BEHIND THE SCENES - THE LIFE OF AN ECOTOUR GUIDE IN MEXICO
By Griffin Page
Naturalist ~ Eco-guide
What is ecotourism? What does an ecotour guide do? How do you become one? What does it take to be a good one? What is a typical day for a guide? What are its rewards? And finally, what is it like to be an ecotour guide in Mexico?
So many questions!
One has to appreciate how fortunate they are to be able to work within such an area that is the Bay of Banderas. It consists of a multitude of different little towns and is actually located within 2 Mexican states; The State of Jalisco and the State of Nayarit. The Bay of Banderas is located approximately half way down the Pacific coast of Mexico, Puerto Vallarta being one of the most popular vacation destination on the bay.
For me to more clearly explain what ecotourism is, let me present you with a diagram.
A form of travel that has as an objective the realization of recreational activities in direct contact with nature and cultural expressions of the visited area with an attitude of respect, enjoyment, desire for learning and participation in conservation of natural and cultural resources.
A form of travel that has as an objective the practice of a sport in a natural environment.
A form of travel that has as an objective the appreciation and discovery of nature’s fauna and flora through contact with the natural environment.
Observation of fossils and ecosystems
A form of travel that has as an objective the interaction with a local community in order to experience first hand their social culture and daily living practices.
* Of course, all 3 subcategories of alternative tourism can be accomplished in one trip to a selected area, providing there are respectable companies offering such services in that area.
** Many ecotour companies offer both ecotourism and adventure tourism in their respective activity listings.
It is unfortunate that some companies chose to use the word "Ecotour" loosely and do not provide professional services or do not comply with the strict guidelines prescribed by true ecotourism. If helping conservation and learning while enjoying a pleasant activity is your goal, do a little research on the company you plan to call on or simply send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
and it will be my pleasure to put you on the right path. Spend your money on a good cause while knowing you are helping to conserve the beauty you are witnessing so your children may have the opportunity to enjoy it with their children later.
A long list you say! True, but most of you probably have many or at least some of these skills already. The trick is to acquire those you are missing. There are many ways to acquire the skills or knowledge you will need to be a good guide. For example, Workshops may be available to you in reading body language (this may be very helpful in noticing someone who may be nervous or on the edge of panic as it is very important to catch it and alleviate it before it escalates and becomes a danger to you or your group). Good books and field guides are necessary to learn about the natural habitat you wish to work in. Taking an accredited first aid course designed for the type of activity you wish to guide and keeping your skills up to date. Of course, going on tours and watching a professional guide do his thing works wonders in a fast way. And if you want to be an exceptional guide, go the extra mile! Keep in mind that your studying days will never be over.......there's always something new to learn and that, I think, is the best part! Mexico requires certification to work as a guide and offers certifcation courses locally.
A good guide...
~ articulates well.
~ uses non verbal language.
~ has a professional and pleasant attitude.
~ provides the participants with all necessary information.
~ gets people involved.
~ has clear objectives planned for each tour.
~ adapts to the audience.
~ delivers his message in a fun and pleasant way
~ has good structure in each presentation.
~ suggests actions that help conservation.
~ uses understandable and interesting language.
~ has good knowledge of the different animals or plants expected to be seen in each tour.
~ is adept in group management.
~ has good skills and up to date knowledge in first aid.
~ has an ability to manage difficult questions.
~ carries appropriate equipment.
~ evaluates each presentation at the end of each tour.
~ shows respect to all things.
~ and of course, has some common sense!
In order to describe a typical day in the life of an ecotour guide, let me to use one of the whale watching tours as a perfect example. Whale watching is available from mid December to March 30th and is very popular due to the beauty and acrobatics particular to the Humpback Whale which visits our bay every year to give birth or reproduce.
As you arrive at your pick-up point, you are warmly greeted by a guide. Comfortably seated in an air-conditioned mini-van, you are driven to Punta de Mita (quaint little fishing town on the north-west point of the bay) while your guide describes the different towns you pass along the way.
Once you arrive at a selected restaurant, you are served a light breakfast, while one of the guides gives you an informative oral and visual presentation on the Humpback whale. You then board the boats in groups of no more than 8 or 10 and go in search of this magnificent creature. One can never guarantee the sighting of a whale since the bay isn't an aquarium but there is around 90% to 95% of chances of seeing one or more whales since the bay is their preferred area of activity in the period between December 15th and March 15th. You will also most likely get the chance to listen to the whale's unique singing as most of the serious companies carry hydrophones on each boat. In order to give you a complete experience, after about 2 hours of whale watching, you will then go snorkeling at our beautiful Marietas Islands. A nice refreshing dip as you admire colorful tropical reef fish and enjoy the special birds of the sanctuary of the islands.
Afterwards, you can enjoy a delicious lunch. You are then safely returned to your respective hotels. You will definitely come back enlightened and perhaps with some great pictures you have taken. But don't worry if you're not sure your pictures will turn out. You can send me a message and I can send you my personal catalog of ready for framing "souvenir pictures" for you and your family to commemorate your unforgettable experience.
You may find it interesting to know that most, if not all, the serious whale watching companies participate in the Humpback whale identification catalog and participate in on-going research to help this spectacular endangered species. So, some of the monies collected on those tours are given to research.
All this, of course, is what you'll experience and enjoy. What you don't see, is the work that goes on behind every successful tour. The preparation for each activity begins the evening before with the purchase of some of the food and refreshments, double-checking of all equipment, gear and vehicles. The revision of the client lists and coordination of the guides scheduled to give you the best and safest experience possible is also done the evening before. At the end of each tour, the cleaning of gear, equipment and vehicles takes place as well as the preparations of the next day's planned activities.
The working day of a guide is a long one but the rewards are well worth the effort. For each guide, the rewards may vary. So here, I can only speak for myself. The best on my list of rewards is: Job Satisfaction! This includes: ~ Going to bed every night with a smile on my face and a feeling of accomplishment which comes from knowing I did something positive for the conservation of the environment. ~ Seeing the delightful smiles and expressions of awe on the faces of the participants (true, the tips offered to us at the end of a tour is one way of evaluating their level of satisfaction but I find that a genuine smile and that sparkle in their eyes is often more accurate). ~ having the opportunity to educate people and therefore plant the seeds of hope for the future of our lovely living planet. And last but not least... being able to earn a living while enjoying the outdoors and all the beauty it has to offer.
You have probably noticed that I didn't mention money as one of the rewards. If you have ever thought of becoming an ecotour guide, it is important for you to know that it is not a profession that will make you rich, even if you plan on owning your own ecotour company some day. Never forget that any business which depends on the fluctuations of tourism has high and low periods of activity. That a lot of the moneys gained in the high season must be put aside to support you in the months of low or no activity. If you manage your money well, you can also use those quiet months to further your studies and better your skills. Guides do this type of work mostly because of their love of nature and their desire to participate and therefore help protect the environment in which they work.
Aside from the constantly ongoing studying and the long hours, the work of a guide may also be physically and emotionally tiring. Any one of you who has ever managed a group surely knows this. A good guide will remain calm, accommodating and keep a smile on his face at all times. By now perhaps, if you have ever thought of becoming a guide, you will have changed your mind. Or perhaps, you will have discovered it's just what you want to become. But regardless, even if the thought never occurred to you, I am sure you will now see your next guide through a different light.
Why do I work in Mexico you ask? Well, I'll be perfectly honest with you; I didn't choose Mexico, Mexico chose me!
A little over 5 years ago, I decided to change my life, turn it completely inside out is more like it. At the time, I held 2 perfectly well paying jobs back in Canada. For approximately 1.5 yrs, I sent resumes to just about every organization in the world, explaining my desire to actively participate in any conservation project available. Most didn't even give me the time of day as I didn't have pertinent knowledge or studies for that particular field. But I didn't give up, knowing that perseverance would eventually get me there. And it has! Someone in Mexico offered to take me on. I can honestly tell you that the road wasn't paved with roses and there were some really hard periods at times. I have moved around a lot in search of the right company or organization while studying with books I bought, preparing for that perfect opportunity. After another 1.5 yrs in Mexico, I finally arrived! The Bay of Banderas is that perfect opportunity with it's multitude of species, beautiful surroundings and quality tour operators. Sometimes, I still can't believe it! Over 5 years of searching and struggling but here I am. I still get teary eyed when I think about it. Tears of joy of course! There are easier ways to get here though. I have indeed taken the hard road to paradise. Someone other might have studied first and applied for work later but I didn't want to wait a minute longer. My mom used to say that what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger...... and she was right!
Mexico has a huge amount of pristine and undeveloped territory. Its biodiversity is amazing and it has or receives an incredible amount of species from all over the world. For example, 30% of all marine mammal species and 10% of all bird species reside in or annually visit Mexico. Mexico comes 1st in rank for its number of species of reptiles and 7 of the 8 world species of marine turtles (also endangered) nest on Mexican beaches. Mexico plays an important role in the conservation of the world's fauna and flora. The future of our world rests in part on the shoulders on Mexico. As you can also guess, I am very happy and proud to be playing even the smallest part in that great endeavor of protecting and restoring our beautiful home........... PLANET EARTH!