Archive for June, 2011
Here’s a video I captured at my home for the a month, Italy’s island of Capri. Okay, it wasn’t really my home, but twice a week I led groups on a private boat tour around the island, pointing out the exquisite rock formations and dramatic cliffs that fell right into the sea. After we arrived, I sent my group out on their own and, “for their benefit,” I told them I’d be at the beach all day if they needed anything. I then spent the rest of the day chilling out at this beautiful beach; reading, listening to my iPod and napping. After about five hours, my group would come back to join me and we’d chill out and drink beers while we waited for the ferry to take us back to the mainland.
“I’m wearing my sunglasses of optimism, guys!” I say in an over-the-top cheery tone. It’s 6:50 in the morning and I’m leading a 40 people along the Amalfi Coast, a drive that is usually one of the top five most beautiful in the world, but today looks downright dreary. I can see that the skies are preparing to pour down on us, and by the time we reach the town of Amalfi, the rain begins. Power outages throughout the town create for last minute changes in the itinerary. People are damp when they return to the bus two hours later, but that was only the beginning. The moment we reach our lunch stop high in the mountaintop town of Ravello, it starts raining cats and dogs. We’re talking hurricane-force, higher-water-pressure-than-your-shower style rain. By the time I realize this though, I have the entire bus walking toward the town. There’s no turning back. My sandal, wanting to add to the pressure of tour guiding, decides now would be the best time to snap in two. I rip off my shoes and continue toward some cover at a tunnel. Most are taking it in stride, but I can see I’m at the verge of mutiny on my bus. We are all soaked to the bone. My rain jacket works great — but pours all the water on my jeans, saturating my clothes down to my underwear.
I drop off my tour group at the designated sandwich shop, then sprint through the rain, negotiating the price of towels. Unfortunately for me, Ravello is known for fine knitwear and embroidery. I use my broken Italian and the shopkeeps use their broken English to negotiate
I step into the store, dripping wet. “Io sono capogroupo,.” I say (I am the head of my group).
“Ahhhhh, capogroupo, si, si”
“Io….necessito…um, I need towels, to dry.” I get a puzzled look. “Dry off,” I say, miming using a towel. “For thirty people, per favore.”
“Ah, si, si. Towel, uno, thirty euro.”
“No, no, I need thirty towels.”
“Ahhh, thirty towels! Three hundred euro.”
And so it goes, as I spend thirty minutes, running from shop to shop. Eventually, I find a place wiling to sell me twelve towels for €50, so I take what I can get and present the towels to my very appreciative group on the bus.
This is my life now. The life of a tour guide, a capogroupo. For seven weeks I endured the most intense job-training period of my life and emerged with what sometimes feels like a masters degree in European history and geography. My knowledge is a mile long and an inch deep. I live nowhere and everywhere all at once. My friends are also my clients. I’m expected to be fun and party with my friendclients, but not drink too much (but not too little either, for fear of appearing like I’m no fun). I’ve perfected the art of “smoke-bombing out,” at the end of the night, where I leave without saying goodbye so the group will continue with their fun without realizing the guide has left. I’ve made great bonds and connections with clientfriends who I will likely never see again.
It’s a strange life, this life of a tour guide. Many times I’ve woken up unsure of what country I’m in or what language I need to be speaking. I’ve also learned about the perks of being a tourguide, because they don’t stop with the amazing workplace setting. Freebies are a way of life. I rarely reach into my own wallet. Suppliers want to keep us guides happy so we keep bringing groups back, so eating for free, drinking for free and going on tours for free more than make up for the slightly below-average pay. I also have become adept at noticing tiny little things. Never again will I be able to pass a laundromat and not note the price of a load of washing. I have an excellent ATM-radar. Pass a cashpoint once, and I’ll never forget it again. These are the pieces of information that a tour guide needs, more so than the history of the French Revolution, we need to know the exact location and price of public toilets, the dates of public holidays and how it wil affect travel through a city and even the contact info for foreign embassies in every city.
I spend many mornings waking up in a cold sweat, hours before my alarm goes off, panicked that I’ve already slept through it. I compulsively count the number of people in my group, even when I’m off the clock. There’s no such thing as a day off for a tour guide, days off are nothing but paperwork days, but I can hardly complain. After all, days “on” involve laying by the beach, eating free food and getting paid to travel. I’ve given up hope on getting a day to myself or every having a reliable internet connection again, but when this is your job, small sacrifices are ones I’ll willingly make. Now, as I bring my group from Ravello to Rome, I will check them all in to their accommodation, head to bed, and wake up bright and early at 7am to start it all over again with my next tour.