Sunday, February 5, 2023
HomeNatureA First-Time Expedition Chief’s Story

A First-Time Expedition Chief’s Story


Our Nat Hab Expedition Leaders actually do all of it. They’re specialists at logistics, expert at navigating group dynamics, and well-versed within the nature, wildlife, tradition and historical past of the areas the place they information. Though they make it look easy, each information was as soon as confronted with the daunting process of main their first journey.

On this weblog submit, one among our latest Expedition Leaders, Daniel Blankenheim, recounts what it was like to steer his first Nat Hab journey in Portugal final season.

Woman kayaking on the Douro River in Portugal

From Farm Animals to Elephants: A Information within the Making

I’m blissful to have the chance to share my story as a first-time Expedition Chief with Pure Habitat Adventures final fall. It was an exhilarating—but difficult—expertise! First, a fast historical past of what lead me to turn out to be an journey journey information.

You’ve most likely heard it 1,000,000 occasions: “I simply love animals.” That’s actually true for me, though I come from a densely populated, industrial area in Germany. Fortunately, rising up, I used to be in a position to make frequent visits to a small farm, the place I bonded with the resident sheep, chickens and rabbits. These experiences led me to review panorama ecology at college. A number of years later, I earned a grasp’s diploma in wildlife ecology and administration.

I bought the prospect to work as a tour information for the primary time in Thailand. It was at an ecolodge with a couple of domesticated elephants that had retired from forestry work. Nobody rode the elephants right here—we simply watched them take mud baths and helped wash and feed them.

I beloved the job. I might see the glint in our visitors’ eyes once they interacted with these sensible and mild animals. Scrubbing mud off the again of a large elephant and hand-feeding it fruits was a once-in-a-lifetime expertise for many of them.

The visitors had been additionally desperate to be taught in regards to the elephants and their pure habitat. We went on excursions into the wild forests of Khao Sok Nationwide Park to discover the complexity of the animals’ ecosystem. And after we mentioned conservation points, I might see how these talks touched individuals after having established an emotional bond with the elephants.

Later, I labored for an outside schooling firm that organized summer season camps for youngsters. A lot of the youngsters got here from city areas (like me!) and needed to be prompted to play within the dust. I inspired them to unlearn their domestication and reconnect to their wild spirits. To reclaim their playfulness in nature. By the top of the week, youngsters who had been terribly shy on day one didn’t wish to depart camp. As an alternative of crying of their dad and mom arms, they had been now clinging to our legs (and hearts)!

Discovering Nat Hab: Love at First Sight

Sooner or later, on my limitless quest to discover a function that was each significant and that might permit me to spend time in nature, I got here throughout a job posting for Pure Habitat Adventures. The corporate’s mission assertion resonated with me instantly.

“Conservation via exploration: defending our planet by inspiring vacationers, supporting native communities and boldly influencing the complete journey trade.”

“Wow—that’s it!” I believed to myself. Nat Hab’s mission is basically my life philosophy in a nutshell. My motivation to journey the world in quest of a sense of belonging and connectedness. It was what led me to Thailand for my first tour information expertise and what impressed me to turn out to be a pacesetter at our wilderness youngsters’ camps.

The extra I examine Pure Habitat Adventures, the extra I fell in love with it. I used to be so excited on the prospect of becoming a member of the corporate’s efforts to maintain wild locations on the planet by taking passionate vacationers into nature and supporting native communities.

It took me days to jot down my cowl letter, though the phrases flowed out of me naturally, pushed by pleasure, ardour and anticipation. Then, the troublesome ready interval. Lastly, in February 2022, the ready and biting of fingernails got here to an finish. I used to be requested to interview for an Expedition Chief place. Hurray!

Lengthy story quick, simply two months later, I used to be scheduled for my first journey. I’d be guiding our Paddling Portugal’s River of Wine journey.

Getting ready to Information: A Crash Course

In some ways, this isn’t your “typical” Nat Hab journey. Portugal doesn‘t have the huge swaths of wilderness or the range of untamed animals that you just’ll see on another journeys. However it’s a really energetic journey, with numerous kayaking via lovely wine nation, which attracted me. I hadn’t been to Portugal earlier than, however I had wished to journey there for a very long time. This was my probability!

So, the place do you begin when making ready to information a visit? There are such a lot of features to each location: pure and cultural historical past, geology, geography and, after all, the guiding itself. And, for Portugal, I’d additionally have to take a crash course in viticulture: the science cultivating, rising and harvesting grapes!

Grapes at a vineyard in Portugal

The deeper I dove into the fabric, the extra rabbit holes I went down, and the extra questions I had. What may the visitors ask? What could be fascinating for them to know? How might I mix information about nature with insights about their cultural significance? I learn and skim and skim some extra.

Group of Natural Habitat Adventures guides in Portugal

Nancy, Pedro, Vitor and Daniel in Portugal

Speaking with Nancy Moore, who has guided in Portugal for round 20 years, and with Vitor and Pedro, two of our native Portugal guides, additionally helped enormously. They supplied beneficial recommendation, and it was great to really feel encouragement and help not solely from them, however from each staffer I interacted with at Nat Hab.

Watch Nancy’s webinar, What to Know About Your Portugal Paddling Journey.

Shadow Information: Studying within the Discipline

After months of studying, finding out and getting licensed, I flew into Porto. Vitor met me along with his huge smile and Portuguese heat. He grew to become my “Tio,” or “uncle,” rapidly. I used to be lastly right here! On my first shadow journey (on which I educated with Nancy), a visitor requested me: “How lengthy have you ever been ready for this?“ I hesitated and answered, “All my life!” Possibly it was a tacky reply, nevertheless it was how I really felt.

Porto, Portugal on the banks of the Douro River

Porto, Portugal on the banks of the Douro River

I watched Nancy carefully, studying the ins and outs of the itinerary, absorbing the whole lot I encountered like a sponge, observing and studying. On the similar time, I used to be additionally attending to know our visitors and join with them.

Porto is an interesting metropolis, however a metropolis, nonetheless. After which, after we lastly hit the Douro River: Silence. Simply the wind, some chook calls and the light strokes of our paddles. I discovered myself smiling, basking within the serenity of the place. That is what I had been making ready for therefore intensively. I really feel very grateful that I bought to be Nancy’s shadow earlier than guiding a visit alone. It helped me develop in each data and confidence.

After an incredible, eye-opening first journey with Nancy, I used to be prepared to steer a visit alone. She left, and solely Pedro, Vitor and I remained. I knew I might depend on them, and I trusted their experience in each manner. Each Vitor and Pedro made it clear that they wished me to succeed, and I can not thank them sufficient for giving me that feeling. It made my expertise as a first-time Expedition Chief that a lot simpler.

Natural Habitat Adventures guide directing kayakers into the Douro River in Portugal

Nancy shepherds the primary group of kayakers into the Douro

Guiding My First Group (Lastly!)

The day had come. It was time to select up our visitors—the primary visitors who would name me their “Expedition Chief.” It didn‘t take lengthy for them to comprehend how enthusiastic I felt about assembly them. Throughout our “Welcome to Portugal” discuss, as individuals sat on comfy sofas with glasses of wine and exquisite views over Porto, I rapidly gained confidence, going over our plan for the upcoming journey. I knew it so properly by now. I’ve to say, our vacationers made it simple for me to calm down and really feel excited, as a substitute of nervous. So many blissful faces, and a lot laughter and willingness to get to know one another and expertise Portugal.

Being with Vitor and Pedro all the time gave me an additional feeling of assurance. Nevertheless, I knew I’d be alone on the river. Fortunately, the water was so type to us on our first day: sturdy headwinds and no present for our longest stretch of paddling on the journey. Excellent circumstances, proper? Incorrect! We most likely might have sailed in the wrong way, upstream!

It was a tough begin, however with the hearts of lions and the promise of a glass of wine, a scrumptious dinner, and comfy lodging, we bought via it as a workforce. Actually, the hardships served as a bonding expertise: We had confronted challenges and are available out on the opposite facet! That is the “Journey” in “Pure Habitat Adventures.” That is the sensation of being alive and remodeled via difficult oneself.

After this expertise, I used to be positive that the remainder of the journey was going to be simpler—at the least when it got here to kayaking.

Kayakers on the Douro River in Portugal

As we made our manner downstream over the following few days, we gazed on the terraced mountainsides, which stretched so far as the attention might see. It’s humbling to witness these feats of human ingenuity—to comprehend the individuals of the previous remodeled a complete panorama to outlive. The socalcos—the outdated stone-walled terraces—are an emblem of our adaptability and perseverance.

With this sense of awe and surprise, we paddled alongside the banks of the Douro. I interpreted alongside the best way and helped to maintain the group collectively. However, most frequently, I simply tried to assist our vacationers perceive how particular and distinctive this land is. It wasn’t a troublesome process. There was the identical sparkle of their eyes that I had seen within the eyes of my visitors in Thailand so a few years in the past.

Attending to Know You

After a protracted day on the river, we all the time seemed ahead to a calming—and infrequently enchanting—night. Restored farmsteads, luxurious guesthouses, stone retreats, historic manor houses: the locations we stayed in had been merely beautiful. Extra essential, nevertheless, had been the connections with the native workers, who made them actually really feel like houses away from house. These relationships typically return years and years, and you’ll really feel that in each interplay. They actually care about their Nat Hab visitors!

Infinity Pool at Casa do Rio in Portugal

The attractive infinity pool at Casa do Rio, overlooking terraces and the Douro

Together with paddling the river and admiring the fantastic thing about the wine terraces, there was one other facet of my first guiding expertise that I beloved: attending to know our vacationers. Sitting at dinner, sipping a glass of wine, searching on the beautiful views, I realized a lot about—and from—our visitors. I cherished the laughter and the nice and cozy, pleasant environment. It’s immensely rewarding to look at a gaggle of strangers begin to look after and about one another—a dynamic that we all the time hope to assist foster as Expedition Leaders.

In fact, throughout our excursions and our night discussions, questions got here up that I couldn’t reply. I needed to be trustworthy with our visitors— and with myself—that I don‘t know the whole lot. Not but, and doubtless not ever! On the similar time, I hope I confirmed them that I’m all the time prepared to be taught extra. I’ve to confess, although: It might really feel like a failure or disappointment to not know the reply. To beat that feeling, I attempted my greatest to come back again to them as quickly as potential with the reply and a smile.

Nat Hab guests gather for dinner in Portugal

Reflections on My First Journey—And Extra to Come

Maybe most vacationers would like a information with years of expertise and tons of accomplished journeys beneath their belt. Somebody who is aware of the whole lot and who has accomplished all of it. And little doubt: Nat Hab has a mess of outstanding and super-experienced Expedition Leaders. However it’s essential to do not forget that all of these great guides needed to begin someplace! One journey and one group all the time must be the primary—hopefully with many extra to come back.

So, must you encounter a brand new Expedition Chief on one among your journeys, I hope you’ll welcome them to Nat Hab the best way Nat Hab has welcomed me, with open arms. I’m actually grateful for the best way my group of vacationers responded, once they discovered on the last celebration dinner that this was my first journey: with heat, a variety of shock, and a spherical of applause.

I’m positive I’ll come again to Vitor and Pedro and their heat and hospitality, which encapsulates the Portuguese soul so completely. I do know the Douro Valley will see my smile once more, as I kayak on the river of wine and gold. And I hope I get to see my first group of vacationers once more, whether or not in Portugal or on one other journey!

Daniel Blankenheim

All images © Daniel Blankenheim

RELATED ARTICLES

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular