It was April 24, 2001 at 2:00 pm and a group of 150 retired American tourists were admiring the breathtaking crater of the Masaya Volcano at the Masaya National Park. Tourists went up the stairs towards the cross in search of a better position for pictures, when suddenly and without warning a shower of incandescent stones fell on the parking lot.
“It was the last convoy of tourist from a cruise ship visiting the volcano that afternoon. This was our last stop of the tour after we visited Granada and had lunch in Masaya. We arrived and everything was normal, the crater area looked very clean. People left the bus to take pictures and enjoy the scenery, went up to the cross and I was halfway to the cross. The group was composed of retired people and I always walk closely behind in case of any mishap: a fall, a slip…. The first thing I saw was the parakeets fly out and I said to the other guide, (Jaime Solórzano). “ where do the parakeets are going to?”, and suddenly I felt falling grit and then, Solórzano said: “could it be that the volcano will erupt?” “I do not feel or hear anything”, I said. Immediately thereafter, we looked toward the cross and saw all the seniors running in panic”. This is how he remembers an explosion that caused the opening of a big hole at Masaya volcano and how the experienced tour guide, Juan Carlos Mendoza, faced this difficult situation.
He has been awarded by his professional work twice by the National Chamber of Tourism (CANATUR). The line of terrorized elderly tourists came down the stairs looking for the vehicle that had brought them. “They came down in one disorganized group. It was my military experience that helped me maintain control and calm among people when I am in charge”, says Mendoza 50 year old.
The stones with fire fell on the side of the parking impacting all vehicles that were there. Luckily, 95 percent of tourists were on the stairs and no one was hit, but all the vehicles that were in the parking lot were damaged. “The windows of the buses were all broken. The bus I was in was useless. It, had 4 hot rocks embedded in the ceiling. A rock of about 30 pounds came through a window and rolled up the seats as if they were paper. Another one hit the engine cover and the doors were left hanging. One of the rocks hit the air-conditioned vehicle and caused that bus to catch fire, but we managed to evacuate all the panicking people. We were only three guides controlling over a hundred people in this situation. I told one of the guides to start counting to make sure that no one was missing. The people would not listen, and everyone was nervous and rowdy. “
“Please shut up” was the only phrase that the tour guide Juan Carlos Mendoza found to control the tourists. “I couldn’t find any other way to get their attention. With this expression I managed to control and organize everyone to leave the place. The amazing part is that when we were out of the park and back to Masaya road the tourists expressed: “This has been our best experience in life. We have survived a volcanic explosion and everyone laughed”.
Stay calm and the controlled are Mendoza’s precise tips for those who feel attracted by the profession of guiding tourists in any situation. Although the major purpose is to “avoid professional embarrassment” and find the way to train and prepare yourselves daily. SOCIO-POLITICAL TOURISM IN THE 80’s Juan Carlos Mendoza has 30 years of serving as a tour guide. He began his career in 1983. “During this year, the first tour guides were trained. This happened during the Herty Lewites (former Ministry of Tourism) administration. The course lasted a year and it was intensive. It has been one of the best trainings given in the country. We had the best teachers, such as Dr. Jaime Incer Barquero and Jorge Eduardo Arellano and they taught us about everything: history, geography, culture, sports, arts, flora, and fauna. I got my high school diploma in the United States and was studying accounting in Nicaragua. Someone told me about the Tour Guide courses and I got curious. However, after this training, I loved it and made it my profession “.
“The first time I assisted a group of tourists that were from Europe, I was quite tense. I was very nervous and made many inexperienced mistakes. You tend to invent. However, I eventually learned that inventing is not the solution, nor is it healthy, because there are tourists who are highly educated who will test you. If they catch you lying, you will definitely loose the respect of the group”, says the guide.
In the 80’s, there were tourists that came from all over the world attracted by the revolution. They wanted to live it and others to work with it. In other words, it was a sociopolitical tourism. “Before that decade, there were very few guides. I understand that in Somoza’s times there was only one person in charge of promoting tourism in the country”, said Mendoza.
“What I like the most about my job is to meet the people and then introduce them to get to know the beauty of this country, our culture, and our history, because a Tour Guide is an ambassador of the country”. Newspapers such as The Boston Globe, Outside Magazine indicate that Nicaragua is a much better destination than Costa Rica and this is also what I hear from the tourists. We often have tourists combining a visit to both countries and we have to go to the border to pick them up. They always mention that they love Nicaragua more because the beauty is more authentic, more natural and people are more friendly and expressive “.
For Mendoza, a company can invest a lot of money to advertise its product, just like INTUR (Nicaraguan National Tourism Board) does promoting the country, but if they don’t have a good tour guide to assist the tourist the investment is lost.