Maybe you’ve heard of Abercrombie & Kent, a top-of-the-line tour operator specializing in luxury, adventure travel on all seven continents. Maybe you think it’s that young persons’ clothing store. (It’s not.) When one of our travel advisors at CIRE gets a call from a client who wants to hike Mount Kilimanjaro or voyage to Antarctica, A&K is one of the trusted partners we call. Like CIRE, A&K delivers travel experiences with a combination of luxury, exclusivity, comfort and authenticity. Our Main Man at A&K is the one, the only, Javier Echecopar. Read on to meet our outrageously well-traveled and perpetually cheery friend. (He’s an amazing photographer, too!)
CIRE: Hello Javier! So, be honest… When you first meet new people, do they think you work at the mall? LOL! JK! But while you have everyone’s attention, why don’t you tell our readers what’s so exceptional about Abercrombie & Kent?
JAVIER: Nobody has confused me with an Abercrombie & Fitch model yet unfortunately! What makes A&K a leader in luxury travel is our people. For people in travel around the world, joining A&K is the benchmark. The second you join A&K, you’re expected to deliver at the highest level. I’ve seen this with our A&K guides on the summit of Kilimanjaro to the creativity of our trip designers in Vietnam. Everyone that works at A&K understands that our guests are choosing us because they expect a life changing trip. No other company tries harder to make each trip downright spectacular.
CIRE: Teamwork makes the (travel) dream work! How did you get into travel in the first place?
JAVIER: My first foray into travel was as a mountain guide. While in college, I would spend the summers taking people from all over the world to the highest summits of South America. Then I spent a couple of seasons working in Aspen for some high-end resorts. That’s where I discovered this combination of incredible adventures and uncompromising luxury. It was a game changer and soon after graduating I was working for Abercrombie & Kent in Chile. That was 10 years ago!
CIRE: Are you from Chile originally? Where do you live now?
JAVIER: I live in NY now. It’s been four years since I moved here with my wife and daughter. Had always been the dream spend a few years living in the greatest city in the world. I’ve grown up all over the place. Born in Peru, spent some years in Indiana as a kid (my dad studied at Notre Dame) and then a couple of decades wandering about in Chile.
CIRE: Talk about globe-trotting! Do you have a favorite trip or destination?
JAVIER: Hard to define “favorite” but I’ll give you some alternatives!
The most “remarkable”, definitely Antarctica. Nothing comes close in generating a sense of awe.
The most “rewarding”, a backpacking trip with my brother to Ethiopia. We used only local transportation, almost died many times and laughed more than ever in my life. It’s a hard place to explore but it’s wildly rewarding.
Finally, the most “life-changing” was a 6-month road trip with my wife and daughter across South America. We took half of 2016 off, jumped in our Toyota 4Runner with a rooftop tent on top, and spent months exploring the most remote places in South America. We drove 18,000 miles, mostly dirt roads, and loved each minute of it.
CIRE: Life-changing indeed! What kind of prep do you do before an epic journey?
JAVIER: I always read several books about a destination before going. I like to combine some non-fiction history books with a few novels or historical novels to understand the destination better. Reading up has two benefits. Firstly, you can plan your trip better because you come across little details that spark your interest. Like this one street in Cairo that I’m anxious to visit after reading Midaq Alley. Secondly, the appreciation of cities or monuments becomes so much deeper and multilayered when you’ve read the history. A great example is Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. First time I went, I was amazed at the visual spectacle: the size, the beauty, the colors. Second time, I had read a few books on Byzantine history. Walking in and remembering the events that happened there, from Justinian inspecting the construction in 537 to the last Christian ceremony inside the church the night before the fall of Constantinople in 1453, just adds so much appreciation for the place that it’s almost overwhelming.
CIRE: What’s one thing you LOVE about your job?
JAVIER: I love designing trips. It’s not something I do often anymore but occasionally, particularly a destination I know well, I’ll jump in and get involved. Because we spend so much time exploring the destinations, getting to know the local people, testing experiences out, inventing our own routes and building our own dreams, we have a huge color palette to create a perfectly tailored trip based on what people love. A hallmark of my trip design is finding the ideal moment to push the boundaries of comfort. This could be anything from a surprise camping trip in the Atacama Desert, an unexpected lunch of exotic Vietnamese foods, or pushing a physical limit by adding a strenuous hike along the coast of Sardinia or across the Forest of the Lost Child in Kenya. There are few things more rewarding than overcoming a challenge and as travel creators, we work to create memories that persist in time.
CIRE: So true! Some of the most indelible travel memories are the crazy moments or something that we think is hard at the time. In addition to hard work, epic trips and your adorable family, do you have time for any hobbies?
JAVIER: The toddler takes up 80% of my time but I get a few things done in the remaining time! Photography has been a big part of my life since high school. I always travel with my gear and sometimes even choose a destination based on a type of photography I want to do. It’s not just the memories. Photography helps you see the destination differently. You’re hyperaware of details: the shape of people’s faces, how light shifts through the dust, the colors in a market. And the best photography is done with slow, long walks which is also the best way to experience any place. I become a better traveler when I’m holding my camera.
CIRE: If you’re a regular reader of “8 questions…” you know we love to talk about food. Last month, our partner Michael Foley told us of his affinity for ANTS! Can you top that?
JAVIER: Got a long list of weird foods! Salamanders and crickets in Vietnam. Snake and croc in Botswana. Guinea pig and alpaca in Peru. Whatever that boiling bubbly thing was in Ethiopia. I’ll give anything a shot. Should you try these things and anything else travel throws at you? Of course! Most of what we consider normal is just because we’re used to it. We’re conditioned by culture. Trying new things isn’t just fun. It’s also a reminder to open our minds which is one of the main reasons to travel. Next time we meet, we’ll grab some guinea pig together!
CIRE: You win. Game over. You are officially the bravest person we know! (With an iron stomach, clearly.) See you soon, Javier!
Bonus photos because Javier is so crazy-talented, it was hard for us to pick only a few!