Passion Points: Active/Adventure
To say that Pedro Ibáñez single-handedly brought South America to the attention of high-end adventurers would be an exaggeration; but one with an element of truth. The first time that I heard of his now legendary Explora hotel in Patagonia was in 1995. I had asked George Butterfield of Butterfield and Robinson about destinations that had bowled him over. “Explora Patagonia in Torres del Paines, Chile,” he answered. “It’s a gem of a property in the middle of nowhere.” In fact, after you fly to the ends of the earth (literally the southern tip of South America), you still have to drive five hours to reach it. However, the awesome glaciers and pristine wilderness that awaits has made the long trek a pilgrimage of sorts for well-heeled adventurers. Ibáñez, a native of Chile, who has opened two other Exploras, one in the Atacama desert and another on Easter Island, recently visited our offices to talk about his newest projects; the inspiration behind his vision and the difference between tourists and travelers.
Where are you going next with the Explora concept?
We are working on projects in Peru and Argentina. Peru is such an attractive country that has been badly treated. It has such valuable and important archeological places and wonderful varied nature, but much of what has been offered is cheap product in the middle of this paradise. We had this problem in Chile and, with Explora, we raised the bar. Now we are finding that there are others who copy us in many respects for which we are happy. The idea all along was to define a new way to open up the country at a time that it was totally unknown for tourists. It was the land of Pinochet and Allende. My family had traveled a lot, and we had Chile as a private farm virtually to ourselves. It is such a fantastic place. The nature is stunning and there are very attractive historical places and archaeology but somehow it is a country that is an acquired taste, in the way that you may find it too strong, too tasty so we thought it was for more educated, traveled people who would love it. It needed a special way to be opened up. That is Explora.
What was the aim of Explora when you first conceived of the company?
It was the first serious entry in South America in terms of first-rate hotel, food and excursions. Now you go to other places in Chile, in Patagonia and you find other small projects trying to be like Explora, also in Atacama. They are in same vein, but Explora is a product of a philosophy. It took a concept and the time to realize it. We opened Patagonia in 1994, Atacama 1999 and Easter Island 2008. We had so many ideas when we set down after a period of trips and tried to set down what was it that we enjoyed on our trips. What were the elements? Then we started to refine the concept and out of that we built the Explora philosophy.
Can you explain this philosophy?
It is expressed differently according to the place because every place has its own characteristics, history, anthropology, geology. You have to take all that into account in making Explora and put that into doing things. In Peru, we selected a place in the Sacred Valley in the midst of so many attractions but lower with more fresh air than Cusco, which is like the top of volcano so in the hot, middle of the day, the hot air rises and there are no flows of fresh air. In the valley, the conditions are much better. The new property in Argentina would be in southern Patagonia so you could do four days in Torres del Paines and four days there for a very different but complimentary experience. South America is still a place full of space and liberty and so different from Europe which is so regulated and restricted because of its density.
For you, what is the difference between a tourist and a traveler?
Tourism focuses on the main cultural points of interests. The more major sights you visit and the lower the cost the better. In travel you don’t care about the destination, you care about what happens during the trip. With time and liberty, you allow things to happen. The surprises are the things you remember. You have special encounters. You meet someone, or have unexpected moments. If you are on a very planned trip with five or ten minutes late being an issue then you have no places for surprise. The surprises are unwanted by a tourist and sought by a traveler. If you have room for things to happen, you enjoy the real trip. We travel to remote places so we can carry out an exploration in depth. At Explora we care about having the luxury of the essentials which is different than the regular luxuries related to the unessential. For me, remote places are distant, and distance means time to be away from everything and gives you the opportunity to be off the normal grid, to get perspective, leave behind the noises and pressure of every day life, to disconnect yourself from obligation. To disconnect allows you to connect with yourself. You see your life clearer. Put things in a more precise place of importance. Every day at Explora is a trip, but getting there is also a trip. Remote also means that life is different. You go to a place that is different from what you might have at home, with people who have ways and habits that are different and that widens your horizons, shows you alternatives. You become aware of ways that you have not contemplated before. Throughout history, we traveled to discover, to colonize, to trade, to conquer but what about when you travel for sake of it? The trip by itself becomes the aim. You travel only for traveling, and if you do that, then the importance is not the destination but what happens along the road.
How does Explora facilitate these kinds of travels or true journeys?
We prepare each of our explorations in order to uncover things and to have experiences—to know the nature and the people. We leave space for things to happen, to interact with the surroundings and the people. We like our guests to be in situations that force contemplation, because looking from the outside, we know more about ourselves. Well how do you do that? We work with the communities in different projects. We are in touch with them in a daily way. We do things, which are normal in their daily life so we can talk to them about their problems, their future, their past, so we have a connection with the community that is very natural. Then, if we bring our guests into that environment, things happen naturally. We give the guests space that is not fabricated where they can have direct contact, which will be true to life, good or bad, clean or dirty. We have also created the Explora foundation to facilitate these programs. And we teach our staff and our guides about the geology and history, so if someone is interested in knowing to be able to answer questions. We wait for the guests to ask though because we have had guides who talk all the time. In Russia once I had a guide who droned on through the translator and it distracted me from seeing the art in the museum. Some clients complain that they are not just told everything because they are used to that way, but want it to be more natural, not forced. The luxiry the divide in essential fo the essence of the moment and the essence of the thing. Also, we live luxury as an experience and not as an appearance so we appreciate luxury because we take time for experiences not because we want to show off. The essence of the moment allows you to offer the guest the best of each circumstance he’s living, whether he’s in a village meeting a teacher or in a genuine state of very prisine nature.
What are your most memorable moments on a trip?
I sail, so I view being on the sea as very much real life. You will always have the elements against you. Why do you sail then? Perhaps for that. You have to suffer and struggle, and you have moments when you have pleasure. To feel the real is very important. If I go to France, I don’t go for the fancy stores or expensive restaurants. I go to the countryside where the day-to-day life is accessible, and living well is not expensive. Someone says go to the Tour Eiffel. I may take a taxi and talk to the taxi driver about the industrial revolution and how that relates to the Eiffel Tower and get so caught up that I ask him to stop for a coffee. The French are so knowledgeable and reasonable and well informed, I may invite him to dinner and forget about the Tour Eiffel altogether but that chance encounter tells me more about France and myself than visiting a monument. That is real life. Everything that is prepared is the worst. The worst would be Orlando. I forbid my children to go.
Read about the Explora property on Easter Island
Read about a member’s visit to the Explora property in the Atacama desert
Read a member postcard on staying at Explora Patagonia
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