“You want to see the world? The best job is to be a tour lead but it comes with its fair share of challenges.” His soft brown eyes smiled down at me with a hint of warning. I did not understand his words then, for all I could wish for was a job like his that would take me around the world. But I did discover the truth behind his words sooner than intended.
Ronnie, I met him during my recent Europe trip. He was our tour lead. It was love at first sight for us. Not a lovers’ kind of love but more so like one feels when one lights up a candle in the dark. The moment the burning match stick touches the wick it gradually catches fire with soft crackle, emitting a soothing yellow glow, brightening like a halo. A love of lifelong friendship.
In the frenzied excitement of travelling we often forget the people who relentlessly work behind the scene with the sole motive of making our journeys memorable. They can be anyone. The unknown faces behind the computer monitor who helps in booking our tickets or those whose months of brain storming result in the best itinerary that suits our money’s worth. For us travelling maybe a pleasure but for them it is their profession to put their best into making every travel perfect. Ronnie belonged to that league of ‘Happiness Merchants.’
During my journey I watched Ronnie closely as he went about doing his job. The more I saw him more surprised was. Instead of the suffocating cubicles he got the front most seat of the plush cruiser bus we used for travelling from one city to the other. Instead of the monitor he had the huge window to look out at the panoramic view as we sped past devouring miles after miles. Instead of pen and diary he had the mike into which he constantly told the tales of the new land that sounded like a lullaby to our exhausted body and mind. Truly speaking, I was envious. But on a second observation I noticed, some listened and mostly did not to his constant speech. This was when the minute loopholes of the job done by the tour leads became more evident to me. No matter how much desirable this job appears they are definitely one of the most difficult ones. They are best described as jugglers, trying to keep up with all our demands and tantrums, which too with a smile on their face and speaking to keep everyone engaged.
Every time our eyes met, Ronnie’s face lit up with a smile. It was so infectious that I could not help but grin back at my new friend. He understood I was watching him closely. He amazed me with his ability to solve any kind of problem. Be it a group demand for Indian food in a foreign soil or request to take frequent halts to flex our muscles. Sometimes stress lines could be seen on his face and make him look older and he would shrug at me. I would reassuringly smile back at him, for I knew like a magician with a swish of his wand he made every problem disappear.
During the entire trip, I would often find myself walking along with him, leaving the group behind. He was full of stories and I would insist him to share some with me, which he did happily. His adventures and expeditions made him the best story teller I have ever met. He was no less than the pirates on a stormy night at sea or the gold diggers from Incas. I was captivated with his tales.
Beside Ronnie I was fortunate to meet Marcimo in Rome. He reminded me of a beardless Santa Clause, whose bag was full of astonishing legends of one of the most enigmatic places of the world, the Vatican. His age had not stopped him from volunteering to help the tourists know of the various mysteries that shrouded the Cathedral.
In Florence, I met Scilla Romoli. Her name pronounced more like the Indian version of ‘Sheela.’ Her knowledge about the city helped me to discover the many new things of about it. I realised these tour guides did not only have a good grip of their history but were also entertainer in many ways.
Beatrice whom I came to know in Paris, was a charming old lady. She was like a grandmother telling stories of one of the most beautiful cities on earth. I learnt that many of the elderly people would volunteer on behalf of the government and become tour guides.
Beside the tour guides, two other people I think are worth mentioning are Zoltan and Christiano, our drivers who were always before time, ready to take us to our next adventure. All these people formed the pillars of my Europe trip.
Last but not the least a person worth my mentioning is Gipsa. A young beautiful lady from our tour company in whom I found a true friend. Fiercely independent, she is like a free bird, soaring the sky high.
Today I know that it is the contribution of people like Ronnie, Marcimo, Schilla, Beatrice and many more make our dream destinations a reality. Travel writers always write about the place, people, food, culture and many more aspects of travelling but often not about those who choose to remain out of our facebook posts and instagram pictures, the unsung heroes of our journey. For me beyond the boundaries of the countries, beyond the ages, a friendship bloomed with each one of them which I shall cherish forever. No matter what I shall never forget them. I never thank them enough yet they hold the ticket to my happiness.