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Get to know your guides: Lou Van Zwanenberg

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Lou is a foodie and really knows how to choose the best restaurants for our travelers on their adventures in Nicaragua. She is passionate about her work, has a great sense of humor, and adds lots of fun to the travel experience. Even though she is not a native Nicaraguan everyone seems to know her and her energy is contagious and inspiring. She lives off the beaten track in Nicaraguan cattle country, "where the rocks are made of cheese and the rivers are made of milk." she says. I wish I could have her as a guide on every trip in the world. I got to interview her and she shared some great insights on being a guide and why she loves it, enjoy! 

How did you decide to become a guide and when did you start?

It was travel that inspired me! I took a sabbatical from my work as a physics and chemistry teacher for personal development to South America and Nepal. I ended up landing a job as a tour leader on the Everest Base Camp Trek and the Inca Trail and I loved it.

What do you like most about being a guide?
The thing I like most about being a guide is the variety of people you meet and the incredible experiences you share with them.

What do you do to make each trip you guide special for each traveler?
To make someone's trip special I listen to them. I find out why they chose to come here, listen to their expectations and then try to exceed them.

When you go out on a tour, what are you most excited to see and what are your favorite things to do?
The natural world excites me and I love all types of adventure sports, especially water based sports such as kayaking, snorkeling, and fishing. I also love to eat so trying new foods and sharing my favorite local eateries with guests is a delight. I love it when travelers have an open mind and an open heart to try new things.

What are some great cultural experiences in your country/region?
The Purissima festival, held in December, is a unique Nicaraguan experience. Especially in Leon, where giant dolls parade through the streets. If there is a fiestas patronales in any town in Nicaragua, on the tour the hipico, it should not be missed! It is a very special experience to see a vast horse parade with cowboys and cowgirls accompanied by music!

What are your special talents and interests you like to share as a guide?
The things I love to share most with travelers is my knowledge of wildlife, religion and culture. I am a very keen bird watcher and wildlife enthusiast. I also am very interested in ancient beliefs and old religious practices.

What's the funniest thing that has happened to a traveler you were guiding?
Once I was having a picnic with a group of travelers and a coatimundi (large raccoon) joined the group and started helping itself to the sandwiches.

What was one of the most meaningful and moving experiences you've had with a guest while guiding? 
Once while working as a translator and a guide I arranged for the group to visit and do a special project for disabled young people. When I remember the interactions between my guests and the young people it always makes me well up with emotion. I feel proud to have brought them together, into such a positive environment together.

What makes a great guide?
A great guide is someone who doesn´t just regurgitate the history book, but someone who makes the place they are at come alive. They are passionate and excited about their work and the places where they work. They are interested in their guests and the locals and they will go the extra mile because nothing is too much trouble. A great guide is always respectful and polite and has a sense of humor.

Guest Quotes about Lou

"Lou was great at including us at her favorite "haunts". That kind of guiding is what sets your tours apart from more traditional adventures." - Wildland Alumni

"Our trip leader, Lou, was miles beyond our expectations. She must be a one-in-a-lifetime guide. She guided us through the chaos of Granada with exceptional organization, insight, timing, warmth, cheerful spirits and charm. Lou seemed to know everyone everywhere personally - clearly a true and cherished friend to many of the Nicaraguans we met. It was so reassuring to be with someone who knew so much about the people and the country. After we parted ways, the kids both mentioned missing her and wanting to write her. Your most discerning and hard- to-impress visitors would be delighted to be guided by Lou." - Wildland Alumni

I would love to arrange for Lou to guide you on your adventure in Nicaragua! Let me know if you want to talk or send me an email.

Keeping in wild,

Grettel Calderon

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