Yes, Ma’am!

“What’s the difference between a tourist and a hitchhiker?”

Oh, hurray! A riddle.

Our Costa Rican tour guide is briefing 16 Americans and 2 Canadians on the rules of engagement for our upcoming week-long trip in her company. She has what I’m beginning to see as the typical personality for successful tour guides. A warm and caring bleached blonde? Yeah, sort of: a cheery and endlessly accommodating dictator.

Does that sound contradictory? Well, maybe it does, but it works: the occupation-specific version of “hard on the issue, soft on the people.”

The basic outline of the tour – route, hotels, major activities – is, of course, long-since set, even rigid. But there is room for improvisation to meet group interests and she makes the most of it:

Stopping at grocery stores for those who want to stock up on munchies for their rooms, serendipitously providing others with an opportunity to stock up on pictures.

Threee colourful plastic bags of jam and spread.

Pineapple and guava jam and dulce de leche spread in a bag

Finding lizards up trees for anyone interested, and who wouldn’t be?

Bright green lizard with crest on head and back, on a tree branch.

The Jesus Christ Lizard, which can run across water when it’s not lolling 20 feet up a tree.

Coaxing tarantulas out of holes even though some of us (ahem) are less interested than concerned.

Tour guide bent over to entice a tarantula out of its hole.

Enticing tarantulas. Umm . . .

Stopping at a roadside stand for those who want to know the names of those unfamiliar fruits and vegetables, providing others with an opportunity to take pictures. Again.

Large green fruit at roadside stand in Costa Rica.


All this, while maintaining the schedule without annoying anyone ““ not the ones who tend to be late, not the ones who don’t.

“I’ll wait five minutes for you.”

This is her mantra. She understands that things happen: People forget things in their room, or get caught up sending emails using the lobby Wi-Fi, or mistake the time and place for the next rendezvous.

Oh, yes, after 30-some years she understands, all right.

“What’s the difference between a tourist and a hitchhiker?”

Oh, hurray! A riddle.

Oh, boo! I don’t know the answer.

But I’m not the only one who doesn’t know. All 16 Americans and 2 Canadians look at each other, shrug, and look back at her, expectantly. Beginning as she means to continue, she does not disappoint.

“Five minutes.”



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6 Responses to Yes, Ma’am!

  1. Jim Robertson says:

    Sounds like you had a great tour guide. There’s a job I don’t have the patience for !!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim R – We did. She was fabulous. She had a knack for seeing the best in everyone and making the best of every situation. (And I, too, would fail the patience test for that line of work.)

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    I hosted some tour groups in the 1970s and 1980s. Patience is indeed essential. We soon learned who would ALWAYS be the last one back on the bus. After a while, we didn’t even bother counting the number of passengers on the bus — we just said, “Okay, Audrey’s here, we can leave.” One time a tour member (not Audrey this time) used every break to nip into the nearest bar for a drink. She too was always the last one on. One time she came out just in time to see the driver moving the bus to a different location. Her face displayed utter shock. She was never late for the bus again.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – We’ve been lucky so far – no persistent laggards, although some who came close. Our Australian guide said she’d only ever left one person behind – and he never let her forget it. But when you gotta go to meet a sailing (or something else where you don’t control the schedule), you gotta go!

  3. Alison says:

    Corvin heads to Europe with 30 adults at the end of June. There is a guide as well (we hope the same as we had last year, as he was terrific!) However, Corvin is responsible for the group outside of the “guided activities” – already he is starting to wonder if they really WILL be any easier than the teenagers we took last year??? In my experience working with the public – not by MUCH! I’m happy to stay home, and just be responsible for myself while he is gone.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Alison – Yeah, 30 is a big number: he’s likely to get a full range of personalities and maybe more reluctance to align with someone else’s structure than school kids would exhibit with their teacher. Wish him good luck from me!

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