was very knowledgeable about weight loss and natural medicine. Barcelona was ecstatic about our plan for a wellness and adventure retreat. When he offered to be our mentor, I was honored. He said, “This is going to be really fun, guys!” I loved his enthusiasm…

One morning I was sitting on the beach listening to the waves and reading my journal.  Just days before meeting Barcelona, I had written that I hoped I would find a business mentor and guide.  The Universe surely had arranged events to allow that fateful lunch…

Barcelona told us about a few locals he met randomly on the beach. “You two are gonna love these two! They are a riot!!! Let’s just go there now!” Barcelona marched us right down to their house.

There was a hanging bell outside the gate.  We stood there for minutes after ringing and the place was still.  Once more, before leaving, we rung the bell and out walked a tall, gray haired man.  “What’s up guys? I just finished up with my morning meditation. Come on in.”  His words came out so slowly.  We followed Mellow to the porch and took a seat.  He was not in a hurry for anything.  He had the tone of a typical Californian surfer dude.  Mellow told us about all the cool places he’d surfed and his experiences living in Ecuador. He had come there in search of a beachfront home, a surf wave and peace of mind.

When Mellow told me about a friend who does massage and chakra balancing, I was fascinated. The Universe kept giving me signs that my vision of a wellness retreat would prosper.  It was manifesting before my eyes…

Mellow’s wife was out running errands so he invited us to come back again.  “She will want to meet the two of you…”

A few days later while lounging on the beach, a hyper golden retriever came running up to us and plopped right down on Barcelona’s beach towel. The dog was rolling all over and kicking up sand on us all. This was not a feral dog. Barcelona knew the dog. He had already been ‘attacked’ by this dog on the beach. “Guys,” he said, “this is Yellow. And that,” he pointed down the beach, “is his owner!”

Running down the beach was a women in a red one piece swimsuit screaming, “Yellow! Yellow! Come back here, Yellow!” As she got closer, Captain recognized her; he had a run-in with this woman already…

We had been running a few errands through the city. All of a sudden, an oncoming vehicle swerved at us in the unmistakable Old Yeller and waved us to a halt.  The exchange happened so quickly I didn’t even see the people in the vehicle. All I heard was, “what are you doing driving Boatmaster’s car?” Captain barely got it out of his mouth that we had bought it from The Boatmasters before the driver sped away. Me and Captain just looked at each other and burst out laughing, “what just happened?!? Who was that?”

Caffeine was the type of person who had never met a stranger.  There wasn’t even a formal introduction before she started interviewing us.  We weren’t able to answer any of her questions before she asked another. “How long have you been here? When are you leaving? I like living here in Atacames. What do think of this place? How big is your property? What town is it nearby? Maybe you could take us there and see it! We should do dinner in a couple nights.” She was Mellow’s wife?  Caffeine was intense but kindness dripped from her pores.

Meanwhile, Yellow was chasing joggers passing by and little children running on the beach.   Locals were terrified of this largely misunderstood dog.  Yellow was nothing like the ferol dogs that frequent the beach.  When Caffeine asked, “anybody wanna train my dog? He really is wild!” I was thinking, “Maybe you both just need to meditate with Mellow!”

Caffeine invited us to dinner the following week.  The Universe again had brought us together with two more like-minds.  Before we could graciously accept her offer, she yelled, “See ya!” She took off running towards Yellow. “He won’t bite! Just stand still! Stop moving and he will stop chasing you! Yellow!!”  She departed as quickly as she arrived…

As I reflected on all the new people we’d met, I began to see it wasn’t about ‘making friends’.  A community was being created…was it not ‘friends’ that I have been looking for all along, but a community?

For those of you yearning for connection in a, sometimes isolating, foreign paradise, this is a friendly reminder: niceness cannot be confused with trustworthiness.  I am reminded of Agent…an American ‘real estate agent’ we found here in Ecuador.  He exuded kindness but only wanted our money. He was a nice man but not to be trusted…

Here in South America, I am sure most have experienced the stigma of being a gringo.  “Gringos are rich and should pay more if I can get them too.”  This belief makes gringos targets for be taken advantage of.  The stereotype may be rightfully earned because many do spend with little regard.  Please notice the prices the locals pay; shop around.  Be aware of property and home prices throughout the areas.  Be cautious when mixing friends with finances.

I am not suggesting that we isolate ourselves from those we feel indifferent from.  There are lessons for us all to learn from one another.  The community of expats in the North is very small as not many have settled in these parts.  There has been endless support offered from each and every one we’ve met.  And no one is trying to sell us anything!  The foreign experience of overseas living can be very intimidating.  But living within established communities and only mingling with “the gringos” further propagates a social stigma.  What I appreciate here in the North is that the expats have not secluded themselves from the locals but instead found a place to thrive in the society as it is. The camaraderie of the expats in the north is strong.  This strength will not divide people but serve Ecuadorian communities to become stronger and healthier.

Perhaps people are only plants and flowers and a community is the garden…

Atacames

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