Friday, October 26, 2007

Ten Years in the Latin American Travel Game

Hello again fellow travelers. Recently Class Adventure Travel turned ten years old. It’s quite a monumental moment for us to tell the truth and both Karin and I feel very proud. Over the past ten years we have been working very hard to build up what we hope will one day become the preferred incoming tour operation company in Latin America. The journey so far has been fantastic and while the work has been hard, we have – over the years – traveled to so many extraordinary places, witnessed so many incredible things, and had the privilege to work with such great people that we both feel truly blessed.

It all started a little over 12 years ago when I was traveling through one of Ecuador’s innermost jungles, spending some time living it rough and experiencing the Amazon first hand. It was in the middle of some spectacular jungle trail – somewhere not to far from MisahuallĂ­ – (after being bitten by a spider and cured by a cacique!), where the idea first came to me to start a travel company in Latin America. It all centered around two of my deepest wishes; firstly that of turning my greatest hobby (travel, of course) into a professional way of living, and secondly trying to establish possibilities to help build a bridge between Latin America and the rest of the world.

I returned to Holland where Karin and I began working on getting some money together in order to be able to move back to Latin America and get a company started. Many people thought us crazy, the idea of starting a tour company in South America back then was not the type of initiative embraced for its financial viability. Eventually however, we managed to borrow enough money from a few friends and family members and were ready to get started. Against the advice of quite a few people, we both finally agreed that Peru would be the best place to begin. In the beginning of the nineties, Peru had just come out of a bloody civil war. Abimael Guzman, the leader of the notorious Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), had only been captured a few years before we chose Peru, and while stability had returned to the country, many still feared some form of Maoist revolution would come. These fears however seemed blown out of proportion, and with a phenomenal array of both natural and man-made wonders, a peaceful Peru was a tourist Mecca just waiting to happen.

And so we went to Peru, with little more than a couple of suitcases, a little borrowed money, and a couple of really big dreams. Karin and I opened our first office in Lima in 1997. The first year was incredibly difficult, and I often had to work other jobs in order to support us while Karin kept on working tirelessly on getting and keeping Class Adventure Travel off the ground. We came very close to giving up that first year, but luck was on our side and after one year, more or less, business began to pick up. At the end of that famous first year we had received a grand total of 27 passengers… The work experience was what made all the difference though!

The following year I returned to Holland to work for a few months in order to gain some more capital for the company while Karin continued working in Lima. By the end of our second year we were gaining ground, and while we weren’t making any serious money, we could finally consider the company to be fully self-supportive. It was finally beginning to look as though we were going to succeed and at the end of the second year we had actually received a total of 303 passengers.

After over 4 years of courting, Karin finally decided to marry me in 1998; and when we returned to Peru from the wedding in Holland, things finally began to take off in earnest. We began to hire our first employees, we moved into a bigger office, and in the beginning of 2000 we formally opened our first office in Cusco. In 2003 we organized tours for over 2,000 clients, and it was time to start looking outwards to the rest of Latin America. Not only did Karin and I want to open new offices in other countries, we began thinking about moving to another Latin American country in order to get a new perspective on the continent. The options were many and we ended up traveling through Chile, Argentina, and Brazil looking for the right place to settle down.

It was in Sao Paulo, Brazil, that we opened our next office in 2004. Later that same year, Karin and I moved to Buenos Aires where we set up a regional head quarters for Argentina and Chile. In August that year our first daughter Edie was born – the first proud Argentine-Dutch member of our family. Please note Karin basically went through this entire expansion and emigration phase pregnant (Edie was born 2 months after we had arrived to Argentina)… She is a strong woman and most definitely more than my significant other half; without her this company would not have survived, I am pretty sure of that.

As our family grew – so did our company. We began to form alliances with a number of affiliate travel companies in other Latin American countries – and it wasn’t long before the company was able to offer tours across the continent. Most recently we opened a proper office in Costa Rica– a venture that will give us the opportunity to offer tours in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama, and will give our clientele the opportunity of undertaking the very best there is on offer in each of these Central American countries.

Karin and I celebrated the birth of our second daughter Noa earlier this year, increasing the number of family members to 4 (2 Dutch and 2 Argentine!). Noa just turned 2 months old, while Class Adventure Travel turned 10 years old. In retrospect it seems like quite a journey, although in everyday working life one hardly realizes what has had to happen for our little company to become what it is today… After ten years in Latin America, we have seen so many breathtaking places, have learned so much, we’ve grown, we’ve been graced with the presence of two incredibly beautiful daughters, and we’re delighted that we get to continue our adventure through this extraordinary continent together with all the wonderful people in our team.

Oh yes, I almost forgot: as an anniversary special – We have decided to knock 10% off all tours publicized on our website. The offer stands on all tours purchased before the 31st of December this year – regardless of when you’re actually traveling. It’s a good deal (at least I think so…), and our special way of trying to encourage all of you to travel to Latin America and witness some of the many beautiful things we have been lucky to see over the years. For more information take a look at CAT’s Special Promotional Offer on the Class Adventure Travel website. Hope you all like it; let me know what you think!


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Save the Bahuaja Sonene National Park

An urgent appeal to all fellow travelers. It has recently come to my attention that the Peruvian Government and a number of large multinationals are planning to reduce the size of one of the country’s key national parks by 200, 000 hectares. If the proposed bill – soon to be deliberated by the Peruvian Congress – gets passed, concessions will be granted to a number of gas companies in the Bahuaja Sonene National Park. As surreal as such a plan may seem, pressure from large wayward conglomerates has led the Peruvian Government to make some very poor decisions in the past, and it is not inconceivable that such a bill could be passed.

Located in the South Eastern department of Madre de Dios, Bahuaja Sonene (sometimes called the Tambopata Candomo Park) has historically been off limits to everyone. It is perhaps one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet, and is home to a number of endemic and endangered wildlife. The park is also home to an area of Amazonian savannah, the sole of its kind and unique to the area. Recently, members of an indigenous group, thought to be the Mascho Piro, were spotted living north of the park. This sighting makes the existence of indigenous groups living inside the secluded park extremely likely.

Not only it seems will this project endanger the extraordinary flora and fauna found in the reserve (much of which remains undiscovered), but it also seriously risks destroying an already endangered culture and threatening the health of members of indigenous groups who are still believed to be fatally susceptible to such maladies as the common cold.

200,000 hectares. I know it just seems like a figure, but let’s put it into perspective. Comparatively speaking, we’re talking about an area of land about the same size as Luxembourg, just a little smaller than Rhode Island. This isn’t just a few football fields – it is an enormous tract of untouched land. And not just any land either. We’re talking about what is probably the most biologically diverse environment on the planet – and in one fowl swoop, a group of backward greedy institutions would have this reduced by an area the size of a small country.

In a time when global warning is the most prevalent threat to the continued survival of us all, it seems that there are people out there determined to destroy this beautiful planet even further. The destruction of this beautiful park for financial gain – or any other gain for that matter – simply cannot be allowed. An appeal needs to be made to the Peruvian Government as soon as possible. They need to know just how atrocious and devastating this proposed bill will be, and they need to know the extent of the opposition towards it, so that when the bill gets deliberated, the right choices can be made. Currently there is petition online at I urge everyone to take a minute or two to sign this and get their voices heard. I would also encourage people to oppose the US-Peru Free Trade agreement which will give large US multinationals free reign to plunder the country’s many natural treasures. A petition against the agreement can be signed here - Democracy in Action. If anyone has any further information on this issue, and knows of ways which could help us unite against this bill being passed, please let us know.