Fernando Arias from Mindo, is 30 years old but can’t believe he’s that age. With the cheekiest of smiles, Fernando is forever playing practical jokes on his fellow guides, though in the hotel you’ll find him making articulate presentations in near-perfect English to new guests.
How did you become a guide?
I started out in tourism when I was 19 as a canopy guide in Mindo. After a year I went to work in a hotel and became the star guide there. After four years there I decided that I wanted to continue to grow and to improve my English, so I got a job with a rival hotel that offered to help with my training.
Having learned some English I started to work with some Japanese tourists, helping them to find unusual birds. One guest, in particular, I helped to take the photos: I would run through the rainforest, carrying his huge lens. I found him 360 species of birds. I think that because I made him feel safe he helped me find more clients, who loved my work.
What brought you to Mashpi?
For me, working in Mashpi is like Antonio Valencia playing in Manchester United: it’s the dream!
I sent in a folder, just full of guest comments. For a while there was no reply, but a friend of mine was working here and told me when a freelance position came up. I had to fight for my position as a naturalist guide. At first, I was a bit nervous about the level of responsibility, but now I love my work: taking groups, creating new expeditions.
How did you learn English?
Just by talking! At one of the hotels in Mindo the guides ate every meal with the guests, and sometimes I would realize that they were talking to me, or about me, and I didn’t understand. So I made myself talk, practice, listen, and now I’m a bilingual guide.
Where does your knowledge of birds come from?
As a child I learned about birds and their habits by hunting them with my brothers. We’d even hunt hummingbirds and toucans. Sometimes it was just for fun, but also for survival: a toucan can go into a soup, or make dinner.
When I was a kid tourism wasn’t as developed as it is now, and no one was talking about sustainability or ecology. But we’d take tourists to find the birds and they’d give us tips.
My uncle and aunt helped me a lot too. They were really into birds: my uncle had the eye of an eagle and even sang like a bird! And they told me that birds could help me get ahead in life. So they helped me to learn a name every week, in English and in Spanish, pushing me.
Why is Mashpi special to you?
They treat employees really well here. The most difficult thing is getting a job here, but once you’re in they help you to grow. Here, 80 percent of the employees are from the local communities. If I’d have stayed in Mindo, the only other option to tourism (which has its ups and downs) is wood – cutting down trees. You can tell that the service here is different, everyone goes the extra mile. Everyone takes the time to help every guest get close to nature, from children to disabled people.