A Sense of Accomplishment in Medellin and Cartagena

Dear Advisor Partners,


As we wrap up our dispatch from Colombia, I present part III, the final report from a magical 41st visit to Colombia. Leaving La Macarena, with my shoulder back intact, the reflection of what we just accomplished started to sink in. This wasn’t just a 12-year vision coming to fruition, this was an accomplishment that allowed me to finally relax, the anxiety leaving and routine returning. As we landed in Medellin before sunset, I was relieved to return to one of my favorite cities in Colombia, the city that invented the phrase transformation through tourism.


The familiar faces of Julio and Juan Carlos greeted us as we arrived, their beards with a few more strands of grey, yet their smiles brighter than ever. This visit to Medellin was more important than any other because of our visit to higher parts of Comuna 13 with friend and guide, Jason. The activity with Jason focused on the African heritage in Comuna 13, beyond the crowded and touristy parts of the neighborhood. This was actually forged a few years back during the Tourism Cares Summit in Medellin, where I met Jason’s bro, Freddy. We formed a great connection showcasing Comuna 13, as, after all, it wasn’t that far back that this area was a conflict zone. The highlight of this area however isn’t the story of violence, rather the story of coping through music. Jason and his family used drum beats and different styles of hip-hop music, merged with Reggaeton, to create a unique sound that has a sonic influence even on those that are not musically inclined. Jason has come a long way, born with tanks and violence in his community to now collaborating with leading hip-hop artists and other top musical acts. I joked with Jason to remember me when he walks the red carpet one day!


From Medellin, it was on to Cartagena to close out our adventure. You know, I believe everything happens for a reason, so when the rain washed out our boating day, something magical ensued, lunch prepared by our private chef in the home of the Botero family, which we often use for our travelers. The highlight was the best sunset ever, with a 360° view from the rooftop of the home. After the stress of pulling off the perfect visit to Macarena, Cartagena is where everything always falls into place, from our guide Vicky’s unforgettable energy to the culinary delights of the city. The highlight, thanks to my friend Carolina from OhLaLa, was meeting noted author Gabo’s nephew during a private lunch with access to the last 8 copies of his family memoir in the world, gifted exclusively to our group. Top that off with chocolate from the famous Abraham that denoted our entire journey from where the cacao was sourced to the wrapping.


Visit 41 is in the books, and I haven’t even shared our new plans of working with the late Anthony Bourdain’s guide in Cartagena. It involves ceviche and hammocks suspended from the top of trees.. stay tuned for that!


The Twelve year Dream


Dear Advisor Partners,

I often tell my children to dream big and to walk through brick walls when necessary in order to achieve those dreams. I tell them that no dream is too big or unattainable; it’s only a matter of willpower, skill, and determination. I may have been talking to my children. However, deep down, I think I was talking to myself.

Twelve years ago, as I was traveling through Colombia, I saw pictures of Caño Cristales at every airport and was told how inaccessible this area was. This was all before the treaty was signed, all before Colombia really took off the meteoric way that it has. This was when most of Colombia, beyond the known cities, was still a sleeping giant. Yet I found a way to visit Caño Cristales before any tourism system existed. Let me tell you that my visit 12 years ago was an epic disaster. However, it was the best thing that ever happened to me, fueling my fire to return one day and to mark Caño Cristales as the latest example of transformation through tourism in Colombia.

Fast forward 12 years, and the desire to return to Caño Cristales has not dissipated. In those 12 years and with every visit to Colombia, I would drive our Colombia team crazy asking about a return to this river of five colors. I think some serious headaches ensued after each visit, and I don’t even want to know how many hours of sleep were lost. Enter 2023, and we made history. It finally happened! Big Five took the first group of advisors in all of North America to this part of Caño Cristales for the day. It all started with a 1 hour flight deep into the heart of Colombia, followed by a 4X4 excursion and a trek. Since this entire region sits atop a tar pit, you could see oil oozing from the ground in certain places we trekked. How could the water be this clear, that close to the tar pits? Nature works in some mysterious ways when left alone.  The tar pits and the luminescent algae weren’t the only focal points here, it was our local guides.

Now, mind you, Big Five always sends a national guide, like my buddy Leon, for these adventures as he is a modern-day Indiana Jones. However, the local guides told the same stories I heard 12 years ago, stories that made me shiver, stories that made my jaw drop due to the content and context. Stories I can’t even write here as the words don’t do them justice! Yet here we are, and here they are, transformed through tourism from a past leading to a painful ending to a future without limits.

It took 12 years to fulfill this dream, a strong reminder that every dream needs course correction, grit, and perseverance. It shouldn’t need extra motivation. That should be a prerequisite. Well, our team never wavered, we kept trying to find ways to make this work, and we finally did, right between Bogota and Medellin, with the precision of a Swiss watch. This dream literally had planes, boats, off-road vehicles (and one dislocated shoulder, for you know who).  The dedication of our Colombia team made this happen, from the activities down to the branded rain ponchos, slippers, and toiletries!

Enjoy Part II of our dispatch.

Dear Advisor Partners,


It’s that time again, my annual visit to Colombia, visit number 41. Our first dispatch comes from Bogota as we begin what will be a historic adventure. Arrival in Bogota was seamless, and it was great seeing my family here again. One aspect that I am really proud of is the amount of history and first-time innovations the Big Five team has in place in Colombia.

As you know, Big Five prides itself on sustainable initiatives and a commitment to leaving this world in a better place than we found it. Well, that now starts with an arrival into Bogota where we are proudly the first company to use an electric car for airport transfers in Bogota. Even though the charging grid is still under construction in Colombia, we have the schedules organized very well to allow transfers to always be done on a full charge.


Carrying on into Bogota, one cannot visit Bogota without visits to the local markets or the historic district, and trying local fruits, some of which I grew up eating in Africa. At one point, I was so immersed in being back in Colombia that I mistook an onion for a grape.


Stay tuned for Part II, where we really start making history in Colombia. Until then, enjoy the video!


A Sneak Peek.

Dear Advisor Partners,


When it comes to Egypt, one of the most frequent questions we receive is when will the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) open? Well, everything is a good guess at this stage, and anyone providing a hard opening date is also sharing an estimate. The commercial or common area of the GEM has been open, and Big Five includes that visit in every adventure to Egypt with a fee for special access inside one of the halls while work at the GEM is completed. We are getting inside information all the time on the status of the GEM and have been really good at sharing updates on the opening only when we have credible information. However, one thing was still missing. How does a visit to the GEM make you feel? Well, we got our answer this week when Big Five Egypt team member, Nour Abouseif, visited the museum on a weekend when locals were invited to visit the GEM on a guided tour of the open areas. We made a video of Nour’s visit and shared her thoughts below. Before we jump in, there are a few things to remember. The Grand Egyptian Museum is the largest museum in the world, built on 117 acres, and will include a movie theater and a children’s museum with 3D capability when fully complete. There will be over 60,000 artifacts in this museum at any given point. Noting those facts helps me realize why the GEM is taking so long to complete.


Our journey with Nour starts with the approach to the GEM. It is here that you fully realize how large the structure is. Now, I’ve seen this structure when visiting the pyramids however, seeing it from Nour’s perspective was really special. Nour was transmitting her notes to me live as she walked through the museum, and you could feel her excitement through her words.


1:58 pm – The excitement builds. This is the road leading up. I’m about to enter.

2:01 pm – The tour is about to begin. This is the largest museum in the world. There will be a few hotels here, and eventually, you will even be able to walk to the pyramids.

2:07 pm – Nobody, I mean NOBODY knows when the museum will officially open in full. It feels close though.

2:17 pm – The Hanging Obelisk is the only one of its kind in the world, though it is one of the smallest in Egypt, weighing 60 tons. It belonged to Ramses II, known as, the greatest and the saddest king. Part of the obelisk is cut into two pieces. Ramses wrote his name on the base so that no one ever removed it. The black base at the bottom highlights that.

2:18 pm – the museum is built on two axis points horizontally. Based on the great Khufu and Menkaura, built on an amazing design where you feel the humidity as soon as you enter. There is an open ceiling that allows sunlight in.

2:20 pm – The feeling as soon as you enter is one of awe. Ramses welcomes you as soon as you enter. Best. Welcome. Ever.

2:34 pm – This is the first piece to have arrived here at the GEM.

7:35 pm – Ramses II is not only the greatest king but not a single city is free of his name. He left his mark everywhere. He is the saddest king at the same time because he buried 50 of his children when he was alive.

7:38 pm – Nefertari says hi! When you come here, check her hand. She supports Ramses. We have an Egyptian proverb that says   “انا بسندك” which translates to I’ve got your back.

7:41 pm – I’m thinking of becoming an Egyptologist after this tour! What an amazing world of knowledge and art.

7:44 pm – There are foreigners here visiting the common areas.

7:46 pm – Do you see the signs of the duck? It means son or daughter. Why? Here in Egypt whenever a baby arrives, we refer to him as “بطوط” which means duck. This just shows you how amazing our culture is. It transcends time, even when we don’t notice. Many of our common practices date back to 7,000 years ago, if not more.

7:48 pm – I found Maat! She is the founder of mathematics and she is the God of justice. I found it on the back of the statue of Ramses II. She is holding the key of life. Ramses loved Maat as she was full of life. She is depicted as the beginning of life. You even see the womb.

2:52 pm – The 4 halls are here but are closed. When they open, however, hall number one is for the statues of the forgotten kings, and hall number two is for large events.

2:54 pm – So much thought went into this design. On October 22, there is a small open part of the window that will let sunlight in through just the right angle that it will hit the column and shine a light on Ramses II.

2:59 pm – The reason for the inclined floor you see is because this is how Egypt is built, on an uphill. Even the church is an uphill. The tombs are also an uphill, because the holiest part is the closest to the sky. More stairs! They symbolize the stairs of life. As you walk up, you reduce the number of days in your life and become closer to the sky.

3:02 pm – The King Tut area! The excitement if wanting to see it is… agggghhhhh!!!! Tons and tons of gold were found in his tomb. The King Tut mask is still at the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities

3:04 pm – There is still some construction. I can’t see a lot of it but I hear it.

3:10 pm – Did you know all statues, the left feet are aways at the front.

3:15 pm – I found Horus! Cats were glorified because they symbolize motherhood. This shows that females in ancient Egypt. It’s just great seeing all this history!

3:20 pm – one more thing which was amazing to learn. What is referred to as khartoush is known as shen and what is written inside is referred to as renn, this was only for the kings. We have another Egyptian proverb which states, “لو شن و رن” علي in francoarabe “lee shana w rana” which means has a great position. So again another thing that showcases how culture can never be changed, it just evolves.

3:43 pm – All this and we didn’t even see 1/100 of what will be available! I’m on my way out. Wow!


We can’t wait for the Grand Egyptian Museum to fully open. We know it will be historic and our best guess is that this may happen in the next few months. In the meantime enjoy the video of Nour’s visit. While nobody knows the actual opening date of the GEM, you can see the impact of even visiting the commercial area is in some ways even more powerful than the actual opening. What impact will a visit have on you?


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