Jul 11

Entering an Alternate Reality: Moving to Bogotá, Colombia

An interview with Toby & Tiger (Part 1 of 3)

Toby and Tiger have the answer to the ‘Colombia problem’. It’s the kind of answer you might expect from two idiosyncratic, erudite intellectuals that have spent time living in some of the world’s most culturally rich capitals. “We’ve entered an alternate reality; all you hear about Colombia is that it’s bad, that it’s full of danger. It’s an alternative reality because we’re here, walking the streets day to day and so little of what we hear matches up to what we see.” The pair are convinced: there must be a gap between realities and they’ve crossed it.

“When you compare what they say with the fact that we believe we’re in the future capital of culture of the world, you’ve got to believe that Colombia has a Department of Misinformation.” Toby pauses for breath. “And they’re doing a great job.”

If it all sounds a little far-fetched and dubious, maybe even optimistic, then take a moment to consider the credentials of the two men I’m speaking with. Toby, the tallest of the pair, who speaks with soft but enthusiastic tones, was born into an international lifestyle. “My father was an international banker and always wanted me to fly. I developed my own little encyclopedic knowledge of airports and airplanes. I lived in Geneva, London, Kashmir, New York, Florida, Colorado, Montreal, Vancouver, Paris and much more of France.”

As for Tiger, his upbringing involved much less travel. He was brought up in the suburbs of New York City. This is where he met Toby and, since, has found his own sense of wanderlust. The pair moved abroad and travelled extensively, taking Tiger to France, Mexico, Canada and, of course, eventually Colombia. This now is where they’ve decided to settle.

A Hidden Paradise

Of the pair it’s evident that Toby was the more disgruntled with life in the US. Though Tiger’s desire to move is apparent as he talks now, it’s Toby that talks with the greater sense of exasperation when speaking of his former home. “We were quite desperate to leave the US for a while. Me, having lived abroad, knew there were places with a better quality of life on offer. I think we in the US with our hubris tend to think life in the US is very peachy, but for me it’s not. Politically, socially, economically and culturally things just weren’t satisfactory for us.”

It’s a sentiment that Tiger shares and the two made several unsuccessful attempts to move to France, but were blocked by various hurdles. Before they gave up, however, fate would gift them a nudge in the right direction.

“Finally we read an article in the Italian version of Vanity Fair saying that Bogotá was a hidden paradise. Both Tiger and I had always been concerned about visiting from what we’d heard on the news…” At this point Tiger interrupts to offer a slight edit to the story. “Actually I was never concerned about it. I actually just always wanted to come here.” With this it becomes clearer that Tiger’s desire to escape the US is more to do with his attraction to Colombia. An interesting concept when you weigh it against the onslaught of bad press that is directed towards Colombia in the US.

Toby and Tiger are seeking to change perceptions of Bogotá and Colombia.

“My earliest memories of Colombia are from when I was 14. A friend had a Colombian stepmother who she hated. Firstly because she was her step-mother, and, secondly because she tried to feed her cow’s tongue; not knowing it was a sign of love. She hooked all that hatred of her stepmother onto the bad image that perpetuates about Colombia and used to tell me about it. For some reason I just knew she was being irrational and ignored her. I really don’t know how I knew.”

It’s a sensible attitude and, yet, as Tiger concedes, one that’s hard to maintain. “I have to admit I was bothered by the stuff in the media, I was affected by it. Toby was great because he had this determined attitude, but I was a little concerned. I’d lived in Colombia as a boy and so of course I’d get upset by the absurd portrayal of Bogotá in the movies, of the city as a place with bombs flying everywhere. Some kind of tropical, dusty…” Toby pauses and Tiger ceases this opportunity to offer his summation. “A tropical non-paradise.”

The two chuckle at the phrase, and I chuckle too, but the three of us know the severity of the implications that these portrayals have had on Colombia. Fortunately for Tiger, Toby’s instinctual desire to travel to Colombia spurned their decision to move, and the article in Vanity Fair was to be the final push they needed. Toby elaborates: “I felt that I knew Colombia. I felt connected to it. I taught myself to cook Colombian food, to dance Colombian style, and so for me I had no negative preconceptions about Colombia. It’s unusual for me, but there was a shroud over my analytical, cautious side. It just never crossed my mind there’d be problems.”

Bogota Brilliance, Toby and Tiger’s informative webpage about Bogota.

A Reality Check

Thus the two moved to Bogotá, and so it was that their love-affair began. Shocked at the sophistication of the city, the elation they felt in their first few days still visibly moves them. “We had a reservation on our first night in a French restaurant that we missed, so we decided to take a walk and we found another French restaurant, Balzac,” Tiger nostalgically begins. “As we were sat on the patio on a beautiful, cool evening, we were watching this people strolling past, arm in arm, and Toby turned to me…” Once again the pair are tripping over each other to recount the stories they’ve undoubtedly shared together many times. Toby blurts out, excitedly: “Pinch me! I said. Are we in Paris? And for weeks I had to keep asking Tiger to remind me we weren’t in Paris.”

I ask Toby how the country matched against the fears that had been stirred up during his time in the US. “I had preconceptions and then the reality his me in the face here. The reality was for me an emotional, heartfelt one. The most important thing was the sophistication, the culture of Colombia and Colombians.”

“I am someone that is passionate about art, I’ve always loved Paris because of it, they always protected it. Colombians have a deep respect for culture on whatever level, music, dance, art… So it was the sophistication of the city, Bogotá, that surprised me. It was so international, even though it had so much bad press in the media and the reputation of the country puts people off coming here. There was so much international selection in cuisine, foods from France, Israel, Serbia… You’ll find anything you want here. That’s important for me: to feel grounded with that international aspect of my personality.”

Moving From an Alternate Reality

And, so, with their love of Colombia visibly still intact, Toby and Tiger, two successful businessmen from New York that have traveled extensively throughout the world, see themselves settling down together in Bogotá, a city famous internationally for little more than crime and drugs. The reality, as the two have mentioned, is very different.

“The more time we spent here we were so upset, more and more and more about the horrible negativism towards Colombia and Bogotá that it just became unbearable. We always hated it but now we’re here and settling in the gulf between the perceptions of this country and the reality just gets wider and wider to us.” It’s this gulf that juxtaposes so dramatically with their reality here, that spawned the idea for their project, Bogotá Brilliance.

Bogotá Brilliance is a website dedicated to correcting the misperceptions that are perpetuated about Colombia. It seeks to show people the truth about Colombia and, using Toby and Tiger’s passionate love for Bogotá, aims to demonstrate to the world that the city is ready for international, cultural tourism. The cultural scene is ready, the pair are convinced, and should be seen by the whole world.

With Bogotá Brilliance, and with the help of the many people they’ve met in Bogotá with a similar aim, Toby and Tiger are seeking to change perceptions of Bogotá and Colombia. Their aim, to put it in their terms, is to take themselves out of their alternative reality, and plant themselves firmly in the real world. A world where Bogotá is recognized as the truly sophisticated, international city it is.

You can find Bogotá Brilliance here: http://www.bogotabrilliance.com

Paul

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