I was a seasonal volunteer guide at the Westmintser Hall Church in Baltimore, Maryland. The churchyard, home to the grave of Edgar Allen Poe, is host to a series of beloved Halloween tours. I learned my haunted “spiel”, reciting it over and over, knowing when to wait for laughs and when to pause for dramatic, spooky effect. A rote occupation, I loved when people would ask questions to break up my routine.
Along with harboring inordinate amounts of knowledge on “The Raven“, crypt-robbing and Poe’s favorite Brandy, I began my life-long pastime to uncover and reveal the personalities of tour guides.
Canned tour guide speech is across-the-board boring; an unfortunate reality of the tourism and marketing industry. My game can make it fun.
Belize is home to warm, gregarious people, AND home to tour-after-tour of natural and industrial treasures; ripe picking for my secret sport.
Wanna play along? Follow these 3 simple rules:
Tip #1) Be a good listener. Tune-in to everything.
This rule is #1 in the Dale Carnegie world of, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Its at the start because it is paramount to everything else. Listening and mentally recording information to your internal rolodex, helps you create a springboard from which to jump into the fun.
I started my time in Belize with a city tour from Lascelle Tillet of S&L tours. His sweet demeanor and interest in his hometown was evident. He drove me around the Tourist Village and Fort George Area, and extended our tour to the Buttonwood Bay and Central American Boulevard. I listened carefully as he told me about Belize’s demographics, its history, buildings, and culture. Every so often, he would stop and say to himself, “That’s a juvenile heron. There are 1-2-3 frigate birds there.”
I noticed he was speaking under his breath, and because I had my keen ears on, I noted, “This guy is seriously into birds.”
I knew he had given tours like this before; he has designated sight spots for pictures and monologues. I learned more than what I could have picked up on Wikipedia, or a guidebook. Did you know the financial challenge of owning a wooden home in Belize? Termites, water and storm damage costs? And what about the use of bricks as ballasts in ships that came for New World lumber? Once they off-loaded the bricks, what did Belizeans use them for? Churches and state buildings of course.
It makes sense, its relevant and guess what? It IS interesting.
And How about those birds? This leads me to Tip #2
Tip #2) Ask Questions: Use what you’ve got to get what you want.
Mr. Tillet is on the Board of the Belize Audubon Society. They host bird tours, conservation efforts and education nights for locals and tourists. How do I know this? I started asking questions.
Do you want to make your tour interesting? Flip back to what you have heard, use it as a starting point, and ask a question.
“Mr. Tillet, those black birds in the sky just look like they a staying in one place. Tell me about that.”
I opened the flood gates. I heard all about frigates, the male’s puffy red chests, their light-as-air bones that allow them to soar, and which gives them the name, ‘kites of the sky’. He talked about the Jabaru Stork, the large, 5-foot tall black, grey and red marsh-dweller that has become a symbol of Belizean environmental conservation. Then we launched into the tours he gives solely for avian enthusiasts. He started to smile, even sparkle a little. Mission almost complete.
Tip #3) Enjoy the ride and get in the game.
When you may feel stuck in a dead-end tour, know that your attitude will make or break you.
We ended our day at Old Belize, a made-for-cruise tourist destination that includes walk-through, life-sized displays of the jungle, Mayan temples and housing, logging history, and British occupation information. It reminded me of the stale Gettysburg War diorama that every kid on the East coast of the US, endures during their Civil War studies.
It is not a place I would have thought to tour; however, going with Mr. Tillet was a pleasure. Why? Because I allowed myself to hear him, to ask questions to be present with him as a person. He is immensely proud of his heritage and this museum became a vehicle for him to demonstrate his knowledge. I learned about Chicleros, the men who worked in the jungle to collect tree sap, that was sold exclusively to Wrigley’s for chewing gum, prior to the advent of candy synthetics. Ever thought about where the gum word chiclets comes from? It’s these guys, who risked life and limb to bring you your chewing pleasure. I learned about parasites that infected their soft tissues and cartilage – quite “fright-night’ worthy, the likes of which would be engaging to teens and adults alike. I marveled at the laborious nature of processing mahogany for sale.
I came away from the day with knowledge, (my brain activity increased by at least five-percent), and an appreciation for the country that I could not have had before. Mr. Tillet even invited me to learn how to make hot sauce from his wife. Look what I got from engaging myself: a new friend.
I would go out with Mr. Tillet and S&L Tours anytime.
This is priceless, and at the heart of why we travel, no?