Naples hires ex-cons as tour guides

Anyone who’s read Roberto Saviano’s acclaimed book Gomorrah or seen the chilling film of the same name is already familiar with the notorious Neopolitan criminal organization called the Camorra. This massive enterprise, the oldest criminal group in Italy, makes its money mostly by trafficking drugs, illegally dumping toxic waste, and extorting money, and it’s more than willing to eliminate those who try to stand in its way.

So it makes sense that the city of Naples is offering jobs to recently-released prisoners in an attempt to keep them away from offering their services to the Camorra. But the exact job some of the ex-cons are being given might surprise you: They’re becoming tour guides.

The program, called ‘Esco-Dentro’ (‘Exit-Inside’), aims to reintegrate former inmates into society by providing them jobs, from street sweepers to sanitation workers to, yes, city tour guides.

So how are the guides doing so far? According to an article in the Global Post, the men ‘look like tourist guides, but have a hard time acting like them. Most speak only Italian, have never heard of personal space and give out tourist brochures as aggressively as a street vendor peddles stolen goods.’

On the plus side, the guides are apparently quite good at helping tourists find good pizza and avoid pickpockets. Go figure.

Whole thing here. Check out a New York Times review of the haunting, almost-too-real film Gomorrah here.

Fortune-telling on the rise in Iran

If you happen to be in Iran and want to have your fortune told, you’re in luck. The news on the streets, (in the paper-see article by Zahra Hosseinian) is that fortune tellers are on the rise. Tarot cards, reading coffee grounds, or having a love bird pick a poem written by 14th century Persian poet Hafez out of a hat are part of the process. Although fortune telling is not accepted by Islam according to the clerics there, it’s not stopping business. People of all ages and all levels of religious beliefs are heading to soothsayers.

The fortune tellers say that people who come to see them are looking for happiness and security. Security, often meaning love and wealth. That sounds a lot like the reasons anyone would head to a fortune teller. Friends of mine tell fortunes at ComFest. They set up a booth, cover a table with gauzy fabric and take out their Tarot card decks. My friends will read cards for $5 a pop.

The reasons for heading to a fortune teller also sound similar to why people might go in the U.S. Uncertainty about the future. In Iran, one reason for shaky feelings is the relationship Iran is gaining with the West. Hmmm. What is adding to some unshakiness on this side of the globe? Well, I’ll be. The relationship to Iran sort of gives a person pause.

In Iran, one fortune teller charges $21 and it takes about an hour. If you’re looking for a job that will make you loads of money. This one is probably not it. Don’t be a tour guide either.

Hiring A Guide Can Enhance a Travel Experience

I’m a huge fan of guides–not necessarily guide books, although I do use them to give me a running start on figuring out where I might head before my interests lead me in other directions, but living, breathing human guides who know a place well. These folks are worth hiring for a few hours tour–or a day. Or even a week. Guides can save lives even.

When trekking with a guide and sherpas through the Markha Valley in Ladakh and on the Annapurna trail in Nepal, I saw fliers for missing hikers who had set off on their own. Either they become lost or hurt. Regardless, they were unable to get back from what they probably imagined as a solo adventure. With thieves not uncommon in Nepal’s mountains, guides offer protection. The trails in Ladakh are so rugged and faint and head in so many directions, it would be easy to get lost. It’s certainly easy to get sick. The sounds of people in my group heaving at night from altitude sickness on my Ladakh trip was not exactly music to my ears. We had a trip that involved people cooking for us and mules carrying our bags, so I can’t fathom what it would be like to attempt 17,000 feet while carrying belongings, food.and water. And, by the way, the people who got the most sick were the ones who fancied themselves the most athletic. They pushed themselves to prove something and BAM!!! a real puke problem.

Even if you don’t need a guide to save your life, guides are a way to find out little tidbits of places and people you wouldn’t know otherwise. In Benares, (Varanasi) India, we hired a guide for a day who took us on a city tour that began early in the morning and ended late in the day. We clicked immediately and since we were traveling with our son, who was not yet a year and a half, and our daughter who was nine, having him take us to a boat for our crack of dawn boat ride on the Ganges River made this excursion seem less daunting. He also filled us in on facinating details about who gets cremated and who doesn’t and pointed out prominent people’s houses and details about the architecture. He also took us to places to buy the best masala tea mix and filled us in on details about trying to get a job as a professor in India’s affirmative action system. One of my favorite moments was listening to him sing in one of the temples we went to to show us how the sound carried.

When we went to Sri Lanka (before kids) but with my father, we hired a guide and a driver for the entire trip. Since we stayed in budget hotels (clean and airconditioned but no frills) and ate simple, local food, the money we spent on our guide/driver/car helped us to see most of the country in nine days. Since my dad got sick for a couple of the days, having a driver allowed for my dad to wait with someone while my husband and I continued to sightsee. Our guide also took us to his house to visit his family at the end of the trip and helped us make a delivery of art supplies and books to an school for kids with developmental delays. We could go at our own pace.

In Beijing we hired a guide to take us around for two days. He was a guide who a friend of ours knew. Besides pointing out historic details when we went to various places, he knew exactly where to shop and where to get the best, local spicy food. As my husband said, “Hurt me.” The hot pot restaurant he took us too was excellent and filled with neighborhood locals.

While living in New Delhi, we mostly headed out on our own, but one of my highlights was the personal guided tour we took with a guy named Nigel. He is British and has been giving guided tours of Old Delhi for years, but unfortunately, I think he may have stopped.

Although, I also like the experience of winging it, guide free to see what comes our way, guides can make traveling easier and provide the details you might miss otherwise. Here’s a helpful tips article, Hiring Guides in Foreign Countries from Wendy Perrin over at