6 Ways to be better at my secret aspiration
Want to know a secret? I’d love to try being a tour guide. Sssh! Don’t tell!
My prior experience with tour guides was when they would glower at me, suspecting me of eavesdropping on their spiel about the Coliseum/temple/painting, or of being poised to purloin the pockets, purses, and possessions of their flock. As fun as it is to play Spy, I’d politely move away.
But that role, stockpiling information about a place, managing the distracted peregrinations of a population, and hopefully, somehow enhancing their travel experience? That looked…worthwhile. Challenging. Fun.
I’ve fallen into something similar a couple times in the past, most memorably in Morocco, when I made travel arrangements for a dozen British university students who wanted to come with me into the Sahara, but didn’t know how to go about it.
Maybe it’s my WASPy, Victorian English-American upbringing, that yearns for connection but doesn’t always know how to get there, but I enjoy the finite closeness of a group of people bonded to me by some external factor. When I was a property manager, I felt I was just the right level of friends with most of my tenants, and in that accidental guide position, I felt a similar ease; these people needed me for something, which I was able to provide, and if they happened to like me..? .That’s what I call job satisfaction.
As the sun set into the Saharan dunes where laughing Liverpudlians sand-boarded, I took satisfaction in their shouts, and the words of thanks when we parted ways in Marrakech were even sweeter than the mint tea.
Cuba was the first time I’ve been in a formal flock, and our shepherd was an encyclopedia with legs and a fedora named Joel. I periodically pulled my attention from the sights, tastes, culture and culos of Cuba to watch how he did it.
For example, when we found ourselves with an extra hour, Jeff, Joel’s US counterpart, suggested an old cemetery on the edge of town. “No problem” said Joel, “I know the place, let’s go.”
Moments after walking under the grand arch, Jeff got a dubious look on his face. “This isn’t the place I meant.” With no time to head to the other cemetery, what do we do? Get back on the bus in defeat?
“This cemetery is veerrry important” Joel assured us, and started the tour. Cuban leaders, businessmen, and landowners occupied places of honor near the entrance…and when Joel saw our eyes glazing over at the unfamiliar names, he moved right along.
“That big monument there, those are troops who died in South Africa fighting against….how do you say ‘apartheid’ in English?” We all nodded, murmuring “I had no idea Cubans fought against apartheid” and soberly read the names.
“Joel, what’s the deal with these tiny tombstones?”
“In Cuba, people are usually buried, but after a couple years, when most of the body is gone, the bones are removed and cremated, and these are placed on the family tomb. Why? Because there is just not enough space for everybody.”
Direct sun turned markers into pizza stones, but under the pines and palms the air had the dry warmth that feels like falling asleep on an old book on an August afternoon. It’s a comfortable feeling…a sleepy feeling…
“Did I ever tell you about the two lifelong friends?” Joel asked as our steps started to slog. “They were friends from childhood, playing baseball in the street of their barrio. As they got older, they made a deal: whoever died first would come back to tell the other one what heaven was like.
“So one day, one of them, he died. The other was very sad, he missed his friend, but that night, you know what? His friend came back to tell him about heaven. ‘What is it like?’ he asked him.
“’Well, I have good news, and bad news. The good news is we have baseball!’ The living friend was very happy to hear this, because being Cuban, he loved baseball. ‘And the bad news?’
‘You’re the starting pitcher in tomorrow’s game.’”
We all groaned (as you do with jokes) and shook our heads, conveniently knocking some of the sleep out, and Joel’s tour moved on.
That hour Joel demonstrated six only slightly demanding rules:
1. Know every possible destination for every possible city, and how to get there.
2. Be able to talk up a location’s importance.
3. Adapt instantly and effectively.
4. If using another language, have 99.9% of your lexicon listo, only words like “apartheid” get a pass.
5. Have the answer to every question.
6. Keep an awful joke on hand to make people groan themselves awake.
That’s six, anything else I need to know before you’d take my tour?
What good or bad guides have you had?
(For a great story of the latter, check out this story from Iran on the wonderful Where To Next? blog.)
Come be a tour guide in central Australia. Another company at Uluru is looking for guides. No experience necessary!
I did an amazing walking tour in San Francisco actually. These two guys ran the company and they had 2 tours both were great. They incorporated witty songs into the tour. Look them up for sure.
I’ve got to say from current experience that tour guide life is amazing!
Tour guiding in Oz would be fantastic! I’ll put that in The Hat of Dreams… And look up the San Franciscans too (you don’t happen to remember their company name, do you?)
Surpassingly glad as always to hear you’re doing well, Denni!
You know I forwarded this to Joel 🙂
HUMMMM we keep a talking there dear secret facilitator
From: Vagabond Urges Reply-To: Vagabond Urges Date: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 5:04 AM To: Malia Everette Subject: [New post] 6 Ways to be better at my secret aspiration
WordPress.com vagabondurges posted: “Want to know a secret? I¹d love to try being a tour guide. Sssh! Don¹t tell! My prior experience with tour guides was when they would glower at me, suspecting me of eavesdropping on their spiel about the Coliseum/temple/painting, or of being poised to “
Ha! If I’d known he would ever read it, I would have said even nicer things! 😉
If you tour guide in central Australia, be sure to come to Canberra and I’ll show you around. 🙂
Ay carumba, Australia’s getting more and more appealing by the moment! Y’all’re going to pull me right out of Latin America before I know it!
You should totally be a tour guide. Travel the world and be a tour guide each place you go. I do believe you were born for it.
🙂 It feels that way some days. Now I just have to elbow past all the other fish vying for the job!
I was living in Singapore when they started to empty out the last perpetual graveyards. As I understand the system now one can be buried for only a period of time (I think fifteen years) and then whatever remains must be cremated or, I suppose, exported.
I didn’t know Singapore did a similar thing. Somehow it doesn’t surprise me, from that very efficient, pragmatic, and modern nation.
Exported, that’s an interesting dimension I hadn’t considered. Family abroad? What if unclaimed bodies were sold as…what…souvenirs? Collectibles?
I find that enthusiasm is the key word. The autopilot version is horrible 😉
Thank you for a great reflective post ❤
I think you’re exactly right. (The two companies I’m looking at would probably allow for a wide variety of destinations, so hopefully I’d never degenerate to autopilot, but if you suspect I have, give me a wake-up call!)
I’ll do that 🙂
All the best,
It is worthwhile, challenging, and fun. And I’m guessing you never knew I was a tour guide once. I agree you should give it a try, you’d be amazing. Also, you’re forgetting the most important rule of *becoming* a tour guide – they’ve never been there before, so it’s not like they’re going to call you out.
I didn’t know that! When, where? And very true that they shouldn’t know any better, I like that! The other rule I learned (while more formally observing a guide in Belgium) was “Don’t talk about anything you can’t show”, but that’s true, they never specified that you have to tell the truth!
Yup! I think you would be missing your calling not to give it a go! Reading this you sound LIKE Joel!!! And besides you could really put your Scottish accent to even better use. Learn new accents and you already can be corny as Hell on a dime! I can vouch for it! 🙂
If I can find a career where being corny is an asset? I’ll take it.
You should definitely apply. This one’s going to sound a little specific, but if you get a retired man who likes to upstage everyone by telling even worse jokes than you do, feel free to put him in his place. He’ll respect that. Also, give him a job to do. He obviously likes to have attention so he can be your cat-herder and he won’t get in your way. Then everyone will get along just fine.
Don’t ask me how I know that one.
hahahaha I’ll keep an eye out for him. And for trips for the kids, then hope that you’d give us a positive review on your blog..!
I’m sure I’d have nothing but praise!
I had a ‘tour guide’ recently in Guatemala, a young guy who walked way up ahead and spent a lot of time with his headphones on! I guess he gets tired of going to the same place every day.
hahaha That makes me feel better, thank you. I might forget what date the Ponte Vecchio was built, but at least my ears are open.