The MEXICO Report
By Susie Albin-Najera
They say, do what you love and the rest will fall into place. Well, this is exactly what happened for Zachary Rabinor, who turned his love for Mexico, travel, culture, tour leading and surfing into what is now Journey Mexico, a multi-award winning travel company specializing in custom excursions throughout Mexico, which he founded and co-owns with his wife and partner Rebecca.
As fate would have it, Zach and Rebecca met in San Diego in Grad School, studying sustainable tourism and sustainable development and with a combined passion, began their journey together in the world. Both were invited speakers to the United Nations / World Tourism Org’s Regional Conference on Sustainable Travel and Ecotourism held in Cuiaba Brazil as part of the UN / WTO initiative, The Year of Ecotourism, both did work for the Surfrider Foundation and both were the recipients of the Shoeflin Fellowship and CILAS Tinker Foundation Field Research Grants used to study and present on sustainable travel in Costa Rica. With obvious passion for the world and concern for the environment, Journey Mexico was born.
Based in Puerto Vallarta, with offices in Mexico City and Cancun, Journey Mexico specializes in crafting unique, authentic and unexpected travel experiences for the novice to sophisticated traveler.
Originally formed as a U.S. Corporation in 2003 with head offices in San Diego, California, Journey Mexico opened its first Mexico office in Mexico City in 2004, followed shortly after by a second office in Cancun at which point they incorporated their Mexican Corporation, Journey Turismo Mexico S.A. de C.V. In 2006, Journey Mexico moved the head offices to Puerto Vallarta.
With a recently relaunched website, JM offers unique excursions such as Copper Canyon Hiking, San Ignacio Whale Watching, Maya Ruins Yucatan Trips, Delicacies of Mexico Oaxaca Trips, among others. You can also plan the trip of a lifetime.
Traveling can be one of the most rewarding and exhilarating experiences we can have; cathartic, transformational and many times, a very emotional experience.
The MEXICO Report recently spoke with President/Founder of Journey Mexico, Zachary Rabinor, who was just selected for Condé Nast Traveler’s 2010 List of the World’s 135 Top Travel Specialists for the magazine’s August issue, beating out more than 10,000 applicants. A huge congratulations to Zach!
How did you come up with the idea for Journey Mexico?
I worked as a tour leader / guide for several companies throughout Mexico, Central America and S. America from 1993-1999. After all of the amazing places I worked from the Andes to the jungles of Costa Rica and of course Mexico, I was amazed at how misunderstood Mexico is especially by N. Americans (Americans and Canadians). I wanted to share the incredible (and largely unknown) cultural, natural, adventure and luxury travel experiences available in “Beyond the Beach” Mexico. That combined with a deep foundational belief that raw, authentic, real interaction with foreign people, places and experiences (experiential travel) transforms people’s lives in significant and meaningful ways.
We offer such a wide variety of travel experiences throughout the Mexican Republic .
- Natural: Intimate wildlife experiences with the Friendly Gray Whales of Baja California, the Monarch Butterflies and Giant Sea Turtles of Michoacan, the Whale Sharks of Isla Holbox and the Sea of Cortes.
- Cultural Riches including the History, gastronomy, and charm of San Miguel de Allende, Queretaro, Zacatecas, Guanajuato and Oaxaca, the crafts traditions and archeological sites of the highlands of Michoacan, Chiapas, Oaxaca and Chihuahua; The Haciendas and Mayan Ruins of the Yucatan Peninsula, Chiapas and Tabasco; as well as the thriving and vibrant cities of Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey.
- Adventures abound in the Marine Wilderness of the Sea of Cortes and deserts of the Baja Peninsula; walking, photographic and cultural expeditions into the Copper Canyon; hiking, biking and cultural explorations in Oaxaca, Chiapas, cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula; High altitude mountaineering and more tame walking adventures to Mexico’s towering and glaciated Volcanoes and Sierra Madre; not to mention all of the snorkeling / diving and yachting opportunities throughout Mexico’s vast coast lines!
- Luxury: Mexico has one of the highest concentrations of luxury properties in the world not to mention lavish villas, yachts, private planes and helicopters!
How did you know you were on to something?
Our first trips ran relatively smoothly; we started with a “set departure” model that offered set trips and dates. However the real growth of the business began when we responded to our clients demand for custom, private travel – that’s when Journey Mexico really began its dynamic growth in earnest.
Can you share some emotional experiences that occurred while you were guiding a trip?
There are too many to tell… travel is always a cathartic, emotional experience. A few that stand out in my mind are when one of our clients broke down crying; she had lost her fiancée earlier that year and we went to a soccer match and her fiancée was a professional soccer player. She hadn’t really digested it all and hadn’t cried since the initial shock of his unexpected death. That was amazing – she really felt transformed. I sense that when people get out of their routine, day-to-day experience, they open up to seeing, hearing, feeling and experiencing life more vibrantly. They let down their guards and approach experiences more openly – and it’s this approach that allows true emotional and psychological growth.
Another amazing and moving experience was on one of our educational trips. We work with many schools, universities and Adult education programs. On this particular trip, it was with a group of “underserved” high schoolers out of Southern California. There were many Mexican American kids in the class and suddenly these tough kids, who had always carried the stigma of being foreign / Mexican, became the most important kids in the class. They could speak to the locals, help the leaders and explain things to their classmates due to their innate understanding of the language and culture. I was personally co-leading this trip and there was one kid, a real tough kid who was clearly interested in gang culture and being tough. He didn’t smile, he didn’t let down his guard and he kept a tough exterior throughout the first part of the trip. We were camping at Guerrero Negro, which is the northern most protected Gray Whale Breeding Lagoon on the Baja Peninsula and we all headed out on the small fishing pangas to see the gray whales. I happened to be on his boat.
The whales were not cooperating and the skies were a bit gray and it was windy and cold. We were on the water for about an hour; he started undermining the guide and the experience when all of a sudden we were surrounded by three HUGE gray whale mothers and their calves who came right up to the boat and right up to him.
At first he pulled away, but then he relaxed and actually touched the whale; the whale seemingly looked at him right in the eye and let out a huge breathe of whale spray… the young man couldn’t hold back and started laughing and crying simultaneously. The rest of the trip he joined in with the other Mexican American kids and the whole group. He became a leader of the trip and he opened up to me and the other adult leaders. He expressed such gratitude and awe, and PRIDE at being Mexican. We keep in touch with the kids and teachers and this trip was pivotal for this young man. He stopped wearing the gang garb and began to engage in his studies and school. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it! Obviously this wouldn’t have been possible if not for his amazing teachers and school, but I believe (as do all involved) that this trip was catalytic!
Travel can also be humorous. Can you share any comical series of events?
Travel is always so full of laughs. Once I was in Mexico City when the travel bug had just bitten me. I was studying Spanish (furiously) but still didn’t speak very much and as I got off a local city bus, an elderly woman behind me tripped coming down the stairs and came hurtling out of the bus. Fortunately I turned and was able to break her fall with my body and she was fine. All of the other passengers on the bus came running out and picked me up and thanked me and gave me the hero treatment. I really didn’t do much except for be a warm body to break her fall. I was turning red, because I couldn’t say anything in Spanish and then I blurted, “Estoy embarazado”. I thought I was saying that I’m embarrassed, but actually I said, “I’m pregnant”. Everyone almost died laughing… language is always a great source of fun!
Is Journey Mexico involved in conservation or the local communities where you work?
Having studied, written about, and worked in sustainable development, incorporating these values to the core of Journey Mexico is an important part of the vision. We are part of the Rainforest Alliance’s Sustainable Tourism Program and I sit on the Advisory Board for the Ocean Foundation’s See Turtle Program. We also incorporate volunteerism and hands on conservation work into different trips including helping to monitor and rescue endangered Sea Turtles on the Baja Peninsula, working with the local community ecotourism project in Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte and more. Increasingly our clients are interested and more conscious about their impact as well as learning and growing through their travel – they are also interested in helping the people, wildlife and places they visit, which results in them having unforgettable experiences.
I’m a firm believer in the triple bottom line where success is measured in economic, social and environmental terms and I am confident that tourism practiced and operated in a responsible manner can be a success for all involved. While we’re proud of the different accomplishments we have achieved, nothing is more fulfilling than helping to facilitate conscious travel that benefits Mexico, locals and travelers alike. We are in the process of creating a foundation that will contribute to local non-profits that focus on social welfare and environmental protection in and around the communities where we work.
What are the advantages of owning a business/working in Mexico?
The advantages are of course the incredible people that we work with, the warmth, generosity and passion of Mexicans. Also, the vast network of relationships that we grow every day is paramount to our ability to offer exclusive / limited access experiences. From chefs to government officials, to archeologists to our guides (who are the most important part of the experiences we offer), living and working in Mexico allows us to develop friendships that go beyond merely doing business. I sense that this personal relationship, while important the world over, is especially important here in Mexico and an ingrained and beautiful part of the culture.
Journey Mexico has earned a handful of prestigious awards including a 2010 TRAVEL + LEISURE AWARD for Best Adventure-Travel Outfitters in the world, National Geographic’s Best Tour Operators on Earth, and a 2009 INC. 5000 AWARD as the #5 fastest growing travel companies. Additionally, the company has been featured in the New York Times, Forbes Magazine and on Planeta.com, a global journal for practical eco-tourism, and more and is part of many trade associations / affiliations including Virtuoso Network, Signature Travel Network, Latin America Tour Operators Association and Rainforest Alliance among many others.
For more information on Journey Mexico, visit http://www.journeymexico.com.