This week in our expat-profile series, we meet a former Bay Street finance worker now operating his own, community-focussed hotel in Nicaragua.
Jamie Collum is both a hotelier, at the surf and eco resort El Coco Loco in Nicaragua, and the director and co-founder of Waves of Hope, a community-development program. “I first came to Nicaragua in 2005 with a backpack [and] a couple close friends from university who are now my business partners,” he says. “I spent the next five-plus years living and working various jobs—often day and night—in Toronto to help finance our dream.” Last March, Collum was finally able leave his Bay Street finance gig and move to “El Manzano #1” in Nicaragua. “It was primarily a sleepy fishing and farming town, but is slowly evolving towards tourism. We are located [near] Chinandega, the closest city, and Managua, the capital. This was a long-time coming for me, but it was definitely worth the wait.”
Why did you move?
Well, it all started with a crazy dream back on my first trip here. My business partners and I were in Nicaragua chasing the fantasy of an incredible lifestyle in which we could live a healthier and simpler life on the beach, surf every day, share stories and experiences with people from around the world, and hopefully have a positive impact on our community. The plan to build a resort slowly took shape and, after five years of hard work, we proudly opened El Coco Loco. I was in Nicaragua to help with the opening for a few months, but I had to return to Toronto shortly afterwards to continue working to help finance the construction of our pool and yoga studio.
Are you happy you moved?
Yes, definitely. I wake up every morning and say thanks to whatever higher power is out there for giving me this opportunity. I have a successful and growing business. I live in an incredible community of warm-hearted people, both locals and foreigners, and we’re able to have a pretty cool impact on people’s lives by sharing the benefits of our social-tourism project with the community through our Canadian-registered NGO, Waves of Hope. Actually, we always knew that we wanted to live in a place and give back at the same time, so we started Waves even before we opened El Coco Loco. Nowadays, we have various interns assisting us with our projects on the ground, and guests are able to take part in our programming as part of their stay if they’re interested. Of course, though we contribute a lot of funds to Waves, we also rely on donations to execute our ongoing programming.
Each day I rise with the sun and head out to surf un-crowded, awesome waves with my amigos, which include my close friend and surf-mentor Holly Beck. I follow that up with a yoga practice in our Tiki-style studio that overlooks our resort and the Pacific Ocean, just before enjoying a breakfast of homemade breads, fresh fruit from our own gardens, and free-range eggs, topped off with a cup of organic Nicaraguan coffee. And this is all typically before 10 a.m.!
I spend the rest of the day meeting with friends and family who come to visit, sharing stories with our guests who come from all over the world, gardening, and experimenting with sustainable, green construction projects. Then I’m spoiled every evening by a breathtaking sunset. Life is really pretty good.
Does anything about it remind you of Toronto?
Really, only the Torontonians that visit. Life here is the complete opposite of city life. The pace is lot more mellow and people in general seem a lot happier just to be alive, even though they still struggle with poverty every day. As you can imagine, the cost of living is also a lot [lower], and best of all, there is no winter.
What do you tell your friends in Toronto about it?
Well, most of my friends from Toronto have already visited multiple times, so I don’t need to tell them too much—just regular updates about life and how many waves my awesome surfing Rottweiler Rocco caught that week.
For those that still haven’t made it down, I tell them that we are lucky to live in such a beautiful place with incredible and un-crowded waves, warm water, beautiful beaches, and awesome people. We live in such a pure piece of Nicaraguan paradise, but with the growing tourism we worry about for how long this will last.
What has surprised you about moving there from Toronto?
Well, I’ve been coming here for a long time, so there were no major shockers. I guess a couple things were just how easy the transition was from city life to beach life, and how much of a sense of community I feel living down here, even though I’m a foreigner. People look after each other here and help each other out when in need. I have also been surprised by how much I’ve learned from the people here: how to shuck a coconut, how to make fresh tortillas and homemade chocolate, how to surf and, of course, how to speak Spanish.
What do you miss most about Toronto?
At the top of my list is live music, especially dancing all night to the sounds of The St. Royals around the city at places like the Gladstone, or getting down to The Arsenals or The A-Team at the Orbit Room. I also miss all the great people and awesome pizzas at Vivoli on College Street. And the sushi from Guirei on Queens Quay, and Banjara for its awesome Indian curries. Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market. Summer in general in the city is pretty special. Then there’s my weekly Ultimate Frisbee games and beach volleyball down in Ashbridge’s Bay.
What don’t you miss at all about Toronto?
Definitely the traffic. I never really had the patience for it. I had a lot more stress in Toronto so I don’t miss that either. The humidity and smog also weren’t among my favourite things offered by the city. And although I am missing the bulk of his term, I am definitely not missing the politics of Rob Ford, nor his sidekick brother.
Would you ever go back?
Well, never say never, right?
Are you from Toronto and doing something cool somewhere else? Email Kate@TheGridTO.com.