To really get up close with Cape Town, I decided to do a tourist guide course. An initial two weeks are followed by a month of self-study to prepare for an exam.
I was excited for this tourist guide course so I arrived early at Intaka Island, Century City, Cape Town. Crossing a body of water on a well-built wooden footbridge, I approached the Eco-friendly building with pride in every step. Everything of the building said GREEN, natural, sustainable.
Tourist Guide Course in a natural setting
Breath-taking photos of birds and insects dominate the entrance hall. As I approached the conference room, the more diligent had beaten me to the punch. With heads down and pens in hand, they wrote on folders and on white lined sheets of paper. The owner and presenter of the Tourist Guide Institute, Scott Womack greeted me with a firm handshake and a welcoming smile.
Know what to expect from a tourist guide
I am writing about tourist guide training so that you know how guides are trained in Cape Town. You will also know what to expect from them. This current course is to qualify as a cultural tour guide in the Cape Town area and surrounds. Further courses are available for other parts of South Africa.
Twenty-five trainees sat forlornly in quiet and uneasy expectation as Scott talked through the program. Two formidable folders sat on my desk. I hesitated to open them. My pride and excitement dissipated…‘Am I to memorize all of this?’ I moaned… They reminded me of Dr. Suess’s Thing One and Thing Two. Volume one consists of 340 pages and volume two of 199. Additional documents were about the Cape wine industry and the Table Mountain National Park. ‘What have I done?’
Bringing me back to reality, Scott said, ‘you are all quiet today, but by Wednesday there will be much more chatter’. Smile!
Internationals guide in Cape Town
Scott gave us 2 minutes to introduce ourselves, which he demonstrated in 5. The 25 came from South Africa, Germany, Latvia, UK, Zimbabwe, Italy, and Norway. I must not forget the French gal with the very cool accent. Among us were theologians, horse racers, business owners, a doctor, a housewife, moms, a retired scientist, teachers, musicians, a nature conservationist, someone’s dad who hitch-hiked from Egypt to South Africa, a geologist, journalists, farmers and an archaeologist.
Ordinary people, great potential
With her bright eyes and charming humility, a mom shared how her kids put their college education on hold so she could qualify as a tour guide. A gentleman who has ‘been there and done that’ had to pause when his mom died. He took stock of his life and decided to return from roaming the earth to ‘give back’ to South Africa. Another came out of retirement to make extra money for his wife’s hospital bills after she had a nasty accident on a missionary trip. A lady with a permanent smile spoke of her varied ancestry. It sounded like she had blood from more nationalities than were present. I could only think of Heinz 57!
As I listened to colorful stories, the ice and trepidation melted away and were replaced by an appreciation that warmed my heart for that unique blend of fantastic people with great stories. The potential that I saw brought a kind of excitement that needed control.
After lunch, Marge Vermaak, a veteran guide with an emphasis on care, honesty, and service to tourists, unfolded practical wisdom worth more than gold. She warned of what not to do like administer medication and to bad-mouth tour operators. Reflecting her bags of experience, Marge talked about ways to treat complaints and what to do when planes are late and luggage is lost.
Every tourist guide is responsible for the tourism industry
She emphasized the importance of financial integrity and accountability. ‘Keep your promises’ she said, and ‘it is ok to say that you don’t know, just be yourself and don’t lie’. She shared motherly wisdom on how to keep kids entertained in practical ways. In the end, the guide must care for the tourists in his/her care to build long lasting pleasant memories of their trip to Cape Town, South Africa.
The day ended and all too soon I found myself crawling back to Wynberg in heavy traffic.