Wanderlust: Travel trailblazers


"How hard can it be?" Patti Seery asked herself 10 years ago, after yet another disappointing incident with a private yacht charter around Indonesia. Up to that point, the Jakarta-based American tour operator had chartered boats to take her clients on cultural immersion and diving tours around the Indonesian archipelago. But this would be the last time.

Following that episode, Seery, a trained architect, decided to build her own luxury vessel. She worked with craftsmen in Sulawesi to build her 50m, five-cabin Silolona (silolona.com) – a modern version of the traditional Indonesian phinisi – and today leads high-net-worth couples, families and friends aboard this exquisite black sailboat to visit tradition-rich communities around the archipelago, including the Alor, Flores and Banda islands.

"I still wonder, how exactly did I do this?" she muses about these seaworthy works of art when we speak aboard her new boat, the 6m, three-cabin Sidatu Bua. "I simply did not know enough to be afraid."

I greatly admire this 'I can do it better' attitude of many of travel's most innovative entrepreneurs. Last year, I travelled with Silvia Rico Coll, the half-Spanish, half-Bolivian founder of Enigma Peru (enigmaperu.com), a luxury trekking operator. I was struck by Rico Coll's gumption to start a new business on the other side of the world from where she grew up in Barcelona.

"I travelled to Peru in 2001," says Rico Coll. "I was totally captivated by Peru's soaring mountains and ruins that reminded me of childhood fairy tales. But what also struck me was the sameness of every tour operator." Rico Coll and her travelling companion wanted a guide who could explain the important sites in Cusco followed by a few days of trekking around Machu Picchu. "Every Cusco-based travel company offered the same city tour and Inca Trail trek."

At this stage, Rico Coll might have stomped around Cusco in frustration. But rather, she returned to Barcelona, quit her marketing job with a major multinational and, seven months later, travelled back to Peru to create a better offer. Enigma pioneered the awe-inspiring off-the-beaten-path trekking routes Rico Coll discovered and, thanks to gourmet cuisine, well-endowed tents and an attentive battalion of trek support, Enigma made its name as the luxurious way around those dramatic mountains its founder once admired from afar.

The most adventurous of these experimentalists actually expand our inner horizons through travel. In 1993, Ross Phillips was hanging ten on Hawaii's iconic Sunset Beach hoping that the environment would inspire his next career move. "I was living in paradise but I was bored," says the Aussie.

A few weeks later, Phillips conducted a kid's surf camp in Australia and noticed he was having the time of his life 'coaxing a petrified group of 12-year-old grommets onto the biggest waves of their lives'. Says Phillips: "I realised that my dream was not to surf perfect waves myself. What excites me is passing on my knowledge and passion for surfing to others."

Phillips founded Tropicsurf (tropicsurf.net) soon after, which today offers private lessons, seaplane surfing expeditions and luxury surf trips in the Maldives, Bali, Sumba and Australia, among other enviable locales.

This travel trailblazer tells me his next goal is to inspire my inner girl-in-the-curl onto a surf board. With Tropicsurf trips to the Andaman Islands, Costa Rica, Mexico and the Savu Sea coming up, making his latest dream come true seems the least I can do.


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