It was 8AM. The students were ready with notebooks, tape recorders and electronic tablets. The biologist showed a video clip, then pointed to the photos in her PowerPoint explaining the optimal conditions for temperature and water and passed around different types of coral fragments while the class peppered her with questions as they took notes. This could be a graduate level university marine biology class but instead, it’s the annual EcoTeach training for its guides and day two began early with a two hour in-depth lecture on the lifespan of various coral and fish species and the importance of marine life conservation.
As a regular traveler who occasionally relies on tour companies in my trips, it never occurred to me that tour guides go to school. So when EcoTeach asked me to do a small presentation at their guide trainings, I jumped at the opportunity to go through the entire training to see what a group of experienced tour guides do for their professional development.
Costa Rica tour companies vary in their requirements for guide certification and training. EcoTeach guides must have previous guide experience and maintain certification in both basic first aid and wilderness first aid. EcoTeach conducts at least one annual 4-5 day training for its guides on a variety of guide requested topics and one follow-up end of season training day. The first annual training occurs in January before the next season begins, allowing the guides and the United States and Costa Rica offices to debrief the previous year and make changes for the next tour season.
Some years EcoTeach offers additional training as it did my first year of attending. The guides wanted to update their first aid cards and so we went through an intense multi-day wilderness first aid course that included role playing with realistic looking injuries and an end of course performance test. Not being a guide, it was initially intimidating, but the EcoTeach guides were encouraging and I emerged from my end of course performance exam to their applause as the very proud recipient of my own wilderness first aid card.
This year the guides began their four day training by reviewing the completed season. Then, as they did in the previous year’s training, they heard a presentation from a guest local guide they partner with on some of the tours. This year it was Pedro Rajos Morales, a local guide from the Boruca indigenous community who EcoTeach uses when groups tour there. Pedro’s informative lecture was a follow-up to the 2014 EcoTeach training when guides heard from a university professor about the archeology of the area in Costa Rica now inhabited by the indigenous Boruca and Bri Bri communities.
Following the marine biology lecture the guides met the drivers from the new transportation company EcoTeach will be using which included a lively driver/guide/office question and answer hour. It never occured to me how critical the working relationship was between guides and the drivers who transport groups. Guides had lots of questions about how the drivers would handle specific situations and likewise, drivers had similar questions of the guides in order to understand the EcoTeach philosophy of driver/guide as a team.
For more details about EcoTeach tours and prices ecoteach.com