Q & A with Yerko Ivelic, Co-Founder, Cascada Expediciones, Santiago, Chile.
WERE YOU INVOLVED IN OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES AS A CHILD?
I was raised in Santiago and also I spent part of my summer vacations in the south of Chile at my grandparents’ farm. So I was outside a lot - but not for sports. What we think of today was almost nonexistent in Chile 25, 30 years ago. It was later as a young man that I came back to nature, but in a different way, this time through lots of camping, whitewater kayaking, trekking up volcanoes, and other experiences.
YOU STUDIED CIVIL ENGINEERING IN COLLEGE. DID YOU EXPECT TO HAVE A CAREER DESIGNING ROADS AND BRIDGES?
Yes, I was thinking of building hydroelectric plants. I am a hydraulic engineer! I believed this kind of development was fundamental for my country’s growth. But once I spent more time with the rivers and in nature my perspective changed. I realized that rivers are the veins of our planet.
NOW LOOKING BACK ON 25 YEARS, WHAT LESSONS HAVE YOU ALL LEARNED ABOUT STARTING AN ECOTOURISM BUSINESS?
It can be frustrating at the very beginning. Many people will say you are crazy for leaving your secure traditional job and paycheck. You have to be passionate about your "big dream” and work very hard and stick with it, but you also have to be realistic. Many small ideas you have or people you hire may not work out, and you will have to drop them in order to save the big picture. You will have to dig in to your own savings; perhaps your family will offer some financial help. Beyond that, you are on your own. So take small steps, don’t try to do it all at once.
PLEASE TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT ECOCAMP IN THE TORRES DEL PAINE NATIONAL PARK.
EcoCamp Patagonia was the world’s first sustainable geodesic dome hotel, and it’s been an inspiration to others since it opened. It consists of a group of large connected Community Domes, where meals and reception are held, a Yoga dome, and then Standard, Suite, and Superior dome types for the guests. The domes were built on raised platforms to minimize damage to the ground and plant life. It is eco-friendly because we use 100% renewable energy - 70% hydraulic energy and 30% from solar panels. We also use recycling, composting, and other modern waste management schemes. We have been awarded the highest environmental certifications available to the industry, like the ISO14001 certification.
Yes because it is a unique place of natural wild beauty in the world - as if still untouched by mankind. Once you arrive, you are taken by the views, the quiet, and the sense of isolation. You are no more than a tiny dot in the vast wilderness that surrounds you. Yet there are many things you can do there. You can hike, kayak past glaciers, ride horses – it is a must for the adventurous traveler.
Next most popular would be our tours to the north of Chile – to the Atacama Desert. It is the driest desert on Earth, so it has stunning landscapes and valleys that look like they belong on another planet! There are salt plains, geysers, volcanoes, even shallow lakes with large flocks of flamingos.
WHAT ARE COMMON MISTAKES TRAVELERS MAKE WHEN PACKING FOR PATAGONIA?
The biggest issue is the variable weather. You can experience warm sunshine, then suddenly rain, sleet, and cold winds all in the same day. Some visitors do not bring suitable clothes for all weather situations. They may not have the right shoes or they don’t have refillable water bottles, stuff like that. But we’re trying to remedy these mistakes by providing comprehensive information and packing lists so no one shows up unprepared. We have also just opened our first retail store, so travelers can purchase last-minute items with us.
SINCE CHILE IS SUCH A BIG COUNTRY HOW DO YOU GET AROUND?
Depending on the program we offer domestic flights from Santiago to points north or south. There is usually some drive time after that, but the views from the road make it so worthwhile! From December 2016 through February 2017 both LATAM and SKY Airlines are offering direct flights from Santiago south to Puerto Natales - this cuts the overall travel time to Patagonia by 30 minutes.
Santiago is a metropolitan city; there are a lot of reasons to stay and visit for a day or more. It has beautiful classical buildings, great cultural and artistic activities, diverse culinary options, and more! It is a very easy city to get around in with convenient public transportation and neighborhoods that are perfect for walking and biking. The Andes are close by for hiking, skiing, and rafting, and the Pacific Ocean is only an hour and a half away.
Many of our guests also enjoy riding bicycles through some of Chile’s best vineyards and wineries and doing wine tastings. There are places not far outside of Santiago you can go for a single day or multiple days. If you come during the months of March or April – which is our fall season – you will see grape fields full of orange and red colors. Chile makes amazing wine - it is internationally famous for some of its varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE?
My favorite Chilean wine is Carmenere. It’s a local grape, which produces a deep red wine that is similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, but Carmenere has a softer, smoother flavor.
These islands belong to Chile though they are not our most popular destinations. However, the people who do go there enjoy the tours very much! Easter Island is one of the most mysterious and fascinating places on Earth! People love to see the Moai statues, go on nice bike rides and walks around the island, and learn more about the Rapa Nui culture.
YOU ARE AN ADVOCATE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT. DO YOU SEE MORE CHILEANS “GOING GREEN?”
Yes I do. It takes time but there are many signs of progress. For example, most cities and counties have recycling collection points. More people are boycotting companies that continue to be wasteful and hazardous to their communities. Lots of entrepreneurs are launching new “green” projects, especially in tourism. Tourism is a big money maker in Chile, so it makes sense to preserve our natural treasures. The government now provides incentives to energy companies to increase use of solar and wind farms resources.
I HAVE POSTED A LINK TO YOUR WEBSITE FOR READERS WHO WANT MORE INFORMATION. ANY FINAL COMMENTS?
We want everyone to know how special and unique Chile is. Our company will give you the most amazing experience to remember for the rest of your life! We have even added new trips down to Antarctica! If you want a more personalized itinerary, we can do that too, no problem. Above everything, we are all about safety and keeping the planet clean!
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