October 1, 2005
The best adventures still require a guide, despite the advent of the Web. These experts at the helm of three of Southern California's luxury travel companies - Jim Berkeley of Destinations & Adventures International, Wido Schaefer of TravelStore USA, and Jerre Fuqua of Travcoa - steer their clients to extraordinary trips. Because they've been there, they know.
BRING ON THE ADVENTURE
Jim Berkeley's love of travel started early on. During his childhood, his family lived in Mexico for three years. His mother, an anthropology professor, took him on regular tours of the Mayan, Aztec, and Toltec ruins fro Uxmal to Chichen Itza. "She made it so fascinating, you had to be crazy not to enjoy it," Berkeley recalls. He credits his mother with teaching him an appreciation for foreign cultures. "To this day, I would leave tomorrow to go anywhere in the world just because of the excitement of seeing something new, going somewhere different, and meeting new people."
In 1995, after 20 years working at various travel companies, Berkeley founded Destinations & Adventures to appeal to the luxury market he knew best. The Los Angles - based boutique travel company caters to clients looking for the most unique, insider's view of a place. His staff builds a personalized itinerary based on clients' interests, from adding a stay in Machu Picchu onto a trip to the Galapagos, to combining the right private safari camp with a trip to Seychelles. Berkeley lived in Egypt for almost four years, and the company's Egypt trips are often guided by Egyptologists Berkeley knows personally and who share his knowledge of the area - including the shortcuts to avoid its legendary crowds.
Although Berkeley himself prefers adventure travel, (he recently hiked in Burma and next on his list is Borubador, a series of Hindu and Buddhist temples in Indonesia) Destinations & Adventures plans plenty of Provence and Tuscany trips for its clients. But you won't find the Riviera on Berkeley's personal list: "For me, the ideal place is undiscovered."
"People are now looking more toward unique experiences where they can indulge and enrich themselves," says Wido Schaefer, founder and owner of TravelStore USA and TravelStore Platinum. And he's just the right traveler to lead the pack.
After working for Lufthansa Airlines in his native Germany and in Nairobi, Barcelona, and New York City, Schaefer started what is now a luxury travel company in West Los Angeles 30 years ago. His first clients were UCLA professors, for whom he planned sabbatical travel. The company soon specialized in corporate travel, and grew to become what is now the largest independent travel agency in California.
A luxury-travel aficionado, Schaefer sits on the advisory boards of the Four Seasons Hotels, Ritz-Carlton Hotels, and Orient Express Hotels and Trains. He visits Europe, his areas of expertise, several times a year. And on the weekends he isn't working, he enjoys the good life. "I play tennis at the Riviera Country Club in the summer, ski Aspen in the winter, and take day trips in my '89 Ferrari convertible," he says. And, of course, he travels. A recent heliskiing trip with his son in British Columbia included catered lunches on the mountain and luxury hotels. TravelStore organizes specialized trips such as trekking in Africa, kayaking the canals of Venice, or a champagne lunch atop the Great Wall of China. Private-jet charters, luxury house rentals for family reunions, and wine or golf trips are also popular.
Jerre Fuqua has forged a ferry path into Panama's Darian jungle to encounter indigenous peoples, crossed the Bering Sea to meet Yup'ik in Alaska and their counterparts in Russia, and kayaked among humpback whales in Alaska's Icy Strait. "Their antics and frolicking show how playful they are," he says of the whales. "Just being among them in a wilderness setting is beyond anything I've done."
Fuqua, president of Newport Beach based Travcoa, says his reason for travel is similar to that of his clients: "To come back a different person than you were." On a recent trip to Japan, Fuqua and an 84-year-old veteran of more than 60 Travcoa trips took in a traditional tea ceremony in a private home. "The best trips involve enjoying a place as it's meant to be," Fuqua says, "when people can teach you how they really live."
Travcoa is known for pioneering American travel into East Africa, Easter Island, mainland China, and the Amazon. In Papua New Guinea, it designed a cruise up the Sepik River, and was one of the first to lead luxury small-group trips to Libya.