"The Best Traveled" (NomadMania.com) - entrevista

La siguiente es una entrevista que nos hicieron a Sandy y a mi en Nomadmania.com, uno de los portales más reconocidos a nivel mundial para viajeros extremos.

NomadMania, february 2017

For the first time, we are presenting a double interview with a travel couple - both professionals in the industry and who have developed their travel profiles independently to start with before 'joining forces' a few years ago. Jack and Sandy bring a flavour of South America to us!

Jack and Sandy, tell us something about your backgrounds and how your interest in travel emerged.

Sandy- I was born in Medellin, Colombia, but at an early age my family moved to Panama where I grew up. All my life I dreamed of traveling but my parents were rather sedentary so only as an adult did I start to enjoy my passion. My career ambition was to become an architect, but the one university in the city that offered the degree was constantly closing due to strikes as it coincided with Noriega´s last year in power. Since my father would not allow me to study abroad, I had to settle for the next best option:Communications and Marketing. I did not have the faintest idea how I would apply it or where I would work. While in college, I opened with my mom the first chocolate store in Panama, but at the time, my uncle had a travel agency for him to enjoy the pleasures of travel. However, since he was not on top of it, as his main business was something else, the agency was riddled with financial and labor problems. One day he approached me and asked me if I would be interested in taking over the business or else he would close it down. So, without any knowledge of the industry, I jumped into it and started to run the show and thus started to enjoy my childhood passion. Shortly thereafter, the industry started to undergo major changes: airlines cut commissions and 9/11 brought a big blow. It was my chance to put into action my marketing and communication skills learned in college. Since people were reluctant to travel then, I figured I would show them the world, especially my neck of the woods in Latin America where terrorism was not a major concern, and so, for the past 14 years I have been the proud host, producer and director of my own travel TV show, Bon Voyage, which aired in Latin American cable and now airs only on local Panamanian TV as it became too much of a commitment on my personal life to handle a regional show (YouTube: bonvoyagetvsandy, in Spanish). Eventually, I grew the company into what is arguably one of Panama´s biggest and most reputable, and opened wholesale and representation divisions, and bought out my uncle. Today, I handle for the local and Central American markets brands such as Norwegian Cruise Lines, Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, various tour operators in Europe, and river cruises, among others. I now realize everything in life has a reason: I was not meant to be an architect, but rather the owner of well-known agency, a master of social media, and host to the most seen travel TV show in my country. Jack (From Chasing 193 vol. II) - I was born in 1969 in Bogotá to a traditionalist and cultured family of Eastern European immigrant Jewish parents. As such, I was brought up under a heavy influence of World and Jewish history — a family tree where no two generations were born in the same place and with a very dramatic recent past. I lived sheltered within a small community and with a strong feeling of being part of a minority in an overwhelmingly Catholic, third world country, still backward, where FARC guerrillas and Pablo Escobar´s war on society were the norm and the mentality of people was not yet open to the wider world. But even so, life was great and happy. The sense of being different was always important. Since very young, I grew up with a strong inclination toward world affairs, politics, cultures and with sufficient exposure to world travel. I distinctly remember sitting on my dad's lap and reading maps, skimming through the Encyclopedia Britannica, and learning from him about world history every night before going to bed. To him I owe a huge head start in life. I had the fortune of entering the world of traveling at a very early age. Every summer I would visit my maternal grandparents in Budapest. We would spend two months together with the family and always, before the start of the school year, we would go to some other place in Europe. Maybe this marked me from an early age as different; Hungarian, rather than English, was my second language. Life behind the Iron Curtain was the first ‘other world’ that I knew, and not the beaches of Cartagena or the parks in Orlando. I got accustomed to watching the news of the Vietnam and Angola wars under the Soviet prism and not the American. Getting to Hungary over 40 years ago was a long journey, one that implied changing planes many times in different countries — the weather, the way people dressed and the language would change at every stopover. In each destiny I learned one more history, heard a different language; tasted new flavors, learned about a new hero or anti-hero, about a new God. And everything, absolutely everything, would become a new adventure. I was not yet 10 when I realized through the Guinness Book of World Records that there were people truly dedicated to seeing the entire world and that it was indeed achievable. I remember reading about a Bengali fellow who had been to about 154 countries. When I turned 15 and had been to 15 countries, I realized that life was not long enough to continue at such a slow pace. When I finished high school, I had already traveled around many European countries and some places in the Americas. For my high school graduation, my father allowed me to choose the destination I wanted to go on vacation. His surprise couldn’t have been greater when I told him we’d go to South Africa. It was with that whimsical moment followed by that trip that I opened a new page in my travels, now to remote and exotic destinations.

You both live in Latin America. What are the pluses and minuses of living there?

Ah! The wonders and troubles of tropical third world places! For us, Latin America is home. We were both born in Colombia at a time when it was a very parochial part of the world. Cities were small, communities were tight, and you knew everybody. We have lived through years of Narco Wars or under the rule of the likes of General Noriega. We grew up living in danger of kidnappings, muggings, car bombs or invasions. But we also lived sheltered lives with plenty of privileges. Latin America can be a cheap place to live and one that takes up a lot of adrenaline. Among the pluses we can say that if you are middle-upper class or above the place offers a lot more good for your private, family life than if you live in the US or Europe (family closeness, bank for your buck, etc.). Life is often an adventure with plenty of places to visit with extreme contrasts (landscape, culture, food, music, and architecture change greatly within a few hours’ drive). It´s a place where you can more easily make an impact in the world of business and culture, or in your community. Latin Americans can be happy people, always ready to make fun, laugh, dance, be passionate about football (yes, that´s how we call it in 192 countries). Panama and Colombia are perhaps the most USA-oriented countries, so TV shows, commercial brands, music and lifestyle have always kept us close to Empire up north, mostly for good things. The minuses are the adrenaline wasted trying to get things done due to the mediocrity of the system (traffic, corruption, laws and regulations), the constant uncertainty about what the future may bring, and watching years of earnings suddenly vanish due to devaluation or unrest.

Jack you are in Colombia, while Sandy you are based in Panama City. In fact Panama was part of Colombia until 1903 if we are not mistaken. How are the countries different and how are they similar? How have they changed in the past 10 years?

Panama became independent in 1903 after hardly wasting a bullet. At the time, the USA ventured sout