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 😬).

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

WLC Journal #6 – WLC Hacks

Given this isn’t my first WLC “rodeo” I’ll spend my last mandated journal entry providing what I think are “hacks” to make the WLC a little more do-able.  Some of these may fall into the category of obvious.  If so, I blame the 10 minute writing minimum.  I’d also like to note that this lifestyle challenge, journaling, the first of eight in the challenge ended up being a pleasant surprise to me.  I enjoy spending a few minutes each day writing in non-email form.  Make this an email for work and it will sit half-written and open in my Microsoft Outlook for what seems like days before it gets sent.  But I digress…

Today I thought I’d list some of the things I like doing to make the WLC a bit more hospitable.  For you to benefit from or ignore, either way I get a check in the box for journaling.

  • Plan meals in advance – this takes work.  Best part of having Cindy do the WLC is that she’s amazing at this.
  • Plan snacks in advance.  Nuts, raisins, Larabars, dried fruit (unsweetened), real fruit, hard boiled eggs are always on hand.
  • Fruit in water – gives some variety to the endless H2O battle.
  • Set a timer to get up every hour at work and do a minute or two of stretching.  Before sitting back down go refill that water bottle.
  • Fresh almond butter, peanut butter are a great add to many, many things.
  • Ready-now brown rice and/or quinoa in a rice cooker.
  • Park further away or take the long walk into the office.  On tough days 5 minutes of walking into work and 5 minutes out of work can count as your exercise.

Week #1 is always the hardest.  Weeks 2 and 3 are where you start to feel/see some early benefits.  Plus, the WLC gives you some breaks and free cheats to help keep you interested.  You can find me at Brewster’s on my first indulgence token.

What are your favorite hacks?  Tricks to stay ahead of the WLC?  Please share.

 

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. 

Au Revoir Paris

Au Revoir Paris

After 15 days away from our home sweet home we are finally back. Only 4,000 miles, 2 flights , 8 passport checks, 10 movies watched collectively and several questions about why we have to board by zones (read:  there seems to be a passive displeasure amongst the kids that we don’t seem to have very good luck with zones) we are finally settled back home in Fort Mill.  This home seems to reside in a much, much warmer and more humid climate, seems to be devoid of much edible food and might or might not have received a letter about unruly lawn upkeep.  No matter, as it was deeply missed and has more than one bathroom. It is good to be back. 

I feel a strong need to sum the trip up but have found it profoundly difficult to do so.  I’m going to keep it simple and focused on the positives. We walked. A lot. We rode metros daily. Will is awesome at navigating subway lines.  We saw thousands of pigeons and counted most of them. Charlie was enamored by them. We saw all of the sights in Paris we wanted to see, even if we bagged the 11pm tickets for going up in the Eiffel Tower. The kids understand the feelings that cities can evoke.  While they liked Paris, they LOVED Belgium. I love them for seeing the distinction. Stewart loved dining at the cafes, shopping at H&M (please don’t tell her it didn’t originate in Paris) and seeking out gelato. She has a spirit for travel that I hope never goes away. Charlie has the legs and “I’m not tired” attitude to thru-hike any trail. I hope he will take me with him. And Cindy…her patience with our daily itinerary and my march about Paris in the rain to see the Tour de France whiz by a few quick times is almost what I love about her most.  Truth is, it is her ability to make experiences for our kids happen and her day-in, day-out friendship and that smile that says “relax, this is all what makes a good life” are the things I love about her the most.  

This trip was one my family will never forget. I will always be grateful for the opportunity we were given here and the shared experience that I so deeply value with my family.  Best case, this is one of many great travel opportunities to come for us as a family.  Worst case, we have hopefully provided our kids with a set of great memories and given them a spark to go out and explore this great and fascinating world.

Some last observations from our day of travel:

  • A Paris cab will charge you for wait time, even if he arrives for pick-up earlier than the scheduled time. 
  • Tip: apparently if you give your boarding passes to a 6 year old to hand to the boarding agent you can board with any zone you please. Nice work Charlie. 
  • Dear Philadelphia Airport TSA Team:  please go visit the Heathrow Airport Team to understand how to secure an airport AND help travelers make connections. Novel concept.  On the bright side, we made it in spite of your efforts.  Pointing those fans on the customers in line also wouldn’t hurt. 
  • Dear American Airlines:  ice cream for all on the flight back is a really nice touch that seemed to excite more than just me and my three kids. 
  • Dear Charles de Gaule Airport: maybe a touch less emphasis on super high-end shopping and a touch more emphasis on drinking fountains and general hydration.
  • Stewart and Will, although at times a bit like an elderly married couple, travel EXTREMELY well together. 
  • We are already experiencing baguette withdrawal.  The kids don’t understand why their hot dogs are served on these weird soft buns. 
  • And last, my boy takes his in-flight movie watching comfort VERY seriously.   
Penultimate Or The Ultimate?

Penultimate Or The Ultimate?

I’ve been watching the Tour de France religiously each July since my Dad introduced me to it around age 10. I would watch the Saturday/Sunday coverage of the week and immediately following would hop onto my bike and tear off around the block with the voices of the British commentators echoing in my head. Anyone who has visited my home in the month of July or worse, vacationed with us during July has seen the addiction, uh, I mean passion with which I follow this event firsthand. While coming to a foreign, historic, art-filled, cultural city like Paris with my full family is as once in a lifetime as it gets, seeing The Tour on our penultimate day in Paris on one of The Tour’s most prestigious stages was the ultimate. 

Yes, cycling has some flaws, many of which have played out in ways even the best marketer wouldn’t wish on their worst enemy. But in spite of the flaws, I can’t get past what makes the sport so great. Immense strategy. Team over the individual – 6-8 riders on every team of 9 are riding for one leader and will sacrifice their standings, rank and fame to ensure the success of this pre-defined leader. The magnitude of racing over 21 days, 2000+ miles and unimaginable elevation change, never mind weather, crashes and a filled schedule from wake until sleep. There’s the color and pagentry of Grand Tour cycling. Today for the first time we witnessed the sponsors parade which arrived in Paris roughly 90 minutes ahead of the riders and lasted for at least 45 minutes. Modified cars wrapped in LCD screens, performers harnessed into or even above these cars, music blaring and sometimes even freebies being tossed. It was truly a circus. Borderline ridiculous but they clearly knew their audience and were clearly thrilled to have made it through the final day of twenty one straight parades around France. Only a few of these riders are wealthy from cycling. Most won’t ever get rich from cycling. They dedicate themselves to a sport for the sport. Most have been riding competitively since their early teens and few names will ever be memorialized like Hinault, Merckx, Lemond, Indurain or Froome. It takes passion to do this. Plain and simple. That’s why I love it. That’s why seeing the biggest race in this sport on the final day of this year’s race was so cool to me. Bucket list item checked. I hope one day to get back and see it again. 

It needs to be noted about how great and patient my family was with me yesterday. I had done some research on where to view but was constantly worried about not finding a good spot. They put up with the jumpiness from me that ensued. Moreover, they wandered around in a steady rain for about two hours as we awaited the riders’ arrival in Paris. A cold rain with a steady breeze. Then they put up with me as I watched every lap of the race. I’m grateful for their toughness and support of me when staying in a warm, dry museum or apartment would have been much easier. 

Here how our day played out in pictures. 

   My Storm Troopers. I’m grateful. 

Charlie’s only shoulder ride the entire trip. Aka, best seat in the house. 

    The Flame Rouge. 

 Norwegian priorities are never in doubt. Beer first, view second. 
   One pic from the parade. Nutso marketing gone bad or great jobs for kids just out of college??

 Caption: “I’ve ridden in this rodeo before.” Great idea. 
 This time we play “Where’s Stewart?”  Little did she know she’s illegally standing in the flowers. But a view from a hill beats one from below it. 

 And we wait for the riders to reach Paris. 
 The Peleton heading up the Champs Élysées (CE). We had a great spot with mostly shorter folks in front of us. 🙂  

 Following tradition, Froome’s Yellow Jersey team leads the first lap in Paris. 

   The Peleton coming back down the CE. Sagan in the green jersey to the right. 

 We saw a 5 second flat fix and go right in front of us!
   The breakaway on lap 6. Never more than 30 seconds ahead, they were eventually caught. 

 The traditional French Air Force flyover. 
  
Who knew they made special pizza knives? I also have some cool video and super slo-mo shots that I’ll try to post later. 

For now Paris, Au Revoir. 

Humbled

Humbled

Over 9,000 heroes memorialized for their valor has a way of socking it to you gut. Seeing video footage of what they actually went through in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944 and for the months afterwards will bring you to tears. It was not until after stepping out of the Cimetiere American de Normandie (American Cemetery of Normandy) and seeing the perfectly manicured grounds alongside the rugged coastline do you fully understand the magnitude of their sacrifice. It is a moment I will never forget. It is a place I feel privileged to have visited. It is a thankfulness to their sacrifice and service that my words and actions will never be able to communicate. 

In less than 24 hours time that we had in the area, we only touched on a small part of what the area had to offer. If you have less than a day here like we did, then I highly recommend the following three sights. 

  • The American Cemetery – above Omaha Beach it sits in the middle of the landing sights with Sword, Juno and Gold beaches to the east near Caen and Utah to the west just past Mont St-Michel. Bayeax provides a nice central location with many tours (bike, minivan and private guide) based here.  The grounds and museum here rival what you see in Arlington, VA at the Arlington National Cemetery. 
  • Musee Memorial d’Omaha Beach (Omaha Beach Museum) – described by some as a museum of rusted junk in someone’s garage I’d say my expectations were low and easily exceeded. The movie at the end is worth waiting to watch. The war trinkets they have collected were excellent and interesting. This museum deserves 90 minutes minimum and could easily take 3 hours. 
  • Pointe du Hoc (U.S. Ranger Memorial) – this memorial had a modest museum and brief movie but the power was found on the cliffs above the ocean. Seeing what the Rangers scaled was unbelievable. Seeing dozens of bombing craters 20+ feet deep from the air strikes preceding the invasion makes it hard to understand how the Germans were still holding ground here at the time of the D-day invasion.  The coolest part of the exhibit was walking through the bunkers and imagining the scene that took place 71 years ago. 

The kids seemed to really enjoy the time here and I think over the years the kids will appreciate it more as they learn about this important period in history. Several times during the day Cindy and spend time talking about both of our granddads who spent time in the war. My grandfather on my Dad’s side was in the infantry in the days following D-day (Dad – I’ll need to learn much more about what you know about his time over there – this time I promise I’ll listen). Cindy’s Grandpa spent time in the Phillipines during WWII and had many humorous and colorful stories about his time during the war. When Cindy asked to see his uniform he emphatically stated  (paraphrasing) “I burned that damn thing the very minute I could.  It smelled like all the smells I want to forget.”

While I would advocate spending 2-3 days in the area, if you want a good taste of D-Day you can absolutely get it with 24 hours in Normandy and a zippy car like our Clio.  Below you will find our day in pictures. 

  

Moving. The last museum stop before exiting to the cemetery.  
    
    
   
The photos above are the best I have from the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. 

   
   
Omaha beach, the Museum at Omaha Beach and a break for lunch with D-Day craft beer advertised next to Cindy. 

 

Cindy outside of the Pont du Hoc Museum.   

Will in a bomb crater at least 20 feet deep. 

  
 One of the intact German bunkers. 4-6 foot walls reinforced with heavy steel rebar.  
  
The kids running amongst the craters.   
 
Pont Du Hoc. Unreal. 

 
The cliffs the Rangers scaled. The first wave sent in to dismantle the large turret guns. On the first wave, 6 of 15 men survived.   

The Ranger memorial. 

    
 
A view from the primary bunker on the point. Eerie (except for cute Stewart). 

   
View from a gun hole. 

 
Stewart’s turn. 

A brief but amazing tour of Omaha Beach. Without a doubt a worthwhile stop for anyone visiting France!