Homeless Tour Guides Offer Visitors New Perspective In Barcelona

Barcelona, Spain
kygp, Flickr

Students, the elderly, history buffs and tour operators — these are the kinds of people who typically guide visitors on sightseeing expeditions around their city. But Barcelona is proving tour guides really do come from all walks of life, thanks to a new program that puts homeless people in charge of leading tourists.

The Spanish city says it’s aiming to improve the lives of the unemployed and give tourists a unique perspective on the city by offering some of Barcelona’s 3,000 homeless people the chance to guide travelers on the Hidden City Tours walk. The tour will provide visitors with a historic look at the city and hopes to open their eyes to the “social reality” of the region.The concept was inspired by a similar program employing homeless guides in Britain. The tours will begin in mid-October and be available in English and Spanish.

However, it’s not just in Europe where you’ll find travel industry workers who are homeless. The New York Times revealed today that many of the Big Apple’s homeless shelter residents hold down several jobs, including positions as security guards at JFK Airport.

The Secret Lives Of… A Tour Guide In Cartagena

Duran Duran

On the Caribbean coast of Colombia, a man named Duran Duran shares his love of Cartagena with visitors from near and far.

Some want to see the main sights, others come to explore backstreets of the colonial walled city on foot, but all leave with the benefit of this experienced guide’s knowledge of history and awareness of small details with big meaning. When Duran Duran leads the way, curious travelers learn more about the story of Cartagena than they might discover on their own.

After exploring Cartagena one morning with Duran Duran, he stopped to take a phone call away from the group. From what I could gather, he was confirming plans to meet friends for lunch and play pool for the afternoon. I got to thinking about how he lives a normal day, what he learns from people on his tours, and about how his work has influenced the way he chooses to travel.

Have you changed the way you travel since you became a tour guide?

My work has taught me that a place is not only buildings, but a lot more. Now when I travel, I get in touch with a tour guide. This gives an instant connection with local culture and the best guides customize tours in any way you want.You meet a variety of people through your work – what have you learned from these encounters?

I meet all kinds of people on my tours, and I’ve learned that everybody is just trying to be happy. Traveling and learning makes a lot of them very happy, and I’m glad to be a part of that. Visitors are also very curious about the Colombian people and have many questions on our customs and culture.

Tell me about a typical day for you – what do you do for fun? How do you spend time with your family?

I start each day with a reminder of how grateful I am for each new day in my life. I work six days a week, and go cycling three times a week. I love reading history and work on improving my command of the English language. My favorite days are spent at the beach with my wife and our kids.

In your work as a tour guide, have you learned anything unusual about Cartagena’s history?

Many local people don’t know that their names are connected to important events in the history of Cartagena and Colombia. By reading about history, I discovered that many common names have deep significance.

Do you have any advice for people visiting Cartagena for the first time?

Do not change money in the streets – under any circumstances. This is a common scam. They not only will shortchange you on the exchange, but they will take your money and give fake bills that you will not be able to spend. And if you take a photo of our palenqueras, the colorfully dressed women that carry large bowls of fruit on their heads, it is customary to leave a small tip in exchange for the beautiful photo.

If travelers want to interact with locals in Cartagena, where should they begin?

Travelers should venture to a regular neighborhood like Getsemani, to wander the streets and eat the traditional food of Cartagena. They must also join in and dance cumbia and salsa.

Duran Duran works as a tour guide with Singular Luxury Travel.

Jessica Colley is a freelance writer living in New York City.

Homeless People Give Tours In UK City

Homeless people can often be found outside of many landmarks in Bath, England – but now instead of begging for change they’re leading tour groups.

The initiative is the brainchild of Dr. Luke Tregidgo, a former student at the University of Bath, who is working to solve one of Bath’s biggest social problems by leveraging the city’s greatest asset – its tourists.

Dubbed Secret City Tours, the new program promises, “the most entertaining guided walking tours of Bath, combining the city’s most popular destinations with hidden gems and undiscovered stories that you won’t find anywhere else.”

Bath’s homeless are already biting at the chance to become guides, and a local theater group is helping to train them. And don’t worry: they won’t be showing off the underside of bridges or abandoned buildings – the homeless guides will actually be taking tourists through Bath landmarks like the Crescent, the Roman Baths and the Abbey. And soon, the guides will hopefully earn enough money that you can’t call them “homeless” after all.

[Via Skift]

[Photo credit: Flickr user Andy Welsher]

Bad Trip: How To Annoy Your Tour Guide

donkeyWe’ve all been there. Maybe we’ve been one. The person on a guided tour or trip who’s a complete, utter, pain in the ass.

Perhaps it’s unintentional. Maybe it’s due to deep-seated issues that would cause empathy in another situation. Or just possibly, it’s because the person in question gets off on being a jerk. Does it matter? Whether they provide unwitting entertainment or seething aggravation, that person manages to disrupt others’ enjoyment of the experience. The person who really suffers, however, is the guide.

I’ve had good guides, bad guides, guides who should be nominated for sainthood, but regardless of their skill, they have a difficult job. It’s not easy to wrangle any combination of clueless, headstrong, enthusiastic and grumpy tourists, and get them to points A, B and C on schedule – ideally with an unfailingly polite attitude and unwavering smile on your face. It’s a gift, being a guide possessed of technical, personal and mental skills.

Even those who love to travel solo occasionally require the services of a guide. Thirteen years as a travel journalist has given me a lot of material (in part because my favorite thing to ask guides for are bad client stories).

As a holiday gift, I’m providing a list on how to annoy your guide. Follow it, and I promise you’ll always be remembered – just not fondly.

Wear inappropriate clothing/shoes
I had an absolutely priceless two days in the Atacama Desert last year with two middle-aged Chilean couples. Read: they were such drunken louts, it was painful for the rest of us to keep our mouths shut. My favorite experience with them was on a late-afternoon hike of the stunning Kari Gorge.

The key word here is “hike.” To which one of them, a spoiled Santiaguino physician’s wife, wore staggeringly high boots with a narrow wedge heel. She was also completely shit-faced, so when she wasn’t face-planting on the rocky floor of the gorge, she was screaming at her worthless husband to help her climb up the craggier parts of the trail. The rest of our small group finally broke down and pitied her as we summited a steep, mile-long sand dune. She was openly weeping at that point, clutching her chest in panic (a chain-smoker, she thought she was having a heart attack; ironically, her cardiologist husband was the least concerned of all of us).

Because we had to spend so much time waiting for her, we nearly missed the highlight of the excursion, which was watching the sunset from atop a cliff. By not bothering to check what kind of outing she was taking, she kept the rest of us at her mercy, tested our guide’s patience, and subjected us to her marital issues. Um, awkward.whiningOverstate your abilities
Along the same lines, this woman wasn’t fit enough to master a climb up a flight of stairs. It’s not just inconsiderate to fail to accurately access your physical abilities; it can be deadly. At best, it will ensure you and your guide (who will have no choice but to coddle and devote extra time to you) have a miserable time; at worst, you may well end up having that coronary in a sand dune. Don’t be that person.

Bring your bad attitude with you
True story from a sea-kayaking/orca-watching trip I took last summer. We were on the northern tip of San Juan Island, just miles off of Vancouver Island (i.e. Canada). Our guide pointed out this interesting fact to us, which elicited the following response from the one unfriendly person in our group. She was a taciturn woman in her 30s, a self-professed “bird-lady” who owned 12 parrots.

Annoying Client: I made a promise to myself to never leave this country for any reason, whatsoever.

Hapless Guide: That’s an interesting promise. Why?

AC: Because I believe in America. I don’t ever want to support another country’s economy. Why should I? I even go out of my way to buy products made here.

HG: Aah….hmmmm. Okaaay.

I’m not sure what I love most about this incident: that this woman knowingly took a trip to the Canadian border, or that she supports exotic bird smuggling from foreign countries.

Be late/unprepared
A great way to piss off your guide, and everyone else in your group. Also helpful in ensuring you won’t get your money’s worth from your trip or tour, since the schedule will be compromised. This one’s a winner!

Whine
Because nothing is better for group morale than someone who complains about everything.

Engage in excessive PDA with your significant other
It may start off as amusing for your guide and fellow travelers. Trust me, by trip’s end, they’ll be ready to kill you. Get a room.
camping
Don’t pitch in
Hey, Princess. I know you paid a chunk of change for this (fill in the blank: raft trip/backpacking trip/guest ranch stay). So did everyone else. But your guide and support staff are working their fingers to the bone for very little pay because they love what they do. You know what else they love? Guests or clients who make even the smallest effort to help them out. Ask where you should stash your gear, collect firewood, help chop vegetables or cook dinner (right). Not only will you gain their respect and gratitude, you may even enjoy yourself.

Be high-maintenance
It’s not all about you. You have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting into when you sign up.

Forget to mention your “dietary restrictions”/preferences
Travel companies are savvy enough these days to always include a section for this on their registration forms; I’m not talking about legitimate food allergies or intolerances. But please be honest, not ridiculous, and if you don’t like what’s being served, be polite about it – especially if you’re in a foreign country.

Refuse to interact with your group
I can be a bit of an introvert, so I get how hard it can be to socialize with a group when you’re just not feeling it. But guides tend to stress about the lone client, and feel pressure to ensure they’re having a good time. If you really don’t feel like socializing, assure your guide that you’re just shy, but having a great time. Otherwise, I really recommend faking it till you make it. Once I come out of my shell, I’m usually grateful, because I end up meeting fantastic people who make my experience that much more interesting.

[Photo credits: donkey, Flickr user jaxxon; sign, Flickr user frotzed2; cooking, Laurel Miller]

What You Need To Know To Successfully Hike The Inca Trail


machu picchu


For those looking to hike the Inca Trail in Peru, there is a lot of conflicting information when you search the web. To help you prepare and do it right, here is a guide on how to successfully hike the Inca Trail.

Why Hike To Machu Picchu

If you’re just looking to see Machu Picchu, you don’t necessarily have to hike, as there are also bus and train options. That being said, I personally recommend hiking to it if you are physically able to do so. By hiking the Inca Trail, you’re immersing yourself in the world of the Incas that much more by traversing the same path they did hundreds of years ago. You’ll visit numerous other ruins along the way, making the information your guides give you more visual. And, the sense of pride you’ll feel once you reach Machu Picchu on foot will be well worth any of the harder sections of the trek.

Getting In

Fly into Cuzco, Peru. This is where tour companies leave from, and where you’ll have your orientation the night before the trek.When To Book

While I’m usually a bit of a slacker when it comes to booking in advance, believing tour companies just advise you to book in advance to lock you in, this is not one of those times. When I did my trek in June, I booked in November. A friend of mine who wanted to join me attempted to book the same trip in February, but it was already filled up. As soon as you know your dates, make a reservation.

The reason for this is regulations allow only 500 permits to be given per day. This covers about 200 tourists and 300 guides/porters. They’re issued on a first-come, first-serve basis until all permits have been sold out. If you’re trying to go in June through August, book six months in advance. For those looking to go April through May or September through October, four to five months in advance should be good. Even during the low season it’s still best to try to get your permit three to four months in advance as to not risk missing out.


dead woman's pass


Who To Go With

Hikers are not permitted to do the trek on their own and must go with a licensed tour company. Important things to consider when booking include how knowledgeable their tour guides are, if they’re bilingual (if you don’t speak Spanish), how they treat their porters, their stance on environment issues, how well they feed the hikers and group size. While price may be a concern, make sure to really consider why a company is so much cheaper than others. If it’s because they don’t give their porters proper gear or skimp on food, opt for the more expensive company.

I went with Llama Path, and would highly recommend them. The guides had both gone for special schooling to allow them to work in Peru’s tourism industry, and there wasn’t a question they couldn’t answer on Inca history. While informative, they were friendly with the hikers as well as the porters. The porters were treated well, having special uniforms, eating adequate meals and being made to feel like part of the group, despite the fact they didn’t hike with us during the day. As for food for the hikers, expect to eat a lot. Because you’ll be trekking almost non-stop, you’ll be constantly hungry. Each day we received a snack bag, as well as three buffet-style meals and a before-dinner tea time with hot drinks and snacks. And in the morning, you’ll be woken up with a cup of hot tea and a hot towel brought to your tent.

Another reason this company really stands out is how on the last day they made us wake up at 3:00 a.m. to get to the Sun Gate before any other group. While that may sound torturous, being the only group at Machu Picchu and having the awe-inspiring site all to ourselves was an unreal experience.

If you’re the backpacker type, you may want to look into doing a group tour with GAdventures. While I didn’t personally participate in their Inca Trail experience, their group was directly ahead of mine the entire time. I spoke with the hikers in their group – all of whom seemed to be in the young 20s to early 30s hostel crowd. They all seemed to be having a great time, loved their guides and were being well fed.

Physical Preparations

The hike is moderate, and if you’re in decent physical condition you should be able to do it. That being said, the trek reaches heights of 13,600 feet, and everyone is affected by altitude differently. Make sure to arrive into Cuzco a few days earlier to acclimate, get plenty of rest and avoid alcohol on the days leading up to the trek.

Additionally, the trail is about 30 miles total with some very challenging sections, particularly day two. First thing in the morning you trek two hours straight uphill, followed by two hours straight down, break for lunch, then continue hiking. If you’re not in shape – or even if you are – it can be quite difficult. While you don’t need to be a marathon runner, I’d suggest hitting the gym to get your endurance up beforehand.


inca trail


Packing Tips

While your company will most likely give you a packing list the night before your trek, you’ll probably want to know what you need beforehand so you’re not scrambling around.

  • To enter the Inca Trail, you’ll need your passport, which they’ll stamp for you at the entrance.
  • Bring cash with you, not only to tip your porters and guides, but to purchase snacks at some of the small villages you pass along the way.
  • Make sure to bring some waterproof clothing, shoes, a poncho and a rain jacket, as the weather can be unpredictable and you do not want to be hiking for hours in wet clothing.
  • A four-season or below 10-degree sleeping bag will keep you much warmer during chilly nights than a regular one will.
  • You’ll want to dress in layers, as your body temperature will be changing from hot to cold frequently. Additionally, warm clothing and accessories at night are a must.
  • Pack some plastic bags to ensure your clothing stays dry.
  • Don’t forget your insect repellent.
  • You’ll be reaching high altitudes and spending hours in the sun, so sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat can help protect your skin.
  • Bring medications and basic toiletries only. You probably won’t be showering unless you opt to use the cold non-complimentary showers on the third day.
  • Pack your camera, and make sure to bring spare batteries. You won’t have electricity for four days, and you’ll be taking hundreds of photos.
  • Bring toilet paper and antiseptic hand gel, as you’ll be using the “Inca toilet,” also known as the bushes, quite a bit. When there is a real toilet, it will be of the squat variety.
  • Once you’re done hiking, you’re going to want sandals to rest your feet in.
  • At night you’re going to need a flashlight. Better yet, a headlamp allows you to successfully complete the hike at dawn on the final day.
  • Your tour company will supply boiled water for you to drink, but make sure to bring a water bottle to put it in.
  • While I tried to be tough and not bring the recommended walking sticks, I will admit I wish I had them. Luckily, one girl shared hers with me and the hike was much more enjoyable.
  • If you’ll be going swimming in the hot pools in the town of Aguas Calientes bring a swimsuit. Towels can be rented there.
  • While you’ll be fed a lot as long as you go with a reputable company, I would still recommend bringing extra snacks. With all the hiking you’ll be doing, constant hunger is inevitable.

I would recommend not renting gear through your tour company, as rental shops like Speedy Gonzalez at 393 Procuradores in Cuzco are cheaper.


inca trail


What To Expect On The Trail

Machu Picchu isn’t the only Inca site you’ll see when doing the Inca Trail. You’ll pass sites like Q’entimarka (shown above), Sayaqmarka, Phuyupatamarca and Winaywayna, some of which are surprisingly developed and each of which had specific purposes for the Incas. Expect tough yet scenic sections of trekking as well as alternating climates mixed with stops at ruins and historical discussions. For example, along the way our group learned how the Incas survived longer than other cultures. This was mainly due to their ability to predict natural disasters by finding strange seashells not common in Peru. Additionally, we talked about how at first the Incas believed the Spaniards were the gods they had been waiting for and were friendly toward them until they started killing off their people. We also discussed the Incas informal language system, which incorporated colored strings, knots and sounds made by shells.

Inca Trail Alternatives

If you didn’t book the Inca Trail early enough to reserve a spot but still want to hike to Machu Pichu, some worthwhile alternatives are the Salkantay Trek, Lares Trek and Ancascocha Trek. These hikes will take you past Inca ruins and beautiful scenery, while also allowing you the sense of accomplishment when you reach Machu Picchu on the final day. Wait until you arrive in Cuzco to book these alternative treks, as you can save more than 50%.

[Images via Jessie on a Journey]