XAVIER BURBANO DE LARA
“Amazonia is just the greatest thing. A most spectacular place…” And Xavier’s travelled, Xavier’s seen things. “But I don’t miss her… I carry her with me wherever I go.” Xavier, otherwise known as Tito, today lives in what, in many ways, is the exact opposite of the green, lush, rainy, fresh-water, voracious Amazon Basin: the Galapagos Islands. He leads the remarkable group of people who comprise the award-winning Finch Bay Eco Hotel.
At first glance, Tito could be a rock star… not only has he got the look, he’s got the heart of a true seventies gut-wrenching crooner. I’d say he’s even got the low guttural voice for that, too, but we wouldn’t know it unless he sung us a verse of his favourite Neil Young tune. Now that’s just taking into account his looks… and his passion for rock history. But although he always wished he played an instrument, he was actually closer to becoming a professional footballer like his brother Juan Carlos, defensive midfielder for first division El Nacional and member of the Ecuadorian national team during its first World Cup appearance in 2002. I guess his parents had had enough with one footballer in the family, and -- he tells me -- “they wanted me to do anything but that…” So he went to the Amazon Basin, instead. To Metropolitan Touring’s Flotel Orellana.
Early on, he was interested in something other than what his everyday life offered. When imagining a career, he felt an itching desire to land a job that would get him out of the city. That became the single most important objective once his footballing dreams fizzled, and, heading out to Amazonia not only fulfilled the prerequisite, but also became a long-awaited coming of age. “I’m a sucker for romanticism, you know,” says Tito, “For me, Amazonia was my first taste of freedom. Nature was so wild and beautiful”.
He came aboard the Flotel as administrative assistant, where the surrounding jungle, especially the unforgettable Cuyabeno, in northeastern Ecuador, lured him in. To this day, Tito’s heart still pounds to the beat of the Napo River’s torrential flow towards the Amazon. He still visits his Cofán friends from Sábalo regularly, to whom he once was a teacher, and who take him on fishing trips and engage him in their everyday activities, which, according to Tito, “are the most exhausting set of chores I’ve ever experienced”.
After two years at Flotel Orellana, he remained in the Amazon Basin, working, for two more years, on environmental and activist projects aimed at saving key conservation hotspots, like Imuya, in the Cuyabeno. When he came back to Metropolitan Touring Quito, to the “El Quilate” building on Calle República de El Salvador, amidst desks and tables and walls and windows, he quickly yearned for other destinations without walls.
During Tito’s stay in the city, he centered a lot of his work on promoting Ecuador’s destinations to kids. One of the tasks he highlights from his time in the Research and Development Department of the company was organizing field trips with high school students to Mount Pasochoa, the Galápagos Islands or the Oriente, aboard the Flotel. The idea, of course, was to let younger generations in on the wonders of Ecuador’s natural destinations, promoting environmental awareness as well as hoping to be a catalyst for their curiosity, which Tito feels is such a relevant aspect of the work Metropolitan Touring has set out to do since its inception.
In 1997, however, an opportunity opened up for him in the Galápagos Islands, as administrator of the Delfín II, the Delfín Hotel’s private yacht that would take guests on day trips during land-based tours. A no brainer, really. Not only would he be free of dealing with the everyday constraints of city life, he would be in the glorious Galápagos Islands, eco-haven of the natural world.
At the time, the Delfín’s hotel manager worked nine months of the year, and during the three months of leave, a relief manager would take his place. When the relief manager retired, Tito replaced him spending the rest of the year on the yacht. Later, he’d become the head manager of the hotel, which would be re-christened Finch Bay Eco Hotel upon a major overhaul that refurbished the facilities from tip to toe once Grupo Futuro took over the company. That was 10 years ago.
“It’s a beautiful hotel, but very unplugged from the distractions of daily life, our service is top-notch, but there aren’t any televisions in the rooms. I once had a guest find it appalling that we didn’t have televisions. That was the first day. Four days later, he was thanking me because he had a great time conversing with his wife to the sound of the waves, and watching shooting stars. The Finch Bay, above all, is located in an amazing spot in Puerto Ayora. The town, although it’s a Galápagos town, is full of activity, people, noise… it doesn’t really ‘get you away from it all’. And the Finch does. You truly feel like you are in the Galápagos Islands.”
From being one of Metropolitan Touring’s most expendable operations, Finch Bay Hotel has become one of the company’s most profitable products. It is recognized by Trip Advisor users the world over and the World Travel Awards honoured it as South America’s number one “Green” Hotel… “It’s been great,” Tito tells me, as if he had only been a witness to it all, “to see this ugly duckling become a swan.”
Tito is a character, no doubt. A man who wishes everyone could just leave their private cinder blocks and enjoy the nearest available garden; an ardent fan of the tango, of Leonard Cohen, of Nick Cave, of Pink Floyd, of course, of the great Neil Young, and of Argentine football, an inspired professional who carries the tropical rainforest in his heart, who gets worried when there is nothing to do. “There is always something to do… if there is nothing to do, that means there’s a problem!”