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The first thing to understand about Pura Aventura is that we are, at heart, a family business. Admittedly, it’s a modern, pan-European family with two branches, one Spanish (the Martíns) and one British (the Powers) as well as some crucially important non-family members at the table. But it feels like a family.
The continuous involvement of the founders’ fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters and grandparents gives Pura Aventura a great deal of its character. We take our work very personally and the ethical way we operate is a source of great pride to us all.
Our story started in 1994 when Thomas Power, living in Chile at the time, went south to the Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia. While there he met Spaniard Diego Martín and Basque Xabi Etxarri. Together they trekked pretty much every trail in the park.
During this time the plan for Pura Aventura began to take shape – active holidays in comfort to the most amazing destinations in Latin America and Spain. The groundwork was done over the next few years until, in 1999, Pura Aventura was launched.
Since then our range of destinations has grown to take in most countries in South and Central America. What hasn’t changed is the way we work closely with a carefully curated network of partners to create holidays which are intelligently tailored for each client.
Over the years we have featured in every major publication from the Times to Tatler as well as headlining no fewer than four travel programs on the BBC. However, we remain a small, tight knit and loyal team.
As one particularly kind client put it, “Individuals make the company, they are incredible!” so here’s a little more about the main individuals within Pura Aventura. Whilst this list covers the people you are likely to come into contact with if you pick up the phone today, it does not include those people who have been absolutely invaluable over the years but have now retired or moved on. Nor does it include the many part time support staff we have, from designers to writers to financial advisers. Finally, it doesn’t include the veritable army of people who work to make our holidays across Spain and Latin America run as well as they do.
Thomas is one of the founders of Pura Aventura and has been the cornerstone of the Brighton office from the start. It all started back in 1992 when working for Oxfam as a fundraiser. One day his boss looked up from her desk and suggested that he would be well suited as a tour guide.
Taking this clear ‘go away’ as a piece of positive advice, he got himself a job guiding around Europe, primarily Spain (but also Italy, Germany, Switzerland, France, UK, Belgium, Morocco… you get the idea.)
This footloose and fancy-free lifestyle gave him the opportunity to travel in the off-season i.e. winter. There seemed no more sensible place to go than South America. In his first 6 month jaunt he landed up in a small village in northern Mexico, the following year he fetched up in Santiago de Chile working for the UN Population Agency.
It was while he was here that he started to see images of Torres del Paine National Park and decided that he had to go. That first visit to the park lasted 6 weeks, during which time he met Diego Martín and the ideas started to flow.
Thomas’s conviction that travel is transformative remains undimmed. He is very much still involved in the day-to-day running of the business, particularly sales, marketing and product development.
Diego is one of the founders of Pura, as mentioned above, he and Thomas met in Torres del Paine where Diego was working as a volunteer park guard also getting to know Xabi Etxarri.
It was natural that Pura should start with a focus on southern Chile but it was Diego’s family house in Spain’s Picos de Europa mountains which led us to offer the somewhat niche combination of Chile and the Picos.
As the years have rolled on Diego worked to research and deliver new destinations across both Spain and Latin America. He also found time to guide our group holidays and to be there for our customers in the Picos.
In the past few years Diego has taken time out to set up the Bearded Vulture re-introduction programme in the Picos. This major task has led him to set up an amazing visitor centre and also to work in his beloved Picos conserving not just the vultures but also the traditional human lifestyles which underpin the survival of the birds, such as shepherding the high pastures.
In 2013 with the conservation work up and running safely without him and his organic finca well established, Diego has now been able to return to concentrate fully on Pura Aventura once more.
The third of the founder members of our team, many of you will know Xabi from La Rioja or the Pyrenees in Spain. Others will have been guided by him in Chile. Xabi hails from Navarra, in Basque Country. He is a qualified science teacher and physicist with a specialisation in astrophysics. After six years working in physics Xabi knew that a traditional 9 to 5 office job with all its constraints couldn’t fulfill him forever and so he decided to leave it all behind and go looking for something else, not knowing exactly what but knowing he was up for the journey. His plan was to leave his routine, his world, and find himself while looking for something completely different. He decided on Chilean Patagonia, sold his stuff, bought a one way ticket to Santiago and set off. The year was 1994.
Arriving in Natales Xabi set about hiking, thinking, reading and writing. He unlocked his passion for poetry and has since written 14 books of poetry which can be found in a published anthology (Antología del Nómada, RIL editores, Santiago de Chile, 2005). Same year he went to Torres del Paine National Park and trekked solo through the park, waking up to incredible scenery and spectacular nature and realising this was his calling in life. He became a trekking guide and later a nature guide, interested in nature & all aspects of science and passionate about mountains (he grew up near the Pyrenees).
Twenty years later he’s still living in the open air, leading groups through Patagonia’s enchanting scenery (and in Spain the other six months of the year, in Patagonian winter). His curiosity, scientific background and love of books has led him to become the naturalist he is, and today as well as guiding he trains nature guides in Spain and Chile.
Father of Thomas but more importantly a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountant with rather a lot of years’ experience as Financial Director and then Managing Director of the restaurants of United Biscuits.
Mike has provided advice, support, planning, accountancy, software development and even childcare over the course of many years. He is very much a father figure to the business, we wouldn’t be here without him. Though latterly he has stepped back from the day to day, he remains part of the team, not least because we still use his database which he programmed for us back in 2001 so we need him close just in case...
Just to prove that we like our guides to be well-rounded and interesting individuals. Some of you will already know Jaime from the slopes of the Spanish Pyrenees where he leads our ski groups. Others will have met him in the Picos de Europa where he helps out with our Family Adventure holidays. But there’s so much more to him than just that…
Ten years ago, Jaime was enjoying a career as cabin crew on Iberia with a touch of modeling on the side, as well as playing rugby for the Spanish national team. In fact he was on the verge of being signed up by Wigan to play Rugby League here in the UK when he was involved in a nasty traffic accident whilst travelling with one of Pura’s founders, Xabi Etxarri.
After a few months in traction next door to one another, they became best of buddies. That’s how Jaime came to be involved in Pura Aventura.
Nowadays Jaime’s first love is the snow, and photography. Much of Jaime’s photography ends up as front covers for snowboard magazines in Spain, Italy, Germany, the US and the UK.
He is a ski/board instructor and chooses to spend his time, when not travelling for photo shoots, in the intimate Pyrenean resort of Cerler.
Natasha has been with us since 2005. She’s in charge of keeping our accounts in order and letting clients know what is due and when. She also makes sure that all of our myriad partners are paid properly and on time.
Natasha is a wonderful mixture of serious and fun. On the serious side she was a teacher; has a slightly unhealthy interest in stationery and gets worryingly excited when she uncovers numeric palindromes.
On the fun side, she is an accomplished portrait photographer in her spare time and has sung vocals on over 200 songs written by her husband Brad.
We are delighted to say that Natasha’s perhaps our most evangelical supporter when it comes to saying that, ‘To travel is to live’. Having spent many years travelling overseas only vicariously due to Brad’s fear of flying, in spring 2013 they bit the bullet and headed over to the Picos de Europa. If you don’t believe in the transformative powers of travel, speak to Natasha and she’ll convince you otherwise.
Sarah has been with us since 2006, and has proved so invaluable that she now sits on the board alongside the three founders.
With a background in publishing, Sarah’s great strength is in her eye for detail. Our hands-on approach to creating holidays means we prefer to deal direct with individuals rather than agencies, so for Sarah, this means handling heaps of detailed information, day in and day out.
Before we extract the violins however, let’s make it clear that Sarah has been organising holidays from an early age. With an eye for detail, a pile of brochures, a region and a budget, she would regularly draw up a shortlist for the family holiday. For Sarah, brochures, maps and atlases were favoured over the usual teen magazines, so the passion for travel and organising has been slowly but persistently weaving its magic.
We would also like to acknowledge the pivotal role played by Masterchef’s rejection of Sarah’s pesto sauce. If not for that she might have left to pursue kitchen glory. Just as well, since her pesto was such a 'miss' that the tasting chef spat it out. Close call...
Originally from Medellin in Colombia she found her way to us via Madrid and the Subway sandwich shop in Peacehaven. Not the most obvious path but we're glad she's here. Gloria's role in Pura is primarily in operations so she is part of the team who make sure that your holidays happen as they are supposed to.
"I am originally from Medellin, Colombia the second biggest city in the country and known as the City of Eternal Spring (La ciudad de la eternal primavera). I came to Europe with the intention of staying for one year. But I fell in love with Spain and I lived there for almost 10 years working in the tourism sector and exploring the country.
Just like my colleagues here at Pura Aventura I am very passionate about the places I visit. I decided to come to the UK to learn English and signed up to a 6-month language course. Once again I fell in love with a place, this time Brighton, and now two years later I am still here.
I really enjoy living in Europe but I still miss Colombia a lot. Every time I go back there I am reminded that it is such a beautiful part of the world. I know it suffers from a bad reputation and I find that very frustrating. Colombia has so much to offer to the tourist - lovely people, two beautiful coastlines Atlantic and Pacific, jungle, desert and fantastic food. I miss the food!”
David’s passion for Latin America began at an early age, with a 5-week trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos when still a teenager. This spawned a love of wildlife, big landscapes and South America in general. Subsequent trips to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina over the next few years found him trekking, rafting, biking and looking after some rather stroppy capuchin monkeys.
He embarked upon a degree in Hispanic Studies, largely due to the fact that it was a four year course with the third year spent abroad. Spurning the more obvious charms of Spain, he divided the time between Santiago in Chile and Cusco in Peru, soaking up the atmosphere and trying to do some research on the Incas. After his third trip to Machu Picchu, he concluded that they were pretty cool.
Happily Spain’s charms did catch up with Dave eventually, and he spent 6 months as a tour leader in Andalucia, taking groups around cultural treasures such as the Alhambra and walking in the mountains. Along the way he developed a serious love affair with jamón.
For five years from 2006 David worked in sales and product for a well-respected tour operator, giving him the opportunity to discover even more Latin American countries along the way. Because the way we create our holidays is so detailed and complex, being a tour consultant at Pura Aventura is a highly challenging role. We are delighted to say that David has risen to the challenge admirably.
Laurent came to Pura Aventura as an intern back in 2010. He proved so invaluable to the team that he's now back for good having finished his degree in tourism management and marketing. I say, 'back' but actually he's based over in Mexico city, Laurent gets up at silly-o'clock in order to work the same hours as we do here in the UK office. On the plus side, he's finished for the day by lunchtime.
Laurent's main role is in running our ever growing social media presence and so spends much of his time monitoring the best news stories coming out of Spain and Latin America to publish on Facebook and Twitter which then get tied up into the Pura Weekly online newspaper. He also spends a good deal of time on forums answering questions for people about travel in South America. Then he compiles the best of our photos to present them on Pinterest and Flickr, as well as our Facebook galleries. And he puts together videos of our destinations. He is also key to maintaining and populating our website and our blog.
Already as a child Kristina was fascinated by Latin America, reading lots of adventure stories and watching cartoons featuring ‘cities of gold’. At university she chose to study Comparative American Studies, leading her to discover Mexico in the year 2000. As she says “My time in Mexico proved that I was never destined to be an armchair Latin American traveller”. There, she learned to explore a country from the inside: getting to know people, traditions, food and wildlife for an entire year.
Heading back to the UK to complete her degree, she ended up in the world of work for a few years until 2006 when she took a holiday to South America for the first time – hiking in southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.
It was this holiday which unveiled the spectacular beauty of Latin America so she vowed to return one day. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Kristina left her job soon afterwards and bought a one-way ticket to Argentina. And that’s not metaphorical, she actually did. For the first few months she was in Patagonia, around the Bariloche area, researching endangered species and habitats. Her day to day work involved counting condors and other birds of prey or searching for evidence of wild boar activity in the monkey-puzzle forests.
Leaving the lakes behind, she backpacked from Argentina to Peru via Bolivia, which is quite a long way. On arrival in Lima she decided to settle down for a while. And so time flies….five years elapsed, living in Lima but punctuated by travels to Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, the Galapagos, Chile and Easter Island.
Thankfully she eventually felt the urge to come back to the UK and thought that Brighton might be interesting. She very much ‘gets’ our culture and what makes us tick so we couldn’t resist asking her to join the team. As Kristina said during her interview: “Often the most memorable moments are something spontaneous or unexpected – a connection with local people, a recommendation that takes you off the beaten track for the day, or a particular dish you would never have tried otherwise.”
Tais Romagosa, becomes part of our operations team who make sure that your holidays happen as they are supposed to: she ensures that all the details are correct, check the bookings and create your personal holiday pack. She also liaises with our partners abroad.
Originally from Catalonia, Tais actually has a Spanish father and an English mother. Since she lived in Barcelona and Brighton for many years she really feels part of both cultures. Tais has always enjoyed learning languages as she says this opens the doors to new cultures and discoveries. This curiosity led her to study French and Italian at the University of Sussex in Brighton, included a year living in Rome.
‘It was one of the best experiences of my life and has made me more adventurous- I am now keen to explore other parts of the world.’
Whilst living in Italy she also spent some time traveling around the country, staying in different cities, visiting museums, exploring the sights and of course trying the local cuisine! When in Spain, she loves spending time in the countryside. Every year, Tais retreats to her grandmother’s house in the Pyrenees where she enjoys going on excursions along the mountains and forests to admire the outstanding nature.
Reading is also another of her passion, she especially read books which introduce her to new places and ideas: ‘I love the way reading a book allows you to become immersed in another world.‘ And she has an ever-increasing wish list of destinations, with South America at the top of her list!
Victoria Flowerdew joined us during the summer as one of our travel consultants, which is to say that she’s here to help design perfect trips to Spain and Latin America.
Originally from Guildford, Surrey, Victoria was bitten by the travel bug quite early in life. Already as a child her photographer mum took her sister and her out of school to see the world (with books and homework of course!).
At 11 she moved to Andalucia then to the Dominican Republic at 14 for a few years, then back to Spain until she was 18. After studying a foundation year in photography at UAL (University of the Arts London) she headed off to discover South America for six months.
In 2010, after spending most of her life globetrotting, she arrived in Brighton to study Geography at the University of Sussex. She has lived here since.
Besides travelling, Victoria’s passion is art and photography. Her first ever job was photographing weddings alongside her mother, taking the arty black and white shots while her mum did the traditional shots on her Bronica. If you’re a photography addict you should understand how exciting that can be!
Wildlife and conservation is also something that lies very close to Victoria’s heart and she hopes to dedicate her future travels to helping out in the sector by volunteering.
She’ll certainly be writing more about her travels here in the near future but in the meantime, here’s a tip from her previous travels.
‘Keeping a daily journal of your travels and experiences is a good exercise to make yourself reflect on the moment and appreciate tiny details that you might otherwise forget. I find that it gives me a sense of appreciation and gratitude.’
But before you go thinking that Victoria’s a gentle flower, she’s also a fairly devoted cross WHAT? biker. An intriguing mix of zen calm and petrol fumes...
Greta Leipute is part of the operations team. Having come to us from a travel company which specialises in Cuba and its notoriously hard to pin down suppliers, Greta knows how to efficiently handle the vagaries of Latin America.
Greta is from Vilnius, Lithuania, but came to the UK to study equine business management at the University of Essex. Her love of horses also introduced her to Spain as she spent a couple of months volunteering in a horse rescue centre in a remote village in Almería’s Sierra de las Estancias mountain range.
It was Greta’s job to look after 30 horses and lead rides out into the unspoilt Andalucian countryside on the outskirts of the whitewashed village of Partaloa. This experience also led her to visit many breeding yards and see how horses are trained and cared for in the traditional Spanish way. If you don’t know Andalucia, the equine culture there is amongst the strongest in the world.
Besides the amazing rides, her favourite memories are of the delicious food and live music played in the local tapas bars of Almería.
Now here with us in Brighton, Greta doesn’t get to ride so often so has replaced dancing horses with dancing on her own two feet, she’s a competition level Lindy Hopper. For anyone not familiar with it, it’s a frenetic swing dance which came out of 1920s Harlem. Having spent an evening being completely baffled by it, I can but admire anyone who stays upright, let alone stays in time.
We hope Greta will be happy discovering the Latin American gems we love so much, presumably appreciating the gaucho culture of Chile and Argentina in particular. One of Greta’s dreams is to one day create a purely equestrian holiday package for other horse lovers like her.
Leesa Albrighton is our new accountant who joined us this autumn when Natasha returned to teaching.
Leesa graduated with a degree in Tourism and went on to work for a well known tour operator for four years, working in the overland department before realising that she had a passion not just for travel but also for numbers. She’s well on her way to becoming a fully fledged management accountant with her CIMA qualification (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants).
Leesa considers herself very lucky having landed her dream job here at Pura Aventura, combining her tourism degree and finance qualifications.
Leesa has also well travelled around Africa, India and Nepal but she’s actually a newbie to Latin America. Having said that, Machu Picchu and Patagonia have always been on her wish list so it won’t be long before she’s off to discover these outstanding South American gems.
Here Leesa shares four golden rules that she has lived by to get the most of her travel experiences, we hope it helps…