I’ve just returned from a wonderful 6 day sailing walking trip. At the end of the trip, we hugged, kissed and shed tears with the guides, so close had we grown during the time.  But this was just a standard tourist trip from a brochure.  What made it so special?  Why would I – not known for showing my emotions – be brought to tears by guides I’ll probably never see again?  And why would they cry too?

Was it the trip itself? Hardly, because we missed several of the stated highlights due to the vagaries of the weather.  Two of us got sea sick and some of the walking was at the limit of our skills and capacities.

Was it the’ luxury’ yacht we sailed on? ‘Luxury’ it may have been called, but ‘luxury’ it was not. Yachts have to cram as much as possible into the smallest possible spaces.  While three of us had good, but still cramped rooms, the other four were crammed into Japanese-hotel-like coffin single beds, with little headroom.  Having to shower over the toilet was a new and undesirable experience.

Was it the weather? Definitely not.  It was mid-summer, but we were dressed in Antarctic ski-like parkas for much of the time – not quite what we expected.

Was it the food? People often talk enthusiastically about their trips in terms of the food they had.  While the food was extremely well cooked and presented, there’s a limit to what you can do in a cramped yacht kitchen, with no fresh provisions for a week.

Was it the guides’ technical expertise? While collectively the guides had great knowledge and skills, individually they were not able to answer many questions at the time they were asked and we often failed to follow up, as the moment passed and we did not think we would get a good answer.

Was it the guides acting as a ‘team’? Though they acted as a team well enough to fool us all, we learnt at the end that they had never worked together before and one had only been employed by the company for 3 weeks!  Clearly this was not the reason.

Was it our group? While four of the group knew each other well, two were completely new.  Yes, we did hit it off very well and we did generate our own fun, but we were a strong willed demanding group of professionals, each after our own enjoyment.

No, none of these seems to explain the emotions generated that led me to cry. I think it was the interaction that developed between ‘them’ and ‘us’, so that we became more ‘friends’ than ‘customers’ and ‘staff’.  Their informality broke down the age barriers between them and us (they were all young enough to be our children).  Their humour, their willingness to joke with us, their willingness to open themselves just enough for us to know them well as people, bonded us all.

Coupled with the extremely high level of proactive customer service all four staff members exhibited, their professionalism, their attention to detail, their willingness to do anything they could to meet our needs, the trip was a unique package of experiences that we shared, regardless of the stated itinerary.  Who of us will forget playing beach cricket, spontaneous singing sessions, very competitive card games, swimming naked (not the staff in this case), bottles of sparkling and cakes carried for hours for special occasions (not us in this case, thankfully) and much more.

None of these represented any of the ‘itinerary’ or ‘highlights’. These experiences developed from the uniqueness of the people – on both sides.

No wonder we cried and hugged when we left. We knew we had shared a special experience, one that would be difficult to replicate or repeat.


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