Source: Manawatu Standard
On her OE in South America, Palmy-raised Rebecca Greenshields and her husband Doug were inspired to live life differently.
In Ecuador they spotted an unfinished boutique hotel on the outskirts of spa town Banos and decided to buy it.
It took longer than expected to complete the building project, with Australian Mr Greenshields doing a lot of the work, and it evolved from a hostel to a guest house with eight private rooms to meet market demand.
In May 2009 La Casa Verde had its first paying guest. Since then mostly English speaking foreigners have stayed, including Palmerston North couple Jerry and Heather Tanguay. A Scottish engineer guest was familiar with Palmerston North because he worked on a wind farm here.
During the holiday season the guest house is booked a few weeks in advance and over the low season capacity is at 60 to 65 per cent.
It has been more successful than the couple expected, and being able to speak English was a definite advantage.
Mrs Greenshields, nee Estall, and her son, John, 3, were in Palmerston North last week catching up with family.
La Casa Verde (The Green House) is marketed as eco accommodation. Mrs Greenshields said unlike other buildings in Banos it was built to last and is relatively maintenance free.
The wood did not come from the Amazon rainforest, but an agroforestry venture; recycled steel was used; waste generation is kept as low as possible; and grey water goes back to the garden.
More building work is looming, with an additional three guest rooms to be developed from some of the family's living space, which they decided was bigger than they needed. The deck will be tripled in size to cater for yoga and meditation retreats, and the Greenshields will build an outside kitchen, juice bar/cafe, staff quarters and hammock hut. Future green plans are to convert to hydro electricity and install a windmill and solar panels.
The couple are happy enough with their level of Spanish, but are not fluent as they are almost always surrounded by English speakers.
Mrs Greenshields said in general the reaction of locals to their guest house had been positive.
They employ a number of women who live close by and neighbours help guests exploring the area.
While their eco and sustainable behaviour attracted some sideways looks, there is growing understanding of the need to think of the environment, she said.
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The Greenshields' organic vegetable growing practices have not been so well received because locals were "brain washed" by chemical companies into thinking chemical sprays are necessary.
Greenhouse grown tomatoes are heavily fumigated with the run off flowing into the river, Mrs Greenshields said.
While tomatoes are an Ecuadorian native, consumers within the country and overseas want big, round, red tomatoes with no blemishes.
She has had some "interesting" discussions with farmers who think chemicals are not harmful, but she is conscious she is a foreigner.
There is an attitude that Westerners have had a turn at destroying the planet and had what they wanted, so why can't developing nations?
One success the Greenshields have had is setting up a recycling scheme at John's preschool.
In Ecuador's large cities residents recycle, but in Banos it is not uncommon for people to reach 80 and never to have travelled further than a 20 kilometre radius of the town.
Education is a privilege not an expectation and the Greenshields' La Casa Verde workers did not finish primary school.
There have been plenty of culture shocks: builders who seemed unable to measure, white lies that were more grey and pride getting in the way of people admitting they do not know the answer.
Mrs Greenshields said they had met a few people in a similar situation to theirs while on their OE – not quite sure what they wanted to do, but knowing they did not want a corporate lifestyle.
"A lot of people have said that we have inspired them to follow their dreams and proven that you can do it."
It is not until the Greenshields stop and look back that they realise how far they have come with their Ecuadorian dream.
"People need to do less wishing and more doing because you are never going to do it otherwise," Mrs Greenshields said.
"It is not going to be handed to you on a plate, you do have to work for it."
Having parents working at home means John gets to spend time with his mum and dad.
"Not many people have that privilege over here."