Our Nat Hab Expedition Leaders really do all of it. They’re consultants at logistics, expert at navigating group dynamics, and well-versed within the nature, wildlife, tradition and historical past of the areas the place they information. Though they make it look easy, each information was as soon as confronted with the daunting job of main their first journey.
From Farm Animals to Elephants: A Information within the Making
I’m joyful to have the chance to share my story as a first-time Expedition Chief with Pure Habitat Adventures final fall. It was an exciting—but difficult—expertise! First, a fast historical past of what lead me to turn into an journey journey information.
You’ve most likely heard it one million instances: “I simply love animals.” That’s actually true for me, regardless that I come from a densely populated, industrial area in Germany. Fortunately, rising up, I used to be in a position to make frequent visits to a small farm, the place I bonded with the resident sheep, chickens and rabbits. These experiences led me to review panorama ecology at college. Just a few years later, I earned a grasp’s diploma in wildlife ecology and administration.
I acquired the prospect to work as a tour information for the primary time in Thailand. It was at an ecolodge with a couple of domesticated elephants that had retired from forestry work. Nobody rode the elephants right here—we simply watched them take mud baths and helped wash and feed them.
I cherished the job. I might see the flicker in our visitors’ eyes after they interacted with these good and delicate animals. Scrubbing mud off the again of an enormous elephant and hand-feeding it fruits was a once-in-a-lifetime expertise for many of them.
The visitors had been additionally desperate to study concerning the elephants and their pure habitat. We went on excursions into the wild forests of Khao Sok Nationwide Park to discover the complexity of the animals’ ecosystem. And once we mentioned conservation points, I might see how these talks touched folks after having established an emotional bond with the elephants.
Later, I labored for an out of doors schooling firm that organized summer time camps for youngsters. A lot of the youngsters got here from city areas (like me!) and needed to be prompted to play within the dust. I inspired them to unlearn their domestication and reconnect to their wild spirits. To reclaim their playfulness in nature. By the top of the week, youngsters who had been terribly shy on day one didn’t need to depart camp. As an alternative of crying of their mother and father arms, they had been now clinging to our legs (and hearts)!
Discovering Nat Hab: Love at First Sight
In the future, on my infinite quest to discover a function that was each significant and that will enable me to spend time in nature, I got here throughout a job posting for Pure Habitat Adventures. The corporate’s mission assertion resonated with me instantly.
“Conservation by way of exploration: defending our planet by inspiring vacationers, supporting native communities and boldly influencing all the journey trade.”
“Wow—that’s it!” I believed to myself. Nat Hab’s mission is basically my life philosophy in a nutshell. My motivation to journey the world looking for a sense of belonging and connectedness. It was what led me to Thailand for my first tour information expertise and what impressed me to turn into a pacesetter at our wilderness youngsters’ camps.
The extra I examine Pure Habitat Adventures, the extra I fell in love with it. I used to be so excited on the prospect of becoming a member of the corporate’s efforts to maintain wild locations on the planet by taking passionate vacationers into nature and supporting native communities.
It took me days to write down my cowl letter, though the phrases flowed out of me naturally, pushed by pleasure, ardour and anticipation. Then, the troublesome ready interval. Lastly, in February 2022, the ready and biting of fingernails got here to an finish. I used to be requested to interview for an Expedition Chief place. Hurray!
Lengthy story quick, simply two months later, I used to be scheduled for my first journey. I might be guiding our Paddling Portugal’s River of Wine journey.
Getting ready to Information: A Crash Course
In some ways, this isn’t your “typical” Nat Hab journey. Portugal doesn‘t have the huge swaths of wilderness or the range of untamed animals that you simply’ll see on another journeys. But it surely’s a really energetic journey, with numerous kayaking by way of lovely wine nation, which attracted me. I hadn’t been to Portugal earlier than, however I had needed to journey there for a very long time. This was my probability!
So, the place do you begin when making ready to information a visit? There are such a lot of elements to each location: pure and cultural historical past, geology, geography and, after all, the guiding itself. And, for Portugal, I’d additionally must take a crash course in viticulture: the science cultivating, rising and harvesting grapes!
The deeper I dove into the fabric, the extra rabbit holes I went down, and the extra questions I had. What may the visitors ask? What can be attention-grabbing for them to know? How might I mix info about nature with insights about their cultural significance? I learn and skim and skim some extra.
Speaking with Nancy Moore, who has guided in Portugal for round twenty years, and with Vitor and Pedro, two of our native Portugal guides, additionally helped enormously. They supplied invaluable recommendation, and it was great to really feel encouragement and help not solely from them, however from each staffer I interacted with at Nat Hab.
Watch Nancy’s webinar, What to Know About Your Portugal Paddling Journey.
Shadow Information: Studying within the Discipline
After months of studying, learning and getting licensed, I flew into Porto. Vitor met me together with his huge smile and Portuguese heat. He grew to become my “Tio,” or “uncle,” shortly. I used to be lastly right here! On my first shadow journey (on which I educated with Nancy), a visitor requested me: “How lengthy have you ever been ready for this?“ I hesitated and answered, “All my life!” Possibly it was a tacky reply, but it surely was how I really felt.
I watched Nancy carefully, studying the ins and outs of the itinerary, absorbing every thing I encountered like a sponge, observing and studying. On the identical time, I used to be additionally attending to know our visitors and join with them.
Porto is an interesting metropolis, however a metropolis, nonetheless. After which, once we lastly hit the Douro River: Silence. Simply the wind, some chook calls and the mild strokes of our paddles. I discovered myself smiling, basking within the serenity of the place. That is what I had been making ready for thus intensively. I really feel very grateful that I acquired to be Nancy’s shadow earlier than guiding a visit by myself. It helped me develop in each data and confidence.
After a tremendous, eye-opening first journey with Nancy, I used to be prepared to guide a visit by myself. She left, and solely Pedro, Vitor and I remained. I knew I might rely on them, and I trusted their experience in each manner. Each Vitor and Pedro made it clear that they needed me to succeed, and I can’t thank them sufficient for giving me that feeling. It made my expertise as a first-time Expedition Chief that a lot simpler.
Guiding My First Group (Lastly!)
The day had come. It was time to choose up our visitors—the primary visitors who would name me their “Expedition Chief.” It didn‘t take lengthy for them to comprehend how enthusiastic I felt about assembly them. Throughout our “Welcome to Portugal” discuss, as folks sat on comfy sofas with glasses of wine and delightful views over Porto, I shortly gained confidence, going over our plan for the upcoming journey. I knew it so nicely by now. I’ve to say, our vacationers made it straightforward for me to chill out and really feel excited, as an alternative of nervous. So many joyful faces, and a lot laughter and willingness to get to know one another and expertise Portugal.
Being with Vitor and Pedro all the time gave me an additional feeling of assurance. Nonetheless, I knew I might be by myself on the river. Fortunately, the water was so form to us on our first day: robust headwinds and no present for our longest stretch of paddling on the journey. Good situations, proper? Improper! We most likely might have sailed in the wrong way, upstream!
It was a tough begin, however with the hearts of lions and the promise of a glass of wine, a scrumptious dinner, and cozy lodging, we acquired by way of it as a crew. In reality, the hardships served as a bonding expertise: We had confronted challenges and are available out on the opposite facet! That is the “Journey” in “Pure Habitat Adventures.” That is the sensation of being alive and remodeled by way of difficult oneself.
After this expertise, I used to be certain that the remainder of the journey was going to be simpler—at the least when it got here to kayaking.
As we made our manner downstream over the subsequent few days, we gazed on the terraced mountainsides, which stretched so far as the attention might see. It’s humbling to witness these feats of human ingenuity—to comprehend the folks of the previous remodeled a whole panorama to outlive. The socalcos—the outdated stone-walled terraces—are a logo of our adaptability and perseverance.
With this sense of awe and marvel, we paddled alongside the banks of the Douro. I interpreted alongside the way in which and helped to maintain the group collectively. However, most frequently, I simply tried to assist our vacationers perceive how particular and distinctive this land is. It wasn’t a troublesome job. There was the identical sparkle of their eyes that I had seen within the eyes of my visitors in Thailand so a few years in the past.
Attending to Know You
After an extended day on the river, we all the time seemed ahead to a calming—and sometimes enchanting—night. Restored farmsteads, luxurious guesthouses, stone retreats, historic manor houses: the locations we stayed in had been merely beautiful. Extra necessary, nevertheless, had been the connections with the native workers, who made them actually really feel like houses away from house. These relationships typically return years and years, and you’ll really feel that in each interplay. They actually care about their Nat Hab visitors!
Together with paddling the river and admiring the fantastic thing about the wine terraces, there was one other facet of my first guiding expertise that I cherished: attending to know our vacationers. Sitting at dinner, sipping a glass of wine, looking on the beautiful views, I discovered a lot about—and from—our visitors. I cherished the laughter and the nice and cozy, pleasant ambiance. It’s immensely rewarding to observe a gaggle of strangers begin to take care of and about one another—a dynamic that we all the time hope to assist foster as Expedition Leaders.
In fact, throughout our excursions and our night discussions, questions got here up that I couldn’t reply. I needed to be sincere with our visitors— and with myself—that I don‘t know every thing. Not but, and possibly not ever! On the identical time, I hope I confirmed them that I’m all the time prepared to study extra. I’ve to confess, although: It may really feel like a failure or disappointment to not know the reply. To beat that feeling, I attempted my finest to return again to them as quickly as doable with the reply and a smile.
Reflections on My First Journey—And Extra to Come
Maybe most vacationers would like a information with years of expertise and tons of accomplished journeys underneath their belt. Somebody who is aware of every thing and who has finished all of it. And little doubt: Nat Hab has a large number of outstanding and super-experienced Expedition Leaders. But it surely’s necessary to do not forget that all of these great guides needed to begin someplace! One journey and one group all the time must be the primary—hopefully with many extra to return.
So, do you have to encounter a brand new Expedition Chief on considered one of your journeys, I hope you’ll welcome them to Nat Hab the way in which Nat Hab has welcomed me, with open arms. I’m actually grateful for the way in which my group of vacationers responded, after they discovered on the last celebration dinner that this was my first journey: with heat, a whole lot of shock, and a spherical of applause.
I’m certain I’ll come again to Vitor and Pedro and their heat and hospitality, which encapsulates the Portuguese soul so completely. I do know the Douro Valley will see my smile once more, as I kayak on the river of wine and gold. And I hope I get to see my first group of vacationers once more, whether or not in Portugal or on one other journey!