Last March the world as we knew it ground to a complete halt. People everywhere suffered undeniably: through their physical and mental health, through a sudden loss of social life and personal routine, and of course, through a loss of work. One of the worst-hit sectors was travel. While some offices stayed open working for an uncertain future- guides, porters, and cooks were left stranded.
In Peru, there are 10,500 official tour guides- 9,500 of which are in Cusco, and plenty more people working unofficially as guides. That means that a conservative guess of 20,000 people across Peru were catapulted into an uncertain length of unemployment. Many, many people assumed that the pandemic would be under control in a matter of weeks.
As the weeks stretched into months, more and more travel agencies went out of business, tour operators closed their doors for good and the situation began to look desperate. Infections and deaths surrounded people everywhere. It became clear that tourism would not be returning as quickly as everyone had hoped.
If you’ve ever been to Peru, you already know the people who took you trekking, kayaking, paddleboarding, or any of the other kinds of activities Peru has to offer then you already know the people that have struggled the most. The people had no other choice than to re-train in another profession and make a little money where they could.
Our Guide Ruben has spoken about how when the Peruvian economy collapsed, it was impossible to find a job. And he is not alone. With thousands in a similar position to him, dreams and future plans crumbled. After the loss of his father, he had to resort to selling his vehicle and accessing his pension fund just to get by. This is, sadly, a story that has been repeated over 6000 times.
It’s not just the economy that crumbled- Xavier talks about the culture shock of going from spending his days in the mountains to being unable to leave his house for weeks and months on end:
“Freedom is something that the pandemic has stolen from us. The freedom of going out with your clients and being able to talk to them without the use of that mask, the food, my coworkers, the adventures, the landscape… it’s hard to pick up just one thing, I miss being a guide.”
With a sudden breath of fresh air, a light appeared at the end of the tunnel. Owner of Amazonas Explorer, Paul Cripps proposed what would become a lifeline for their 16 main guides. Each guide proposed a business plan and a budget. And Paul began to fundraise.
In total, almost £30,000 (or $41,000) was raised. This was used in a variety of ways, from Ruben setting up a stall in the market to Jose Miguel being able to build a chicken farm with his family. These fundraisers did more than just provide a financial lifeline. They offered a second chance, a torch in the night, to the guides and their families in what could be the most trying times any of us have ever been a part of.
As an unbelievable wave of support washed across the guides, they were reminded of the power of their work while they find their feet in this new career, and enjoy the time they have with their family before returning to guiding.
Some guides have even utilized the currently unused land next to Lake Huaypo– previously a base for our stand-up paddle-boarding, kayaking, and Pachamama demonstrations. Our staff Ernesto, Maria, Alex, and Miky have transformed our base into a functioning potato farm.
But with this fresh start, will they even want to come back?
It’s a question that has echoed through people’s minds. However, when speaking to the guides most have been working with Amazonas Explorer for over ten years. They talk about how much of a family it feels to them, about how they have grown as professionals and as people within the company.
The challenges they faced of ensuring that their travelers enjoyed the trip of a lifetime has been replaced with the challenges of running a new business and ensuring that food can still be found on the table. While many are tackling the challenge head-on with the spirit of entrepreneurship in their hearts, the love of guiding remains.
Guiding is more than just a job for our staff. It’s a way of life that promises a brighter future for not just the person guiding you but their family as well- and in a country that is so family orientated, that’s all that matters.
“I miss sharing my culture, history, and bringing support to our communities with our visitors. I miss feeling in contact with our mother earth, our sacred mountains, our rivers and lakes, our sanctuaries. I miss reaching goals with our friends from around the world, being alongside them as they challenge themselves in our sacred lands.
Machu Picchu and our archeological sites are open again. Our local people, our wayquis, horsemen, chefs, the camping families, and me and my family are waiting for you with our warm hugs, hoping that you come back to Peru very soon. Never forget that you have your Peruvian family here.”
“Amazonas Explores is my second home. There is a lot of harmony, respect, responsibility, solidarity, and affection among its workers. The work environment is very pleasant and there are many positive things for both clients and workers. My family and I are very proud that I work for Amazonas Explorer.
I miss the freedom of being a guide, of sharing the wonders that we have in my country with my clients. I miss having friends from many parts of the world, lunches in the open air, walks, the smiles of my clients. I miss my porters, who I love very much, but above all, I miss the satisfaction and the joy of seeing the happy faces of my clients at the end of my services.”
“Being a guide for me is not a job, it is something that I love to do, to show visitors, to go out into the countryside to walk, to ride a bicycle, to talk about history, to show them the birds as well as the traditions and language of the places we pass through…in short, I hope to return very soon to continue to enjoy all of this.”
Each of our guides thanks every person with their whole heart for extending a helping hand to raise themselves up and reinvent themselves:
“My family deeply appreciates all the help- from the bottom of our hearts. When you can return you will be invited to share a beautiful Peruvian dish in my home.”
“I will never forget the support they gave me, which helped my whole family a lot. Saying thank you would simply not be enough to thank you. I will take you to a very special place in my heart and that of my family.”
“From the bottom of my heart, I thank the people who donated because it was a great help, and they had no obligation to do so.”
And this is the truth. There was no obligation to help- and often donations can feel like sending a finite resource into the void- but not this time. This time those who needed it got it, and quickly.
But isn’t that what the pandemic has taught us? That the importance of things is not as important as our families and the people that care about us. That freedom is something to be cherished, and the help kindness from those around us can make a difficult situation not so difficult.
This is an ethos that Amazonas Explorer holds very close to its heart. Our staff considers us to be family, and family looks out for one another. As a family, we help each other through the dark times and into the light.
Just before the pandemic hit, Maximiliano Usca, a porter and a muleteer who had been working with us for many years sadly passed away from an unknown illness. He left behind his wife Paulina and three children, Elias aged 21, Felipe aged 18, and Maritza, aged 8.
Elias has a genetic disability that affects his spinal column, leaving him unable to work. Felipe and Martiza are both studying- but this sudden change in circumstances and loss of income left the family desperate.
Aside from providing each of our porters with a food parcel for each month throughout the pandemic- which was later subsidized with our incredibly successful 25 for 25 fundraiser, we knew there was more that had to be done to guarantee the family would keep a roof over their head.
So, What did we do?
We built them a house.
One of our guides, Elias Lazo had successfully found a job, and so he donated every penny that was made during the fundraiser to this cause. Others who had raised more than they needed, including Ruben Apaza and Jose Vazquez, donated what they had to spare. What they made, company owner Paul Cripps matched from his own pocket.
It’s easy to express sympathies. It’s easy to feel sad. It’s not always so easy to make a real difference in the lives of those who have affected yours. This house means that the family can still support itself. It means that the family doesn’t need to worry about losing their home during an already incredibly difficult time.
If you want to know more about us, how we travel, and how we look after our guides, please don’t hesitate to contact us.4