As I said last week, this is the last in this series of Friendly Friday: meet … challenges, as I’m planning a shake-up for the New Year. So I’m finishing the series by introducing you to some of the most amazing, wonderful, helpful and knowledgeable guides I’ve met on my travels.
And because there are several I would like you to meet I’ve split this into two posts. Last week I introduced you to some guides in Oman; this week I want you to meet some from other countries.
Mehar in India
Mehar was not, strictly speaking, a guide. We first met him in Delhi, where, along with our guide there, Rajesh, he met us at the airport on arrival. The next day he drove us around the city, coping admirably with the challenges of the manic Delhi traffic. He then drove down to Agra, meeting us off the train there the next day and driving us on our sightseeing tour there too.
But it was only on the following day, when the three of us set off together on the long drive to Jaipur without an accompanying guide, that we started to get to know him. We were to find that when a guide was with us Mehar largely kept quiet and focused only on driving; but once alone with him he would become not only driver but also unofficial guide, telling us a lot about the places we were passing through and about the way of life in India. We also learned about him and his family; his village in the north, his wife and children, his life as a driver. In return he asked us about England; what it was like to drive there (very, very different from India, we said), houses, lifestyle.
Throughout our tour he looked after us very well; he drove safely (by Indian standards!); recommend good places for us to grab some lunch or a cold drink (none of which caused us any health problems); and was always willing to stop for photos when we asked, and to spot good photo opps even when we didn’t: antelopes, camels, farming activity, etc. He also added a few additional sightseeing stops not on the official itinerary, such as the Demoiselle Cranes at Khichan. And it was thanks to him that we received a warm welcome in the Thar Desert.
Our time with Mehar ended when he dropped us at the Tiger Den Resort in Ranthambore. We were sad to say goodbye to him. So we were very happy to see him again briefly when we bumped into him at the station in Delhi where he was picking up another couple of tourists who had been on the same train as ourselves. They will have had a safe transfer to their hotel, I am sure; but they weren’t as fortunate as we were to have had the pleasure of travelling with and getting to know a great driver, Mehar Chand.
Habib in Gambia
On arrival at Ngala Lodge in Gambia we had not only been told about the organised tours, only one of which we chose to do, but also the possibility to book a private local driver/guide through reception. The guide of choice here was (and still is, judging by reviews) Habib; and we were able to secure his services for two morning trips. After chatting to us then and making some suggestions he came up with a great programme. During the course of those two mornings we went all over the immediate area, visiting (among other places) Serekunda Market; the Botanical Gardens; Kachikally Crocodile Pool; and the Cape where the Gambia River meets the sea.
During the first outing we chatted quite a bit about football; of course we mentioned that we were Newcastle United supporters. Habib told us that he had a Newcastle strip, a gift from a previous client, and promised to wear it the next day in our honour. We weren’t sure whether to believe him: ‘Let’s see’, we said! Well, slightly to our surprise, he did indeed turn up in a Newcastle strip, as you can see below.
We found Habib to be very knowledgeable and great company. He looked after us well, especially in the mania of the market. After our return from The Gambia I wrote a number of reviews on Virtual Tourist including of course a very positive one about him. We had exchanged email addresses, so that I could include his contact details in my review. I duly sent him an email with a link to the review, asking him to let me know if I’d said anything incorrect and/or if he was happy with the photos of him I’d posted alongside it.
The next evening I was sitting at home when my phone rang. It was Habib calling, having found my number in my email signature, to thank me for the review. He was so pleased with it, as up to now, although people writing reviews of Ngala Lodge quite often recommended him, no one had ever written a review solely about him! And I was equally happy that he had gone to the trouble, and the expense, of calling me to say thank you rather than just reply to my email. A lovely man!
Guides in North Korea
While I’ve focused on these four, we have had many other excellent guides over the years. Special mention must go to the lovely lady who guided us around North Korea. She looked after us so well. We were all very grateful for her help, her company and her patience with our occasional struggles to understand the regulations of her country. I cannot however name her here. However careful I have been to provide a balanced perspective on our visit in my various blog posts, it is possible that I could have said something that would not be 100% popular there. That would reflect poorly on the guides who, it might be thought, should have taught me more carefully about what is considered acceptable.
I can however safely mention Carl, the guide from our UK company Regent Holidays. A recognised expert on North Korea, he was key to our enjoyment of the tour. Carl made sure we always knew what was expected of us and what might be frowned upon. He provided additional information that gave context to what our local guides told us. He worked with our North Korean guide when a tropical storm disrupted our itinerary; together they ensured that although plans had to change no key sights were skipped. And he was excellent company, helping to bond our little group.
Some others I recall with pleasure include knowledgeable Fabian, our guide aboard the Angelito in the Galápagos. And Van, who introduced us to the street food delights of Phnom Penh; and shared moving insights about the horrors of the Killing Fields. Reginald looked after us well on our first safari adventure in Tanzania, even when a bull elephant threatened to charge our jeep. And Andrew led our tour of Japan, acting not so much as guide (it was a very light-touch approach) but facilitator.
There have been many others over the years with whom we spent just a day or part of a day. But now it’s your turn. If you didn’t get around to joining in last time, or even if you did, do share some stories of any great guides you’ve had, or maybe any disastrous ones! They could be from organised tours (group or private), day trips or even informal local guides, including friends. If someone helped you get more out of your visit to a destination, I’d love to hear about it!
Please leave a comment and tag your post Friendly Friday (#friendlyfriday) if you want me to find it, as pingbacks tend not to work on my site. Thank you.
Thank you to those of you who have already shared accounts of guides you have spent time with:
- Sandy told us about several amazing guides: https://thesandychronicles.blog/2021/11/20/friendly-friday-meet-some-amazing-guides/
- Amanda introduced us to Hans Olav, a Viking from Trondheim: https://forestwoodfolkart.wordpress.com/2021/11/22/vaernes-to-hell-and-back/
Do check out these posts; they may well inspire you to share your own experiences!
And as I said, in the New Year I will be shaking things up a bit. Watch this space!