We know that our Tour Leaders are key to the success of our holidays and we think it's a shame you only get to meet them when out on tour. With that in mind we've decided to run regular features about them so you can get to know them better.
We ask each Tour Leader a few probing questions and they tell us about their experiences out on tour. Plus we'll include customer feedback to give you an idea of exactly how our leaders make our adventures great!
Tour Leader of the Month – Claude (Madagascar)
How long have you worked with Explore and what do you enjoy most about being a Tour Leader?
I attended the intensive Tour Leader training course at Explore HQ in April 2006. Since then, I have become an Explore Tour Leader in my home country of Madagascar. I am so proud to work for such a professional company.
This job is gorgeous and obviously broadens your mind. I am passionate about the local culture and Madagascar’s amazingly unique wildlife. There are many great things about being a Tour Leader and it’s really hard to pick out one, but if I have to I would say, I have been fortunate enough to travel very often and meet new people from different backgrounds, whom I can share the local culture and my keen passion for native wildlife with.
I love the challenges that tour leading brings every single day to make sure the tours run smoothly. How great it is at the end of a tour to hear from a group that they enjoyed their stay in Madagascar.
Any funny stories or comments or just some words about the fantastic country you work in?
Located in the Indian Ocean - 400 km off the southeast coast of Africa - Madagascar is renowned for its cultural and biological diversity, which are major attraction for tourists as well as the diversity of landscapes and rock formations. Most of the local traditions or customs have links to the dead relatives or ancestors - that may sound weird to strangers.
Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world. It boasts a wide diversity of fragile ecosystems and is home to an abundance of animals and plants found nowhere else on Earth. As a result of the island’s long seclusion, it has allowed a unique array of animals and plants to evolve. It is home to such evolutionary oddities as the ancestral primates named ‘Lemurs’, the carnivorous ‘Fossa’, colourful chameleons, several hundred kinds of frogs, many endemic birds and unusual plants including Baobab trees. According to IUCN, its primates are the world’s highest priority for conservation.
What is the view from your office?
From the windows you can enjoy Antananarivo town centre and its main features such as the views over the central town and quaint, red brick. There are upright Malagasy two-storey houses with balconies standing shoulder to shoulder with modern office blocks in a fine higgledy-piggledy jumble on hill slopes with locals going about their everyday life.
When on a tour, I do my paperwork in hotel rooms and the best location is at the balcony of my chalet in Anakao beach resort that offers stunning views of the turquoise blue Indian Ocean.
What in your opinion is the best thing about the job?
As a native, I am very proud of my country. I often feel like I’m an ambassador and am very pleased to show my groups the real Madagascar, not just the tourist side. It’s great to travel with people of different natures and interests and introduce them to your own country. I’ll snatch the opportunity when it presents for my group to interact with locals who are in return, pleased to see their pictures on a digital camera.
Being a keen birder, I usually go the extra mile for early morning bird-watching before the day’s schedule; how pleasant to see some of the group members joining you and sharing the same interest. It often strikes me how different each tour is from the last one; there’s no telling what’s going to show up and there are some occasions producing sights of unexpected species.
Describe the funniest event you ever witnessed with a group?
There are too many to mention! Every tour is different as I meet a big diversity of people. Some are embarrassing to tell. Well, let’s say, on a tour room allocation, I confidently thought I remembered everyone’s face and names. I designated a man to share a room with the wife of another couple on the tour. Or, the group won’t ever believe how hot the chilli in Madagascar is; they don’t listen to just add a tad and they’re consequently blowing fire. In this job I face many funny moments.
What is the best place to visit in your country and why?
The wildlife and isolation of this ancient island ‘continent’ make it one of the most fascinating yet least travelled areas of all Africa. There are lots of great places in Madagascar and it’s really very hard to pick one out as they are so different to each other. The island of Madagascar is truly a lost world, an experiment in evolution. Some of my favourites are:
Ranomafana’ National Park has turned out to be one of the most important wildlife areas in Madagascar.
Isalo National Park is spectacular due to its stunning Jurassic sandstone rock formation where ‘Madagascar Grand Canyon’ is found (welcome to Jurassic Park!).
The famous ‘Tsingy of Bemaraha’ is awesome and spectacular. Razor-sharp limestone pinnacles are found on the west, formed by acidic rain erosion, and is home to some sought-after species of bird, chameleon, lemur and plant life. It’s a magical place for me. You will enjoy the amazing Baobab Avenue and Kirindy wildlife on the way to the Tsingy.
Describe one of the local customs in your country?
Famadihana (reburial) is a funerary tradition of the Malagasy people in Madagascar, known as ‘the turning of the bones’. People bring forth the bodies of their ancestors from the family crypts and rewrap them in fresh silk shrouds, then dance with the corpses around the tomb to live music. The custom is based upon a belief that the spirits of the dead finally join the world of the ancestors after the body's complete decomposition and appropriate ceremonies, which may take many years. In Madagascar this is a regular ritual usually and the custom brings together extended families in celebrations of kinship.
It's important because it's our way of respecting the dead. It is also a chance for the whole family, from across the country, to come together. Ancestor worship is the common thread running through all of Madagascar's diverse cultures and remains important. It is an essential way of maintaining ties with the dead.
Lots of beer, wine and locally brewed spirits will be on offer that day. This is a day for celebration, not for sadness. Often more than one band can be found on these occasions. Some with copper instruments like trumpets and others with harmonicas, violins and self-made guitars.
What do your customers often forget to pack and what other recommendations would you have?
Generally our guests are experienced travellers, but I have noticed on different tours, many people neglect to take with them ‘antibacterial hand-wash gel’. The problem of having the right electrical plug is not uncommon, but generally sorted out between the customers.
My recommendations: you will gain a great deal from the trip if you travel with an open mind and a flexible attitude. Therefore patience and a sense of humour are important prerequisites to the enjoyment of your holiday.