Four years ago I stepped so far out of character that I had trouble recognising myself in what I was doing. I found myself on a plane to Panama, returning to this person, Rene. Little did I know that this very decision I made, to follow my heart, would lead me to open my own business.
Rene and I were reunited in the tropical island oasis of Bocas Del Toro. It was just the two of us, renting a beach shack on the edge of the Caribbean Sea.
As a surfer, Rene was in his element; whereas, for me, the ocean was a foreign place - I felt like an alien in water. Alas, it was a surprise when Rene bought me a surfboard. He had me out in the water every single morning. It was just as terrifying as I’d imagined - surfing is A LOT harder than it looks - I could barely paddle! But Rene stayed patiently by my side, teaching me how to navigate the waters. I’ll never forget the elation I felt when I caught my first wave: a moment of pure bliss!
In the ocean, Rene taught me the power of persistence; how to overcome fears by breaking down mental barriers. Through surfing, I was exploring uncharted territories, both in the world, and within myself. I learnt what it meant to navigate aguas profundas - deep water.
In Bocas, I got my first retail job working in a clothing store. It was there that I began dreaming up the idea of my own retail business. My boss was a living example that it was possible. I craved the freedom, the creative journey, and also something that could bring me back to the incredible continent that was the home of the man I loved.
I didn’t want to waste time either, I knew I needed to act while the idea was fresh - so I booked a flight to Ecuador where I met a friend of mine. Together we scoured through the little market towns in the Andes mountains. There was one particular artisan who captured my attention. With my (very) basic Spanish I asked whether he could send merchandise to Australia. He responded by giving me his email address and contact number. I took it as a ‘Yes’ - I was hopeful.
Back in Bocas, I got Rene to act as my translator in a Skype call with the artisan, Misael. I explained that I wanted to sell alpaca products in my hometown of Melbourne, with simple designs and natural colours. By the end of the call we’d organised samples to be sent to Australia.
Rene came up with the business name: ‘La Sierra’ is the local slang for the areas of the Andes highlands that are the natural habitat of the Alpaca. As soon as I heard it, I could picture it - I knew it was right.
In my haste, I organised the shipping of Alpaca samples to be sent to Melbourne while I was in Panama. Luckily I had my mum available to pick it up (what would we do without our mothers?!).
I returned to Australia a couple of months later, and 10 weeks after that I was selling my first Alpaca product. Without any previous planning or experience, I became the business owner of La Sierra.
Fast forward 4 years: I’m sitting across from Rene in an Air BnB in Cusco, Peru. After seven months apart we are having some much needed ‘us’ time away from all the business work we’ve been doing. Reminiscing on the past, I can’t believe that I am living what I dreamt up all that time ago in Bocas Del Toro.
Anything is possible.