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Meet Camilo Manrique: Fled Colombia with his life to Lenox

ACCENTS: THE VOICES OF OUR IMMIGRANT NEIGHBORS IN THE BERKSHIRES

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Getting threats on your life from more or less anonymous sources is one thing. Having guys with guns show up at your house to kidnap you and your family is something else.

“We weren’t actually at the house, we were two miles down the road going into town,” recalls Camilo Manrique. “We got a phone call from the caretaker telling us to get out of there because they were coming to get us.

“So we booked a flight the next day and we came to the Berkshires.”

Manrique, 40, talks by the fireplace in the quiet parlor of the 1862 Seasons On Main Bed & Breakfast he manages in Stockbridge: Norman Rockwell’s all-American postcard village.

The contrast with Colombia’s hectic, crime-ridden capital city Bogotá he and his family escaped 11 years ago couldn’t be greater.

They received asylum in the United States because it was evidently too dangerous for them to return to guerrilla-war-torn Colombia. Manrique’s father Armando had made enemies with his political activities there.

“He was a facilitator between mayors of towns and the groups against the government,” Manrique explains.

Manrique describes the huge and growing gap in living circumstances between rich and poor in Colombia: “Many people even without electricity or water to their house.”

“My father was in between, trying to help the poor people.”

Unspecified death threats became routine, but when the guerrilla fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, actually came looking for his father, Camilo Manrique and his family, including wife Lina and their then 4-month-old son Juan, sought refuge in the Berkshires because Lina’s parents already lived in Lenox.

“We arrived on Dec. 22. The next day, it was snowing. I had never seen snow like that in my live. We had to shovel, but we were also like little kids, playing in the snow, making snowmen and making the snow angels.

“I have really come to love the different seasons here,” says Manrique.

He and Lina and their sons – Sebastian, 6, is their younger one – live in Lenox. The boys attend Morris Elementary. Lina Bermudez is a dentist at Community Health Programs’ Great Barrington office. Camilo manages the No. 1 (on TripAdvisor) rated Berkshires bed-and-breakfast, he proudly points out.

Manrique had no experience at all in the hospitality field before he fled Colombia. He worked with his father as a salesman in their Formica kitchen countertop distribution business. His first job in the Berkshires was at the Kripalu yoga retreat, and since then he worked hotel jobs at, among others, Wheatleigh, Cranwell, Porches Inn in North Adams, and now Seasons On Main.

“I discovered that this” -- taking care of guests -- “is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Manrique says.

“It’s not work for me, this is who I am. And I think that is because of my dad. We were doing a lot of parties and meetings for our business in Colombia and always greeting people to our houses. I got that spirit of hospitality and making sure that people are comfortable from him.”

Manrique is ambitious. Together with investors he is looking for other properties in the Berkshires to run as B&B’s or inns. He has noticed a lack of national standards for B&B’s and is developing them, similar to the Forbes’ stars or AAA’s diamond ratings for hotels.

Just recently, Colombia’s half century of civil war came to an end. A first referendum to get the peace deal ratified by the people failed, but a new treaty is now in place. Conceivably, Camilo Manrique and his family could go back to Bogotá.

“My wife and I have talked about it. There are things we miss,” he says.

“But our children do not miss what they don’t know. They know the Berkshires as their home and, honestly, we also don’t want to go anywhere else anymore.”


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