Antigua, Guatemala – The Final Day

My last full day in Guatemala can be summarized as such:  morning ritual, smog and traffic, bureaucrat sit-down, mentoring from “Guatemala’s Zuckerburg”, hardest lunch order ever, more smog and traffic, bed and breakfast owner visit and wind down at the Spence’s. I’ll go into more detail with pictures or you can skip to the bottom for the trip summary. 

Morning involved the normal light exercise (walking, yep I’m old) and stretching (only because the Whole Life Challenge compels me to do so. It doesn’t hurt when the rising sun mutes the fire and lava spitting from an active volcano in the distance. I did notice that most of the Guatemalan house builders or caretakers start showing up for work around 5:30am. For many this is their first of two jobs they will work today. After my walk, a cup of very good Antiguan coffee and an over-salted egg, rice and bean breakfast that I made for the house, I showered and prepped for the workday. 

At 9am sharp our driver arrived to bring us into Guatemala City.  A black car no less. A black mid-2000 Toyota Corolla with 260,000 miles. Guatemalan “Uber”. Our driver was awesome. He spoke great English and new the city and our multi-destination itinerary like  the back of his hand. After 90 minutes, about 40kms, endless chicken buses and more smog than I think I’ve encountered in a city (the record previously owned by Mumbai) we arrived at the American Chamber of Commerce or AmCham if you’re hip. Our host provided us with more high quality coffe and then told us a) we should join her club so we could get good benefits, b) they can provide lots of information and assistance with setting up a U.S.-based business in Guatemala and c) a chance for networking opportunities. Felt about like we expected it would. A resource if we need it nonetheless. 

From there we drove 5-10 minutes to what looked like a mall. After visiting the right address in the wrong building we entered the most high tech office environment I think I have ever seen. Every 20-something in the world wants to work in this office. I would have taken pictures of this but candidly I didn’t think it would look very cool but man, I wish I had!  Our meeting was with what felt like the ‘Guatemalan Zuckerburg.’  He told a fantastic story on how he worked his butt off to make nearly $10M as a 22 year old. I was worried we were in the wrong room…a room with a heartless capitalist.  He shared how he parlayed that $10 million into many companies over the next 10-15 years.  Still worried. Then he started the screenshow where he shared how all of this helped define his true goal and purpose: raise up Guatemala to a tech leading country competing with the US, India, China, etc.  He shared an interesting fact that makes me think he will get there in this ambition: the top 20 wealthiest families support this goal and furthermore back it financially because it has little to no competing interests with areas that could impact their respective wealth generators.  In fact, it probably ensures the growth of the wealth of the aforementioned families and their industries.  To ensure this buy-in he has spent considerable time meeting with these families to build support. Impressive. Even more fun is the fact that a single conversation with Philip from EcoFiltro on Tuesday led to this conversation. Candidly, Torrent being 164th on the Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Company list helped open this door. Business is a funny thing. Nonetheless, this is a contact we will want to stay in touch with as our mission directly supports his greater goal. 

Afterwards we spent an hour interviewing a few tech candidates and then what seemed like an hour ordering lunch where English was clearly not going an option. I considered pulling the Google Translate app out it got so bad. Must. Learn. Spanish. 

Our last stop of the day was back in Antigua. We were meeting with the cousin of a colleague. Candidly, I’m not sure we knew why we were meeting with this person, nor did she. She owned a bed and breakfast in Antigua (which was also her home) and shared lots of fun stories. We toured her B&B which was rustic, grabbed some fruit from her internal courtyard (most homes have an open air courtyard in the interior) and left wondering if one day we will look back on that visit as the connection that made everything else come together. 

Our trip wrapped up with a nice dinner at the Spence residence, some reminiscing, repacking and then bed for a 3:45 alarm and 4am departure for Guatemala City. I’m grateful for the hospitality the Spence’s provided. While I’m sure it is not easy to live abroad, they surely have a great opportunity ahead of them. One I’m excited to play a small role in helping shape. 

Guatemala has been a fantastic trip. I’m lucky to work with great people who care about each other and humans in general.  I hope to get back down there often with both my family and other co-workers. While I can’t put my fingers on exactly what will come of this yet, I sense something bigger than me.  Something that I hope will result in raising others up, raising me up and raising our company up. What do I mean by ‘raising up?’  I mean helping give others an opportunity to emerge from the cycle of poverty. I mean helping my co-workers seek what I have wanted for 22 years of employment:  deeper purpose tied to my work. I am grateful and hopeful we can tie this story together where business profits can tangibly help raise communities up to higher educational levels and life quality. 

A tortilla maker – she seems to have a long day ahead of her. 

The courtyard, patio and pool area of our B&B owner meeting. 

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Antigua Days 3 & 4 – Amazing People and Diversity


Processing what this experience has meant to me won’t happen in the short term. I’m confident that I will need time to think through what this means for Torrent as a company and me as a person. I’m learning more about my personality style too. I wear out during the day. Quiet time during the day to think and focus is important to me. Movement is important to me. Interaction is important but must be balanced with fun, not just all work. Fourteen to fifteen hours a day with the team here has reminded me of these traits that go dormant when I travel less or solo. For the most part I’m able to influence and tailor to these needs which in recent years has made group travel far more enjoyable. 

Common themes are beginning to emerge in Antigua after several days of meeting a very diverse set of people. These people come from all kinds of backgrounds and heritages but most importantly provide a hugely diverse set of thoughts and ideas. For a new growing company this might be the most important ingredient to achieving loosely defined outcomes. So far we have met with CEOs of large companies, founders of small businesses, teachers, university administrators, interviewees and digital nomads. Some of the themes:

  • Guatemalans need jobs, not handouts
  • The pool of educated resources reduces with age. 
  • It is not uncommon for Guatemalan university students to obtain full-time employment during school
  • Full-time employment can commonly distract students from completing university
  • Companies hiring talent attract schools – too few jobs available for even the small number of graduates
  • Many students return to their schools to teach and push the mission of education to more Guatemalans
  • It is important to find ways to encourage Guatemalans to bring earnings and the fruits of their work back to their towns. 
  • Kindness and work ethic seems to be national traits. 
  • We have not met with a single ex-Pat from the U.S. operating with anything but true and noble intentions
  • There is a strong theme of not being an arrogant westerner know-it-all when working down here. 

 Over the last two days these encounters have amazed me:

  • Ecofiltro – maybe the coolest business ever. Ceramic water filtration. We toured the factory. Incredible. Clay, sawdust, ceramic pots where the water seeps through. This process cleans the impurities from the water. Game changer for places where water quality is an issue (looking at you, Flint, Michigan USA). Meeting with their founder and CEO Philip was inspiring. 
  • La Azotea Coffee Farm – this coffee museum, farm and Green school for K-9 run by an influential ex-Motorola (Boynton Beach, Fl plant) man named Ricardo. He has a mixed-use community vision built around the concept of green space and recreational offerings. He sees a B&B, commercial property leasing, educational facility and recreation/entertainment model for the local community. He was very interested in Torrent taking on workspace and helping raise up the community with good jobs operating from his space. With 2 fiber lines into his property it could be highly attractive. We don’t even have fiber into our building in Charlotte!
  • Guatemala Conexiones – a group led by Dave Macdonald who travels to Guatemala for months at a time to provide educational support to a school in the hills above Antigua. We met with 6-7 of their students who were graduates and they were nothing short of incredible. All are now giving back to their school and community by teaching Spanish, English and other subjects. The lives they will impact and the lift they will give to the region is hard to describe. 

Other observations:

  • TaCool is a super tasty fast-food taco place. Could give Chipotle a run for their money in the states. 
  • Best I can tell, the average speed in Guatemala is roughly 22 mph. We haven’t eclipsed 40 mph this entire trip. 
  • Clean air really matters. Wood stoves and awful vehicle exhausts are big contributors to the poor air quality down here. 
  • There is money in motorcycles/mopeds. Apparently they have exploded in Guatemala in the past five years. 
  • Chicken bus – a school bus that has been elaborately decorated and is privately operated to transport people. Theft can be high on these. 
  • They have Costco down here.
  • Lots of these too (they will be Tortillas) 
  • Chispa (“spark”) – this is similar to the chutzpah. 
  • This was apparently a celebrity…in TaCool…with a Dutch group of tourists…

My writing is less than Skimm’d like but that’s mostly due to the busy schedule. The trip has been outstanding.   A few more pics for you.  A quick pic of my new business idol (sorry Daniel ūüė¨).

An odd person to quote in a work environment…the venerable Don Draper. Hmmmm.

WLC Journal #4 – Protein

Four days into the WLC and my biggest challenge in the challenge continues to be eating. Specifically eating enough protein. Cindy is convincing me that this is behind my spate of calf injuries over the past 2-4 years. I think she’s right. 
Here’s the math:  6 foot man of average weight/build needs somewhere between 80-100 grams of protein per day or so the Internet tells me. I get 25-28 from my morning shake but on some days that can be my peak for the day. Yesterday I had a shoddy lunch (read: I missed a full lunch) and ate nuts at a couple of different windows in the afternoon. Then the bean surprise and an apple with real peanut butter for dessert and I may have ended up with 50-60 grams of protein total for the day. Not. Even. Close. 

So, the presenter theory from Cindy is to make a simple dietary adjustment:  eat meat. While a sure fix then that puts me back in the mode of not feeling efficient and as good as I do without the meat. Plus the return to regular stomach issues isn’t something I want to return to anytime soon. 

This leaves me at an interesting point and with the same general conclusion:  I love to run. I REALLY LOVE to run. I like not eating meat. Therefore I need to find protein in more places than I currently am. Simple, right?  Maybe not as much as I thought. 

More fish?  More beans?  More shakes?  Any more ideas?  I’d love to hear them. 

WLC Journal #2 – Why WLC?

This is¬†round of three of the Whole Life Challenge (WLC) ¬†for me and by far the most frequent question I get asked is: “Why do you do it?” ¬†Contrary to Cindy’s belief that I truly enjoy removing things from my world regardless of the pain created, the simplest answer is I like how I feel when I’m in the Challenge. ¬†It holds me accountable to do the things I aspire to do on most days anyways. ¬†Exercise, stretch, drink more water, sleep better and eat healthier. ¬†I’m confident when I don’t do one or more of these things I feel notably worse than if I had done them.

My reasons for participating in the WLC have shifted since my first round.  Initially my reason was to dump my ridiculous sugar habit.  Once and for all.  A habit that I know I came into through only the best intended genetics.  Generations of chocolate pies, scratch-made chocolate chip cookies, coconut cakes and even Publix-baked sweets left me a mere hapless victim.  Unleash me into the freedoms of college and where found I could buy and consume frosting by the tubs as reward for a completed paper or exam.  Then see me through marriage and early child-raising where homemade cookies and sweets were reward for running mileage goals met and less sleep than I ever thought imaginable.  While still a side-benefit, detoxing from sugar is no longer my sole focus.  I found after about 2-3 weeks into the first round that I felt really good.  Alert during the slow part of the day.  More rested when I woke up.  More efficient when I worked out.  I can tell whether I had a good day of food or a bad day of food when I wake up each morning.  The difference is stark.

Why do I WLC?  For the feeling.  Sure the challenge is what I like too and truth-be-told, I do like the simplicity that a life with less offerings.  It is probably a big part of the reason why I stopped eating meat.  Being a veggie vastly simplifies eating out in the days of multi-page menus.  The challenge of the WLC is worth exploring a bit more in a different journal entry.  For now, just trust me.  If you work to eat better, drink more water, exercise a little and sleep with higher quality the benefits on how you feel are right around the corner, just past the sugar detox shakes and sweats.

Words That Inspire Me to Act

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Just Do It.  Challenge.  Top that.  Help me.  All words that make me want to do something, better, more.  Two 56-day challenges ago a good friend of mine inspired me to act.  He may not know it but his introduction to me of the Whole Life Challenge (WLC) hit two words near and dear to my action sensors:  Challenge and Accountability.  Both words inspire me want to do something but for differing reasons.

One word hits my inner ego. ¬†The part of my mind that says “don’t lose.” ¬†The part of my mind that says you can’t do anything unless you try it. ¬†This is the part of my mind that competes wildly with self doubt and doesn’t always win. ¬†Such a loss means I stay dormant on the thought, inactive. ¬†Almost hiding from the very thing that inspires me to act.

The other word hits the part of me that gets me moving. ¬†Not exactly peer pressure but maybe a cousin of it. ¬†When I think of always striving to do good I find I sometimes do good. ¬†When I SAY I¬†want to always do good I find it is harder to veer from that goal. ¬†That’s the power of another set of eyes. ¬†I find nothing inspires action in me more. ¬†I’ll admit, there’s probably some first-childism surfacing here that only a therapist could explain.

As I embark on another 56-day journey I find myself more excited about this challenge than the previous two. ¬†Maybe a part of the excitement is a lack of fear. ¬†This time, I know I can do it. ¬†Maybe not the challenge it once was but still a long ways from being a lay-up. ¬†Some of the excitement is in the¬†accountability. ¬†It is the difference between eating 1/2 pound of M&Ms in the nights before the WLC¬†started and eating raisins and cashews for “dessert” the night after the WLC¬†started. ¬†But primarily my excitement stems from the¬†camaraderie with the other folks on the team. ¬†It is fun to see the struggles, surprises and frankly learn more about people you thought you already knew everything (or at least a lot) from simple daily statements shared across the team. ¬†From the challenge I know Alex has an odd affection for the cracker product. ¬†My brother has a wit in writing I never knew existed. ¬†Cindy fears meditating. ¬†Tracy finds sneaky good meals that are compliant. ¬†I look forward to learning what I’ll learn about others this round.

Lastly, a few parting thoughts for those on their first round of the WLC.  The first week is the hardest.  Getting food right takes time, effort and discovery.  Pinterest is your friend (yep, said it publicly).  If you need ideas on compliant meals, snacks, etc. let those who have done this help.  If you find things you like to eat, share it as most of us are still looking for the elusive joy in eating known as variety.  It is alright to fall off the wagon.  In fact, it is inevitable.  Wagons by nature move slow.  Just get back up and jump back on it.

Connections

  
 

Let’s talk about connections.  Not the kind we prefer to avoid when traveling.  The human kind.  Human connections take a variety of shapes throughout life.  These shapes tend to change with each day or maybe they change with each relationship.  What I know for sure is my number of connections, defined by me as genuine and valued two-way interactions with human beings, has waned over the years.  I am not sure this is necessarily a bad thing or even unnatural.  Interestingly enough, I don’t feel these connections are due to losing friendships or making fewer new friends.  The downward trend, possibly only in my head, seems to me to be caused by a few factors.

1.  Phase of Life – not quite at half life but far enough along where I know the difference between a high quality relationship and one light on quality. I’m definitely focusing more on quality than quantity.  Plus having kids splits focus dramatically from the BK (before kids) days. 

2.  Technology – sadly, I spend more time on technology than ever before. Honestly, much of this is not very productive time.  This takes time away from true connections. Plus quick texts and social media interactions can trick me into thinking I’ve connected when in hindsight I’ve done almost the opposite of connecting with humans this way. 

3.  Personality – while not exactly a hermit, I am more prone with age to look for more ways to capture those quiet moments on our back porch just looking at the trees. These are moments that I use to recharge, but I find I’m doing it more and more and enjoying it more and more.  

 At first glance, I felt like fewer connections with people was a bad thing.  My gut reaction was to get out and immediately connect with more people.  But looking back at my recent past, I don’t think a lack of connection opportunities is the problem.  There have been trips to the beach with close friends, Y-Guide outings with a great group of dads who come together with the goal of showing their kids the great outdoors, dates with my wife, family visits, charity events and even a work party where I was the “plus 1.” Plenty of opportunities. 

When I look back at many of these events there’s a common thread.  Wade with me into analogy-ville.  There’s this big pool.  I’ll call it the “Connection Pool.”  In my mind it is vast, odd shaped and has some kind of white-noise water feature shaped like a mushroom.  All new or unchartered connections available to me are represented by the pool.  Outside of the pool at an umbrella or table might be a connection or two I am comfortable enough with to go deep with in conversation. These are the few, the quality ones.  Occasionally (and if you know me it is super-almost-never-occasionally), let’s say I venture into the pool.  It is also metaphorically accurate and notable that I tend to always wade slowly into a pool.  Once in, I am comfortable swimming in the deep end or wading in the shallow end.  I AM afraid to take off my shirt. Yes, admittedly odd and definitely off-topic.  I’m “Marco” in the game “Marco Polo.”  I swim around saying hello to folks but not hanging around long enough to go deeper than “Polo.”  And therein lies my problem.  Connections are abound.  I know them when I see them.  I rarely hang around longer than “Polo” for any of them.  

There are people, and you know who you are, that are truly natural and engaging around people. We had relatives like this who recently stayed a weekend with us. Cindy and I noted several times how few times we reached for a device that weekend.  We all talked. A lot. It was fun. Interesting.  I tried hard to learn from their style. Good questions. Long on dialog. No hijacking. Lots of laughing. 

I’d like to improve my connections with those in the Marco Polo pool beyond the land of the small interaction.  Maybe spend some time listening.  Prompting.  Engaging. Novel, I know. Easy?  Not so much. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on connections and what makes a good connector. Connect via technology and comment below. Better yet, let’s spend some time talking about it live. I’d love to listen. I promise you won’t be my ‘Polo.’