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Friendly Friday,  People

Friendly Friday: meet some amazing guides (part two)

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.

Others

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:

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!

17 Comments

  • rkrontheroad

    This is a wonderful series. You have created a tribute to these interesting colorful people that would otherwise might not be recognized. I had an excellent driver for three days in India who delivered me to guides in each specific site, but I most enjoyed getting to know him during long drives and learning about his family, ambition to start his own tour business, and stories of history and tales of India along the way.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Ah, your Indian driver sounds much like our Mehar who performed the same role for us. We loved getting to know him on those long drives (come to that, I loved everything about those drives!) and learned a lot about life in India from him even if he wasn’t officially there to teach us anything 😀

  • 100 Country Trek

    Virtual Tourist was my favorite site . We always shared our experiences with each other but it was shut down in 2017.
    Haven’t been to North Korea or Gambia..I should add these to my list. Great images.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes, I loved Virtual Tourist – all the friends I made there, the meetings I went to. Are you on Facebook? We’re managing to keep much of the community spirit alive there and even continuing to arrange meets, as well as share travel experiences and advice. I definitely recommend North Korea if you’re looking to explore somewhere different. Gambia is mainly targeted at the winter sun market but it’s possible to get out and about to explore and there are a few good inland eco-resorts too 🙂

  • maristravels

    What lovely guides you’ve had. I’ve not had many guides on my travels, but I remember with pleasure the lovely ones we had in Laos and Cambodia. I knew what I wanted to see in Vietnam and didn’t want to be guided too much so we just had a driver who was very good. We had a lovely one in St. Petersburg but I think he offended someone or maybe he was reported for being too friendly with the visitors as he only lasted 3 days before being replaced with a Gorgon. Kenya was OK but our guide kept on asking us to give money to people and I felt a bit harassed by it all. In Sri Lanka we hired a driver/guide for 5 days and he was fantastic so I’d give him top marks. I went to Tokyo with two male friends who had booked a guide for our first day In Tokyo but he had a schedule from which he didn’t want to deviate and before the end of the day we had to dismiss him and the one we picked up in Hiroshima (for one day again) was useless, so we cancelled the one they’d booked for Kyoto before we got there! I had a guide appointed for me in Dresden when I was working as a journalist, and he got really cross because I didn’t want to visit all the places he wanted me to and who drove too fast, but in Chicago I had a local who wanted to show her city off as only she could and she was a total delight. Unfortunately, all my photos of these people – apart from the Japanese ones – are on slides which I’ve never digitized and now I can’t get that particular scanner to work! Ah, those plans that come to nothing! But thanks for your paean to all the lovely guides out there and I’m so pleased you managed to convey your thanks to them. They are a necessity and good guides should be encouraged.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks for sharing all your experiences Mari 😊 It sounds like you’ve had a mixed bag, as have we. I didn’t include the bad ones but I could have mentioned a guide in Jodhpur who shoved local (Indian) visitors to the fort aside so that we could get to the display cabinets ahead of them rather than wait our turn which of course we were happy to do! And I’ve already written about the one in Ranthambore who blocked our view of the tigers when he stood up to take videos to show future tourists 😡 And the driver we hired in Marrakesh to take us to Telouet who didn’t even know the way!

      • maristravels

        Yes, I remember now the bad ones you mentioned earlier. And I’ve remembered the guide like yours in Jodhpur who tried to push the locals aside in Georgetown (Penang) so that we could get to the front.

  • Manja Maksimovič

    This is most excellent, Sarah. I love it that you give credit to your guides and that one of them was so thrilled at your review that he called you! 🙂

    As promised, I write of another kind of encounter today. Two out of my three Friendly Friday Meet post have been about a dog. Hm… But this time we chatted with the owner as well. Life is full of coincidences.

    https://manjameximexcessive6.wordpress.com/2021/11/26/friendly-friday-roma-in-piran/

    • Annie Berger

      What a great idea on give credit to some of the amazing guides you and your readers have had on your and their travels! I loved reading about each of the experiences as they so often enrich our time in a city or country. Our most positive experience was with Jose Acosta whom I made arrangements with for a ten day tour of part of Paraguay. He was a superb driver and guide I would heartily recommend to anyone lucky enough to tour a country that doesn’t get much publicity.

      • Sarah Wilkie

        Thanks so much Annie. Paraguay must have been interesting? It’s not a country we’ve visited, as yet, and I don’t know much about what’s there to be seen!

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