Stories from a guide with a child, is it possible?
by Camila Ahumada Cáceres
Photos: Leo Prieto
Hello, my name is Camila and I’ve been working as a tour guide for many years. I have done it as a study tour guide, as a bilingual guide and as an outdoor education guide.
Before getting pregnant a little over two years ago, I worked guiding and coordinating groups of foreign travelers. Guiding is a very nice job when you travel with people who have similar interests to yours. As part of the Travolution Travel team, I believe in community-based tourism as a tool for the sustainable development of communities and territories, and the travelers I guide are those interested in local communities, in rural tourism and in getting to know places different from the ones that the media usually advertises.
Working as a community-based travel guide has changed my way of thinking and has collaborated in the long process of deconstructing western paradigms with which I work; it has allowed me to get to know amazing places in Chile and now to live the experience of guiding with my son on my back.
I made my last great journey as a guide when I was 6 months pregnant. The French association Culture Contact, which sends us groups of travelers every year, told me that for them it was not a problem that I was pregnant and so I left with my “guata” (Chilean term for belly). It was a beautiful trip in which the travelers ended up nicknaming my “wawa” (Chilean term for baby) Marco Polo, who at that time did not have a name yet, they were amazed and impressed by the amount of movement that this trip implied and the amount of transportation it meant to me: 3 weeks of planes, boats, buses, and vans.
Nothing prevented me from doing my job, sometimes I had to walk slower, however, sustainable tourism should be like that, respecting the times and natural rhythms of the territories and people, including a pregnant guide.
After Gael’s birth, I decided to stop guiding until he was older, trips are usually 2 or 3 weeks long and leaving him without a mother that amount of time didn’t seem like a good idea.
In November 2019, just two years after my last trip and in the midst of the social upheaval, a last minute trip to southern Chile appeared. Finding a guide in such a short notice was impossible. I proposed to my companions to guide the travelers but only if I could go with my family, that is to say with my partner and my son, a proposal that could be very risky, but they accepted without a problem.
“What drives me to travel with my son is the absolute certainty that I am filling his little heart with encounters with people, animals, and ecosystems that will undoubtedly be contributing positively to the construction of his being.“
Among planes and buses, rain and tears, curantos and milk, we had an exhausting, entertaining, different and special travel experience. With a group of exceptional travelers we confirmed how genuine intercultural encounters are when we are open to this type of challenge. As a family we shared with our fellow hosts from different communities in Chile and with travelers who were open-minded and open-spirited and who knew how to value the richness of having a real encounter with the diverse dimensions of this country called Chile.
To have this possibility of working and traveling as a family, is without a doubt to triple the work. It may sound like a vacation to many, but it is not, quite the contrary. Working in charge of others is working 24/7, a tremendous pressure for those who are in charge, added to being in charge of your family, of a child under two years old who only wants to be with his mother, and also speaking two languages at the same time… It’s like making a short circuit.
Even so, as Mark Twain says: “Our destiny is never a place, but a new way of seeing things” and that is exactly what drives me to travel with my son in spite of working – the absolute certainty of filling his little heart with encounters with people, animals and ecosystems that will undoubtedly be contributing positively to the construction of his being.
Nowadays, being a guide and travel coordinator is not compatible with being a mother, but these small experiences can push us to open paths towards better working and living conditions for women in tourism.
I am grateful to those who work with me for always being open to challenges, for keeping their eyes, hearts and disposition open to new ways of doing things, and to my travelers Cyrille, Daniel, Francoise and Marie Paule for venturing to travel in a different way. Living this experience will undoubtedly allow us to contribute to the construction of a new way of doing tourism, one that also contributes to dreaming new paradigms where biodiverse, ecological, fair and empathetic societies prevail.
To those who doubt traveling with their children, please do not let this story scare you, but on the contrary, let it excite you to look for a destination (there are so many!), pack your backpack or suitcase and leave, explore the world in a multi-sensorial way, the diverse forms of life and the experience of community life, especially for those of us who live in the city, it is what our children need to grow up free, healthy and curious!