I don’t consider myself an especially brave person, but I’ve never had a fear of flying. Not so far at least.
On my flight from Barcelona to Malaga however, for the first time ever, I was on a plane and was afraid. I was afraid of how I was going to make it through the next two weeks in my current state: sitting on the floor in the back of the plane, next to the bathroom, dehydrated, no signs of improvement, my stomach churning, vomiting…I don’t know where I caught this horrible stomach virus but with rest, bananas, medicine and rest I slowly returned to normal over the next 24 hours.
Although normal is hardly the word. As a brand new guide at IMTBIKE, I spent the next few weeks in the support van on an adventure, navigating African border crossings, two ferrys, new friends, improvising, and working nonstop. In short, about as far away from “normal” as you can get!
“This is by far the most diverse group I have ever had” Sergi commented after the welcome briefing on day one. Sergi, IMTBIKE Head Guide with dozens of Morocco tours under his belt and dozens more tour groups around southern Europe, was very impressed, or surprised after meeting our group. Whether he thought it was a good thing or not wasn’t clear to me at that moment.
What difference does it make? I thought. I didn’t dare ask him whether that was a good or bad thing for the tour, or at least for me, only just beginning to understand what I had gotten myself into! If one thing was clear to me before, but also during and after the tour, it’s that for us guides every tour is different. Every tour is a project and a work of art. It is designed and executed by a dedicated group of individuals determined to pay attention to every detail so that every aspect of the tour works towards creating an unforgettable vacation for every single tour member.
From where I stood, in the background of the welcome briefing while Sergi addressed the group, I paid attention to everything our tour members did. I tried to discern their different personalities. I tried to imagine what each one would be like and what their individual needs would be. I noticed how anxious everyone was. Maybe anxious is not the right word, they were excited! I watched how they focused on Sergi as he spoke, hanging onto every word, exchanging smiles every now and then with the others, as if to say “what a good time we are going to have!” The only thing missing was an NBA style high five!
Good. We were satisfied with the first contact. As we expected they weren’t yet a tight-knit group since they had just met, but there were clear signs that they would be soon. Sergi especially was very happy with how the welcome briefing went and he didn’t hide it. What a guy! Not only did he get the whole group excited and energized, he also got me going as well, his enthusiasm is contagious!
It’s been said that you don’t get a second chance at a first impression, and our first impression of the group after the welcome briefing and dinner was very positive. José and María Alejandra, father and daughter from Colombia, surprised us all with jars of Colombian coffee for everyone. The first thing I did upon returning home was prepare myself a cup, reminiscing on all the incredible times we had during the two weeks in Morocco. It tasted delicious, thanks again guys!
Intense and focused. That’s how I would describe my first tour as an IMTBIKE guide. So much intensity and concentration in fact that during my first five days back home after the tour I automatically woke up each morning and shot out of bed, ready to run down to reception to start loading suitcases into the van! On top of that was the equally strange sensation of not knowing what hotel I was in! Of course when I looked around and realized that my roommate was my dog Otto and not Sergi, I relaxed and went back to bed.
In any case, I had begun preparing myself in Barcelona before the trip. During the tour you don’t even realize how focused you are due to the nonstop schedule and the sensory overload. Remembering the trip I also realized that no matter how prepared and punctual we were (and we were!) there was always some detail that popped up last minute and needed attending to, making every day interesting and challenging.
The stress of keeping up with a group of motorcycles was gone by day two in Morocco. I became well acquainted with the cockpit of the support van. I had to pay extra attention to not to make the same mistakes twice. The first time is inevitable and important, so that you can learn and be prepared when a similar situation presents itself later on.
The van became like a second home for me during the trip. At first I was slow getting in and out, locking the doors, putting on the seat belt, releasing the handbrake, etc. but after a few days it became automatic. When everything is was in its place it was much easier to relax and be more efficient. The camera here, the map there, the tour handbook, my cell phone, the Moroccan phone, bottle of water, a cloth to dry my hands, everything at arm’s reach and easy to locate without even looking. Routine, experience, everything running like a well-oiled machine…
I mentioned the excitement and nervousness of the tour members on the first day and I recognized it so easily because I was feeling the same thing. Everything the group experienced, I was going to experience as well despite the fact that I had been to Morocco before by myself. I remember the group photo we took at the 2260 meter sign on Tizi-n-Tichka pass. I was right between Robert and Alexander who had their hands in the air. Looking at it now with a new perspective I am at least as excited as they are, maybe even more!
The same thing happened in the desert at the Erg Chebbi dunes when we got off the ATVs and were surprised by a dense sandstorm. The friction caused by the sand swirling everywhere created an electrical shock whenever you touched someone, or even got near them. Imagine the fun we had, running around like children while our clothes filled with sand, I certainly didn’t feel like I was working, what fun!
Apart from pockets full of sand, I brought something else home with me as well, camaraderie and new friendships. Everyone helped out even with tasks that were supposed to be all mine! Especially María Alejandra and Fedor, 17 and 16 years old respectively, she was Colombian as I mentioned earlier and Fedor was from Russia. They were a little shy at first but a few days into the trip and they were always waiting by the van to help bring the suitcases into the hotel. And I don’t mean just their own suitcases, they wanted to help me with all of them! A few times I had to tell them to join the group and let me handle it. Huge thanks to them both!
Fedor was quite the gentleman. Whenever he spoke to me, he always said my name first and then proceeded with what he was going to say with utmost politeness, even if it was just to ask me to pass the salt shaker at dinner. He also had a slightly ironic and very sharp sense of humour more fitting for someone much older. He had already won me over by day two in Ceuta, already on the African continent but still in Spanish territory. “Juanan, welcome to Africa” he said.
I had to correct him, “No Fedor, Ceuta is still part of Spain, we’re still in Europe.”
Twenty meters later, just across the border I approached him, gave him a hug and said “Fedor, NOW we’re in Africa!”
Fedor, and Alexander, his father, were both charming. I was very happy to have them along and they communicated to me in various occasions that they were having a great time and were very thankful.
The only thing about the tour I didn’t like was the farewell. I say this with utmost sincerity. As the tour was coming to a close I felt conflicted. I was excited to get back home and return to everything that was familiar to me, but sad that I may not see some of these wonderful people again after two weeks of living and travelling together.
I always knew that this was part of being an IMTBIKE Tour Guide. Taking care of the group, making them feel at home, making the tour flow, having fun, encouraging everyone to enjoy their rest days and even spending them with us guides if they wanted to, meeting everyone’s needs throughout the trip…all part of a good days work, what a job! I’ve always thought, and I insist on this point, that all aspects of this job are great, but alas! I didn’t think that the farewell was going to be so hard!
Lucky for me, every single one of them wants to come back for another round! With a little luck we’ll meet again soon. I have that to look forwards to!