Leo Silva: "We become these local friends of our visitors"

When planning my trip to Chile, I got in touch with Leo, the owner and tour guide of Ruta Valparaíso. We were emailing, preparing my trip to the city, and finally on a sunny October morning we had the chance to meet in person and do a full-day city tour. Leo is not a usual tour guide. This guy in leather jacket is open for pop music, reads Carl Jung, speaks four languages, and is extremely passionate about Valparaíso, which makes his guided tours special, surprising and rich. I was asking Leo to tell about the Ruta Valparaíso concept, a new way of guided tours. 


1. What does your work as tourist guide at Ruta Valparaiso involve?
Like for any tour guide, my job is to show around the place. However, I always want to go further, trying to translate the city and my identity, so the traveler can approach our culture while discovering charming and mysterious places. This also means to constantly stay updated with the information, discover new places, investigate and create the story to be told. A good local guide should be intellectually restless, should love his city and understand it, and constantly study it to deepen his knowledge. He should be involved in the local life and be proactive. I do love my identity, my place and my people.

2. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself - your education, interests, past work experiences.
Originally I am a graphic designer. I worked in advertising for quite a long time. When I started to work in tourism with no experience, I applied my observation skills gained as graphic designer to create my own concept and my own tours. I am interested in many things: I love music, and as a designer I'm interested in pop culture. I like literature and psychology, and I am a follower of Carl Gustav Jung. I recently finished reading "The dance of the reality" from the Chilean Alejandro Jodorowsky and now I'm reading about Tarot cards. I am also fond of learning languages​​. I speak Portuguese, English, French and Spanish. I also love going out with my friends, or ride a bike along the coast.

3. What made you get into the tourism industry?
I wanted to change my life and return to my city. I used to work in the capital, Santiago de Chile, a fascinating but exhausting city. I decided to try something independently, which would give me more freedom and the chance to spend more time with my family, and see my daughter grow up. I used to walk around Valparaíso and showed the city to my friends, which was always a big success, so I decided to get into tourism. In the beginning I was not well known, but I felt free and had more time to play with my daughter. Back then I used to say that 'my poverty is part of my wealth'. 


 

4. What is a typical day at work like?
Phew! If I could define it with three words, it would be coffee, computer, guiding. Guiding, however, is only the last part of a long chain. I manage online marketing (social media, personal blog, tour photos), the particular logistics of each tour to make sure that everything goes well, I reply to the emails related to tours and handle reservations, I review the seasonal policies, establish new contacts in order to get more market share. Lately I also have a partner, a great guide and tourism specialist. We work hard together to manage the company and its administration. At the same time we are training new tour guides according to the Ruta Valparaíso concept. Finally, if I am not doing all this, I am guiding tours in the city the whole day. This is the funniest and most passionate part of my job. So I do quite a few things. I did not even know that I was that occupied.

5. You talked about a new concept in your tours. So what makes Valparaiso city tour different from other tours?
The big difference is that we walk and use public transportation during our tours. Can there be anything nicer than playing to get lost in a place we do not know? During my travels I was always thinking how great it would be to know someone in every city, who could show me around like a local, and to go out and drink a beer where only locals go. That is how this whole concept started, where we became these local friends of our visitors, who had the chance to walk side by side with local tour guides for a half day or an entire day. We show not only the tourist sites, but also where local people live. We believe that each identity related experience enriches tourism, and this type of experience will become a major touristic attraction, and so is also part of our marketing. The tour is built up to flow, from one place to another, preferably always downhill. We pick those hidden and fascinating places which only locals know how to reach and discover.

6. In 2003 a part of Valparaiso was declared to be UNESCO World Heritage. Based on your opinion how did this change tourism? 

The appointment of UNESCO gave a great push for the city's marketing. It brought back the name of Valparaíso to the conscience of people, especially to Europeans, who already knew this city from the times when sailors arrived here after crossing the Cape of Good Hope. It helped to reposition the city on the touristic map of Chile and South-America.

7. Nowadays there are debates about how Valparaíso should protect its patrimony: restoration or reconstruction. What is your point in this debate?
From the very beginning my view is restoration, and not renovation or reconstruction. Valparíso has an architectural, historical and identical patrimony, and has received the World Heritage nomination because of this complex set. It means that the city has a very interesting mixture of culture and outstanding atmosphere, and by renovation or reconstruction the places will immediately lose this historical value which gives a particular charm to the city. Finally, we should not forget about the identity of the inhabitants, who are the ones giving character to the city at the end. Restoration, however, is a delicate job. The place has to be studied carefully in order to replace, restore and repair the damaged parts, making sure to preserve the history and character. Unfortunately, Chilean authorities still think that something new is much nicer, and they prefer to renew instead of maintain.

8. UNESCO has a List of World Heritages in Danger. In your opinion is Valparaiso in a risk to get onto this list?
When UNESCO declared the city as World Heritage, it also lifted Valparaíso to a global level. Since then the authorities have double responsibility. First of all, to fix the local problems such as repair the roads, introduce electricity everywhere and to improve the living conditions. Secondly, it is also their responsibility to maintain Valparaíso's patrimony. If those, who are in charge of maintaining the patrimony, do not understand this message, and only promote modernization and not restoration, sadly we are risking to get onto the List of World Heritages in Danger.


  
9. You also write a blog where you publish articles about your thoughts and observations in Valparaíso. What do you want to achieve with your blog?
On the one hand writing a blog and having a point of view is almost like being a local politician. It demonstrates a way of seeing and understanding the place. With my writings I establish a point of view in the unconscious collective of the city. Someone reads me and can connect with my opinion. In the future, maybe he will share this opinion with others without even remembering my article. With this I can change opinions and actions, as well as promote ideas, generate debates, unite point of views and reaffirm identity. On the other hand, these writings are just stories of a local who loves his city, his identity, and who loves to write in his own style.

10. You know Valparaiso by heart. You were born and grew up here, and you are constantly searching for new places and stories. Which is your favorite site in Valparaiso, and why?
Wow, this is a hard question, however I already have an answer. My favorite place is the Polanco elevator on the Polanco hill. For me this is far the most surrealistic place in town. In Valparaíso, we are proud of our elevators, which are cable cars pulled up and down diagonally on a hill. The Polanco elevator is the only vertical one in the city, far from the patrimonial and touristic sites. Hidden at the end of a street, you arrive to the entrance of a tunnel, which looks like the entrance of a mine. You enter the tunnel and walk until you arrive to a small station which looks like the inside of a wet cave where ground water flows constantly on the walls. Then you go up with the elevator to a lookout of 80 meters high, from where you can see part of the city and the hills. The tower also connects to the hill with a bridge. If it sounds bizarre, it is because this is totally surreal. When walking down on the hill, you will enter a typical, beautiful and mysterious neighborhood, where the tourism is still not commercial, where people spend their days according to different timetable, calmly and peacefully. It is necessary to go with a guide there, who knows these people. This is the place which defines me, here I can be myself.

11. What does the future hold for you - any exciting plans, developments?

We dream on. Before I dreamed alone, now I have a partner who shares my dreams and we plan for long term. We want to have new and interesting clients, and we plan to create new tours and projects, which will engage us more with this city, and makes it possible to extend our concept to the entire central region of Chile. We also think of the possibility to reach these sites by boat. We dream about new Valparíso tours, which show our identity, which promote our food and customs.

Did you know that during Holy Week we burn a doll which represents Judas? Children prepare the dolls of waste and ask the adults to put coins into its pockets. Then they burn it on Holy Friday in front of the neighbors, and when the hot and burnt coins fall out of the pocket, they quickly pick them up. According to the locals, these burnt and picked coins bring good luck. I dream of tours which gives the opportunity for travelers to enjoy this weird, Spanish tradition, and to bring this and other Chilean or local traditions alive. I have this and many more ideas, which I can not yet talk about, because it needs to be developed further.

I am a creative in advertisement, who works in tourism. I am a designer, who draws new ways and tours, and of course I am a dreamer, a little rebellious, who always wants to go his own way.



Thank you Leo! I am confident that more and more travelers are looking for such trips, which Ruta Valparaíso represents. I am happy that I was guided by you and got to know a beautiful city through your eyes and stories. :)



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About Tiny Girl With Big Bag

Hobby writer and autodidact photographer whose passion is to travel and get to know new people and cultures. She has been on 4 continents and 30 countries, and the outcome is this travel blog where she shares travel stories, thoughts, tips and photography always through a subjective eye.

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26 comments:

  1. Nice to find your blog today! I even learned a new word, autodidact which also applies to me in most things I do...
    It is rare to find the time to read an article all the way through, but it seems I just did.
    Interesting perspective, thanks for sharing...
    Eva Hamori

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    1. Thanks Eva! If only one message goes through with one post, I am already happy :) It was also nice to find your blog, your name sounds Hungarian, and wondering if you speak Hungarian?

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  2. Great story. I really like to know the person behind a business. I went on a tour yesterday and some businesses drove us out because they just don't care about public relations. I think this is wrong. Thank you for sharing this post.

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    1. I would be happy to read about your experiences, too. Positive - negative, it is good to know what to expect where. Thanks for the comment :)

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  3. I always try to hit up a city walking tour. They're not expensive and give you a great feel for the city.

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    1. I agree, and I hope that it is going to be available at more places in the future :) Thanks for the comment Shaun!

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  4. What an interesting person Leo is, not your typical city guide, you were very lucky to find him and what a great concept, touring the city like a local using local transport etc. Really enjoyed the Post. Thanks.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I do recommend him if you visit Valparaíso one day :)

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  5. Great interview! I love his concept of exploring the city as a local. Often travelers repeat the same trips over and over again. With intimate knowledge of the city and a local's way of looking at your surroundings, travelers are better able to create unique experiences.

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    1. Thanks Michaela, I am happy if you also like this new concept. The best about it is that each and every visitor has a different experience based on the stories heard and the people they meet.

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  6. I feel sorry for not doing a tour with a local in Riga. He offered the same what the hop on/hop off bus did but using public transport. The main reasosn were lack of time and I wasn't sure I can trust him. But next time I might. However, there were many people who looked like bums offering to show you around the city :-(

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    1. I think the important thing is to have someone professional, because that will ensure a good service. Looking forward to hearing about your next city tour experience ;)

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    2. Looks like it's Tallinn, it's included in the city card.

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    3. Heard that it is beautiful.. I only had a stop-over there. Enjoy the city :)

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  7. I read your earlier blog of experiences with Leo and after this interview, I can surely say that you got one hell of a tour guide. Lucky you!

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    1. Surely is a personality ;) Thanks for the comment!

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  8. That is such a nice post! I am your new follower!

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    1. Thanks Mary. It is the best compliment if you liked my stories.

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  9. Nice idea of travelling with the locals, like the locals. Interesting way to tour Valparaiso for sure.

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  10. What an interesting guy! Love his look and attitude!!!

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    1. Perhaps one day you can meet Leo and participate on his tour :)

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  11. I would confess I had not heard of the place till now but after reading both the blog posts on this one, I am definitely looking forward to explore this enchanting place.

    Though I wonder is it the place itself or your amazing tour guide which makes it seem so amazing?!

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    1. This I can not answer. I think that each and every person sees the world through a different glass. You can best find it out if you see it yourself. Then do not forget to let me know about your impressions :) Thanks for the comment!

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  12. Love this interview... especially because I know first hand how important it is to have a great guide that can open your eyes and show you a place in a very new light.

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    1. Thanks Laura! I would also be curious about your experience with great guides :)

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