For the next six months I will be working as a tour guide in Leon, Nicaragua. Most days of the week I will be traipsing up and down volcanoes with a 25kg backpack, pitching tents and cooking up food for other tourists. This is an account of my first week as a tour guide.
You always remember your first time!
As I came trudging up to join the rest of the group, our leading guide was sat in a tree busy smoking on a cigarette. After thirty minutes of straight uphill hiking I was ready to collapse on a boulder and call it a day. “Leave me here”, I wanted to shout. But then the pride kicked in and I knew that I couldn’t turn back. It was only the second day of my six month stay and I wasn’t prepared to throw in the towel so soon. So I manned up, picked up my backpack and started uphill again.
The morning chill was still in the air and the clouds were hanging low around the volcano peak. Looking skywards the sun was trying to break through the clouds but was losing and I was cheering on the clouds. Keep the bestial heat of me for as long as possible!
This is where the trek begins to get hard, came a shout from in front and my heart sank again. But pride is a mean-old bastard; the kind of half-crazed fool that will push you to your limits just for the sake of not looking like an idiot.
But as things became harder, things actually became enjoyable. The ground had turned to shifting gravel and we had to navigate around the volcano in a path no wider than one meter (about 3 feet). To the great amusement on a fellow guide I kept on slipping down a hill and had to dig myself back up with two sticks.
An hour later came the half way point and as we stopped for a snack, the view was well worth the effort. The whole of Lake Managua stood before me and a tony cloud loomed above a tiny island that sat in the middle of the lake.
Then another two hours to the summit. For all my hard work I was greeted with a great smack of sulfurous gas that sent me into a coughing fit. To get back down we sat down and slid most of the way on our bums.
When we arrived back at the office everyone was surprised; we were expected back four hours later. I fell into a rocking chair and sipped on a cold drink of Tang – anyone who travels to Nicaragua needs to know what Tang is; it is a flavored powder of pure sugar, with a few vitamins and good stuff, that you mix with water. Every guide swears by the stuff.
In any case I was proud of my first hike. “That is the hardest hike we do for technique”, one of the lead guides told me. “Second hardest for distance”. I had conquered Momotombo on my first week! That might mean a lot to you guys, but amongst the hiking circles of Nicaragua it is a pretty special mountain; it is found on the money, the beers, the Seal of Arms, and if you mention volcanoes to an ordinary Nicaraguan, they’ll most likely only know Momotombo.
The biggest cat slut in the world!
Working as a guide doesn’t stop when the clients get back to the office and everybody has handed us tips; guides are expected to work during the week as office staff and during social events. One such task in our organization is the bi-weekly pub/trivia quiz.
Since it was my first time helping, I had an eagerness that quickly faded. We went around with pens and paper and collected the money from a very busy bar. But then I hit the bar and found it an opportune time to socialize with my fellow guides.
Pretty soon me and another English bloke were a few bottles in, and as our head guide stood at the front of the bar screaming out the questions in English and Spanish, I got the feeling we working hard enough.
More beer flowed and a tie break was called for the top two teams. The question: what is the largest number of kittens given birth by one cat? In other words, who is the biggest slut in the cat world?
Not all fun and joy!
Today I had my proper first day as a tour guide. According to a weekly schedule I was down for a volcano boarding – this is basically a hike up the volcano Cerro Negro followed by a high speed descent on a board that resembles a snowboard. I arrived in the office yesterday evening to help prepare. There were ten clients.
This entailed a twenty minute cleaning and refilling process of the water bottles, followed by visit to the local supermarket to stock up on food, which then needed cooking when we got back. After two hours everything was done.
Then five more clients came after hours to sign up. This required another trip to the supermarket and an extra half-an-hour to prep five more boards.
Two and a half hours.
Today I woke up and hour and a half early to get to the office to help prepare more equipment and organize everything for the arriving clients.
In all four hours of preparation went into trip and this is one of our shortest and easiest. When we do overnight hikes tons of food have to be prepared and the 25kg backpacks have to be loaded.