Marvin and Juliet Guerrero are bringing a little slice of Latin America to Carterton with their cute and colourful Casita Flora Homestay. And it’s only the start of a grand plan to connect Kiwis with the best produce Marvin’s homeland of Honduras has to offer. By Anne Taylor.
I knew something was afoot when I noticed a previously plain building opposite Carterton’s Memorial Square sporting a funky new paint job. Then came a colourful window box full of yellow flowers, and cheerful pink exterior trim. “That’s what you would see in a ‘casa’ in Central America so that’s what we wanted to do,” says Juliet.
The couple, who have lived in Carterton for 10 years, had been exploring the idea of running a homestay for a while. They quickly realized the building’s potential and bought the place in March.
Since then, they have had steady bookings and are enjoying the sense of giving people a great time in Carterton. “The people who’ve stayed at Casita Flora have appreciated the fact that we’ve put our personalities into the place, and they enjoy exploring the town which has its own unique feel,” says Juliet.
Plain furnishings and ‘safe’ colour schemes were never going to happen – instead, Marvin and Juliet have infused the interior with colour, warmth and the flavor of the places they love to travel: Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.
Hanging on one of the bedroom walls is a child’s bright green dress. Juliet explains the embroidery relates to a certain region in Guatemala. She has used traditional textiles, cushions and folk art throughout, and created an inviting hacienda-style courtyard with pot plants and other garden features outside.
The couple met on a cruise ship – Marvin was working in hospitality with plans to save money and return to run his family’s coffee farm. When this was sold instead, he continued his career in hospitality onboard the ships.
Juliet worked as a fitness instructor then spa manager. She’d come from a strong retail background, first running market stalls at the Wakefield St market in the 80s, then her own gallery in Wellington.
“It was an intense five years on the ships, with very little time off,” she says. “But we both had a strong work ethic. I had 12 different nationalities on my staff and this taught us an immense amount about communication, cultural sensitivity and awareness.”
They’ve applied these skills in their various jobs since then. Marvin teaches the barista course at UCOL, and also manages Café Medici, Martinborough part time. Juliet is a talented jewellery designer with her own label Rosa Lila, sourcing her exotic natural beads from throughout Central America and Mexico. Channeling her mother, who’s “artistic and a great gardener”, she also sells her potted succulents, cacti and other plants from their home, and at the Greytown Country market over summer.
It was going to be either Honduras or Wairarapa once they became a couple, and Juliet’s hometown of Carterton won the day. “I’m a family girl, I grew up 2km out of town. But we both share the same love of where we come from,” says Juliet.
This is clear when they go back to Honduras for visits. Marvin is followed around continually by his adoring nieces, making it hard for him to sneak off for a quiet coffee in the countryside. His coffee breaks are more than just holiday pit stops – they’re about reconnecting with his coffee-farming heritage and laying the foundations for his own business in the future.
He grew up in mountainous western Honduras near the border with Guatamala, and remembers his grandfather Luciano travelling by mule to the city of San Pedro Sula, loaded up with coffee beans, then returning several days later with money for the family.
“The region’s altitude improves the quality of the coffee,” he says. “Even a difference of 10 metres alters the taste. Coffee farmers are respected in the community and when I visit the different farms, people recognize my surname because of my grandfather.”
He’s pleased that his business idea will mean more trips back to Honduras where his family still lives.
For now, there’s adventure enough in Carterton. “If you’d asked me 20 years ago whether I’d be living here, I would have said no,” says Juliet. “But it’s really nice to be sharing the good things about the town with other people through our Homestay.”