A 17-day South American Expedition - United Hub
Employee Travel Blog

A 17-day South American expedition

By The Hub team , July 07, 2017

Each week we profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.

By SFO Customer Service Representative Leonida Esquieres

In pursuit of an inspiring, unforgettable adventure, our latest travel experience brought us to the Inca Trail of Peru and high elevations of Bolivia. Joining an organized tour is the most convenient way to enjoy an adventure fully. Since a dozen of us joined together and brought our families and friends, we were able to do a private group tour suited to our interest. Months of research and negotiations with our tour operator fine-tuned our adventure.

We started our journey on our flight through IAH to LIM (Lima, Peru), the capital of Peru. With its colonial center preserved, it is one of South America's most ancient and largest cities. We continued our journey to Cusco, where our tour started. It is a beautiful city in the Peruvian Andes and former capital of the Inca Empire. It is known for its archaeological remains and Spanish colonial architecture. Cusco is bustling with tourists and hikers as it is the gateway to magnificent Machu Picchu. It was really a delight to be in this city, but we did experience altitude sickness. With the help of an oxygen canister we carried around, coca tea, prescription medications, all sorts of mint essence we could sniff and a lot of rest, we were able to deal with it to enjoy our tour.

 Leonida Esquieres' son on top of Machu Picchu

One of the highlights of our tour was exploring Sacred Valley, which encompasses the picturesque town of Maras, with its famous salt mines that have been used since Incan times for trade and nourishments, and Moray, an ancient site of incredible agricultural advancement for the Incan culture. It is known for its sunken concentric rings, which served as a greenhouse prototype. Ollantaytambo, the ancient Inca fortress, has an unforgettable view of the surrounding area. Next, we took an exciting explorer train ride to a 15th century Inca citadel seated on a mountain range, a Unesco World Heritage site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the magnificent Machu Picchu. It is an enigma beyond words!

Awanacancha, the weaving center in the Sacred Valley.

What's a trip without shopping? Pisac is a small town also located in the Sacred Valley, and it is the perfect place to purchase authentic Andean souvenirs. We continued on to visit Awanacancha, a weaving center with the goal of keeping the traditional textile arts alive. It was very interesting to see how craftspeople make use of natural elements from their surroundings for their textiles, one of which is a bug that gives red color to their materials -- it produces the equivalent of 100 kisses when used as lipstick! It was an exciting place as we met four members of the Camelidae family -- llamas, alpacas, vicunas and guanacos. They are a wonderful group of animals.

From Cusco, we flew on Star Peru to Puerto Maldonado to reach the Amazon rainforest, a trip across one of the most incredible landscapes on the planet. From the airport, it is about an hour drive to the river bank, another hour and a half boat ride to the shore closest to our lodge and half an hour trek through the jungle to reach our lodge, the Posada Amazonas, tucked into the heart of the jungle. The rooms are open to the rainforest with only three thin walls in the rooms and beds covered with mosquito nets. The lights were turned off between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., and all you could hear were the sounds of the rainforest, which could be intimidating to some but exquisite to others.

Leonida Esquieres fishing in the Amazon.

During the day, there were plenty of activities to occupy us. We hiked about half an hour through the jungle and jumped in a boat for an unforgettable journey down the Tambopata River. We fished and caught piranhas for lunch and saw amazing birds and animals. Our boat excursions were wonderful and relaxing. Particularly enjoyable were trips to an oxbow lake on a catamaran and night treks through the rainforest to discover some amazing and bizarre insects. A half an hour trek from the lodge took us to a manmade canopy tower that was built high atop a ridge on the trail. From the top we saw exhilarating 360-degree views of the Amazon rainforest. An ethno-botanical tour of the rainforest brought us to a trail where we found a variety of plants and trees used by the local population for medicinal purposes.

After a three-day adventure in the Amazon rainforest, we flew back to Cusco to celebrate my son Jeff's 27th birthday with a traditional dinner show. The next morning, we continued our expedition through the Sun Route in Puno with a visit to Temple of Wiracocha, an Incan archaeological site; La Raya, situated on a highland plateau between Cusco and Puno; and Pukara, noted for its pyramid built by the first developed civilization in the region. Our last day in Peru was highlighted by a boat excursion on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. We got to see the floating islands of the Uros, indigenous people who live on self-constructed floating reed islands off the coast of the lake. Blessed by glorious weather, the dazzling lake and a unique boat ride, we had an experience that was beyond fantastic!

Lake Titikaka in Peru

On our last day in Peru, it took us almost half a day to drive through the stretch along Lake Titicaca to the border of Bolivia, continuing on to La Paz for a day. We visited Moon Valley via the most modern and unique transportation in South America, the Teleferico, a cable car network providing fast and reliable transportation between La Paz and its surrounding attractions. It operates at 13,000 feet above sea level, making it the highest cable car in the world. We felt the extreme effects of altitude, and some of our group members were even forced by sickness to stay in the hotel room.

 Leonida Esquieres' family on white salt, rock formations.

Our final highlight of this 17-day South American expedition was a flight on Amaszonas Airlines from La Paz to Uyuni in Bolivia. Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat. It is the legacy of a prehistoric lake that went dry, leaving behind a desert-like 11,000-square-kilometer landscape of bright white salt, rock formations and cacti-studded islands. During dry season -- April to November -- the salt flat's surface gives the opportunity to play with photography and perspective. It is a paradise to photography lovers. On the outskirts of the Andean plain, steel giants of locomotives have been destroyed by salt winds and moved here to chug their last chug in what is known as the "Train Cemetery." A special lunch setting in the middle of the gorgeous salt flat served with wine and local cuisine was a nice surprise from our local tour agency.

It felt like a never-ending trip to paradise and, at the end of our day in Salar de Uyuni, we headed to the Palacio De Sal, the first salt hotel in the world, for our overnight stay. Located on the banks of Salar de Uyuni, the hotel is unique, as it is built almost entirely with salt. The exotic and wonderful hotel created an unforgettable and pleasant end to our adventure.

Reflecting on Veterans Day: a message from our CEO Oscar Munoz

By Oscar Munoz, CEO, United Airlines , November 11, 2019

Right now, around the world, brave members of America's armed forces are on duty, defending our freedom and upholding our values.

When not laser-focused on the mission at hand, they're looking forward to the day when their service to our nation is fulfilled and they can reunite with their families.

They are also imagining how they can use their hard-earned skills to build an exciting, rewarding and important career when they return home.

I want them to look no further than United Airlines.

That's why we are focused on recruiting, developing and championing veterans across our company, demonstrating to our returning women and men in uniform that United is the best possible place for them to put their training, knowledge, discipline and character to the noblest use.

They've developed their knowledge and skills in some of the worst of times. We hope they will use those skills to keep United performing at our best, all of the time.

That's why we are accelerating our efforts to onboard the best and the brightest, and substantially increasing our overall recruitment numbers each year.

We recently launched a new sponsorship program to support onboarding veterans into United and a new care package program to support deployed employees. It's one more reason why United continues to rank high - and rise higher - as a top workplace for veterans. In fact, we jumped 21 spots this year on Indeed.com's list of the top U.S workplaces for veterans. This is a testament to our increased recruiting efforts, as well as our efforts to create a culture where veterans feel valued and supported.

We use the special reach and resources of our global operations to partner with outstanding organizations. This is our way of stepping up and going the extra mile for all those who've stepped forward to answer our nation's call.

We do this year-round, and the month of November is no exception; however, it is exceptional, especially as we mark Veterans Day.

As we pay tribute to all Americans who have served in uniform and carried our flag into battle throughout our history, let's also keep our thoughts with the women and men who are serving around the world, now. They belong to a generation of post-9/11 veterans who've taken part in the longest sustained period of conflict in our history.

Never has so much been asked by so many of so few.... for so long. These heroes represent every color and creed. They are drawn from across the country and many immigrated to our shores.

They then freely choose to serve in the most distant and dangerous regions of the world, to protect democracy in its moments of maximum danger.

Wherever they serve - however they serve - whether they put on a uniform each day, or serve in ways which may never be fully known, these Americans wake up each morning willing to offer the "last full measure of devotion" on our behalf.

Every time they do so, they provide a stunning rebuke to the kinds of voices around the world who doubt freedom and democracy's ability to defend itself.

Unfortunately, we know there are those who seem to not understand – or say they do not - what it is that inspires a free people to step forward, willing to lay down their lives so that their country and fellow citizens might live.

But, we – who are both the wards and stewards of the democracy which has been preserved and handed down to us by veterans throughout our history – do understand.

We know that inciting fear and hatred of others is a source of weakness, not strength. And such divisive rhetoric can never inspire solidarity or sacrifice like love for others and love of country can.

It is this quality of devotion that we most honor in our veterans - those who have served, do serve and will serve.

On behalf of a grateful family of 96,000, thank you for your service.

Humbly,

Oscar


United named a top workplace for veterans

By The Hub team , November 10, 2019

Each year around Veterans Day, Indeed, one of the world's largest job search engines, rates companies based on actual employee reviews to identify which ones offer the best opportunities and benefits for current and former U.S. military members. Our dramatic improvement in the rankings this year reflects a stronger commitment than ever before to actively recruiting, developing and nurturing veteran talent.

"We've spent a lot of time over the past 12 months looking for ways to better connect with our employees who served and attract new employees from the military ranks," said Global Catering Operations and Logistics Managing Director Ryan Melby, a U.S. Army veteran and the president of our United for Veterans business resource group.

"Our group is launching a mentorship program, for instance, where we'll assign existing employee-veterans to work with new hires who come to us from the armed forces. Having a friend and an ally like that, someone who can help you translate the skills you picked up in the military to what we do as a civilian company, is invaluable. That initiative is still in its infancy, but I'm really optimistic about what it can do for United and for our veteran population here."

Impressively, we were the only one of our industry peers to move up on the list, further evidence that we're on a good track as a company.

Mission Accomplished

By Matt Adams , November 06, 2019

The question of where David Ferrari was had haunted retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major Vincent Salceto for the better part of 66 years.

Rarely did a week go by that Salceto didn't think about his old friend. Often, he relived their last moments together in a recurring nightmare. In it, it's once again 1953 and Salceto and Ferrari are patrolling a valley in what is now North Korea. Suddenly, explosions shatter the silence and flares light up the night sky.

Crouching under a barrage of bullets, Salceto, the squad's leader, drags two of his men to safety, then he sees Ferrari lying face down on the ground. He runs out to help him, but he's too late. And that's when he always wakes up.

Italian Americans from opposite coasts – Salceto from Philadelphia, Ferrari from San Francisco – the two became close, almost like brothers, after being assigned to the same unit during the Korean War. When Ferrari died, it hit Salceto hard.

"After that, I never let anyone get close to me like I did with Dave," he says. "I couldn't; I didn't want to go through that again."

When the war ended, Salceto wanted to tell Ferrari's family how brave their son and brother had been in battle. Most of all, he wanted to salute his friend at his gravesite and give him a proper farewell.

For decades, though, Salceto had no luck finding his final resting place or locating any of his relatives. Then, in June of this year, he uncovered a clue that led him to the Italian Cemetary in Colma, California, where Ferrari is buried.

Within days, Salceto, who lives in Franklinville, New Jersey, was packed and sitting aboard United Flight 731 from Philadelphia to San Francisco with his wife, Amy, and daughter, Donna Decker, on his way to Colma. For such a meaningful trip, he even wore his Army dress uniform.

That's how San Francisco-based flight attendant Noreen Baldwin spotted him as he walked down the jet bridge to get on the plane.

"I saw him and said to the other crew members, 'Oh my goodness, look at this guy,'" she says. "I knew there had to be a story."

The two struck up a conversation and Salceto told Baldwin why he was traveling. She got emotional listening to him talk and made a point of fussing over him, making sure he and his family had everything they needed.

About halfway through the flight, Baldwin had an idea. She and her fellow crew members would write messages of encouragement to Salceto and invite his fellow passengers to do the same.

"We did it discreetly," says Baldwin. "I asked the customers if they saw the man in uniform, which most had, and asked them if they wanted to write a few words for him on a cocktail napkin. A lot of people did; families did it together, parents got their kids to write something. After the first few rows, I was so choked up that I could barely talk."

When Baldwin surprised Salceto with dozens of hand-written notes, he, too, was speechless. He laid the stack on his lap and read each one. At the same time, the pilots made an announcement about the veteran over the loud speaker, after which the customers on board burst into applause.

"It seems contrived, and I hate using the word organic, but that's what it was; it just happened," Baldwin says. "Mr. Salceto was so loveable and humble, and what he was doing was so incredible, it felt like the right thing to do. And you could tell he was touched."

On June 27, Salceto finally stood before Ferrari's grave and said that long-awaited goodbye. As a trumpeter played "Taps," he unpinned a medal from his jacket and laid it reverently on the headstone.

"I had gotten a Bronze Star for my actions [the night Ferrari died] with a 'V' for valor, and that was the medal I put on Dave's grave," says Salceto, pausing to fight back tears. "I thought he was more deserving of it than I was."

For the first time in years, Salceto felt at peace. His mission was accomplished.

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