I'm staring at my spreadsheet. Where can I cut costs?
It's the name of the game for a small business. You don't have extra money to spend - every single dollar matters.
Carter and I are set to leave for Ecuador in a week, so I want to make sure our itinerary is set. Over the course of the past year, we have saved up money in order to pay for all of our travel, lodging, food, and entertainment costs. With the current budget, we will be a few dollars short, so we must find a place to cut costs. We can't skimp on food or lodging - and the bus tickets to Ibarra and Guayaquil are fixed. But, what about that taxi cost? What if there was an alternative?
I send Arturo a WhatsApp message. "Arturo, hay una manera para alquilar un vehículo?" (Arturo, is there a way to rent a vehicle?)
A few hours later, Arturo sends me back a picture of a black F-150. "Podemos alquilar este aqui - es automatico." (We can rent this one. It's an automatic.)
Bingo. Just like that we have found a way to stay within our budget - this will be much cheaper than renting a taxi every day to drive through the mountains of Loja, Las Lajas, and El Oro.
What could possibly go wrong?
9 days later, we are cruising through the Andes mountains in the F-150. It's easy to drive, as it's nearly identical to my truck here in The States. We drive to Las Lajas, about 5 hours away and visit with Diego Jaya and Angel Moreno until 12:30 that afternoon. Afterwards, we head to the plantation of Dr. Antonio Cordova - near Loja, Ecuador. The first 2 hours of the trip fly by - we are constantly climbing rough, rocky roads, enjoying the adventure.
Around 3:00, we hit the peak of our climb in a small town - a town about 6,000ft above sea level. As I frequently do, I look down at my odometer and gauges. Something is off. The gear box seems to be overheating, but I don't worry about it too much. I figure it's do to the continuous strain of the climb. So, I use one of the tricks I was taught - I turn the heater on and blast it on the window. Like clockwork, the gauge returns to normal.
30 minutes later, we reach Oceano - a town full of up and coming coffee farmers - an area full of potential. As I look down, I once again see the gear box gauge creeping up. I try the tactic once again, but this time, no such luck.
We stop the truck and allow it to cool down. Meanwhile, we visit with some of the farmers in the region, check out some of the crops, and make some contacts for the following year.
30 minutes later, we get back in the truck and all is well. It's cooled back down, and we are once again on the road.
For the remainder of the trip, the truck doesn't cause any problems. We make it safely to Dr. Cordova's plantation and then return to Zaruma. We get back home, to Arturo's house, around 10:30 that evening. The truck is in one piece and so are we.
It's 11:30, Carter, Arturo, and I have eaten dinner, washed up, and are getting ready for bed. As we normally do, we sit down to discuss plans for the next day. The itinerary has us leaving early the next morning for Palanda - a city high in the mountains about 3 hours away. I bring up the overheating dilemma to Arturo, and we agree that it'd be best to trade the truck in. The man we rented the truck from has a smaller one - another automatic. We aren't planning to haul much coffee so the smaller truck would be ideal anyways. So, the plan is set. We are going to pick up the new truck tomorrow morning. It's better to be safe than sorry, right?
We arrive at the rental lot at 8:30 the next morning. We speak to the owner, and he is understanding. He calls his facility manager, as she holds the key to the gate. She says that she will leave her house now and will arrive within the next 20 minutes.
20 minutes passes - she has not arrived.
40 minutes passes - she has not arrived.
An hour and a half passes - she has still not arrived.
Arturo says that we should just take the black F-150. We have waited far too long. I tell him, "We've waited this long. We might as well wait a little longer." Arturo pleads, but I remain persistent.
2 hours later - she finally shows.
She unlocks the gate, and we get in the truck. Unfortunately, we've already missed our opportunity to head to Palanda - Arturo doesn't want to be driving too late at night again. Thankfully, this time, I listen.
After we leave the rental lot in Pinas, we stop at a local bakery to pick up some bread for lunch. I pull the truck over to the side, and Arturo runs into the store. While he is in there, I try to familiarize myself with the truck. I look at my left, driver side mirror - it's set perfectly. I look at my right one, and it's off. I try to correct it, but it won't move. It's broke. While I know I shouldn't be driving without a right mirror, especially in a foreign country, I shrug it off. I'll just look over my right shoulder if I need to - it's just another obstacle to overcome.
Arturo hops back in the truck, and we head for a waterfall right outside of Portovelo - a city only about 30 minutes away.
We make it to the waterfall unscathed. We stay there for an hour then return to Zaruma. The truck does just fine.
It's 6:00 the next morning. Carter and I are returning from a quick trip to Pinas, the home of our processing facility and Caffe Marie - a city only 10 miles away from Zaruma. We made it to Pinas without problem and have now begun our ascent back up the mountain to Zaruma.
It's Monday. It's foggy out. There aren't too many cars on the road, but there are some. The first 5 miles fly by. We are cruising. We make it through Pinas, around the winding roads, and make the sharp left turn towards Zaruma. We are climbing.
2 minutes in to the steep accent, we hear a rough rattling noise. I check the gauges, all seems fine.
"CV, this isn't good."
30 seconds later, we lose all power.
The truck comes to an immediate stop.
Thick smoke pours out of the hood.
Immediately, we run behind a house near us, looking for a water spigot and bucket.
We find one.
We fill it up as fast as we can and run back to the truck.
We pop the hood and pour the water to extinguish the smoke, fearing a fire was imminent.
We repeat this process two more times until the smoke has ceased.
We stand on the side of the road, panicked.
I stand still in front of the truck. What now?
Without an answer, I call the man who has never failed me - a man who has always had an answer - a man who has picked me up time and time again after ball games, after bad decisions, after bad days. My father.
I tell my dad what I just did. He takes a second, calmly processes the situation, and gives me advice.
While I would love to tell you what my father said, I honestly cannot remember. It wasn't the advice that I needed or direct help, as my dad was 5000 miles away. It was simply his calm demeanor, which reassured me that everything would be alright.
30 minutes later, Arturo arrives with Gerrardo, our trusted taxi driver. They both look at it and decide to call Gerrardo's good friend that is a mechanic. When he arrives, he looks at it, pours water in the radiator and finds that the bottom of the motor had cracked - the motor could not retain water. The water was leaking directly out of the bottom.
Meanwhile, Arturo calls the owner of the truck. He tells him about what occurs. Arturo explains that this problem was his responsibility - this was not something that we could have controlled. Yet, the man is adamant: You rented a truck from me and signed a guarantee that stated you would return it in the same condition in which you rented it.
An hour and a half later, we return the truck to the place where we rented it. We unload it from the tow truck and put it back in its place in the car lot. I walk up to the owner and ask him to please give me my portion of the signed guarantee, as I have returned the truck.
But, he refuses. Fearing the worse, I don't argue. Arturo, Carter, and I find a taxi and return to Zaruma.
For the next 2 days, my thoughts are consumed. What is going to happen? There is no way I could buy a new motor for the truck, we don't have the money for it.
I meet with a local lawyer and tell him about the situation. Unfortunately, I leave the meeting more anxious than before. Because I signed the guarantee without signing additional paperwork explaining where fault would lie if something were to occur, I could be in for serious problems.
I ask Arturo to speak with the owner of the truck, hoping to have a face to face meeting with him. I want to discuss the situation, hoping to come to a rational agreement. But, the owner doesn't have any interest. He remains steadfast; he wants the motor paid for in full.
Two days later, now four days after the incident, I receive a text from a friend and legal consultant. The owner of the truck doesn't have a legal business, thus the guarantee is void. He has no grounds to stand on.
For a moment, I breathe a sigh of relief. But, the worry never leaves.
For the remainder of the trip, nothing else transpires. We don't hear from the owner nor does Arturo try and reach back out to him. The situation seems to dissipate, but my worry remains unresolved. Will I have to deal with this again at some point? What happens when I return to Ecuador?
Carter and I return to The States 2 weeks later...
While I have learned many valuable lessons through my experiences with Z Beans, this one may trump all: You can't put a price tag on your safety.
As a small business, you count your nickels, dimes, and even your pennies. It's a battle - each and every day. You're constantly looking over your shoulder, ensuring the end isn't near.
In doing so, you sometimes see a transparent self - You look over your shoulder and see right through your own end, as you're willing to do whatever it takes. But, this can't be the case. Because without you, there is no chase in the first place.
We will be paying for a taxi from now on.