Chile today, hot in Panama; got the boot in Colombia
I need to stop telling people how much fun trade missions are because no one believes me when I do a turnaround and complain that they’re also a huge amount of work, can be exhausting and the wines at the receptions can be second-tier at best.
This last franchise trade mission to South America in late August was more challenging than the first two because people in Panama, Chile and Colombia speak Spanish. We were warned by Enrique Tellez, the commercial specialist in Panama, that if we wanted to communicate while we were there, we should immediately learn to speak Spanish or send someone who did. I tried to beef up my college Spanish by checking out an audio program from the library. I abandoned all hope of becoming fluent in a week, because another library patron had beat me to Lesson 1 and I was stuck learning how to say, “Did you enjoy the movie? What movie did you see?” I knew I would not be going to any movies in South America, so really, what was the purpose of learning to speak Spanish?
I have no problem traveling with 17 men, but it was nice to have IFA’s Beth Solomon and Kristin Houston of the U.S. Commercial Service to hang out with. As I later told IFA’s international committee, this was the first trade mission led by three women.
We hit three countries and met dozens of qualified prospects in a little over a week. The trip started in Panama with a tour of the Panama Canal. We hired a tour guide/driver to transport us to one of the world’s greatest engineering feats, only to discover once we arrived that our tour didn’t include admission to the canal nor a tour. The guide did, however, drive. While the others watched a ship make its way through the canal, I went upstairs with Ray Hays of EGS and Rogelio Martinez of Tutor Doctor to have lunch. Rogelio promised we’d have the best view of the canal from there, but all I saw was the buffet table. No loss, because when we rejoined the group, the same ship was still going through the canal. This clearly was not the speed channel.
Later at the Marriott bar, Tony Valles of McAlister’s Deli introduced me to the local drink, Pisco Sours. I’ll post the recipe on our Facebook page, but you really should go to Latin America to drink them.
In Colombia, Beth, Kristin and I took advantage of a break in the action to visit Stella’s Botas to order custom, handmade boots. The last time I had anything handmade for me was when I was a child living in Japan. The offending garment was a forest-green, scratchy jacket that matched one worn by my mother and sister—the kiss of death even to a grade-schooler. I had higher hopes for these boots. I am not a boot-wearer; I am someone who likes the experience of buying things. After I chose my leather, heel, toe, sole, height requirement and ornamentation, I was disappointed to learn that Stella—or in this case, her sister, Ruth—did not immediately sit down at her boot-making machine and whip them up for me. Not only do I have to wait six weeks, I also have to wait for a commercial service officer to visit the U.S. so she or he can mail them to me. Apparently, unlike the U.S.’s service, the Colombian postal service doesn’t subscribe to the rain, heat, gloom-of-night delivery schedule. I hope to see those boots someday. I’ll keep you posted.
Our overnight accommodations in Bogotá were at an upscale business club with bomb/drug-sniffing golden retrievers at the entryway and only 32 rooms. Safety did not end at the front door. Once you departed the elevator, manned by an operator, you had to use your room key to open the wooden gates that sealed off both sides of the hallway. Each room was unique. Mine had a long balcony that overlooked the city; Kristen’s was the size of a small city and Beth’s had a hot tub next to the bed and a live-plant-covered wall. I loved that the honor bar had a small can of Vienna sausages—when was the last time you washed down Vienna sausages with a $4 can of Diet Coke? It also had two kinds of bottled water: One cost the equivalent of $2; one was $6. I couldn’t tell which was which. I was tempted to brush my teeth with Diet Coke, but I didn’t. So I either splurged on tooth-brushing water, or was thrifty.
Since our official time in Chile ended right before the weekend, several of us stayed an extra day or two to see the sights. David Riker of Hertz Equipment Rental rushed off to catch a plane, but not before helping us score a van from the local Hertz dealer. Marcel Portmann, a former international executive for IFA who lives in Chile, joined us as a consultant for John Barber, chief development officer for the Global Franchise Group. Marcel was a godsend for me: He helped negotiate the dinner menu and wine list in Panama for our sponsored dinner with IFA—the servers only spoke Spanish and were not interested in going to the movies, so I was at a complete loss. As if that wasn’t enough, he then served as tour guide. It just so happened he was test-driving a car for his wife that weekend, so John, Kristin and I graciously gave our input on the vehicle as we drove down to the ocean and then to a winery. It was a magical day, since September is a month-long celebration of Chile’s patriotism and our large group saw dancing and singing in the streets. John, who has never met a person he can’t get their life story out of, introduced us to everyone on the winery tour and on the patio at lunch.
The next day I honed in on Wing Zone’s Hair Parra’s vacation with his wife, Ivone, to go to Nobel Prize-winning poet and Communist Pablo Neruda’s eclectic home by the sea and to a town known for its pottery.
Over the course of nine days, I heard so many great stories from the guys—some that I can even repeat. I’m out of room here, but starting in November, I’ll be blogging on our website. On a slow news day perhaps I’ll explain why mamon is a fruit in one Latin American country and a sexual reference in another. Oh, the things you learn on trade missions.