Saturday, December 21, 2013

Guide Secrets

A good guide never reveals her secrets.

But, like any industry, guiding has its share of trade secrets and good stories to share over a beer after work.

I’m glad I have a few professional tricks up my sleeve in guiding these two little monkeys around.

A good guide always puts her clients first. I always view it as successful if my clients have had time to enjoy the sunset, talk with the locals on the boat, and reminisce about their day. The sound of laughter is my favorite sound on this earth, and if the group I am guiding has moments of unchecked and unbridled laughter, then that is the biggest mark of success of my day.

And we laugh a lot. Roam laughed so hard this morning that juice came out of his nose, and Zane and I almost did the same.

And the success of laughter is magnified if a person has enough time and safety to be able to let the distance of travel soak in to their senses and their souls. If a person can let the outside world of work and home grow small enough to finally hear their sacred thoughts and their authentic selves – then the journey has been successful. Travel gives people their own clarity in a way that many gurus can only promise.

From a guide’s perspective, this is even richer even richer if the person finally tuning in to the nuances of their reality has no clue that the captain of their riverboat cruise is blinding drunk and the first mate is gallantly steering the ship to the harbor safely for the night. That is what a good guide does. Takes care of the behind-the-scenes details. Allows space for the client to soak in themselves.

This current trip isn’t about me and my wants and desires. It’s about my boys. And, like when I’m guiding, they need a gentle balance of activity and release to be able to engage in what they see. And, in turn, bring it home to themselves.

We are back in Bangkok and the bustle of this cacophonous urban environment. We flew back in to the city and straight into a protest of 100,000+ people whistling and waving flags for over two hours. Our taxi driver leaped from the driver’s seat, leaving us in the backseat, while he stood on the side of the parade and took pictures and clapped for the protesters. We saw people with whistles clenched in their jaws and some gripping cell phones high in the air. We learned a creative entrepreneur developed an app to mimic the shrill blast of a whistle, so people can keep “blowing,” even when their lips are tired.

We abandoned our taxi and I wheeled our duffle down the crowded streets. The boys didn’t find any drama in the situation. As we checked into our hotel, Roam looked at me and asked, “Mom, can you just turn down the volume on the protest a little bit?”

And, instead of going back to the streets, armed with my camera and my curiosity as I was compelled to do, we pulled on our bathing suits and went for a swim – what the boys wanted to do.

Another good secret of guiding is to keep your clients fed and watered. Even beyond what they would do for themselves. We are all easier and nicer with balanced blood sugar and good hydration.

If a guide tells their clients, “drink some water!” No one will reach for their water bottle except for the few people who were probably reaching for it anyway. But, if a guide fills a water bottle with ice cold water in front of the clients and takes a long, satisfied drink, perhaps even talking with clients while water is deliciously sloshing in the bottle, well, everyone stays hydrated.

And these boys have been fed and watered. There are handfuls of street carts on each block in Thailand laden with food of all kinds. Thais eat several small meals a day and there isn’t any need to bring snacks ahead of time for any excursion. We stop regularly for every kind of food. Some make the cut. Some don’t. Bags of sweet, juicy mangoes cost 50 cents. A plate of hot noodles with egg and peanut about 75 cents. The boys have started to gamely sample everything I hand them. Tangy, pulpy mandarin juice with hard seeds. Satay chicken skewers. Roam adores Thai eggs. Today, we ventured to the biggest market in Thailand, the Saturday market on the edges of the city, and the boys had popsicles made from fresh strawberries and dipped in fresh chocolate. Win win.

A good guide is also peaceful with the reins. An inexperienced guide often holds the reins too tight, causing the clients to rebel and fight. A good guide is gentle with a balance of schedule, activity and time to absorb. These boys make some small decisions about our “team” - turn left, breakfast here, let’s do that this afternoon. This lets me make the big decisions – dress culturally appropriately for the temple, watch my back at the ATM, be ready for the taxi at 7:00.

Yesterday, we went to the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Both places are rich in history and ornate architecture. At the Grand Palace, the central temple holds the sacred Emerald Buddha, a diminutive Buddha decorated in a ceremonial gold robes that the King changes with each season (cold, hot and rainy). In contrast, the Reclining Buddha is so large that it fairly bursts from its temple. Holding up a camera, it is only possible to photograph a single nostril. One of its toes is the size of a queen-sized bed.

It was important to drag the boys there. The boys don’t really like crowded sites - mainly because they attract so much attention. School girls in uniform pose around them and whip out their smart phones for a quick group picture upload. Old ladies stroke their cheeks and call them, “beautiful babies.” They both chafe at the “babies.” Men of all ages stick out their hands for repeated high fives. And everyone loves the blonde hair. The boys have started wearing hats to keep the uninvited hands at bay – and they are both constantly holding my hands.

I can’t remember the last time Zane held my hand. His 8-year-old hand feels curiously large in my grip. But, in the crowds, they each grip one of each of my hands and squeeze hard. Which is good when I have to hastily yank them out of the way of a speeding moped on the sidewalk or a rattling tuk-tuk cutting a sharp corner.  So, despite my requests that we have a better chance of getting through a crowd if we are a snake instead of a line, they stubbornly lace their fingers through mine.

And, I can’t say I push them away.

I like it. I’m soaking up this moment in time.

And, I have never once had to say, “Boys, now hold my hand.”


  1. Please sign us up for the first trip -anywhere- that you guide for adults! This post was a wonderful Christmas present. Thank you so much.

  2. What a great adventure! Thanks for sharing. I teared up a bit towards the end of that post. Having a 2 year old and one on the way makes your feelings hit home.