From insurance to tour guide: Alex’s Story (Part 2)

So there I was packed and ready for the weekend to arrive. I was to leave early Sunday morning to take up the challenge in Oudtshoorn of becoming a German-speaking guide at Highgate Ostrich farm. Waiting was not one of my strengths and it was only Thursday. Boredom set in, so I started paging through the yellow pages (an antiquated book of business addresses throughout South Africa) when I came across a Cape Town-based business called Tours & Trails. It sounded intriguing and the fact that I loved the outdoors and was a dedicated scout who had hiked most of the mountains around Cape Town urged me to be spontaneous and take a chance. After all, I had nothing to lose.

I picked up the phone and dialled the number for African Tours & Trails.

A lady answered and asked how she could help. I replied by saying that I would love to work for the company and enquired whether they had a vacancy for me. She asked me to hold while she spoke with her boss and shortly returned to the phone with the unfortunate news that they had no vacancies available. She did, however, say that she would like to take down my details for future reference. Before divulging anything else, I informed her that I spoke German, Afrikaans and English and that I had just been accepted to become a guide on the Highgate Ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn. I’d be leaving Cape Town on Sunday to take up my new post as a predominantly German-speaking guide. She paused for a second and asked me to hold once more. She returned shortly, a bit more enthusiastic, and asked me if I was available to come down to their office for an interview in 20 minutes. Without hesitation, I accepted her offer.

Being the punctual person I am, I made it to town in ten minutes and arrived with a knock at the door on the dot. I was shown to a small waiting room by a friendly young lady by the name of Miriam, who I later found was also a tea maker, shopping assistant and receptionist – pretty much a Jack of all trades. She was even in charge of overseeing the day-to-day running of the business.

After waiting for about ten minutes, I was called into an office. Awaiting me was a large man almost 2 meters tall. He was seated behind an equally large desk in a reclining swivel chair. He greeted me and started the interview by asking me what my knowledge of Cape Town was and why I wanted to become a tour guide. My response was that I enjoyed showing people around and often read up on the different places I hiked in order to educate myself so that I could navigate the area better and speak about it when guiding hikers. I informed him about my post at the ostrich farm and that I was to leave on Sunday to be the German-speaking guide.

As the interview drew to a close, he stood up and said, “If you’d like, you can start working for us.” Surprised at his unexpected offer, I obviously had a few questions about office hours, which clothing I would have to wear and when I would start. I also still had to phone and cancel the job in Oudtshoorn.

Without delay he handed me a set of keys which belonged to a blue minivan parked at the entrance outside. The minivan had “FRONT ROW TOURS Gives You the Best View” printed in bold letters across the side. This got me wondering how I had managed to end up at Front Row Tours after calling Tours and Trails. It turned out that Front Row Tours did not do trails but had partnered with a second company called African Tours & Trails, which was an incoming tour operation from America that brought in tourists who were taken on guided tours by Front Row Tours.

After establishing some middle ground and proving that I did indeed own a valid driver’s licence, the owner proceeded to inform me that I would be starting the next day and that my first job would be to do the usual Cape Town city tour in the morning. I would have to pick up the guests from their various hotels at different times and once I had them all aboard I was to proceed with the tour. Slightly overwhelmed, I informed him that I had never done a tour of that nature and did not know what was expected of me for a 4-hour tour. In a calm and cool manor, his response was that I was to pick up the last guests at the Mount Nelson Hotel and collect the money for the tour from each guest (R7 per person in those days). I was to proceed to the cable station and accompany the guests up Table Mountain, show them around the conservation and explain some fun facts about the city.

After Table Mountain I was to drive through the Malay Quarter and then on to the Castle of Good Hope, South Africa’s oldest European-built fortress. There I was to meet up and join with a fellow guided tour group and finally proceed to the South African museum to show them the Bushman and Hottentots exhibition. I then had to take everyone back to their respective hotels and return to the office for the afternoon tour.

Hesitantly, I yet again informed him that I had never done anything of the sort before, after which he got up from his swivel chair and moved over to a bookshelf and pulled out an A4-size book covered in brown paper with the words “Springbok Atlas Tours” printed on it. He tossed it to me and told me there was some material on the different tours he put together when he was still a Springbok Atlas coach driver and tour guide. I was told to read through it before going to bed and I would be able to do the tour successfully.

Those were his lasts words of the interview.

I couldn’t believe what had just happened and that a man I had met an hour ago had entrusted me with the keys to a tour bus, a guide book and a list of the names of passengers I was meant to pick up in the morning.

That afternoon I practiced finding all the hotels so I wouldn’t make a fool of myself trying to find them in the morning…. to be continued.