Hello Richard and thank you for joining us at QUAKE Books HQ. We first met in Bogotá in Colombia back in 2014, just before we did an interview together on your weekly podcast Colombia Calling and we have kept in touch since then because of our relatively unusual love affair with Colombia. But for those who don’t know you I have a prepared a Q&A session.
1) Could you tell QUAKE Books readers a little bit about yourself, who you are, your projects and where your passion for Colombia and the Colombian people comes from?
Thank you Kai, I am a British-born freelance journalist and hotelier based here in Colombia between Bogotá and Mompox where I have a small hotel, La Casa Amarilla. I have been here in Colombia about 10 years now but my love for the country – a country which has given me so many opportunities – comes from back in the late 1990s when I was flown out to the Pacific Coast by the environmental NGO WWF where I worked at the time, to study the communities and mangroves of that region. This was a different and much more violent time in Colombia, but, travelling around this region by boat and staying in the local communities, I was treated like family and so, I guess I was bitten by the Colombia-bug!
2) Why did you decide to start your podcast show Colombia Calling and what kind of people would be particularly interested it?
The offer to start Colombia Calling came out of the blue. I am a print journalist really but the idea of doing some radio was very exciting. At first, finding the right people and the right format was tricky but now after more than 150 Episodes (available on iTunes, Stitcher and Soundcloud) the podcast now has received anywhere between 8000 and 9000 downloads per week. We must be doing something right! I suppose that really it’s about striking a balance between news, politics, travel and culture and keeping the listener interested. Our listeners range from members of the Colombian diaspora, people overseas wanting to know more about Colombia, people thinking of coming to Colombia and indeed the expat crowd already in Colombia.
3) There is a lot of misconception about Colombia. Why do you think that is and why did you decide to dedicate your life to removing it?
Well, it’s a tough one really, because Colombia on the one hand has a fully justified terrible reputation, but this is one that is changing, so at the same time it feels unjustified. At one point the only articles I could sell about Colombia revolved around “kidnapping, cocaine and the failed state”. There has been so much improvement in the last 10 years that the country is almost unrecognisable to what it was when I first visited, and so this deserves to be seen and to be given a chance. But, there is still so much to do. There are gross human rights violations and major issues of equality to be addressed and the political classes and their private interests rarely change, so, while I am positive about the future I am also aware of the challenges to be faced.
4) If you could broadcast one message about Colombia and the Colombian people to every person in the world, what would you focus on and why?
Colombia is the sleeping giant of ecotourism. Forget Costa Rica, come to Colombia! And the people? Well, without a doubt the friendliest people on the continent. After all I married one!
5) If someone told you they wanted to move to Colombia to live and work, what advice would you give them and which books could they read to give them a better idea of the reality behind the headlines?
My advice would be to come to Colombia with a plan but to be flexible once you are here. I always say to people that Todo es posible nada es seguro.
6) Given that you are an experienced journalist, what’s the one piece of advice you wish you had received before starting out?
Hahahaha! There are so many things I could have done as a journalist! Perhaps I shouldn’t have walked out on a job at a prestigious mainstream newspaper after two weeks reporting on the “celebrity beat” and covering parties attended by that person who came second in Big Brother No5! Perhaps I should have been more hard-nose at the beginning…but, no, I did not want to go that route and so made my area of expertise Latin America. My advice is to come to journalism with some sort of specialism, be it sports, foreign affairs, automobiles or whatever and make that you thing, don’t try and be the Jack of all Trades as you’ll end up spreading yourself too thinly. Stick with it!
7) Finally, your QUAKE Book is Even Silence Has An End. My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle by Ingrid Betancourt, what does that say about you?
That’s an interesting question. I try to read everything about Colombia and this had been on my shelf for a few years. I started it with some apprehension as I feel that Ingrid Betancourt has been misrepresented in the mainstream press and therefore my subjective opinions towards her may well have been slanted. While, she did not win me over throughout the text, I am far more aware of the utter hardships she encountered in the jungles, the humiliations, the mental torture and so on. I think for me this may show me as someone who is continually trying to learn more about the human side to the Colombian conflict.
Thank you very much Richard for your time and interesting perspective on one of the world’s most beautiful countries. If you haven’t been to Colombia already I cannot recommend it highly enough, having lived there for two years and having found my very own Colombian to call home. As Richard says, all is possible, nothing is safe. An excellent nutshell and one I can’t agree with enough!