Ecuador: Dead end leads, random run ins and when a bathroom break pays off

The random gardener

The random gardener

The beautiful home of the leather manufacturer.

The beautiful home of the leather manufacturer.

please note, because I am in transit, and wifi is spotty at times, these blog posts are often published in bulk and not on the day that they are written.

Oct 10th, 2014

I was growing impatient.  I did say that patience was required in this game but I have to remember I have it, it's not always natural.  Each day I spend walking the streets, going to the market to chat with vendors, peeking in shops and having my friend ask questions.  

I'm here to look for artisans to weave ponchos and for blankets I want to use for bags, as well and find another leather manufacturer.  I have a great resources in Bogota, Colombia but my intention is to explore other techniques.  I had found one leather guy that could do what I needed but he was expensive and flippant – nothing about that combination works for me. 

I hadn't yet found my weaver.

My confidence was waning and I wasn't sure I was going to find what I needed and that the next few days waiting for the Saturday market was just going to be spent idle.  Not that I mind slowing my pace down a bit, but there isn’t a whole lot to do in this town if you don’t have a family or a social network and the hostel has been empty the past few days.  Thankfully I have some books and spotty internet I can watch a stop/start movie on (I"m whipping through the entire series of Breaking Bad - Holy great show I'm late to the party on!)

Yesterday seemed like it would be more of the same, except I was determined to have a plan.  I had decided that I would use the one (flippant & expensive) leather manufacturer I had found just to make a sample and get this one image out of my head.  I knew it would be expensive but, like I said, I was growing impatient.  Not a good ingredient in business.  But, I had to do something.

I laid out the designs and the materials and he took a look at it all, measured, contemplated, asked the right questions and then offered the price.  Once again, the price and his attitude whipped some sense into me and I decided that I would have to keep looking.

As we stepped out of his shop, my friend ran into another traveler/artisan friend of his he hadn’t seen in years and he dropped my needs into their conversation.  The guy, stoned to the hills, told us that the next village over had a good leather merchant and we should check it out.

We'd already visited a town 20 minutes away that everyone kept telling us was the mecca for the kind of manufacturing I needed but as I searched around,  I was disappointed.  It was set up for tourist shopping for well made leather products.  Not what I was looking for.  But, I was determined to keep going.

Feeling hopeful about this new lead, we redirected our days effort and jumped on a local bus that had bad suspension and a seemingly determined focus to never stopping, and hoped to find what I was looking for.

We disembarked and landed in, what I would call, a ghost town.  Barely anyone on the cobbled streets, hardly any trading or activity and I am sure I saw tumbleweed roll down the street.  It wasn’t quite the bustling manufacturing and trading vibe I was expecting.  But, we walked straight into the first store that was open, and asked.  We were told that there was, in fact, a leather artisan in town who could do what I needed and were given the ‘go to the end of the street, take a right, look for the wooden house, keep walking and you’ll find it’, type directions. All in Spanish, of course ( which I barely understand).

After 15 minutes of walking, seeing no obvious signs of any kind of trading, manufacturing or real life, I pointed out a beautiful home and said that this town must have some money.  It was a gorgeous, all wood, rounded casa with many stories and floor to ceiling windows.  It didn’t look like there was anybody home but it stood out and I stopped to take a picture.  

Just then an old man tending to his garden (one of the few signs of life) came to his fence and engaged in conversation, curious about who this motley looking couple were.  He was jolly and friendly and after about 5 minutes of my friends time (there is an advantage to not speaking spanish!) my friend told him that we were looking for the leather artisan. 

It turned out that the beautiful house I had pointed out, and we were standing in front of, was the house of the man we were looking for, right across the street from the man doing the gardening.  It had no sign, or any clue that it was a factory, and I doubt we would have ever found it had that man not engaged in random conversation with us.

We rang the bell and was greeted by the lady of house and, after a brief conversation, she informed us that the man was not going to be home for another 4 hours and, after peeking in to this workshop I didn't get the feeling that this was going to be an easy task.  I felt defeated again but as I've learnt to do in this business....and in life....don't give up, just redirect your efforts.  We decided to seek out the waterfall nearby and spend some time in nature instead, believing that we'd come upon another dead lead.

On the way to the waterfall we stopped into a convenience store and bought bread, cheese and an avocado, borrowed a knife from the man at the counter and made ourselves a little sandwich.  Frustration was brewing – but we kept hunger at bay.

After our snack, we set out to the waterfall.  Except, I needed to pee.

We spotted a corner store, with a few ponchos hanging in the window - the display didn’t look very appealing.  It also looked as if it could be someone’s home.  There was no way to enter the store through the front so we walked around the back and that’s when we discovered the bounty I had been looking for. 

It was full scale weaving operation.  A family run business where they hand dyed, spun, wove and sewed all their ponchos and scarves.  It was hard to contain my excitement in this deserted town.  

I had finally been given a break - and so had my bladder!  

Oh, and we got to see the waterfall too!

Today reminded me to stay the course, set my intentions very clearly and keep moving, asking and following up.

Look out for our new ponchos arriving in the store end of November...just in time for the holidays.