From Bogota, with love

Erica Robbie | The Aspen Times
Born and raised in Bogota, local Mauricio Hoyos fell in love with Aspen during his first visit and hasn't been able to stay away since.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

You’ve probably seen Mauricio Hoyos standing outside Prada, dressed impeccably, smiling at passersby, kicking around a soccer ball or puffing on a cigarette.

He’s friendly, he’s full of energy and he’s highly intelligent.

Upon graduating university in his hometown of Bogota, Colombia, Hoyos applied to a cultural exchange program that offers college seniors and graduates the opportunity to teach language in the U.S. for one year.

With 2,000 applicants for one spot, the program liaison selected Hoyos, who left home for the first time in 2008, to teach at a Montessori school in Hotchkiss at age 21.

At school, Hoyos’ boss, the principal, suggested his young, new exchange teacher check out Aspen one weekend.

The principal even offered for Hoyos to stay with his sister, who lived in Aspen.

Around Christmas of that year, Hoyos took his boss up on the offer, and like many first-time visitors, fell in love with the town.

“I got to hear maybe 16 or 17 different languages spoken in a two-block radius,” Hoyos said. “Ever since I was a child, I’ve had an immense interest and passion for learning about different cultures, different kinds of people and different languages.”

Hoyos also appreciated the social scene and the number of young people in town, which he said Paonia, his home at the time, lacked.

When Hoyos returned to Paonia after the weekend, he submitted a two-week notice with the intention of moving to Aspen.

“My boss said, ‘Good. You’re too young and hip for this town,’” he recalled.

Hoyos’ boss, whom he remains good friends with today, guaranteed he would find a job and a place to live within a week, and said he could stay with his sister again in the meantime.

In three days, Hoyos nailed two jobs — one at Aspen T-Shirt Co. and one at Starbucks — and employee housing at Marolt Ranch via Aspen T-Shirt Co.

When Hoyos’ visa expired in spring 2009, he returned home to Bogota, with plans of returning to Aspen someday.

After teaching English at a private school in Bogota for two years, he reapplied to the cultural education program and was once again selected out of 2,000 people.

Although Aspen was still in the back of his mind, Hoyos said he needed to experience some place different first.

With his small-town Western experience behind him, Hoyos went big-city East — to Baltimore.

Again, Hoyos taught English at a Montessori school, and while he loved his time in Baltimore, he couldn’t forget about Aspen.

At the end of the school year, he packed up his car, road-tripped across the country and arrived in Aspen in fall 2011.

“I was looking for a job, I popped into Prada, and the rest is history,” Hoyos said.

With zero fashion or retail experience, the store manager at the time “saw something in me enough to believe in me,” he said.

Hoyos’ co-worker, Jasmin Lewis, said she doesn’t know what she would do without him at the store or as a friend.

“He’s seriously one of my favorite people,” Lewis said. “He’s kind-hearted and he’s very personable.”

She added that Hoyos’ multilingual skills also are a lifesaver, as half the store’s clients are from Brazil or Mexico.

“He’s always smiling and he’s a real friend,” said Hoyos’ friend Michael Nakagawa, perhaps better known by his DJ name Naka G. “And he’s great with my son, who doesn’t warm up to most men.”

When Hoyos isn’t helping customers at Prada, he’s playing soccer, running and hiking; and in the winter, downhill and cross-country skiing.

“I like to stay active. I also party like a rockstar,” he said.

Hoyos plans to stay in Aspen for another year or so, and then it’s off to Europe to pursue a master’s degree so that he can teach at the university level.

“The most satisfaction I get is to shape young minds,” Hoyos said. “That’s what really and truly brings me happiness.”


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