Notes from a tour leader, part one; Finch Bay, Galapagos

I am sitting at Finch Bay Hotel on the island of Santa Cruz, one of the Enchanted Islands of the Galapagos. I feel both genuinly privileged and happy, but I am probably as tired as when I got back to Sanaa by camel less than three weeks ago. I have just ordered a cold beer and a plate of grilled local fish with chips. I have been travelling with my group since a week back and it has been a fantastic trip! Much due to the fact that I have a great group, and that the local guides, bus drivers and baggage handlers are really superb! -I had almost forgotten how great the Ecuadorian people are!- and that most things with Oktogos present partner works relatively smooth.

I would just like to share a few reports with you readers regarding the life as a tour leader, since I get a lot of questions on this subject. And, first of all, it is a very priviliged life, but it is also a very demanding job, since I always want to be the best guide they have had and I always want my clients to feel that this was really their trip of a life time, when they return back home!

Obviously the most important for a tour leader is to get a group which have a genuine interest in the places on the itinerary and who are curious and continuously want to know more. I have been very privileged every time with this kind of a group and that makes me learn a lot as well! On top of that, you need to have a partner, which can offer you really good local guides, bus drivers and baggage handlers, plus so to that things run smoothly. And I have been pretty lucky even there. Especially as regards to the local guides,  bus drivers and handlers, they have been really, really good almost always. Especially in South America.

This time, I have a group of 12 more or less retired people, but they are all so full of beans, so it is no difference to having a bunch of youngsters! I set off to Quito, our starting point, a couple of days before the group, to meet the guide to be the first couple of days, get back into the Spanish, -which wasn´t easy initially and I ended up saying mashallah, shukran, alhamdullilahi, bismallahi far too often- and trying to handle the jet leg, which for the first five days have been difficult. Three hours average sleep, but enough until a rest day, which is tomorrow. For me it is really important getting these two days before the group also as regards to getting the full picture of the present political situation and what is going on in the country, to add on to all that reading done before the trip. Doing a tour is quite like doing an Expedition, because a lot of research is needed in advance. In my case I have a genuine interest in the history of the Incas, the conquistadors and Simon Bolivar, so I kind of up date myself there all the time. What was needed very much was once again to learn that amazing variety of bird life that you see on the Galapagos Islands and their behavior and curiosities. So I read, of course, all 14 hours crossing the Atalantic.

It was great being back in Quito! The Ecuadorians are probably the friendliest and kindest people in the Americas and I have a lot of memories here, so in between lap top work with a lot of things dealing with the Yemeni Expedition, I talked to and met people, and the group arrived an hour late, so I went to meet them with Giovanni, the local guide for three days, at the airport at 2.30 in the morning. A tired group arrived.

Next morning we sat off for Otavalo and Hacienda Pisanqui and for the two upcoming days we all enjoyed this great part of Ecuador. Especially the two Haciendas we visited and which gave us a profound look into the former life at colonial times and we even set off on horseback for two hours one morning and I realised how much I miss horses and riding! Next trip, after the Arabian Odysseys, will no doubt be by horse! I just love riding the gaucho style!

Since than we have been on the Galapagos islands for four days and there´s no doubt, this is a place which has to be visited by anyone with an interest in the meaning of life! A personal highlight was snorkeling with sea lions, marine iguanas, sting rays, parrot fish, one blow fish, reef sharks and white tipped sharks and the amazing green turtle! One is really so close, so it feels almost like you are in a dream!

We traveled with a cruise ship in a very comfortable way, but two visits a day and lectures, that means a great trip! And great guides again! This morning we got shipped off at 6 and ended up in picturesque Puerto Ayora. My only concern and irritation is that we are dealing with the biggest tour company in Latin America and they tend to see groups of 12 people, from the office horizon, as insignificant and small. If mistakes are done, it isn´t their fault. And when we arrived at our hotel, for the first time as a Tour Leader I ended up in a shed with no amenities at all. Not even a toilet. I wasn´t very happy…this wouldn´t have happened with a smaller company who have genuine concern for everyone. Big or small. I will note this for the next time! But, on the whole, this minor irritation and problem was solved on the ground of course, as always. Thanks Tito, who gave me his own room!

It should be noted though,, the most important is my group of course! And they´re really, really great to deal with! And I genuinely love Ecuador and its people! But these are just a few jotted notes from the great but demanding life as a tour leader! I love being with people and trying to give them their best time of their life!

See the photo gallery from the last trip!

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