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Dublin: 17 °C Tuesday 23 July, 2019
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How I went from 9-to-5 accountant to these South American waves for my office

Richy O’Carroll didn’t want to have any regrets – so he decided to set sail for Peru.

Richy O'Carroll

Back when I was working as an accountant, my life was very routine. You could call me a weekend warrior.

I loved living at home don’t get me wrong, but working for someone else didn’t motivate me. I used to get mild Monday fear after a heavy weekend of fun but nothing too bad compared to others.

I played senior football for Barna in Galway and I loved surfing the west coast of Ireland. When I was 21, I took a year off from work to travel around South America. I instantly loved it: the language, the people, the sports, the atmosphere, the weather. After returning from that trip, I always wanted to move back.

When I finished with Deloitte, I wanted to head straight over to South America but I landed a nice accountancy job in Galway living with friends. I stayed for a year, but the plan was always to leave. I was 26 already and I had my qualifications so I was in a good boat to make a move.

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Now or never

I thought ‘I don’t go now I never will and I will always have regrets’. I’ve always just gone and done things, and I told everyone I was going to go over and set up a hostel so I guess I kind of had to do it after that. But was still scary saying goodbye: breaking up with a girlfriend, leaving a good job behind, my friends, family.

I had around €20,000 saved up so I could go for a holiday plus have a bit of moolah left over to set up something. I didn’t see it as too much of a risk. I always had the accountancy as a backup and a good family to go back to as well, so if all else failed at least I’d come back fluent in Spanish after a great adventure. Being fluent in another language is as good as any masters – if nothing else, it would be great for the CV.

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The original plan was to travel for four months then settle down somewhere to learn Spanish and surf and take it from there. I spent some time on Eddie Jordan’s 88ft yacht sailing from Antigua to Portugal. My cousin and her husband were captaining the boat as they sailed around the world. They were inspirational – if they were living their dream, I thought, why can’t I live mine. I didn’t want to be working for someone, I just wasn’t motivated. I’m sure most ex-workmates would tell you that, I spent more time planning my weekends and holidays.

While crossing the Atlantic, I started making notes about what I’d like in a hostel, the finances, and also annoyed everyone learning the tin whistle.

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Casa Fresh

I got offered a finance role for a charity in Huanchaco, Peru. I would be right on the beach with sick surf everyday, so the plan was to move there. However I met a Brazilian woman in Florianopolis who inherited four houses and a swimming pool on the beach. I told her my plans about a hostel and she said you can have this place and we can be partners. That really kickstarted a business plan, even though it eventually fell through because getting a visa for Brazil was quite tricky. I decided to open one in Huanchaco instead.

I viewed a few places to rent but once I came across the current Casa Fresh building, I knew it was the one. It has an unreal terrace looking out into the sea and most of the rooms had sea views. The building itself was a Peruvian hotel and wasn’t doing much business so eventually after a while negotiating I agreed a price for long term rent with the owner.

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The next steps were to find a partner to invest, get a website, list on the booking sites, buy new beds, do the painting, get laptops WiFi… There were a million and one tiny things to get the hostel open from opening a bank account to organising visas and licenses. With Peru, if someone tells you they will have it for you Monday, expect a two week delay and without a please or thank you.

The Peruvian people are amazing but the lack of service to customers left a gap in the market for us in Huanchaco. We mainly have Irish staff and it makes for a great atmosphere. The staff and guests are happy because they are in paradise, blue skies and surf everyday in a friendly, cheap town. Some nights we could have 40% Irish people staying and get a massive music session going with guitars, bodhran, tin whistle, singing and rapping whilst looking out at the sunset on pumping waves.

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Big plans

We have had so many characters staying already, from a former tennis pro to an Irish priest… and a fair few weirdos to boot. The hostel is off to a great start, within six months of opening we are number one on Hostelworld, Booking.com and Tripadvisor for hostels. The Huanchaco market itself will always grow as backpackers travelling around South America are finding out more about the place and it will become part of the ‘gringo trail’.

My plans for the future are to live for three to four months in Ireland for the summer in Galway and Mayo, and the rest of the year here in Huanchaco. I would love to hitchhike to China before I’m 35, that’s my big plan. Then every Christmas, like the last one, sell alpaca-wool jumpers in Ireland. I also want to set up an Irish bar here, buy an apartment on the beach and generally keep healthy and happy.

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The main way my life has changed is that there is no routine over here, except that Thursday night is salsa night! Each day is different. I suppose the main difference is that what I would plan for my weekends and my holidays back in Ireland I do everyday here and get paid for it.

I do miss the craic in Ireland, especially the Galway bars, but we have created a little micro Galway here on the Peruvian beach. I surf, run and play football every day so it is hard to complain.

Richard “Richy” O’Carroll is a 28-year-old trained accountant from County Galway who now runs Casa Fresh Peru in Huanchaco.

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