The Viva Story- Part 2: THE BEGINNING

Rachel Williams

Rachel Williams  |  1 April 2020

Read how our story with Viva Expeditions began - honest, human and unadorned. 

Continued from Part 1: The Idea

Eventually we had her, and we named her Esperanza, which means hope, as we hoped like hell it would bloody work. (In fact, I clearly remember my Uncle Revell telling me before we left NZ to go to Ecuador “I think you're crazy, it will never work”.) Problem now was that we had an awesome truck, but no passengers. Worst case at least we had a mean camper to live in.

Click HERE to find out more about our Expedition Vehicle

We filled the time by doing a 15-week trip for the company we have previously worked for, Oasis Overland, which was the perfect opportunity for a paid recky (reconnaissance trip). We then had our first 2 groups.

 Click HERE to see our small group tours

Tour 1 (starting 4 Jan 2010) was great and ran smoothly.

Trip 2 not so much.

  • The 2010 Chile Earthquake hit the day before the trip was due to start, that wasn’t ideal.
  • And then there was Adam

This is the best pic I could find of Adam, an American guy in his 30s. One afternoon in Torres Del Paine National Park while we were hanging out at camp, Adam advised he was going to take a walk up to the look out. No drama we thought, you can see camp from the lookout. Yet despite this, Adam got lost. Proper lost!

Click HERE to see our tours to Torres Del Paine

By 7pm that night we had around 8 search and rescue people out in the hills looking for him. But they called of the search around 9.30 once it was dark. Overnight the temperatures plummeted to around 0 and the wind howled. The next day there was more than 20 search and rescue out looking, plus detectives had arrived from the city. A full-scale search was underway.

I stood much of the time next to the chief of police who was coordinating the search, drinking coffee and smoking chain-smoking ciggies while looking up into the mountains. Every time the condors started circling, he would get on the radio and send a team to that location. As condors eat carrion (dead stuff) this was pretty ominous. Every now and then he would look over at me and do this action, indicating he was pretty sure Adam was dead. So, I rung my old boss at Oasis and asked what I should do. He told me to first call the US embassy and hope they will call the family. But if I had to call the family they speak only to the father or the brother, not the mother or the sister. I felt sick. That evening at camp I let the Pax know they would continue on the next day with Bren while I stayed to take care of the arrangements, and I would catch up. It was a fairly sombre time. About 7.30 a couple of police showed up, that had a passport, it was Adams, they didn’t have Adam. Imagine our relief when they told us they had found him, walking down the road, safe and well! That night we celebrated.


Its funny that people always want to save money & hike unguided in TDP. Let me assure you it is not a good idea). Oh, and in keeping with our spring braking tradition we also broke a spring at the same time we had lost Adam.


So, it took a while before we had a consistent season of trips and we found various ways to keep afloat. Anyone recognise this guy, not Bren, the other one?


Its Sam Shepherd, and for 3 months Esperanza became his trailer while they filmed Blackthorn in Bolivia, the sequel to Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.


That was fun:

  • Bren got to take the truck to some fairly hairy places, while I went home for a bit.
  • He spent 3 weeks filming on the salt flats (which Bren will tell you is not all that pleasant)
  • And he even got his 5 minutes of fame – well about half a second actually, if you watch really carefully.



Anyway, but 2011 things were looking up & we hired our first crew so we could go home to grow the business. Funnily enough, Tony, the driver we hired had been my driver on my middle east trip 10 year’s earlier. And he & his wife Dianne had worked alongside us in South America when we had worked for the previous company. It really is a small world.


Fast forward 2 years & I was heavily pregnant. We had an annual turnover of about 500k and I had 1 person working for me.


6 weeks before Rio, our first child, was due that person resigned. Freaking out I advertised and was incredibly lucky to be able to hire Tara Sutherland, who is still with me today, but she couldn’t start until the new year which did not help with my immediate issue. A truly wonderful person came to my rescue. Her name was Lisa and we had worked together years before. She was my saviour and I am forever grateful. Then this happened.


10 days before the baby was due the phone rung in the middle of the night, which is never good. It was Dianne in a panic saying Tony went to get his medical for his drivers’ licence and has found out he has kidney failure. Of course, this meant they wouldn’t be arriving to start our first fully booked Patagonia season. I almost had the baby on the spot. So, Brendan left to go to South America & get the truck ready and run the trips if need be. I frantically tried to find new crew & make changes to all of the permits & other paperwork that was in the driver’s name. I did manage to sort both new crew & new paperwork, but not quite in time. As Bren stood on the side of the road in Santiago waving goodbye to the group and new crew who had arrived the evening before, the phone rang. I was having the baby.

The result: Bren met his son a day after he was born.


Following that Franco & Mel, who had been friends for years, became our new driver & tour leader and to this day they are still managing our small group operations in South America.

Click HERE to find out more about Mel & Franco

Anyway, there are 100s of stories, mishaps and adventures, but in essence this is how it all began.

Read Viva Story part 1: The Idea

Read Viva story part 3: Viva today

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