Helena Arroyo’s first trips as a naturalist.
If you had told me in 1992 that I would work as a naturalist guide and that I would be doing presentations in front of 300 people, I wouldn’t have believed you. Because at that time, and for many years, I was quite the shy girl. I wasn’t especially eager to talk in front of people.
Sometimes, I wonder what made me change that much. To me, what seems to have triggered my newfound personality was all the traveling I had done – especially the first ones, when I was still a biology student – and during which my fellow classmates and I were on the road for short to long travels all across Argentina.
The funny part is that we didn’t have money… It’s not that we had a little bit, we were just penniless.
There have been long weekends spent camping during which the only thing we would buy was ice cream on the way back home.
How did we manage? We hitchhiked, we ate rice, noodles and vegetables that we had cooked on a small fire and we slept in a small tent or wherever we could find the same night. It went from in bell towers, trucks, gas stations, parks, caves, mobile homes to cemetery entrances!
It wasn’t easy either to find somebody who would let us into his or her vehicles, as sometimes we would be a big group of girls. It was precisely the need to talk to so much people we didn’t know, to truckers, park rangers that me less of a timid person. Also, we would find a speedy transport or we would spend another night at a gas station.
And the experience was truly amazing: we met so many nice people, so many truckers who told us that they would drop us off at the bus station because it would be too dangerous otherwise! We also met others who would let me know when they were leaving, and ask us we would like to join them and see other provinces.
There were also ladies who invited me in their home after they learned that my bus was only leaving the next morning, and who would treat as if I were family.
All that made me change. That and the fact that the first job I had in Montreal after graduating was that of a guide, so I guess there was no other option for me than to face my timidity!
And I can say today that I enjoy talking about my favorite subjects in front of people, whether the crowd is young crowd or mature crowd, whether it’s in English, French or Spanish…
My Montreal audience looks at me like I’m strange.
“Where are you from?”, is what I’m frequently asked first. “Well yes, I have a strong Spanish accent, I’m from Argentina”, I always answer… and I think: “My, if they only knew what was my story.”
My penniless days are over and all my savings are used for traveling now. But never do I forget how difficult it is to travel in poor conditions, and I’m always grateful when I have somewhere to spend the night… even though I do miss those days.
Author: Helena Aroyo
Translation: Noëlla Moussa