34. Tour Leader

Tourists, on the Maya Route.

On my fourth journey as a tour-guide I had to start all over again. But before I tell you more about these adventures, I have to tell you about a bad experience I had as an indirect result of tourism.

It happened on the night before I left from Quito to Cancun, Mexico.
That night I first went out with a girl I met on the bus to Quito. When I came back at 23:50h, the gate of the hostel was open. I saw nobody and thought that this was a bit strange. I walked in and heard a noise like someone was snoring. But when I walked further I found the receptionist laying on the floor, with his head in a corner between the wall and a closed. He was unconscious, he had blood on his head and was breading difficult…
I ran out for help and found in les then a minute two policemen. I explained the situation and they went with me. I let them with the victim and went looking for more staff of the hotel.
I didn’t found any more staff-members, but I did find a (old)German guy who staid already for more than 3 months in that hostel. He knew most of the people from the hostel and together we tried to call more staff members and family, while the police had moved the victim and tried to call an ambulance. To contact the owners, other staff from the hotel, or family of the victim, turned out to be difficult.
When the ambulance arrived at 0:15h, it was all a strange situation. The German and I were trying to contact someone, the medics were helping the wounded receptionist and the police was in between everything, not really knowing what to do. One of the medics asked if one of us could join them to the hospital, or otherwise they wouldn’t take the body. However before we could answer that request the poor receptionist died…
The German told me that the neighborhood had become more dangerous the last years. Probably because this is a quite street not far from the busy streets with all the tourist bars, café’s and police.
Later more (smarter) policemen arrived and finally also someone who worked for the hotel.
But the first family and the owner of the hotel didn’t arrive before 3:55u! I know this because the German and I were witnesses and we decided to stay awake, until we couldn’t do anything anymore to help. But when I left the hotel at 5am to go to the airport, the owner even asked me to pay for that night!? After everything that happened, everything we had done and experienced, I think this was a bit rude, but this wasn’t a moment to argue. Apparently she was more worried about her money than their staff…

From a negative effect of tourism to a positive goal, tourism to help preserving the environment from illegal cutting. For this goal Wilbur E Garrett, former editor of national Geographic Magazine, invented, “La Ruta Maya”, the Maya Route.
He was hoping that tourism could provide the people in this area with enough money, so they wouldn’t have to cut so many trees, for making new farming areas. If he succeeded you can read further in the story, since La Ruta del Maya was my new (fourth) tour as a tour leader. This time I would work for  Shoestring, the companion of Monkey King. It was a cultural and adventure tour from Shoestring, mend to discover the highlights of the old and new cultures in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize.

It was a new route for me to travel this way, I had a new agency to work with and  a group of 20 Dutch people. All together enough new challenges you would think, but I got some more. Like a travel-schedule that wasn’t up to date and 6 times that we had to change our watch. This was because Guatemala and Copan changed their time separately and for the first  in their existence, to summertime hours!

All right, no more complaining. It could’ve  been worse and at least I had a nice group again.
Let me tell you something about our adventures during this tour.

The tour started not to difficult. The group had some problems with the heat and someone lost her wallet. Not nice for her, but things like that always seem to happen. And the heat? This became les of a problem further on the tour.

Our biggest adventure happened on the second night in Panajachel. I had arranged a special dinner by candle-light, on the side of Lago Attitlan, together with transportation, by boat , to and from that restaurant. We offered the young captain and his little assisted something to eat, but the captain decided to go to San Pedro.
After a great dinner our boat returned and we got back in. The minute we went away from the pier, the captain gave full throttle to the side and much to close past an other boat that was laying there on its anchor. We hit the anchor rope with our propeller and got stuck. The captain moved the propeller out of the water. I was still in front of the boat when 2 of my group members already tried to help the captain to untie the rope. When he tried to start the engine, while one of my group members was working on the propeller, we found out that he was drunk, very drunk. I decided that it was best to try to leave the boat. But how to get to the shore? We managed to pull ourselves with the second boat to a broken pier. Then we could carefully step over in the other boat and on the broken pier. While we got on the land the captain kept trying to start his engine. In the end they got away by borrowing a knife and cutting the rope, but I had already called the owner of the company to ask for a new boat and or captain.
While we were waiting for this new boat, I offered the group a drink from that company without them knowing about this, yet.
At 12 O’clock that night we finally arrived back at the hotel.

In Antigua waited us an other surprise, but this time it was a nice one. It turned out that the Pacaya volcano had just started 20 days before with pushing lava out of the ground next to its base! This was special, beautiful and spectacular to see! We could actually even step on the lava, which had just cooled down.

These were to me the most memorable moments of this tour. Which doesn’t mean that I will forget about all the other things that happened during this tour. No, I had a lot of fun tour guiding and especially this first “Maya Route” tour I will never forget.

Coming back on memorable moments. Before the tour started I was curious how places would look and how much would have been changed in these countries since I had been there two and a half year ago. I didn’t got the feeling that the places had changed much, which makes me happy. But I do think that everything became more touristy and much more expensive. This is understandable, but the part I really hate is that the staff, drivers, guides already expect a minimum of tip, before they do something. I still think that they only deserve a tip when they did their work good, or more when they did it great. Now they expect a tip no matter what service they give and that isn’t fair. In restaurants they offer a free drink to get you in, but then they at a 15% service costs to the bill, because we tourists will pay anyway. Or worse, they don’t offer a free drink and still at 15% to the bill. You also have restaurants who think that they can buy tour leaders. They offer not only a free meal, but also a 10% commission on the bill to the tour leader who brings in his or her group. I think this is bad for the neutral opinion of a tour leader. 

Yes, tourism is much more of a business on the Maya Route than it is in Peru and Bolivia. In this way you can say that Garrett reached part of his goal. Although you still see that parts of forest are cut for more wood and agriculture, tourism does brings a lot of money into this countries. I just hope that tourism is not going to destroy more of the culture in these countries. For this I put my hope on San Cristobal. In the villages around this place in Mexico, more people seem to step back in living and working in a traditional way and practicing their old rituals, because this attracts more tourists. But they don’t do it especially for the tourist, they don’t beg, they keep their self respect and tourists are only aloud to enter their villages under their rules. I think this is a good example of how tourism should work everywhere.

A little note about my friends in Ecuador: Unfortunately they still have to fight for their land and are they still not sure when and even if they will be able to start working on the land again… I wish them a lot of strength and luck.

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