Ten Years and Running

Posted on 03. Apr, 2018 by in uncategorized

Alternate Title: Expat Chronicles Turns 10

I moved to Arequipa, Peru on April 1, 2008. That was 10 years ago today … Actually it was 10 years ago last Sunday but I am now fully acclimated to p-time.

A college buddy from Brazil, in fact the president of the International Business Club, used to cite “p-time” to explain why he was late, which was always. Polychronic time orientation is one of the cultural factors that differentiates them from us. And if you live in the Upside Down, time orientation is one of their things that gets into your veins.

Living in Latin America, people always ask you two things. The first is how long you’ve been here. And once you’ve answered that, they ask why you’re here, or they venture a guess. And the most common guess is that you followed a girl, which could have happened to me if I had stayed with and married an old college girlfriend who was from Natal, Brazil.

So this is how I explain my trajectory, the short story.

I studied international business in college. I wanted to work in an emerging market, and I decided on Latin America because I already spoke Spanish*. I sent my resume to companies in Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, everywhere and anywhere. The first company to offer me a position just happened to be in Peru. I had never heard of Maca or Arequipa, but I took the job. Ten years later, I still sell Maca and I’m married to an arequipeña. Happy accidents. Today, I am married to Peru.

* In hindsight, I spoke more than “kitchen Spanish,” but I was nowhere near fluent.

That version of events leaves out an important part of the story. As Vance noted about expats in Latin America, the local upper classes will view you as a “buffoon that couldn’t quite make things work in his own nation.” And in my case, that’s partly true.

After a miserable high school experience I embraced academia in college, albeit too late to get the fancy kind of job I had set my sights on. I wanted to work at a glamorous “Ivory Tower” gig where I wore a suit and was making six figures by 35. I had chosen the management consulting industry because that was the equivalent of investment banking for dipshits who didn’t major in math, finance or econ.

But there aren’t that many management consultancies out there, and those few hire from only the top schools. Bain, whose alumni includes none less than Mitt Romney, is known for pulling exclusively from Harvard. You almost have to know somebody on the inside if you’re coming from schools like Princeton or Stanford.

Coming out of an undistinguished public shool has two disadvantages. First, it’s an undistinguished public school (as opposed to, say, Cal Berkeley or NYU). Second, I didn’t know anybody who worked in consulting. I had zero contacts among professors and alumni, nobody.

Obviously no Bain, McKinsey or BCG. But I thought the boutique firms might give me a shot. I sent off just as many resumes to consulting firms as I did to companies in Latin America, and one firm offered me an interview. Technomic is a consultancy specializing in food, beverage and restaurants. Here was my email:

I complete my MBA in December and intend to enter the consulting industry. My extensive experience in food and beverage should make me the ideal candidate for Technomic. Since high school, I have worked every position in a restaurant from the front of the house to the kitchen, bartending to washing dishes. I also spent two years in the beer business with Anheuser-Busch.

A natural leader, I have ascended to leadership positions in various student organizations. At every job I’ve held, I set the example for how the job should be done. I completed both my Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees and my greatest strength is a sharp mind for analysis. I will be a great asset for Technomic.

I would be happy to come to Chicago for an interview at your convenience.  My resume is attached.  Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

They called to offer me an interview for a business-development position (sales). I didn’t want to be finding clients for consulting work. I wanted to be consulting, or doing the research for the senior consultants. Whatever that entailed.

So like a dumb ass, I declined. Years later in Bogota I met a New Yorker on vacation from her job as a consultant. She told me that’s how people get into the business. They always start in sales, writing proposals. Nobody starts on the consulting side. I was already into my second year in LatAm with no regrets. But it’s interesting to think how life would have turned out … in Chicago … What if?

With no other opportunities, I was afraid I would follow the same road the other state-school business majors go down: local corporate. Every city has its big employers. In St. Louis they were Anheuser-Busch, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Express Scripts, Boeing, Edward Jones, Monsanto, Ralston Purina, etc. You get hired on at these companies wherever you can and work your way up.

That was exactly what I had tried for three years going nowhere with Anheuser-Busch and Enterprise. That was why I went back to school. Here I was finishing grad school and the prospects weren’t much better as the financial crisis began to take shape.

So I justified taking a job in Latin America from the globalization standpoint. Even if my career continued to go nowhere, I’d at least come back with fluent Spanish and international experience. Then maybe the consulting firms would want me.

Going back to Vance’s quote, I was a bit of a buffoon that couldn’t quite make things work. I wasn’t a charity case, but I didn’t like my domestic options. Latin America was a bit of a cop out.

I took the job in Peru and moved to Arequipa on April 1, 2008. In the back of my mind I had always entertained the idea that I was at heart a creative, and not a boring businessman. So this blog was born on the same day. I published stories on blogspot for a month or two, then on wordpress for another month or two before settling on the current domain. See the first post.

Back in the States I led an increasingly wild, reckless life, which continued in Peru. When I had a big night on the town, I wrote it up over a hangover the next morning, using a stupid nickname to protect my high-flying corporate career. If I had an affair, I told the story. If I smacked somebody, I told the story. If nothing happened, I told whatever story I could. This blog became known for nefarious behavior, and I had a creative outlet.

Then I moved to Bogota in April 2009. That brought more traffic because more people search “Bogota” than “Arequipa,” and the expats in Bogota and greater Colombia are more interested in nefarious content than those in Peru. Word spread and traffic grew.

The move to Bogota was also the beginning of my journey into self-employment. After a year in Latin America, I saw dozens of business opportunities. In time, I would see that seeing opportunities isn’t even half the battle. But I was done with the corporate life and wanted to make money on my own terms.

After learning about scopolamine and figuring a gang of thieves would definitely get me, I quit drinking for several months. I also needed to focus on building whatever business idea I had at the time. The schemes came and went with the wind. During the sober period I dropped the stupid nickname for my real name. I also met Christopher (The Mick) and began publishing his stories to keep the sensational content flowing. And of course I ultimately went back to drinking.

The blog picked up in 2010 and 2011. I would post an article and it would have five to 10 comments within an hour or two. I started to make friends with people who enjoyed the blog. And I had haters – lots of them. Anonymous readers with juvenile nicknames would even make threats (good luck!).

Then the blog caught the attention of Colombian law enforcement, and I was called in to answer questions about my visa situation. I have since learned it was the first step in what would be a campaign to pressure me to leave.

That campaign culminated in my ill-advised decision to take a small amount of contraband back to the States. In that story, I knew my reckoning was coming hours beforehand. During that time I prayed. I promised God I would reform. Strangely, part of that promised reform included going back to Peru to marry that great girl Milagros. I’d drop the fast life and settle down, if He just helped me out this once.

Whether God had a hand in my dodging the bullet or not, I kept my end of the bargain. I went back to Peru to find Milagros, and we picked up right where we left off. We married in 2012.

While I was out of the party life, I still had enough racy content to keep the crazy stories coming during that first year back in Peru. Out of Colombia, I lost the revenue streams I had built there. So for that year back in Peru I focused entirely on this blog and trying to monetize it. I launched a forum which was active for a year or two. Monthly web traffic peaked at around 30,000 visits per month.

That year I secured the longest-running advertiser on Expat Chronicles, a luxury apartment rental service in Medellin called Poblado Rentals. He paid a couple hundred bucks a year from 2012 to 2017. For the last couple years it was pretty clear that Barry didn’t read the blog at all, but was so satisfied with the price and publicity that he was going to keep it up forever. I actually let the last term lapse without asking him for more. I just don’t want any more ads here.

During that first year I also worked out a trade for extra publicity, taking a page from my old man’s coupon advertising business. When he has a client who wants to advertise but is skittish on price or cash poor, my dad will “take it in trade,” or sell him the ad but accept goods or services instead of cash. During our six-week honeymoon in Colombia I finagled a seven-day stay at two of Poblado Rentals’ apartments in exchange for a detailed write-up optimized for his target keywords (luxury Medellin apartment). In fact I think that article is still the source of all the publicity Barry likes, it alone is the reason he never stopped paying. Thanks Barry!

Also during the monetization drive I launched a store with Expat Chronicles-themed merchandise. Thank you to everybody who bought something. Last year I decided to bring this idea back, as you may have noticed the Store page in the menu. But I’m not in a hurry, as you may have noticed from the lack of merchandise for almost a year now.

All in all, I made hundreds of dollars from the blog that year. I could have kept working it, but times they were a changin’.

In hindsight, for the first few years of the blog I was still recovering from a cohabitation relationship that could very well have resulted in marriage to a gringa, children and buying a house in the burbs. As any man after cohabitation relationship ends, I went a little wild with women, which began in grad school and working as a bartender. Then moving to Latin America, you can really go wild.

But even after I had gotten it out of my system, I now had this online persona. I had a promiscuous phase, and now people wanted nefarious content. The blog led me to do things I normally wouldn’t, and it became me trying to be something I’m not. I had gone through promiscuous phases before, but they felt wrong then too. Promiscuity never made me happy long term, so I always saw my way out.

Over the years many readers came via the “manosphere.” That community has some cool guys and great ideas, but one really bad idea is that it’s healthy or natural for men to be banging many different women, like animals. Granted, most humans aren’t designed to be 100% monogamous throughout their lifetime, but it’s more natural to pair up than perpetual promiscuity is.

Human babies need a year before they can walk, during which they are completely vulnerable. If you left a baby alone in the woods, he wouldn’t last one night. Not only is he unable to defend himself, he’s going to cry all night and tell all the predators exactly where he is. Humanity evolved with babies having two parents, because human children require a lot of help to bring up.

Like me, most people living promiscuously are trying to be something they’re not. They are going against their nature, which is a bad idea. There are some men who aren’t built for family life, but I’d guess less than 1 percent. And most of those don’t it in their nature. They were jaded as real hijueputas (literally, not figuratively). The lifestyle wreaks havoc on their lives.

Fortunately I smartened up and realized I wanted a family. After six years of marriage and three children, I am content. I started to clean the blog up when my wife got pregnant in 2013. Not only did I not have any new sensational content, I slowly began un-publishing the more embarrassing stories. That’s when traffic, which had only gone up over the previous five years, began to decline.

Living in Lima, I went broke and had to move the pregnant wife back to the States. I had built successful businesses since going indie, but the spending outpaced the earning and my main business faced failure if I didn’t come up with some cash quickly.

At first I looked for a white-collar gig, but nothing came quickly and that baby was coming. I co-authored Lima Travel Guide, which makes a small recurring income to this day. I got a job as a server and bouncer in a bar, which made me very unhappy but with a baby at home it was important to get out of debt. In 2014 I decided I could quit that job if the Expat Chronicles community would pay for me to write the long-promised book about The Mick, for which I already had over 30 hours of audio interviews.

I launched a Kickstarter with the goal of $4000, which you surpassed. I quit my job and began writing Christopher’s memoir just as I came out of debt. Wife had been bothering me to go back to Peru almost as soon as we left, so as soon as I was on solid financial ground we moved back to Lima and I published Mad Outta Me Head in December 2014.

Having just published two books in one year, and with a handy format in Lima Travel Guide, I published Arequipa Travel Guide a couple months later.

After publishing three books in just over a year, this notion that I was a writer went off the rails. I launched an English-language news site called Peru Reports, which required publishing thousands of words every week, sometimes every day.

I ultimately quit, but the experience improved my publishing skills (which I no longer call “writing”). Before Peru Reports I would delay articles because the time wasn’t right or the story not yet perfect. But with the news you have to publish every day. It takes away the mystique, because you are constantly producing, publishing.

Reporting the news also forced me to adhere to a style (being a good American, I chose AP), which found its way into all of my outlets. There was now a rhyme and reason to where the quotation marks were, when to use numbers versus spell them, when to italicize (never), etc.

After selling Peru Reports I dove back into talking shit and being an ugly American here on Expat Chronicles. With my success at Kickstarter, I tried a Patreon scheme, in which you, the reader, kick in a few bucks every month for me to publish these gems. With enough readers, I could not only devote more time but also allocate money to create premium content such as video and podcasts. But the market didn’t bite.

One year (this year), I launched my first-ever petition. My idea was to get enough signatures to allow Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro to attend the Cumbre de las Americas in Lima this year (which he had been uninvited to) only if he attended a public forum of Venezuelans living in Peru. It would be the escrache of the century. Of course he would never agree, but it would be a cool PR coup.

Nobody cared. Thanks to everybody who signed, but it didn’t get off the ground. No problem, we’ll just keep trucking as we are.

And how are we trucking?

Above is the monthly web traffic (unique visitors) since Expat Chronicles got its own domain in September 2008 (the outlier is the month Christopher did a Reddit AMA).

As of today, Expat Chronicles has been sleaze-free for more time than not. Many of the people who were here for that moved on. Many stayed, thanks! When I built the fancy little table above, I thought I was going to say that traffic is lower than it has ever been. But curiously it’s not, although the trend is declining. But no matter, it’s still fun. Someday I’ll figure out what we’re doing here.

Because the dream is for this to be more than a personal blog. Someday I’d like Expat Chronicles to be a niche media outlet for like-minded gringos like you and me in Latin America, with stories from others who may still be into nefarious activities, in other cities and countries all over the region. Maybe podcasts and video. It’s all possible.

It’s been a fun ride for the first decade. I hope you stick around for the next one. Thanks for reading!

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4 Responses to “Ten Years and Running”

  1. Dd

    03. Apr, 2018

    All the best Colin. I’ll keep reading as long as you keep publishing

  2. david

    03. Apr, 2018

    Good Lad. More surprising insights (for a late starting reader). Best of luck Colin.

  3. Chili

    04. Apr, 2018

    Keep at it, and follow your gut. You came out of the gate like a raging bull and that’s what caught everyone’s attention. From my perspective, the self-editing came with family life, and that’s fine, we all go through it. You have a gutsy core that comes through in your writing voice, stick with it. Tell the street stories, make them PG 13 if you must, but that is what you do best. Keep up the good work, Colin. Do what you do best.

  4. Mariella

    20. Apr, 2018

    Colin, I’ve been reading since 2011, and I’ve loved both versions, the sleezy one and the PG 13 one. You’ve got a great style of writting and the stories are still both real and fun. Keep going!

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