Having led small group tours for nearly 18 years, I think it is important to point out the value of traveling this way. When I first began traveling in Mexico, then Europe, what was so powerful was meeting local people, engaging in conversation (though my Spanish left a lot to be desired!), and feeling as if I had a glimpse into that person’s life, art and family. As my research and travel increased in Ireland, I sought out local guides who showed me places I never would have known about, and heard stories, folklore and mythology that brought those places so alive.
On a trip to Oaxaca in Mexico, we were staying in a small village and heard music, big brass instruments, coming down the road. Soon we realized this was a funeral procession, and we were invited to join it and proceed to the cemetery. Under a full moon rising from behind the mountains, a magical evening unfolded as we listened to the band, heard the priest incant blessings, and took sips of the local drink, “mescal”, that was passed to all. We were treated as honored guests and it made an indelible impression upon every one of us.
Another example, on one of our cultural tours to Ireland, my friend and one of our guides, Joe McGowan, organized an evening with the “Straw Boys”. Dating back for decades, the tradition of the Straw boys is rich. Basically a group would create costumes disguising themselves, just of straw, and go from door to door asking for “refreshment”, or raising mischief one way or another. This evolved into a group today, near Sligo, who still reenact the tradition which now includes women. We were so fortunate to be invited to a costume creating session, learning how to weave the straw into skirts and headpieces. After a light supper, I thought the evening would end, but no! The room was swept up, chairs and tables pushed back, a fiddle or two came out, and soon there was singing, dancing and great fun!
Often with our tours, these special events and encounters happen because we are a small group, we are approachable and a common bond of humanity is there. Having shared so many special times in cultural travel , it is my hope to share such things with our clients.