Interview with Tour Guide Robert Wright
|"I like a challenge. Either that, or I'm completely loco."|
Robert Wright has guided many of Rick Steves' Spain & Portugal tours since 2000, and has helped research Rick's guidebooks for these countries as well. Now Robert is adding our new 8-day San Sebastián & Basque Countryside tour and the 8-day Barcelona & Madrid tour to his guiding itinerary.
How and why did you fall in love with Spain and Portugal?
My love affair with the region began completely by chance, as an opportunity to live over there opened up at a time when something seemed to be missing from my life. My partner of three years had been appointed assistant director of a university program that sent students to Spain, so we packed up and moved to Cádiz. Most of my friends and family thought I was insane since I had never traveled outside of North America, and knew only Spanish 101. It was a rocky road, but I was fortunate enough to find someone locally who wanted to do a language exchange. My Spanish improved dramatically, and several trips through Spain and Portugal made both places get under my skin.
Iberia is fascinating because of its unique history and diversity: an independent caliphate for almost 800 years, a Reconquest that defined both nations, and now two of the European Union's most shining success stories. The people are passionate about life, the architecture is jaw-dropping, and the food and wine are top notch. Plus, afternoon siestas are a great invention!
With your strong roots in Seattle and Spain, why have you chosen to live in Buenos Aires, of all places?
After living in Spain for one year and moving back to Seattle, I knew that eventually my fluency in Spanish would decline. No way could I let that happen, since I'd put so much effort into learning a second language! Soon the search for a new home in a Spanish-speaking country was on. There were lots of options — including returning to Spain or moving to Mexico — but after a visit to Argentina in 2000, I was hooked. Buenos Aires is like Madrid's stepsister...a little disheveled and often crazy but oozing with European charm.
I got a lot more than I bargained for after the move. One year later, the worst economic crisis in Argentine history hit, and I was able to experience it first hand with everything from protests to tear gas. Since that moment, I've really taken an interest in learning what makes Argentina tick. Life isn't easy here because change comes quickly, but at least every day is an adventure.
For a while I took a break from doing European tours to start my own walking tours in Buenos Aires. As it turned out, many of my clients heard about my walks through an interview I did with Rick on his public radio show — or they were members of Spain and Portugal tours I had previously led for Rick.
That was great, because I like the profile of a Rick Steves' traveler: inquisitive, easy-going, and energetic. It's wonderful when people take a genuine interest in the places they visit.
Will your approach to teaching on the Basque Countryside and Barcelona-Madrid tours be different from the "standard" Spain-Portugal tour?
The 15-day Spain-Portugal tour requires a more sweeping, "big picture" approach to the history and traditions of Spain, while the two new tours will really let us dig into the nuances. Visiting the two largest cities in Spain together (Barcelona and Madrid) is a great exercise in comparison and contrast, while the Basque Countryside tour will explore a region with a completely unique identity.
This marks my 10th consecutive year of traveling to Iberia, and it's never been more interesting than today. Spain is like four different countries — each with its own unique language, customs and traditions — but sharing the same national government. Imagine how creative politicians have to be in that situation! Politics are less conservative and the economy has boomed as Spaniards have become more important players in the European scene. With the opportunity to guide these new tours, I look forward to digging into and sharing these stories.
How do you feel about being picked to lead the first of the new tours?
Any new tour always has a certain amount of extra pressure involved, but there's always Plan B, C or D in the event of any difficulties. Besides, I like a challenge. Either that or I'm completely loco.