Key Largo resident sends locals on all kinds of trips

Key Largo’s Ilja Chapman grew up in the Netherlands not far from Amsterdam. But just because she was born there, didn’t mean she was staying. After graduating college, Chapman made her first adventure to the South American country of Ecuador. She lived deep in the Amazon jungle Chapman with native tribes whom had only just recently (1970s) made contact with the civilized world. “I left the Netherlands in 1993. I told my mom I was going to travel for a year — and never returned,” she said. She’s since lived in Spain, the United Kingdom, Saint Lucia, Grand Cayman, worked aboard cruise ships, and has been to all seven continents, including Antarctica

After working for some time in hotel management, she did what any sensible person with an insatiable appetite for travel does — she made it her profession. Since 2013, she’s has called Key Largo home, and as a “land and cruise specialist” for Cruise Planners, she helps others realize their dream vacations. Chapman is also anticipating a busy year of helping the ladies of the Upper Keys Business and Professional Woman realize their professional dreams as the newly elected president.

You speak four languages, English, Dutch, German, and Spanish. Which is the most difficult to learn?

Spanish, because it’s such a rich language, there are so many different Spanish dialects and so many words to describe something. Spanish is much more passionate, so to be able to speak it properly you have you have to keep learning.

What’s one thing about the Dutch people or culture that American’s should know?

I’d say we like to wine and dine. Dutch families can easily sit at the table for four hours and enjoy conversation. Obviously we’re known for our tulips and wooden shoes, even though Tulips are from Turkey. The Dutch are also known for our engineering — a big percentage of the country is under sea level and we manage it with windmills and dikes.

What’s the most rewarding part of booking someone else’s vacation?

Its helping them realized their dream — putting all the pieces of the puzzle together, and adding all the small ideas and details that can make it truly special for them.

Where’s the most unique destination you’ve booked?

The Svalbard islands, which is all the way north of Norway by the artic. If you want to see polar bears that’s where you go.

How many countries have you visited?

I’m not sure, I had the big world map where you put the pins in it at one point. All of Europe, that’s for sure. Probably more than 50 or 60 countries. I was fortunate that I traveled a lot while working on a ship.

Where is one new place you want to visit?

Definitely South Africa. I’ve been to North Africa but I want to go to South Africa and go on a safari, that’s definitely on my list.

How often do you travel?

Probably at least six times a year, but I’d like to do more. Obviously you have to have flexibility in your schedule, but big trips like those overseas are once a year.

Anything crazy happen in the jungle of the Amazon?

It’s not unusual to see tarantulas, they lived in the ceiling of my cabana. I was a little shocked by that. I had a wild pig that the Indians gave to me as pet. I never met any anacondas, but I was also fortunate enough to be able to experience the Pink River dolphin. I was on a raft and they just came by us. They were hunted for a long time because their eyes were believed to be an aphrodisiac for sexual potency.

If you could wake up tomorrow with any super power, what would it be?

It would definitely be to be able to beam myself anywhere in the world. That way I could start my day having breakfast overlooking the Alps, then lunch in Sydney, and finally a romantic dinner in Rome.

One piece of would you give to graduating seniors from Coral Shores High School?

Broaden your horizons. Travel and don’t be afraid. People are the same all over the world. Learn a language, if you know a language it’s so much more fun and educational when you are able to speak with the locals.

What’s the most impactful initiative the Upper Keys Business and Professional Women are undertaking this year?

We want to grow our network of women and help them with their personal, professional, and political development. One of our goals is to achieve equity for women in the workplace through advocacy. But a lot of it is friendship, fun, and learning from each other. I’m looking forward to learning from our current President, Laura Maupin, and with her support, having another successful BPW year.






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