The most successful person in the world: A man, his boat, and his happiness


Natalia Alarcon

The water’s clarity and stillness provided a clear image of life on the ocean floor. Before jumping in, De La Rosa took me aside. “My purpose is to show you this beauty, and your job is to appreciate it,” De La Rosa said.

Esteban Alarcon, Copy Editor

He had long hair—not uncomfortably long, but enough to convey the message of an easy-going, old soul. His bronzed skin accredited its shade to years in the sun, but the wrinkles around his eyes that accumulated over decades of squinting did not take away from his edged jawline and intense facial features. His tall, lean physique did not intimidate in the slightest—the friendly, crooked smile, rather, diluted any potential intimidation, and his genuine humility balanced his confidence. You could call him the Tarzan of the sea, or Juan De La Rosa for short.

My family, close friends, and I boarded what seemed a high-end raft with a centered sail and a questionable engine, also known as a catamaran. Two pontoon-like cylinders on either side kept the humble vessel afloat; a hard material made up two-thirds of the flooring, and thick netting made up the remaining, all coming together to offer the square footage of a van.

De La Rosa greeted each of us with a smile and warm energy, dismissing any skepticism that may have derived from the fact that we planned to go a few miles into the Caribbean Sea on this boat-ish thing.

His job, routine but extremely demanding, consisted of taking tourists out onto the open water to visit one of Mexico’s signature coral reefs and making sure that the boat arrives at each shore safely. After nearly half a lifetime of doing this—of sitting in the sun, of catering, of retracing the same blue path every day—one would expect boredom and reluctance to set in. Not with De La Rosa.

“First, I’m taking you to my favorite place. You’re going to see Mother Nature in a way you’ve never seen her. The fish, the water, the coral—it’s going to blow your mind,” De La Rosa said.

The way his eyes glistened and voice changed when telling me the tale of the sea reminded me of a child, describing his favorite superhero, or of a young man recalling why he married the love of his life.

Fifteen minutes before leading us off of the catamaran and into the coral reef, he advised that no one reapply sunscreen for the sake of protecting the reef from loose oils drifting about. However, the urgency in his tone did not simply enforce protocol, it emphasized his protectiveness of the nature beneath the surface—like a father and his adopted child.   

Further into the day, with only a mile of clear blue left between us and the shore, I gave in to my curiosity and approached De La Rosa: “Are you happy with what you do? Do you enjoy it?”

“I have a masters in mechanical engineering; I went to the best engineering institute in Mexico. I hated it. I pursued material, stability, money, and approval from my father. One day, my friend brought me to the ocean, and I stayed. My home—it’s small, very small, but I love it. It touches the sand, and I get most of my meals from the water. It’s all I need, it’s all I want,” De La Rosa said.

The response humbled me and adjusted my perception of the true essence of happiness. I continued to question, and he continued to answer.

“My wife of 25 years, the mother of my two children, had left me for another woman. I was lost, angry, confused. I turned to drugs and alcohol, and that turned me to homelessness for four years. This is when I realized that God gives one, beautiful life; if you fail to love, and give, and live in this life, it is an insult to Him, and to yourself. I started this business, bought this boat, and found joy. My son is now a chef in Mexico City, and my daughter is studying French and English while she travels,” De La Rosa said.

The simplicity of achieving happiness often becomes clouded by the petty inconveniences plaguing our first-world lives. Juan De la Rosa epitomizes the meaning of life and defines what each human should pursue. Appreciating every moment and doing what brings joy constitutes some of the very pillars of existence, and I finally understand that, thanks to a man, his boat, and his happiness.