The key interest in the book is the interaction between tour group members on escorted tours, the destinations we visited and my, as a tour manager, view of it all. It is based on real experiences and real people.
The book is not chronological and can be read a little at a time or front to back. It is somewhat a travel log. Camels to Caviar helps you look at situations adventures and the people I dealt with from Kathmandu to Timbuktu. It portrays thirty years of my tour managing exotic and adventurous experiences. I also write of the personal growth as I worked through these tours. Nothing was ever the same and the learning curve was there up to my day of retirement. It became a lifestyle, living in a cocoon of self banishment. The characters and names are real as are the travel incidents. If it weren’t for all the norms, personalities, unknowns and disasters; the flights, cruise ship calamities and hotel horrors, there wouldn’t be “Camels to Caviar”.
You will read about:
• tanks surrounding our hotel in Lima
• altitude sickness at Mt Everest,
• foods and cultures around the world
• how a tour manager performs, how I handle the behind the scenes procedures
• the psychology and behavior of passengers and myself
• romances on the road
• sunset in the Sahara
• Cambodia after Pol Pot
• Mr. Bill in New Zealand
• the Maharaja of Baroda
• interesting and outrageous passengers
• snip its of the countries we traveled in
• royal family shockers
I give you a vision of the fun and adventure during an escorted tour, as well as an insight to the personalities and unexpected circumstances. This all truly happens on escorted tours around the world. You will be amused and surprised in this tell all of how a tour manager functions during a tour and some of the almost breaking points of our “glamorous” job.
Working on cruise ships brought a different type of tour group dynamics and demographics. What happened on board gave tour managing a different edge. I hope this will give you an insight to the intensity, personal journey and joy of my tour manager career.www.camelstocaviar.com
South America Travels
We were settled into our seats as the train went about the descent on the switchback tracks down
toward Macchu Picchu. We stopped at a point deep into the Andes with no explanation.
We were told by the conductor the train tracks were washed out from the previous night's storm,
and we would have to walk to the next train station to catch the local train for the rest of the trip
to Macchu Picchu. There were three tour groups in our car. One was Japanese, one Italian,
and our American group. The three of us tour leaders had eyeballed one another as we do during trips
and began disembarking our passengers. The beginning of the walk involved a very narrow
crossing of a slippery mud path high above the rushing waters below. I stood on one side of the mud
path with our guide on the other, slowly maneuvering each of our passengers across.
Arm by arm we moved them over this dangerous crossing. The rest of the train's passengers
quickly started the walk toward the next station. Assessing the situation, I thought . . . wait a
minute. We are at twelve-thousand-foot altitude and my passengers are sixty-to eighty-something
years old. They can't do this. I ran up to the other two tour directors and said, "We should just stop
here, and I'm sure the train will come and pick us up." I was willing to take that chance.
We had just endangered our groups enough with that narrow crossing.The three of us stopped our groups,
and we all sat on a hillside gazing up at the Andes. We chatted among the three nationalities.
There were no toilets, no gift shops, no water-just us and yet another desolate place on earth
so far from the living rooms of these curious travelers. I was right. The train did pull up to get us. It bypassed the station where everyone else had walked to and came directly to us. It was definitely too far for us to
have walked to that next station. We were picked up. The train cars were all available to us, and we
picked out the best of those cars. This local train runs from Iquitos to Cuzco, and local train was correct.
The cars were trashed with avocado smeared on windows, smelly, but it was our ticket out from our
stranded, adventurous, unexpected stop. Kudos, domo arigatto, and gratzi to those savvy, flexible travelers.
We continued to Macchu Picchu, and for the first and last time ever (for me), we sat in awe watching the
sunset over Winu Pichhu-one of the pinnacles within Macchu Picchu's compound. We had visited one
of the original Seven Wonders of the World. Macchu Picchu is now an ancient deserted Incan village at
about eleven-thousand-foot altitude. Apparently, due to disease, their population was wiped out. What
had started out at 6:00 a.m., the unexpected adventurous day ended about midnight after traveling
from trains to buses to get us back to Cuzco. No one had complained, and everyone was excited
about his or her special experience while traveling with our Jet Set tour group. This sure wasn't in the
brochure, and I'm sure the tale was told often by each of those tour members. On another tour, traveling to Lima, we arrived late at night from Santiago. I had heard there were riots in the streets of
Lima from southbound tour directors, so I decided to see if I could change our tickets for a later arrival
into the city. In those days, Braniff was flying that route and agreed to change the tickets. They were
also very aware of the dangerous situation unfolding in Lima. Often as a tour manager, you make a
quick decisive move hoping you are the first of many other tour groups who would have the same plan
in leaving on a later flight. If you snooze, you lose; in this case, those extra twenty-five seats needed to
move my group of travelers. We had a quick turnaround in Lima before flying to Cuzco (4:00 a.m. wake-up call). Cuzco is the jumping-off point for Macchu Picchu.
On our way into the city, rioters were throwing cans and bottles at our bus-I yelled at the group,
"Get down in the seats!" We all lowered ourselves below the windows for the rest of the ride in to the
hotel where we found military tanks surrounding the hotel for our protection. We scurried into the
safety of the lobby, but knew the next morning we would have to return to the airport for the flight.
When returning to Los Angeles and debriefing with the president of the company, I was chided for
changing the flight schedule. "This is my company and I make the decisions." During my bosses rage
at me, I thought to myself, why am I not being congratulated and praised for making these executive
decisions on the spot? A company has empowered us to do this. Make those unhesitating, quick, precise decisions. Why disempower us in debriefing?
I can't help but think how does a person sitting on the thirty-third floor of
a building ten thousand miles away think they would make any different of a decision? Besides, we
didn't have immediate response cell phones then. Time zones, poor telephone connections were also
a factor. People's lives were endangered. I get paid to make these decisions. I felt like saying, "Yeah
sure," "Whatever," but those words didn't exist in the '80s. I do remember telling him, "Why don't you
say thank you sometimes instead of yelling at us?' His reply was, "My thank-you is your paycheck.'
Well, so much for great human resource skills. All this happened just a couple of days after falling from
a horse during our visit to a gaucho ranch outside Buenos Aires. A few of the group members were
galloping along. Mine was going way too fast, so I tried to jump off the horse. Besides, I am not skilled
at horseback riding. I had hurt my back and was in unbearable pain. No matter what, you still continue
with the group and in an enthusiastic demeanor. An old saying I remembered was, "Winners play wounded.
' I was in bed for weeks after returning to the United States.
South America had its share of experiences. One tour through Buenos Aires, Argentina, was almost
deserted. Argentina was preparing to go to war with the Falklands. Argentina wanted to take over the
island so the U.K. came to defend it. The city was preparing for this war. Does that sound like an amazing, stupid
war or am I just not in tune here? Red crosses were being painted on the rooftops of the hospitals. We
heard people were hoarding their money by taking it out of banks. They closed down my favorite street
filled with churrascarias (Florida Street), pronounced as "floreeda' street. What a disappointment to
our travelers. This was also in the �80s, the time when many of our suitcases were rifled through
before they would come out on the conveyor belt at baggage claim in the airport. This time I got it.
Many of my clothes went missing including my favorite jeans! Can you believe the British Army
absconded with the QE2 to use as barracks while in the Falklands? Now that is proper (propa). On
this tour, we flew over the southern Andes into Santiago. Our hotel, the Sheraton Isabella, was housing
the newscasters from North America. They were all hold up to cover the war in Argentina. In the
elevator, I met a few of the ABC news crew. A few of the tour members and I sat with them in the bar
and chatted. We asked plenty of questions: What they anticipated how they stay in such dangerous
places, editing feed before TV? Do they wear bulletproof vests and listened in on their shoptalk. We
drank beer and laughed and joked with them. Chile is very much like Southern California. When traveling to Valparaiso, on the coast, we passed the vineyards of Chile.
All the famous Chilean wine labels are here. We would stop for wine tasting and continue to the sleepy town of Valparaiso.
Our visit was usually short there as it is basically the port to Santiago. Cruises going to Antarctica and the
Straits of Magellan begin here. Chile also has great copper pottery. Through the years, I stocked up
on pots, pans, copper bowls, and other items. We also went wild over the lapis lazuli. Sometimes I
had to jump on the bandwagon and grab quickly what other tour members might want. Jewelry has
always caught my eye-as so for most women. Anywhere from lapis art objects to fabulous silver inlaid jewelry. Other South America Tours went from Buenos Aires into the Southern Alps to Barlioche. From there, it took a day of crossing the lake region between the two countries. Although the scenery was pristine, thetravel conditions could be grueling. The day was a long twelve-to fourteen-hour trip to Puerto Montt. We drove to the first lake. The group embarked the boat then luggage taken from our bus, and put on the boat. I would count the luggage, maybe twice or three times! We crossed the lake, which took around two hours to the next vehicle awaiting us. We disembarked the luggage, counted the luggage again, maybe twice or three times. We drove through the rainforest to the next lake. You get the picture about counting the luggage each time-so not to lose any. The last part of the trip before arriving in Puerto Montt was gorgeous scenery withwaterfalls in the middle of eye-tickling green rainforest. We were glad to see the door of the hotel that night. The little village was wonderful for photography. Fishing boats, old and used leaning a little into the water, but colorful and worthwhile of at least a half a camera's film (yes, we used film in those days!) The shopping stalls were great. I always used these opportunities to bring back trinkets and souvenirs to friends and family at home. I waited till Christmas or a birthday to give them out. They were always so pleased (I think!) to receive something so far from home and their thought of ever getting to these destinations to see for themselves. Now I wonder if they may have regifted them! Ecuador reminds me of the Wild West. A quick vision of the movie Bonnie and Clyde or "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." They went to South America to hide out. Ecuador is the place you can vision this. You look over your shoulder a lot. There is stillcrime there, pickpockets equal to India and Asia. It seemed we had more incidents of theft in South America than other destinations. There was almost always a wallet lifted from a pocket, bags rifled through, attacks on streets, a war brewing. One visit to Quito, we wandered through the streets, following our guide, stoppingand listening to the commentary before continuing on. We had just looked into the presidential palace and were back out on the square just in front of the palace. A helicopter was flying over and coming in very low. I thought, it must be the president landing in the palace. Next thing I knew, my skin started stinging. Theywere dropping some kind of substance from the helicopter over the square. It hit nuns going into the cathedral, children playing in the square and us, an American, high-end tour group. They were on their post cruise tour from Crystal Cruises and on their way to the Galapagos. Interesting how instinct kicks in and you act on it. I yelled at the group, "Let's go quickly to the cathedral over there." We ran across the square and went into the farthest corner from the door. By now all 22 of the group members were also feeling the same stinging sensation. We had been gassed! Getting angry doesn't help because the group will see it, and they become frightened and angry as well. I told them, "Why not enjoy looking in the cathedral till the guide and I come back." "We'll find out what is going on." We stood outdoors and watched the fuss and commotion of the situation. I couldn't believe that they would gas a place where tourism exists. Doesn't one government department speak to the other to understand the delicate balance of income tourism brings into any country? You think they care? No, I guess not even the president doesn't think this is important. We found out a demonstration was approaching the square.This wasn't going to be a good place to keep our tour group, so we quickly walked them over to a cafe a couple cobblestone blocks away. Our bus could not get into this area as the streets were too narrow. We were now out of the way of the approaching demonstration, and theguide ran to the bus to get it as close as he could. We waited at least an hour in the cafe. I bought them coffee and drinks. They looked at the few things for sale in their gift shop. They seemed calm for all the internal turmoil the guide and I were going through to get them out of there. Once we knew where the bus was, we walked them over to it and drove off. Unfortunately, we had used up all our time for the tour getting through this incident. We didn't have time to visit the Equator, which is what so many who come to Quito do. Fortunately again, being with savvy travelers, they were understanding of the situation and flexible. We went for a long luncheon in one of the finest of restaurants in Quito. I told them at least they will have some great cocktail talk when they get home! Ecuador is where you begin your travels to the Galapagos. Many tourists take cruises to the Galapagos. The islands are famous for Darwin's theory of evolution, and the islands are known for their giant tortoise population. The most incredible vision I remember was the blue-footed booby. The iguanas and frigates with their ballooned red breasts come in second. I had always heard about the blue-footed booby and surprised to see that it is really just a seagull with eggshell blue legs and feet! The other amazing memory I walked away with is when you are on the equator. It is so incredibly humid and hot it zaps all the energy out of you within a couple of hours of being out in it. On ships, many have water sports off the aft. With the few tour groups I escorted to the Galapagos, we stayed in a resort on one of the islands nstead of cruising. The islands are kept very rustic, including the roads and buses. This means limited air conditioning for American travelers. They mean well, but when you get into those situations of discomfort, it is very difficult to keep anyone happy. We flew from Quito where it was cool in the morning, and many eldertravelers have their own way of dressing while they travel. This is even after we have suggested ways to prepare for chill to extreme heat. One gentleman, dressed in coveralls, almost keeled over from the excessive heat just after landing. I tried to get him to dress cooler, but he didn't want to. "I'll be all right." We continued from the airport directly onto the boat taking us to the first island for our views of the frigates and blue-footed boobies. Coveralls or anything, it takes time to acclimatize to the humidity and heat of the equator. We took longer cruises out between the islands in hopes of seeing the hammerhead sharks, but they eluded us. We Camels to Caviar 61 had luxurious lunches on board our private cruisers and, had timefor swimming, wandering along beaches covered with thousands of red crabs and kayaking into small inlets to view more sea life. It was truly a natural sea world! One couple could not handle the heat of the Galapagos and demanded to be flown out the next morning. That meant researching full flights, as they usually are inand out of the Galapagos. We looked and called everywhere to find a private plane to get them out of there. Finally, one of the cruise ship companies gave up two seats their crew would be using the next day to help us and get these unhappy passengers out. They were not happy campers, and sometimes I wonder what people are thinking when they decide to deter to such faraway and exotic destinations. If they know or have to at least know somewhat of what they are getting themselves into. It is better to get passengers likethis out quickly so they won't affect the enjoyment and well-being of the others. After a couple of those overland experiences in the Galapagos, though, I decided to go elsewhere to manage tourgroups.
Katherine was born in Ontario Canada. She studied Liberal arts at San Diego City College and received a Travel and Tourism certificate from Thomas Cook at Pace University in New York. Her Career spanned thirty yearsas an International Tour Manager escorting tour groups around the globe. This exciting action packed life, led her to write about her many experiences shared in this book. Katherine now resides in San Diego, California. She can be followed on her travel pod blogs: www.travelpod.com/travel-blog/kwdestinations/1/pod.html