A little less than a year ago, Luca Alfatti was crowned the best guide in the world. He tells Peter Moore how it has changed his life
When Dragoman's Luca Alfatti was announced as the winner of the 2012 Wanderlust World Guide Awards at the Royal Geographical Society last October the cheer could be heard at Buckingham Palace. Peter Moore chats to our most popular winner about life after the awards and just what makes a great guide.
How did it feel winning the Wanderlust World Guide Awards?
It felt FANTASTIC. I could not believe it was me for real, for a minute I did think…. Is this a joke?
Winners of the Wanderlust World Guide Awards receive a £5,000 bursary for the charity of their choice. What did you do with yours?
I have helped a charity, called Manos Amigas, from my town in Italy to complete their latest addition to their clinic in San Andres Itzapa in Guatemala. It is a centre for abused women and their children. They come from all backgrounds but are all very poor. Femicide in Guatemala is one of the highest rates in the world, and is still very dangerous being a women in this country unfortunately. It is a legacy of the 30 years of civil war this country endured.
They now have an Oncological Clinic – cancer of the female reproduction organs is rife in Guatemala mainly due to the lack of regular check ups. They can only provide assistance for the women who are sponsored. Their dream is to be able to provide assistance to any woman who walks in the clinic for free. And maybe in a future not too far away being able to treat directly at the clinic. At the moment they can only do check ups, and pay for operations for the women who are sponsored.
What did you enjoy most about being a guide?
Just being able to show the world to a lot of like-minded people. Many of them found the trips ‘life changing experiences’ and ‘inspirational’. I don’t think there is better reward in my job.
What is the hardest part about being a guide?
I have never found the job hard, and I struggle finding a hard part to it. I guess lately it was being away from my girlfriend for long periods of time.
What do you think makes a good guide?
This is a very difficult question. Many will agree in saying that the Tour Leader/Guide makes or breaks a trip, and I tend to agree. There are many attributes which make a good guide, but basically you have to LOVE what you do, and have fun while doing it. That will inspire the group.
What are the essential skills a guide needs?
Enthusiasm and a lot of energy! Everything else just comes naturally. A caring attitude will also help to keep your group healthy and safe.
Did you set yourself goals as a guide? Do things to get better? Or was it just a job you naturally excelled in?
I always did since the very first day. I am a 'natural' people person, or so I get told, but like in everything I have to work hard.
I always try to learn as much as possible about the languages and the customs of the countries I travel through, for example. But I am also interested in EVERYTHING, so I am always reading and researching, which I think helps in the guiding/leading industry.
What is the funniest thing that happened to you as a guide?
Has to be when I had my first allergic reaction to shell fish. We were BBQing on Brenu Beach, a stunning beach in Ghana. Lobster freshly fished by the local fisherman and straight onto the grill. We had so many that I think I ended up eating 20 or so. I had a ballooned face for the next week. It looked like Rocky Balboa had had a good go at me. My clients found it hilarious and couldn’t stop laughing... And the local police and the locals couldn’t stop laughing either!
What is the most serious...?
We all laugh about it now, but once in Nigeria I got stopped by three people with some very big machine guns. They told me to step down from the vehicle and took me ‘away’. I had no idea what was happening, nor my co-drivers or my clients. I have to say it was quite a scary moment. It turned out to be Nigerian secret police, and just wanted to know where we were going!
What have you been doing since last year?
I have been doing a lot, maybe a bit too much. I spent some time working as Americas Destination Manager for Dragoman, during which time I set up a trip in Central America which takes clients to the Manos Amigas project, which I am very proud of. It will give the project a continuous help, income and publicity which it desperately needs.
I was also fortunate enough to get accepted into a Paramedic Science course. Come September I will become a full time student. When I found out I had been accepted to the course, I decided to go back to being a guide until it starts. I went out to the Wahkan Corridor in Afghanistan, with Secret Compass, successfully co-leading the first commercial expedition which connected the Small Pamir with the Big Pamir via the Showr Pass.
It is a beautiful and very remote part of the world which many can’t even place on a map. The level of poverty and hardness of life is unimaginable, and even if it is very little, an expedition like the one I co-led helps the Waki and the Kyrgs who live there to endure the winter. I will be most likely leading the same expedition next summer. So I'm not completely out of the game just yet!
Do you miss being a guide?
A lot! And that is the reason why I am still in the game, even though it's only part time.
Do you plan to return to being a guide full-time?
ABSOLUTELY! I am going to study Paramedic Science for the next two years. I am planning to get back in full swing right after, hopefully taking on some remote and challenging expeditions where my new skills will come handy. Being part of an Everest Expedition is my ultimate dream.
Also by gaining a basic medical background I hope to be able to be useful to the local communities I will be visiting in my expeditions.
The travel industry hasn’t got rid of me just yet.
Do you think it is important that guides are recognised by awards like the Wanderlust World Guide Awards?
It think it is vital! As Wanderlust says, often tour leaders/guides are not really recognised for the work they do. A lot of people still thinks we are ‘on a paid holiday’ or ‘ we are only having fun’. Of course there are fantastic perks in being a Tour Leader/Guide and I believe it is the best job in the world. Awards like the Wanderlust World Guide Awards help to raise this awareness and hopefully get more people to become a Tour Leader/Guide professionally.
What advice would you give someone who wants to become a guide?
First of all I would suggest they travel and make sure that it is what they want to do. As I said before, it's the best job in the world, but it can be very intense, and it holds some great responsibility. Sometimes you can be away from your home and family for months at the time. But if that is what you want... just go for it and don’t look back, you won’t regret it!