A few days ago, someone that I respect told me that I don’t know how to sit still. Aside from the irony in the statement, since this person is doesn’t sit still either, is the context in which it was used. You see, anyone who follows my travels or knows me well has seen that the country list is piling up again with visits to Guatemala, Peru, Kenya, Tanzania, Morocco and Colombia, all since January 2021. Well, we’re only in October and clearly, I’m not done. Enter Colombia again, my second visit this year coming Monday, marking my 31st visit to what I call my second home. From glamping in Guatape to planting mangroves in Cartagena and everything in between, no wonder Colombia is one of our fastest-growing destinations.
While I am proud of being among the first to venture into Colombia in 2006, it was not easy getting to this point, it didn’t start like this. I remember vividly, my friend Camilo Duque, coming to the Big Five office when he was living in Miami, representing an organization called ProExport, now known as ProColombia, aka, the Colombia tourism office, one of the most proactive and engaged tourist boards I have ever seen. Camilo sat in my office, trying to convince me that Colombia was the next big thing. He shared that he had been laughed out of many offices and was hoping the same wouldn’t happen here. Thankfully, I had enough sense to believe Camilo and planned my ticket down to Colombia, not knowing this trip would be the first of many, many more to come. I gravitated towards Colombia being a sleeping giant as Camilo put it because I believed him. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect when I landed and fully expected a disaster to unfold, and clearly, my family thought the same as they declared me insane for even thinking of going in 2006. So off I went, ready for an adventure no matter where it took me.
Something magical happened while I was there, I fell in love with the country. Now I know that phrase seems pretty cliché, however, this was different. I arrived not knowing what to expect and what I saw was a destination working twice as hard as any other to escape the ghost of a dark past that was not of this generation’s making. It was while sitting on a balcony near Tayrona that it dawned on me what Camilo was talking about in regards to being laughed out of offices. I was bursting at the seams to tell people to come to Colombia, ready to shout it from every rooftop, knowing full well, nobody would believe me. If you all will remember back to 2006, Instagram, Facebook, really social media as a whole, was not what it is today. If I remember correctly, we still thought MySpace was going to stick at that point. So sharing my connection with this country could not be shared in real-time. What I did know is that I bonded with this country faster than any other I had ever been to, literally in 48 hours. So the promise I made to myself was to come back as much as possible, bring my family at some point and get my team down there as fast as humanly possible. Well, both have been accomplished. My family has been there multiple times, our team has been there multiple times, and our Latin America manager, Gisela Polo, is in Colombia enjoying the many flavors of Cali as we speak.
So, as visit 31 kicks off next week, with a few of my favorite advisors along for the adventure, I think about how long ago these connections were formed. I think about Nico, my first guide, who I stop to say hello to every visit now (he doesn’t guide anymore). I think about the infamous Carmen from the Sofitel Santa Clara, who I see every year at different trade shows, who I met in 2006. I think about Vicky, our guide in Cartagena, who got her start in tourism with Big Five and who still believes Red Bull gives her wings. I think about Abraham, who owns the best rum bar in all of Colombia and who is the best mixologist in the country when it comes to rum and food, and an even better man, one the Spirit of Big Five Foundation proudly teamed up with to help over 100,000 suffering Colombians put food and medicine on the table during one of the darkest years of their lives. I think about Kabal, my favorite personality in Medellin, and how much passion he has for art and music. I think about Marino, the most powerful dramatic guide I have ever met, in the far reaches of Huilo, with his dramatic stare and worn Suzuki cap. I think about Limonad Ashish, the drink mutated at Casa San Agustin towards my African roots which I still drink today (an actual menu item if you ask Carolina or any of the staff there I might add). And I think about Sandro, my brother from another mother, who opened our office there with me and is enjoying the meteoric rise of Colombia with me.
This being said, I also have 2 more upcoming visits. Well, I will come back from this adventure and on November 8, once again head back to the country I love, proudly representing Big Five at the Tourism Cares summit in Medellin. So, that will be visit 32. Watch out Baskin Robbins, 32 visits to Colombia definitely comes out ahead of 32 flavors! As we say in Colombia, welcome home.