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Former CWEnder Eric Hamblett checks in from Colombia, South America

Nicki's Central West End Guide travel  TechArtista CoWorking Environment Eric Hamblett Dreamer Palomino Dreamer Hostel

With coronavirus affecting almost every corner of the globe, I thought it would be interesting to check in with Eric Hamblett, who moved from the Central West End to join a new venture in Colombia, South America in 2017.  It was an opportunity for me to see what my friend has been up to, find out how the government there is handling the pandemic and, via this post, take you along for the ride.

It doesn’t require much of an imagination to see how Hamblett is handling being quarantined, after he sent a photo (above) of the view of the Caribbean taken from his apartment in Santa Marta, where he’s been on stay-at-home orders since the end of March.

Nicki's Central West End Guide travel  TechArtista CoWorking Environment Eric Hamblett Dreamer Palomino Dreamer Hostel

After graduating from Washington University in 2013, Hamblett, above right, and several other graduates including Christopher Holt and SLU grad Max Rava, founded the CWE’s TechArtista Co-working Environment at 4818 Washington Ave.

Four years later, when a respected friend and fellow W.U. grad, Aaron Belkin, above left, asked him to join a hostel business as an owner and oversee a bit of everything from guest experience to staff management and new property development, he jumped at the chance. “I saw this move as an opportunity to gain international management experience and explore a new part of the world.”

It wasn’t a total surprise that Hamblett would choose to leave his St. Louis friends and the co-working space he started to move to a new country. His parents served in the diplomatic corps and over the years they were in Europe he and his siblings lived in 7 different countries. Those experiences “wired him to accept change as a positive force.”

How is the Colombian government handling the coronavirus pandemic?

The government has done a serious job of monitoring the population. People can only leave their homes once a week to do their shopping, otherwise they’re likely to be fined. In the city of Bogota, men and women must alternate days to run errands. I don’t expect the country to be ravaged by the disease if it maintains these strict controls. There are 300 COVID-19 cases in Santa Marta, a total of 12,000 in Colombia, though that’s not entirely accurate as testing is a luxury and many people fear to visit hospitals.

To some uneducated people, it’s a ‘white-man’ virus that was brought into the country, so the locals in some of those communities don’t want any gringos walking around. The communities have closed access to their land and mountains to prevent any tourist or worker from bringing the virus in.

From the photograph it doesn’t look as if working from home while in quarantine could be all bad?

For the time being, I am quarantined with my business partner Jonah, who loves to cook, and there is a grocery store down the street. Luckily we help each other stay focused and productive. Right now I’m working on hotel-related soft projects. The situation could be a lot worse, considering we have a safe building and beautiful ocean views. By far the most exciting event these days is waking up to the flying dolphin shows provided by our local aquarium.

How does what you thought you would be doing when you moved to Colombia match the reality? 

On a professional front, the reality is very close to what I imagined. I’ve had many ‘pinch-me’ moments as we’ve worked on our existing properties and the new ones to come. From a personal side, though I moved to Colombia with my partner Aaron, he tragically passed away about a year into our adventure. This left a hole in my heart, but it is a relationship that still makes me smile each day. Belkin’s brother Noah has stepped in and is now a partner in the venture.

Describe the two projects you’re involved in now

Our two operating properties are located in Santa Marta and Palomino, about 1 1/2 hours apart on either side of a famous park named Tayrona National Park, an exotic Caribbean jungle. This area of Colombia is very popular because of its unique ecological conditions. The Caribbean is in front and behind it is a dramatic mountain range that leaps to 18,000 feet.

Of the two properties, Dreamer Santa Marta is a true backpackers hostel and is the most popular choice for foreign travelers. The hostel can accommodate 80 guests in private or shared rooms, and if we’re full, you can rent a hammock.Nicki's Central West End Guide travel  TechArtista CoWorking Environment Eric Hamblett Dreamer Palomino Dreamer Hostel

Dreamer Palomino

The name Dreamer was chosen to capture the essence of a traveler – someone in search of sublime experiences, able to travel the world with a big heart, and an open mind. Dreamer was created by two Italian best-friends who traveled the world and selected Santa Marta as their destiny. I joined the company as it was already underway!

We offer a high quality hospitality experience at Dreamer with bars, restaurants and unique day trips and multi-day experiences at a budget price. “We remember our guests’ names, and these small things have built a strong word-of-mouth reputation and critical presence in publications such as Lonely Planet.”

The NY Times recently published a gorgeous feature on a trek with the hostel as the starting point called The Lost City.

Nicki's Central West End Guide travel  TechArtista CoWorking Environment Eric Hamblett Dreamer Palomino Dreamer Hostel

Tayrona National Park

Dreamer Palomino has accommodations for 100 guests. The resort-hostel property has private beach access, a botanical garden with over 60 species of plants, and amenities that are designed to appeal to both couples and families.

What’s on the horizon for you and your partners?

The success of these two properties has led us to acquire land and real-estate for three new expansion projects. We purchased a beautiful, historic house in the heart of Bogota, which will be our first urban project. We also acquired a lot next to Dreamer Palomino, where we are constructing an up-scale hotel with the coast’s largest swimming pool. Finally we took a swing on a remote Colombian island off the coast of Nicaragua named San Andres. This project, whenever it’s complete, will be the granddaddy of them all.

Tell us a little about the indigenous people

At W. U. I studied anthropology and though I’m here with my business-cap on, I’ve become passionate about the local, indigenous culture, who managed to survive extinction over centuries and are the last surviving civilizations from the Inca and Aztec periods. This was all possible because of their connection with nature.

They view themselves as guardians of the natural systems. The stick and gourd, above, are used in a ritual indigenous men perform to connect themselves with their god, mother nature, Aluna. Inside the gourd is a mixture of crushed seashell from coastal beach sites that they apply to their gums, bringing themselves closer to Aluna.

It’s an incredibly refreshing perspective and I recommend this documentary for anybody curious to learn more. (The running time for the video is 1 hour 28 mins.)

What foods have you come to enjoy that are typically Colombian?

Living on the coast, seafood has come to dominate my palette. I frequently eat filete from a fish named Robalo in a traditional coconut sauce and rice, with fried plantains the locals call “patacones.” Colombian cuisine, no matter which area you visit, is rustic. I always love getting out in Bogota to the cosmopolitan restaurants there. It takes me back to St. Louis, though the food in St. Louis is hard to beat.

What do you miss about living in St. Louis?

I miss the mid-western hospitality. There is definitely something about the personalities and friendliness of St. Louisans. I also miss the food and the service. There’s a reason why St. Louis has produced hospitality legends such as Danny Meyer. It comes down to the character of the place.

For more information about Dreamer or Dreamer Palomino, or just to say hello: here is Hamblett’s email address: ehamblett@gmail.com.

AC Hotel by Marriott planned for CWE

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Services travel  St. Louis Sam Koplar Montana MO L. Keeley Construction Koplar Properties HomeBase Partners of Bozeman HDA Architects Central West End AC Hotel by Marriott

Boom times continue for the Central West End with the announcement that a $40 Million AC Hotel by Marriott is planned for York Avenue between Lindell Boulevard and Maryland Plaza. The 7-story 192-room hotel, designed by HDA Architects, is to be constructed on the parking lot behind the York House which fronts on Lindell.

Partners include Sam Koplar of Koplar Properties, HomeBase Partners of Bozeman, Montana, and STL-based L. Keeley Construction.

Andy Holloran, president of HomeBase Partners said:

“The Central West End is one of America’s great neighborhoods and we’re excited to bring a marquee property to a thriving neighborhood we love. Since we are proposing a limited service hotel, the CWE’s walkable access to bars, restaurants and shops, makes this the ideal neighborhood for this type of property.”

Pending city permits, construction is set to begin in early 2018 with an opening planned for summer 2019.

A family wedding at Meadowburn Farm in New Jersey

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Food and Drink travel  Vernon Township The Pizza Truck Co. The Food Company Meadowburn Farm NJ James Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Food and Drink travel  Vernon Township The Pizza Truck Co. The Food Company Meadowburn Farm NJ James

Over the years Jim and I have been fortunate to be invited to many fabulous weddings in beautiful settings across the country. Each was special in its own way and all have made for some very happy memories. This year was no exception. Since last October there have been 3 family weddings (2 in July), and next month we will be headed northeast once again for the 4th wedding in a year on the Dwyer side of the family.

The first inkling that our niece Elizabeth Woglom’s wedding to Dan Richardson in early July at Meadowburn Farm in Vernon, N.J. was going to be unusual and imaginative was the location depicted on the beautiful Save the Date card, top photo, which was painted by the bride’s brother, James “Doc” Woglom, a professor of art at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA. That, and the invitation that followed, bottom photo, were designed by a young calligrapher whose company is called ink + nibs. Even the interior of the envelope was decorated. See the watercolor of a gated entry to Meadowburn Farm in the top photo.

The bride and groom, both teachers, love camping and outdoor adventures, on the Save the Date card. There’s also a subtle reference to the fact that the groom is an avid fly fisherman, which translated into fishing lure boutonnières the groom, father-of-the-bride, and groomsmen wore on their lapels (photo follows).

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Food and Drink travel  Vernon Township The Pizza Truck Co. The Food Company Meadowburn Farm NJ James

Meadowburn Farm, a spectacular 600-acre working dairy farm and flower garden that dates from 1750, is 1 & 1/2 hours northwest of NYC in a beautiful part of the state that is close to the New York border. According to the website, the gardens were originally installed by Helena Rutherfurd Ely, one of the most influential garden writers of the early 20th century.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Food and Drink travel  Vernon Township The Pizza Truck Co. The Food Company Meadowburn Farm NJ James

All twenty-one members of the wedding party stayed in the historic Main House, top photo. We stayed in the red farmhouse shown in bottom photo, which was a short walk to the ceremony and the reception tent. Wedding guests were also invited to camp on the property for the weekend, which was thoughtful of the bride and groom as accommodations in that popular area of the state are hard-to-find during the height of the summer season.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Food and Drink travel  Vernon Township The Pizza Truck Co. The Food Company Meadowburn Farm NJ James

On Friday, bridesmaids were invited to create their own bouquets choosing from buckets of blooms plucked from the farm or the florist’s selection.Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Food and Drink travel  Vernon Township The Pizza Truck Co. The Food Company Meadowburn Farm NJ James

The bridesmaids included friends from the couple’s hometown of Cranford, NJ, a friend from Jackson Hole, WY, and fellow classmates from Ithaca College.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Food and Drink travel  Vernon Township The Pizza Truck Co. The Food Company Meadowburn Farm NJ James

The rehearsal dinner arrived on wheels Friday evening with smoke drifting from a wood-fired pizza oven built on top of a flatbed truck. When parked, side panels from Connecticut-based The Pizza Truck Company were removed and became work stations and serving tables. The pizza was a big hit, especially a bacon-cheese version with honey drizzled on top.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Food and Drink travel  Vernon Township The Pizza Truck Co. The Food Company Meadowburn Farm NJ James

The father-of-the-bride Frank Woglom escorting the radiant bride.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Food and Drink travel  Vernon Township The Pizza Truck Co. The Food Company Meadowburn Farm NJ James Elizabeth has three brothers who were groomsmen, her sister-in-law Meg Woglom, left, was maid of honor. The groom’s uncle, above, officiated.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Food and Drink travel  Vernon Township The Pizza Truck Co. The Food Company Meadowburn Farm NJ James

The fly fishing theme continued on pocket handkerchiefs and into the wedding vows as well (as I recall, it was “no fly fishing on Sunday unless it’s the two of us,” or something like that).

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Food and Drink travel  Vernon Township The Pizza Truck Co. The Food Company Meadowburn Farm NJ James

Through the flowers you can see the lawn where cocktails and hors d’oeuvres were served following the marriage ceremony.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Food and Drink travel  Vernon Township The Pizza Truck Co. The Food Company Meadowburn Farm NJ James

The bride and groom shown entering the wedding tent above, and during their 1st dance, below.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Food and Drink travel  Vernon Township The Pizza Truck Co. The Food Company Meadowburn Farm NJ James

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Food and Drink travel  Vernon Township The Pizza Truck Co. The Food Company Meadowburn Farm NJ James

The charming menu was another example of ink + nibs’ work, above. The wedding dinner, catered by The Food Company, was served family-style and included scrumptious fried chicken accompanied by fried green tomatoes, macaroni & cheese, and a delicious cole slaw served in mason jars. Instead of traditional wedding cake, there was a large selection of yummy pies served with whipped cream.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Food and Drink travel  Vernon Township The Pizza Truck Co. The Food Company Meadowburn Farm NJ James

The bride shown with her cousin Abby Dwyer, who was married two weeks later in Bellport, NY to John Yoder (not pictured). John is the son of Jen and Tom Maclean who lived at The York House in the CWE for a couple of years before relocating to Boston.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Food and Drink travel  Vernon Township The Pizza Truck Co. The Food Company Meadowburn Farm NJ James

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Food and Drink travel  Vernon Township The Pizza Truck Co. The Food Company Meadowburn Farm NJ James

The flowers were abundant and spectacular, as was the whole weekend. We also had a chance to explore the area a bit, including a Saturday morning excursion to Dia:, a fascinating contemporary art museum about an hour away in Beacon, NY.

Thanks to Elizabeth and Dan for their generosity in allowing me to share these photos with readers of this blog. It’s rewarding to share happy moments in such tumultuous times.