It’s always exciting to be in the company of people who are high on living in a certain place, especially when they’ve changed countries just to live there. Last night we had a large table at the Hilton and Sandro Leopardi told us all about his life’s journey that brought him to Bogota. He was born in Rome, then as a child moved to Venezuela. When Chavez took office Sandro moved to Colombia and started his tour company Macondo. “I set the business up in three days,” he said. “Imagine doing that in Italy or in Venezuela!”
He said no one here has ever asked him for a mordita, (a bribe) and everything has been straightforward and honest. He said that during the 80s and 90s, Colombians were shunned due to the drug war problems–governments like the US refused requests for visas and it was hard for people to travel. Strip searches were the norm, people were treated badly. Today a Colombian can get a ten-year visa to come to the US. “There is a mindset in some countries of South America, sort of distrust of foreigners. But because of Colombia’s relative isolation the attitude here is, “I want you to like me,” Sandro said.
There is a friendliness toward visitors, an eagerness to show them the country, and like all of the PR people, average citizens will comment on the feeling of safety here. Outside of the hotel, on the busy boulevard, traffic has been blocked off to all but bicycles and joggers. It looks like as popular here as in Mexico City. I wish I had a bike, I’d join them!