Being a tour guide isn’t for everyone. When at work, a tour manager needs to fulfil the travel desires and needs of the group 24 hours a day, sometimes for weeks at a time. The level of research, reading and planning needed before the trip becomes a job in itself. Travel has to be your greatest passion.
So, how do tour guides get into the industry? We spoke with Titan Tour Guide Eve Charlier, in her sunny Andalucían home, to find out more.
What does travel mean to you?
I’ve always had this feeling of wanderlust, or itchy feet, and a belief that travel provides an education. The experience is very different now compared with when I started travelling, many moons ago. The world is a lot smaller and it’s opened up immensely for travellers, which is fantastic. That’s what I love about travel; it’s a first-hand experience.
What is your earliest travel experience?
I was a babe in arms! My parents used to travel back and forth to the UK from India frequently and my father told me about one escapade in particular, which happened when I was a six month old baby. It was at the time of yellow fever and my parents had to get off to change planes at Kathmandu. They ended up being quarantined in a little shack at the end of the runway.
What were your parents doing in India?
My background is quite varied. I’m the result of an English father, who was a tea planter, and an Indian tribal mother. My mother is from an area in North East India called Nagaland, which is made up of 16 different tribes and is not very well known. My father went straight out there after the Second World War.
There was a real tradition of young British men going out to discover the tea plantations. He was a pilot in the war and my grandfather said, ‘Don’t you think you should get a real job now?’ As a result, he sent him out to India, where he stayed for 45 years.
How did your parents meet?
He fell off his horse playing polo and she was the nurse. My mother experienced a lot of racism and prejudice at the time. Their story is a book I would like to write when I retire.
Wasn’t that seen as quite an outrageous thing at the time?
Oh yes it was, my father was a pioneer. Mixed marriages were forbidden, but my father said to the company, if you won’t let me marry her, I’ll leave. They valued him so much that they changed the policy. There were about three or four of his colleagues who had also met local girls and wanted to marry them. I remember them dearly, we weren’t related but I called them uncles.
What was life like there for you and your parents?
Colonial India was quite a distinctive place to grow up. They had their own club houses and polo tournaments – we even had servants. Each tea planter managed a tea garden, so he would be responsible for about 150 workers who picked Assam tea.
Did you stay in India?
We left India for good in 1972. It was at the time of the partition between East and West Pakistan. A lot of the tea planters left India and dispersed around the globe, so dad decided to set up in the UK and my elderly grandparents moved in with us.
We travelled back to India every two years or so to see my mother’s family. Unfortunately my mother suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, so the damp cold weather of the UK didn’t really do her much good. After eight years, they decided to move to Andalucía in Spain.
It was amazing how fearless my parents were, they had absolutely no fear of travelling. A couple of years before, my dad bought a campervan with the intention of driving all the way to India.
Have you been back to Nagaland as an adult?
I went back to my mother’s village about four years ago and I’m going back again this year. It’s quite a pilgrimage, but I feel incredibly connected to it. I still have cousins and family over there. It’s only just been opened up to the West because of political unrest. Previously it was a restricted area and you could only visit with a permit.
I was 12 when we left the UK, so I had my secondary education in Spain. 12 is a very formative age so it was difficult to pick up a new language, but I did manage to become bilingual.
What did you want to be?
I was very into art, but I wanted to be an air hostess – as all young girls did! The airline industry was very different then compared with how it is today, all the cheap airlines didn’t exist then. My other interest was getting into fashion design, but I think going to Spain took me on a different route.
Would you consider yourself Spanish?
Really I’m more Spanish-Naga than English. I only really spent eight years in England. Maybe I’m more of a citizen of the world.
When did you first set off on your own?
Here in southern Spain there is quite a large sailing community. Lots of ports mean that lots of sailboats come through en route to the Atlantic or journeying further up through the Med. I used to do a lot of sailing so, when I was about 18 or 19, I left to work as part of the crew on a sailboat. I got hooked and absolutely loved it.
When did you first leave Spain?
I went to the US to work as an au pair when I was 21. I lived with a lovely family in New Jersey, quite close to Philadelphia. I’m still in contact with the kids, who are grown up now. One of them (Rachel) has her own child.
After that I did three months around the US by Amtrak and into Canada. It was a fantastic experience; it gave me a chance to get to know America and everything it stood for. Although, it did make me realise that America isn’t a country that I would want to live in. It’s a fascinating place but I haven’t been back to the States for around 20 years now.
When you were in America at that time, you were only 21. Did you ever get homesick?
Yeah I did miss my parents. You get homesick at any stage of your life, especially when you speak to family. I used to call them once a week, which would always be a bit teary.
Did you write home?
I was constantly in correspondence with my parents. Fortunately, I still have those letters. My mother passed away quite a long time ago and my father was with us until four years ago. They kept all my letters, all in a box. One day I’ll sit down, go back and read through them.
Out of all the countries you’ve been lucky enough to live in, which one feels most like home?
Spain is home for me. I came home after America and it has been my base since.
Where was next for you?
I left for Australia on a working visa about a year after being in Spain. It’s a wonderful continent. I didn’t manage to see all of it, but backpacking was a lovely way of travelling.
Did you work on the farms?
Yes, I had lots of weird and wonderful jobs.
What was the strangest one you had?
The worst one was filleting fish in a factory – it was awful!
A few of us worked there and it was pretty horrendous. We met in a backpacker’s hostel and decided to share a house in Melbourne (I was house mother, in charge of menus and the cooking).
My job was bad, but it wasn’t as bad as one that my housemate did. He had the job of shovelling out sardines from the back of a truck – he was thigh deep in sardines. My god did we stink!
How did you get into touring?
I have friends who toured for another company called Education First who thought I’d be good as a guide. I hadn’t really thought about it though, because I’d just bought a farm. I had planned to put all my energy and time into that, but they convinced me I’d be great and I still needed to work, so I gave it a go.
Do you still tour for Education First?
I combine it with Titan. They specialise in cultural tours for US and Canadian high school students. In a way it means I get to see both ends of the scale. It’s a totally different ballgame to Titan; when it comes to the running of the tour I need to be a lot more proactive. It’s much faster paced, as you can imagine.
Touring can’t be an easy job?
I’ve been able to turn my hand to all sorts of things when it comes to work – it doesn’t worry me. You do have to be a people person. It’s down to communication; you have to be confident enough to talk to anyone and be able to deal with difficult situations.
What’s the most difficult situation you’ve encountered touring?
I would say the baptism of fire for my touring career was a three-week trip with a group of students on ES. It was a bilingual tour in English and Spanish, and it was the first tour I ever led. I have a few stories, but not sure they’re printable! A lot of the issues came down to discipline, which should really be in the hands of the teacher. This particular teacher said, ‘no you’re responsible for that,’ and washed their hands of it.
Where is home now?
I live with my husband on a small farm in an old house dating back to 1700. The idea is to set up a small rural bed and breakfast retreat. It’s a self-sufficient, organic farm. We’re totally off the grid with no mains electricity – everything’s solar powered. The idea is to reduce the tours slowly, dedicate more time to Titan and less to the students. I’m very, very lucky to have a very understanding and supportive husband; I always say that on my tours.
Sounds amazing, what is it like?
It’s my little paradise. It’s a kind of Garden of Eden. I can look out to wonderful views of nature. We have no neighbours, but live close to a very typical whitewashed Andalucían village.
The Portugal tour I do with Titan has wonderful, oftentimes quite rural places to stay, so in that regard it’s quite similar to my home area.
Is that what you do when you’re not touring, work on the farm?
Over the winter, I’m here. I stay calm, relax and don’t really do much. It helps me to de-stress and “de –tour” after the touring season.
My other passion in life is stained glass; we have a small workshop at home where I make and design stained glass windows. There are bits of stained glass all over the house!
How do you make it? What’s the process?
It’s not the leaded kind of stained glass; I like to make the copper kind, Tiffany style. I cut the pieces and solder them all together. I’d like to evolve one day to get an oven and make fused glass, mixing up different colours and melting them down. My husband’s also quite creative. He’s an interior designer and jewellery designer, so we share the workshop.
What is your most prized possession?
My animals; we have Spanish Water Dogs with almost Rasta style hair. The little one is called Tila – she’s deaf, blind and has doggy dementia.
We also have peacocks.
Would you say your home is full of possessions or kept minimal?
It’s very eclectic; I have lots of bits and pieces from my roots and there are lots of Indian influences. Whenever I go to a new city on tour I always like to find a local artist and buy a hand painted picture. I’ve collected paintings from all over the world including Lisbon, Venice and Rome.
Do you take photographs?
I do, I’m very creative. I’ve got a lot of projects built up for retirement.
What’s your most magical moment with Titan?
I recently had two lovely elderly sisters in my group called Greta and Shirley. They’re both in their 80s and they’re both spinsters who’ve lived together for a long time. They worked together in Cadbury’s accounts department, and they started touring with Titan when they retired. I first met them when we had a film crew about a year ago, and then I met them in November on the Portugal tour again. They came running up to me and gave me a great big hug. They’re such sweet ladies.
If you liked this article take a look at our interview with John England, another Titan expert tour guide.