Every month, we delve into the travel experiences of people in the extended WHL Group network. Today we talked to Fabiola Duerig of Las Pleyades Travel, the whl.travel local partner for travel in Santa Marta and Cartagena, Colombia, and the Green Path Transfers connection for private, responsible ground transportation on the Colombian coast. For transfers by taxi and by 4×4 vehicle between Cartagena, Barranquilla, Santa Marta, Tayrona and even as far as Guajira (next to Venezuela), no other company offers similar service with bilingual drivers and guides and very fair prices.
Fabiola is proud to call Colombia home and to share it with travellers eager for a local’s insights. As a seasoned traveller herself, she can appreciate the value of a local travel experience.
WHL Group: Which is your favourite WHL Group destination and which would you most like to visit?
Fabiola: My favourite destination at the moment is my own home – Santa Marta, Colombia – because I am able to experience its natural beauty every single day. Colombia as a whole is a great country in every sense, which more and more foreign tourists are starting to realise.
Outside of Colombia, the destination I would like to visit is India. Despite the poverty and misery I might see there, where 80 kids die every day from curable diseases like rabies, I don’t want to shut my eyes. It’s real. India has a very special culture and way of thinking, one so different from that of the western world. I also love their way of dancing and all the colours. I look forward to exploring it someday.
WHLG: What would you never travel without?
Fabiola: For me, the two biggest essentials are music and a passport. The rest are details.
WHLG: What do you miss most about home when travelling?
Fabiola: I suppose it depends on the country I visit. Here on the coast of Colombia, I really miss the high quality and variety of European food, but if I were travelling in Argentina, for example, I wouldn’t notice this so much. What I always miss, no matter the destination, are my friends and family if they’re not there with me to share all the exciting experiences of travel.
WHLG: What’s the most adventurous trip you’ve ever taken?
Fabiola: I would have to say a trip down the Death Road from La Paz, Bolivia, to a small town in the mountains. It is said to be beautiful, but I don’t think it is worth it because the road is so dangerous that you see the old remains of vehicles down below. Also, local people drive so fast that accidents are inevitable. So I am just glad to have survived that!
WHLG: What is your funniest travel experience?
Fabiola: It’s hard to say which is the funniest because I’m lucky to have lots of really funny ones to choose from. On more than a few occasions, I’ve found myself in situations I almost could not believe because it was so funny and surreal. But at the same time I know that it will be less funny when I try to relate it to someone because you have to live it. This is one of the joys of travel with your partner or your friends – you can laugh so many times about the same stories for years. You will always have the memories of that extraordinary, unusual situation that you shared.
For example, when I was travelling in Bolivia with a friend, the bus stopped in the middle of the night because there was a technical problem, as happens a lot there. When we got out of the bus to see what they were doing, we saw that they had pulled a frog out of the wheel! They managed this in a few hours without any technical instruments. It was amazing, but, as I said, it’s not that funny unless you were there.
WHLG: What is your scariest travel experience?
Fabiola: I felt frightened while crossing the border from Peru to Bolivia at night. I know now why it is not recommended!
WHLG: If you could go on holiday with anyone famous – living or dead – who would you take?
I would visit Fidel Castro with Albert Einstein in Cuba. I just think that they’re both admirable. Although they may have a lot of failures (like every human being), they are intelligent enough and I would help them to open their minds so we could improve all together. Maybe we’d find a political formula that solves all our social problems. Of course, I would take my husband Oliver with me too!
WHLG: Describe the best and worst accommodation you’ve ever stayed in.
Fabiola: The best would have to be Finca Barlovento here in Santa Marta between the river and the Caribbean Sea. The waves of the ocean sound like a whisper in your ears and the natural beauty just overwhelms you.
On the other end of the spectrum: as a backpacker I saw a lot of accommodations that compete for the ‘worst place’ award. Backpacker accommodations can surprise you in both negative and positive ways. I am happy with a clean bed in a clean room with a private bathroom, although it can also be shared, although shared bathrooms are generally less clean. The worst thing I’ve ever seen was in Peru, where the room smelled like bad eggs and Oliver found excrement on the floor of the bathroom. We decided to leave and found a great hostel (called La Casona) at a very fair price.
WHLG: Describe your earliest travel memory.
Fabiola: I have early memories of the beaches in Southern Europe on holidays when I was two or three years old. I remember surfer beaches, the Mediterranean Sea and the Adriatic Sea.
WHLG: Please briefly explain what you think local travel is.
Fabiola: To me, local travel is being aware that you are visiting a different place where people have different habits and cultures, and if you are ready to accept and respect this, you can dive in and have a true travel experience. It’s about getting in touch with local people and eating in local restaurants to try the typical and recommended dishes. As an alternative to ‘all-inclusive’ resort-style travel, local travel means staying in small cabanas in the surrounding areas where you can see how local people really live, and choosing local tourist guides. Local guides can help you learn a lot about the people and their culture in a short time, because they have a great wealth of knowledge about the area, the history and the people.
WHLG: In what ways do you see local travel benefiting the country in which you live?
Local travel involves many different local people as the service providers of accommodations, tours and transportation. In this way, small companies have a chance to create jobs for more and more local people. We feel that, in our case, as a travel agency, this is one of our most important roles.