Since 2005, I work as an environmental guide for different groups and organizations:
The Tohu, the GREMM, Nova Envirocom, the Biodome and the Botanical Garden, all located in the Province of Quebec (Canada), where I live since 1999.
Of course, I accumulated a lot of anecdotes involving the public since; most of them are very nice. Some of them are very funny, for example, I can tell you about the faces people make when they hear me speak and try to guess where I come from originally from my accent.
In general, one of the first questions I am asked when I’m done with my lesson is where do I come from: am I Romanian? Greek? Hungarian? Nobody guesses correctly the first time…
I am Argentinian with three Italian grandparents.
Another question I am asked and that makes me laugh is if my hair is naturally the way it is. Why yes, those are my natural curls and hair color thank you… Once I got over the curious questions, we could talk about whales, recycling and plants. Today I would like to tell you about my best and worst experiences as an environmental guide.
The best conference I participated in was at the Faculty of Biology in Córdoba and it was about the whales of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec.
It was in 2007, my contract with the GREMM (Group of Research and Education on Marine Mammals) located in the city of Tadoussac, where I worked at three different places as a guide for whale watchers: the GREMM Interpretation Centre, one of Parks Canada’s sites called Pointe-Noire and the Croisières AML which are cruises that go to the estuary to be able to see whales and seals. Once my summer was over, I traveled in Córdoba for two months before I had to search for a new job.
After I’ve spent four months talking about whales, among other things, I felt like I was an expert. I organized a conference with the Student Center of Biology, and gave a presentation of approximately two hours to an amphitheater filled with mainly first year students, which was normal since it was the beginning of the year and they were mostly the only one attending.
My mother and some friends were also there, sitting front row. The amphitheater was the same as the one I used to come to for my first biology classes in 1993. Standing there brought back many memories, but I wasn’t a student anymore I was a lecturer this time. The theme was fascinating and I was happy to share my knowledge with everyone. I had so many flashbacks about all the lectures I attended in the past, how I admired the experts giving the lectures and how I was planning my future and imagining my career.
I received many questions at the end of the lecture and I could see the students’ interest and curiosity in their eyes, it was a true gift. A less pleasant memory was the first workshop I presented for the company Nova Envirocom in 2008 and which was about how to make compost. This company was selling recycled plastic containers in which we could put organic waste and transform it into good quality soil for the garden and called compost.
I gave a lecture with a friend of mine, who was a chemical engineer, in a municipality of Quebec in front of 200 persons approximately. The problem was that the lecture was too technical; we talked about the chemical process, the temperatures and the different types of bacteria involved in the decomposing the waste.
The crowd was only interested in how to do it, what to use, how to take care of it and how to use it.
And since my friend and I didn’t agree on how to answer questions, we gave contradictory answers, which annoyed the public. At the end of the workshop, many people left frustrated and of course we didn’t receive any applause.
We felt bad and decided to change the presentation, study much more and agree on the way to answer the most asked questions. Despite this experience, the company still called us to present workshops during springtime and fall season, and in different municipalities at that. The last one I presented was that year was a total success. I received applauses and congratulations from the organizers. What a relief! Moreover, it’s been three years that I’ve been composting in my building, so now I can rely on my hands-on experience which I lacked in the beginning.
Another horrible experience was during whale-watching on a boat, in Tadoussac with approximately 300 senior citizens and in the middle of a storm. I was the guide and had to explain the basics of observing marine mammals, the physical environment we were in, meeting whales, identifying them and explain what type of equipment we used. In general, everything went well and we saw many interesting species.
However, the company’s policy was to not cancel the cruises even in poor weather conditions. And that day in particular, the weather was a nightmare: rainy, windy, and cold.
We still sailed out but of course, we couldn’t see anything.
Passengers started to feel sick, me included, because of the violent movements of the boat. I was wearing a red jacket Antarctic explorers usually wore; that’s how cold it was! I had my microphone and was trying to explain that whales were not fish but mammals and that we were about to see some theoretically…
But I wasn’t feeling good, so I sat in the rain, half-frozen on the third deck, next to the bridge but outside it.
When I tried to go inside the cabin, the captain shouted at me, saying he was really in a bad mood because he had to sail out in such conditions. I couldn’t go down to the other two decks because there were people vomiting and asking me if we were going to reach land. I stayed on a bench, trying to explain something through my microphone, completely drenched, frozen and feeling miserable.
Finally, the worst excursion of Tadoussac came to an end, the passengers got out of the boat quickly and angrily while I headed home to take a hot shower and try to recover from my own discomfort.
Luckily, and to compensate for the recent event, a few weeks later I received a group of Spanish bankers who were visiting the area. They wanted to do a special activity and asked for a guide who spoke Spanish. And since I was the only one that fitted the description, they made me Montreal for Tadoussac.
It was raining but not heavily and there was no storm. So we sailed out and we were able to see some whales. The cruise included a lunch made of lobsters, shrimps and a few good desserts. I explained everything to them, answered questions and was invited to have lunch with them. I didn’t feel like I was working a lot, but they paid my trip, the accommodation, the lunch and my fee. All this just for an outing with a VIP group! In the end, it benefitted me to be the only Spanish-speaking guide and nobody was looking at me funny because of my accent!
So many memories, people that I have talked to, sometimes someone recognizes me and say: “Aren’t you the person that explained to my group how to handle stick-insect from Australia?” Yes, it was probably me, the weird the subject is, the more probable that it was me.
This summer, I dedicated my time to explain how the gigantic mosaics in the Botanical Garden were built.
And I invited people to participate in the joint work we do at the end of the tour because there are no better ways to understand what we do than to use our own hands to do it. I am lucky to be able to help people learn more about nature since knowing makes you want to protect and be a part of not only the environmental problems we hear about, but also their solutions.
Author: Helena Arroyo
Translation: Noëlla Moussa