This letter was written by Shannon Stowell, CEO of Adventure Travel Trade Association, to commemorate the passing of our dear community member Rafael Gallo on March 23, 2021. We welcome you to share your memories of Rafa in the comments section below.
You left us before any of us would have believed possible. You were not only a friend and a supporter of many, you were a fierce fighter for the things in which you believed and which we believed in together. Champion is the best word I can think of when it came to rivers, trees, birds, the natural world…. and all the people who chose to live in the wilder places, who you interacted with.
You trained former paramilitary people how to become rafters. You taught many to plant trees and the “why” of such an overlooked, mundane activity. You told me at our Summit in Sweden in 2019 about big life changes you’d made and how you were looking forward to even more work to make the world and the travel industry more sustainable.
You shocked me more than once. The main shocker was when you were the emcee for our Summit in 2015 in Chile, where the theme was “Viva la Revolucion de la aventura”. As our team and you worked together for weeks to get ready for your role in sewing the pieces of the event together, from having President Bachelet of Chile as the opener, to Doug Tompkins the conservation icon to the speakers, musicians and artists, your work with our team was engaged, thoughtful and intense. I didn’t see what was coming in your closing talk and what you would not only challenge ATTA to, but commit us to.
We were planning on becoming carbon neutral as an organization over the coming years, from our events to our travel to all the travel from delegates. From the stage, without warning us, you committed ATTA to being carbon neutral at the following Adventure Travel World Summit. We wanted to, we planned to, but we didn’t know exactly how we would pull it off with almost no budget. Well, when you announced that ATTA would become carbon neutral for 2016 and everyone stood up in a standing ovation for us….. it was game on. We HAD to figure it out. For a second I was stunned, bewildered and then determined to take on your challenge….. And our team did. Since then I’ve found out you inspired multiple people and companies in the audience to do the same. You forced change. You were impatient with slow motion.
In 2007 we sat at a bar in Whistler, Canada at our Adventure Travel World Summit and you, Russell Walters and a few others plotted on how to get other organizations you were part of to partner more closely with ATTA. You saw how all of us who agreed on important conservation issues needed to work together, not separately. I admired you from the minute I met you. Your spirit was wild, untamed and ready for action. Sitting still didn’t seem possible for you for very long.
Although I wasn’t a part of your competitive rafting universe, I heard about it from many, how you were a leader in every area you worked. You even co-founded the International Rafting Federation, providing vision where it was needed and desired. You even regaled me with wild tales of rafting and adventuring even here in the town in Colorado where I now live- Salida, Colorado. It seems that nearly everywhere in the world where there was a great river to be on, you had been there.
Our hearts broke when you had to close Rios Tropicales after nearly four decades of operation because of the economic devastation wrought by COVID-19 but you positively endorsed your former team’s new adventure business and said in an official release, “As for me, I am retiring from being an adventure company owner to focus my efforts on my deep love for conservation. Over the past three decades, we have created the largest private rainforest reserve in the Pacuare valley, planting over 30,960 native hardwood trees and restoring biodiversity. Now it is time to grow an even larger conservation initiative in the Pacuare River region. Project RAFA – Rivers and Forests Alliance – will continue to spread the positive impact we have made for the rainforest, biodiversity, the Pacuare River and watersheds, rural communities, Costa Rica, and the planet.”
Well Rafa, while you won’t do these things in person, know that others will pick up your torch and you have inspired many of us to do better and to take real steps to make the world a better place. We love you, friend, and the halls and rooms of adventure conferences around the world will be dimmer without you. Rest in peace.
– Shannon Stowell –
Please visit the Project RAFA website, which shares the vision and current status of the Project RAFA non-profit organization. It also offers a way for interested people to stay updated on Project RAFA developments and fundraising when that starts.