Annelies Hamerlinck shares the story of the first 10 years of the Peru-based sustainable travel company, Vamos Expeditions and remembers co-founder Daniel Diaz Silva Frola with gratitude.
How it all started:
I met Daniel in 2003 when I first arrived in Peru to start work as a new tour guide for GAP-Adventures (former G-Adventures) in Latin America, and Daniel was the person to train me. He was the first Peruvian person I met and I fell in love with him almost immediately. It was really bizarre how two people from two different parts of the world could connect so fast in such deep a way. Travel was our joint passion. We had both given up our careers to freelance as tour guides, allowing us the flexibility to learn more of the world, nature and its people. Daniel loved his country very very much and he was very generous in sharing all I needed to know to enjoy Peru and my job as a tour guide to the fullest. It was great to learn from the best.
We started up Vamos Expeditions together in early 2004. The idea came to us on a long slow boat ride on Lake Titicaca, when we were coming back from a Andean home-stay experience in an indigenous community at one of the islands in the middle of this enormous lake. Our idea gained strength on our next trip together in Brazil as we were sitting on a rock overlooking the ocean. We sketched out our dream travel company on the back of a paper bag, and later we often argued about who was first to say, “Vamos!” Right there our company’s name was born, and we thought “Vamos Expeditions” had a very positive note and a call for action. We loved it!
At that time we didn’t knew that much about how exactely to set up a travel company. Daniel was a dental surgeon and I was a master in Sports and Movements Sciences and Cooperative Development. We only had a lot of experience in guiding tours ourselves, we had a good network of great local contacts and lots of passion to make our dream succeed. We threw ourselves into learning everything we could about managing a sustainable and fair travel company because the whole idea was to reduce poverty in remote places of Peru and Latin America through well managed adventure travel.
We decided that Daniel, as the General Manager, would be responsible for the business side of the company, while I would be in charge of the creative and operational side of it. However, our roles inevitably overlapped, and Daniel was particularly phenomenal at what he took on.
Daniel was always modest about his management and guiding skills, often claiming he did his bit only to save money. But he just had no idea how good he was. Tour after tour our travelers raved about him as a guide, gave him 5-star reviews and recommended other people to travel with us too. He was an amazing person, the kind that could sit down with a stranger and make them feel like they were his best friend; always genuinely caring, funny, smart and fun to be around. As travel was his biggest passion he was always bursting with ideas for future travels to the far corners of his beloved Peru and Latin-America, and to find new ways to work together with local communities to create more epic adventures and meaningful experiences.
For many years we worked from home. In the beginning we had a small office at his parents hostal in La Molina, later we moved to Miraflores in Lima and some years after we moved to Cusco as well. Daniel and I worked crazy hours for little money, but it was fun, and somehow we always found the stamina to keep going, sometimes working through the night. Never materialistic, it was more important to succeed with our dream and to do things the right way than to live a comfortable lifestyle. Over time more travelers were looking for our services and our team starting to expand. We became pioneers in Dental Tourism in Peru and started to work together with several communities such as Ticonata on the Lake Titicaca and with prestigious universities around the world. Marleny Quispe was our first employee and I feel very grateful she is still at my side after all those years -she is still leading our treks and operations around Cusco.
Unfortunately in 2007, while on a surfing trip, Daniel disappeared in tragic free-diving accident in Indonesia, his body was never found. The news was a complete shock and the confusion and heartache was tremendous for us all. Despite his loss and against all expectations of my family (who thought I would leave Peru behind and return to Belgium to dedicate myself to another job), I refused to sell Vamos Expeditions, feeling that there was still so much more I wanted to achieve with it. Daniel’s warmhearted vision will always continue within Vamos Expeditions.
Time and time again when I hike to remote parts of the Andes, the Amazon or the coast, local people remember his contagious smile, talk about his honesty, intelligence and sense of fun. He had high business standards but was always ethical (with no time for bullshitters). Many people have also commented on what a gentle and kind person he really was – always generous with his time, with advice, and what money he had. He loved life to the maximal capacity, with boundless enthusiasm and curiosity. In cities, he would resent going to bed, often being the last to leave a restaurant or bar, and in the countryside he would jump out of bed before dawn to go looking for wildlife (or waves when we were at the coast). He would talk to anyone and everyone, making life-long friends in the process.
Accepting and moving forward allowed new opportunities to come to me. I received a scholarship to study for a Masters in Business Administration program at Centrum in Lima and Babson College in Boston. Taking this new challenge was very useful both for my personal and professional growth and I have been able to apply everything I learned to keep the business growing.
this entire wild journey I received much help in different ways from many generous and incredible people that I thank sincerely and I also want to thank all our traveler friends, some of which keep coming back for new adventures and with whom I have spent so much time that they almost feel like family.
I am so very grateful that whenever I close my eyes I can see all of the amazing natural landscapes I have traveled through, and all of the unique travelers I have been able to share with and learn from along the way. I can see all of their faces and smiles, as well as the faces and smiles from all of the local people I have met along the way. Today, Vamos Expeditions is 10 years old and I can’t help but feel immense gratitude and pride. And I cant wait for more!! Thank you!!!! Thank you to all of you that have come along on this journey with us, and thank you to those of you that will join us in the future. With all of my heart, Thank you.
AND MOST IMPORTANT: What’s up for the future??
The dynamics in travel industry have changed a lot lately and Vamos Expeditions is adapting to these changes constantly. More and more travelers are looking for travel services online, and the internet gives them the ability to get in touch easier and more directly with the local in-country operators like us. We are investing in keeping our website adapted to the latest technologies so our costumers all over the world can easily navigate our site from their computers, I-pads, phones and other devices. Our social media platforms help our costumers to keep in touch with each other and us. We are building lasting partnerships with NGO’s and conservation agents such as Conservamos Por Naturaleza with whom we are planning special departures to fragile regions of Peru to help in conservation and education. We are starting new adventures in the Amazon region we are working with indigenous communities such as the Awajun in the region of Condorcanqui in North-Peru to help them getting started with eco-tourism projects as a source of new incomes for their communities. These tours will give an opportunity for travelers to get immersed deeply into nature and learn about the culture and cosmovision of the Amazonian communities. We also keep innovating. We started to offer new specific tours for cooking and foodlovers and other activities such as stand-up paddle at high altitude lakes in the Andes, fishing, birdwatching, snorkeling, shamanic rituals in nature and private 4×4 tours through the Andes on the roads less traveled and much more.
Tourism keeps growing in our region and so is Vamos Expeditions. Our team is expanding and with the help of Pablo Moreno who is helping in General Management we are looking brightly at the future of Vamos Expeditions. Also our sales team is growing bigger and we want to welcome Natacha Sanchez, who has just started off our Sales in the German speaking region, Nanina Luque in Mexico and our friend Danielle Lane will start to offer additional assistance to our costumers in North-America.
We also take proud in having just received a 5-star Certificate of Excellence from the World’s biggest review Tourism Platform of Trip Advisor, where millions of travelers look for advice on their next travel destinations.
We are looking forward to keep creating amazing travel experiences in beautiful places for you!
Warmly from Lima,
Annelies and the Vamos Expeditions Team