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How They Escaped: Juan and Giovana

July 31, 2012

We met Juan and Giovana while staying at their hotel on the cliff above the world’s longest left wave, Chicama. The name of their hotel, Sueños de Chicama (Chicama Dreams), reveals that it’s more than a business for them; it’s the culmination of years of working towards a dream. Through impromptu conversations with Juan and Giovana during our stay, we found that they held many of the same values and ideas as we do, and their story inspired us to share it with you. We’d like to start posting interviews with people that we meet during our travels, who’ve made a break from their conventional lives to find a more fulfilling, alternative way to live.

Juan, Giovana and their daughter Valeria

Name: Juan Izquierdo La Noire & Giovana Merida Astudillo

Age: 41 & 50

Profession:  Dentist/Personal Trainer & Hotel Administrator

Originally from: Lima & Callao, Peru


What led you to open your hotel and live in Chicama?

Juan: Our dream was to get away from the city, traffic, stress, our work schedules; to be able to surf, and to run a hotel in front of the sea. To have a quality of life where our work doesn’t feel like work, and there’s not so much pressure. In Lima, there’s this pressure to have more, a better car or better house, but you never relax and you feel like you always have to have something better.

As a personal trainer, I would work from 7 a.m. until the evening. Part of my dream was to be able to train clients while looking at the waves, instead of being inside a gym.

Giovana: In Lima, there’s a lot of pressure and routine, lots of traffic. This is an escape from the routine and stress; it’s peace and quiet. The energy here is priceless.

Juan: More than anything, we’re looking for tranquility, health, good quality of life. Every day here feels like vacation to me. Doing things here, like work or exercise, feels different than it does in the city. Here, in front of the sea, you don’t feel like it’s work.

Giovana: Meeting a lot of travelers and talking with them, sharing all of this tranquility, sharing conversation with them, also makes us happy.

Juan: All the travelers we’ve met who’ve stayed with us have been cool, with “buena onda” [good vibes].


Describe the process of getting the first idea of your dream, to thinking it could be reality, to working toward the concrete goal.

Juan: It began when we started travelling together. I was working at a gym long hours every day, seven days a week, and we didn’t have a lot of time to travel. When we’d gotten married, we only had one day off together. We finally started taking vacations; first a two-week trip to Mancora and then a trip to Chicama. When we were in Chicama, we stayed at one of the hotels here, and we said to ourselves that it would be our dream to have a business like that ourselves, where I could surf and work, and we could create an income. Slowly, the dream started to take shape.

We asked around about buying land here in Chicama.  A guy offered us this piece of land that we’re on, but at that time, the whole area between our place and the hostel El Hombre [a distance of 500 meters that’s now full of hostels and hotels] was empty. There was nothing there! So we were taking a big risk, buying this piece of land so far from the last hotel on the strip. I had just bought a car two weeks prior with some money I’d saved up, and we didn’t have the money to pay for the land right away. We asked the seller if we could pay in installments, and he agreed. It was destiny, because we wouldn’t have been able to buy the land otherwise.

It was four months between getting the idea to live in Chicama, and then buying the land. Before we started travelling, we’d never had this dream. Our mindset was only: work, work, work. When we took the trip to Mancora in 2005, we got there on a Tuesday and we noticed that every day seemed like a Saturday there, like everyone was on vacation: lots of tourists, beer, and parties. We were killing ourselves working, and what we saw in Mancora made us think, “that’s not a life!” Before we visited Mancora, we didn’t realize there was another way to live.

We worked toward our dream little by little; we didn’t accomplish it in one fell swoop. The many details weren’t solved all at once. We took a big risk. We were never sure if it would turn out well or badly.

It took two years to save up the money to buy the land, and then four more years to build the hotel, so six years in total. We still have to build out some rooms in the back, but we’re very happy here.


What did you have to sacrifice to pursue your dream?

Juan: We had to leave everything in Lima: our house, our careers, our daughters. It wasn’t easy because we have two daughters, 21 and 12 years old, who are still studying in Lima.  It’s their dream to finish studying in the city and pursue careers; everyone has different dreams to follow. It’s not easy to pursue a dream; you have to make some sacrifices. It’s difficult to be far from our daughters, but we go back for a week at a time and then return to Chicama.

Originally, our dream was to move here all together and for our 12-year-old daughter to study in a school nearby. However, she’s very smart and the schools in this area aren’t up to the same level as in Lima. School is more challenging for her there.

We also sacrificed a lot in order to save a lot of money. I had to sell a pickup truck cheap in order to pay the workers to finish building the rooms on the first floor. But once we finished the first floor, I bought myself a surfboard and wetsuit!

Giovana: I think the biggest sacrifice is being away from our family, our daughters who are in Lima. The other sacrifices can be overcome, but the hardest is being away from family. When we started building the hotel, I had to start spending time away from Juan and the girls. For me, the money wasn’t the most important. When construction began, Juan was still working in Lima, and I was supervising construction here in Chicama. I was here for one or two months to oversee the building, and I was away from the family for that time. That was the first real sacrifice for me, and I’ll never forget it. After construction was finished on the first floor, I came to Chicama every two weeks for a week or two by myself to check on the running of the hotel, while Juan was working in Lima and our daughters were there.


Was it difficult to keep the end goal in mind during the six years you were building the hotel?

Juan: Yes, it was really hard. We had to save a lot of money, so when we were working in Lima, we were constantly reminding ourselves that everything was for Chicama, everything was for our dream. I would say, “This year, I’m moving to Chicama,” and that year I wouldn’t be able to go because I had to continue working to finish building our house in Lima. We sold our car to finish building some of the hotel rooms, and then we sold an apartment in order to finish part of the hotel. We kept thinking we needed to wait and save more money to finish the hotel before moving here to Chicama, and finally I said, “No more.” It had been four years of working toward my dream of living in Chicama full time, surfing and running the hotel. We gave ourselves a deadline of April 20th to move here, and we did it. However, five years had gone by before we gave ourselves the deadline and made the move.  Before we knew it, two, three, four, five years had passed and we still hadn’t realized our dream. There were always more important things that we needed to spend money on, such as finishing our house in Lima. I discovered that there will always be things that you can end up thinking take priority over your dreams, so if you want to realize your dreams, you have to just go for it. Some people let their whole lives go by this way, without ever realizing their dream.

I wanted to realize the dream while I was still young and could surf as much as I wanted to. I’m 41 years old, and thankfully I’m able to surf once or twice a day. It wasn’t my dream to wait until our house in Lima was completely finished, and come here when I was much older, or sick from stress, and not be able to surf.


How did you stay motivated?

Juan: We constantly kept in mind how all the work we were doing was for Chicama. When I was working at the gym, I’d be thinking about Chicama: “When we’re there, we’ll build this. We’ll buy that for the hotel. I’ll put some money aside for this.”


Were there moments during the time you were building the hotel when you felt afraid that something would go wrong, or you wouldn’t reach your goal?

Giovana: I wasn’t afraid, but I sometimes felt that there was a lack of balance in our lives. Juan had to work more to save up money, and I had to come to Chicama to coordinate the construction and try to save as much money during construction as possible, while still taking care of my family.

Juan: At first, I was worried that we’d be scammed while buying the land, but we checked and everything was in order. The first time we arrived on our land to start building the hotel, we were surprised to see that the hotel next door was under construction, and I came running over to our plot because I thought that they were building on our land! But they weren’t.

There were times when we thought we’d be able to finish construction to a certain point and we weren’t able to, for lack of money, so one of our worries was money.


Were there any surprises?

Juan: It was harder to save the money than we thought. It also took longer to build than we expected. The workers weren’t on time; the wind is so strong here that if we were using bricks, we could only work in the morning because the wind was so strong in the afternoon that it would topple the bricks down. Two walls from the rooms in the back fell down because of the wind while we were building them!

Giovana: Because we’re located at the end of the strip of developed land, we had to lay down 150 meters of cable to get electricity to our plot. We didn’t foresee that.

Juan: We had to lay the cables underground, in order not to put up electrical posts and spoil the ocean view. It took three days of working ourselves with helpers to do it. Water was also a problem back then. We didn’t foresee the cost of putting in a big cistern well. We had to buy the water from trucks that filled up the cistern, and it was expensive.


Looking back, would you do anything differently?

Juan: Yes, we would have liked to all be living together here now, with our daughter. Also, I would have done this sooner, moved out here earlier. I had the opportunity to move out here once we’d finished building the first floor, and if I had, we would be more established right now, maybe with other side businesses, like owning a boat [that ferries surfers out to the point break]. I would have taken the risk earlier.

I wanted to write a book titled How to Retire Before 40, about how we saved and built the hotel, about our dream and plan, but I kept putting off the move to Chicama, working and saving, before finally making the decision to move here full time, and so now I’ll have to call it How to Retire Before 41!


What advice would you give someone who has a dream but is afraid to follow it?

Juan: You have to follow your dream right now. If you wait until you have X amount of money, you won’t reach your goal. You have to make the decision and begin. A dream is first realized with one step in the right direction, with just one step.

You have to visualize and imagine the result, really feel what it’s like, how happy it makes you, and your dream will become real little by little. For example, we imagined what the hotel would look like: yellow, two floors, wood outside. You have to feel it with your whole body, and then it will materialize.

Our dream is actually made up of two parts: the first was to build the hotel, and the second, to make enough income with the hotel to be able to travel to other places where we can see the jungle, mountains or the waves. We’d love to be able to travel for a year. This is the second part of the dream that we’re waiting to accomplish. We don’t need to be millionaires, just have enough to take care of our daughters and to travel.

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