Experts + Insiders:
Location, location, location. It’s as true while house hunting as it is while job hunting—unless, of course, you’re Amanda Gary.
When a friend of hers suggested she “stop by the office,” to interview for a job as a B&R guide, she was deterred not in the least that the office happened to be 5,000 kilometres and one ocean away from her then-home in Italy.
Fortunately, “have adventurous streak, will travel” is one of the top things we look for on a résumé at B&R. And after a dozen years of having Amanda at the helm of B&R trips, we remain confident that it’s a sound hiring policy.
We caught up with Amanda to pick her brain about serendipitous encounters, the magic of the road and Russians with diamond-collared ferrets (yes, seriously).
Years in Travel Business: 12
Years with B&R: 12
Countries/Regions of Expertise: Ireland, Italy, Argentina
Countries visited: US, Mexico, Canada, Ireland, England, Spain, Morocco, Holland, France, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Greece, Malaysia, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, US Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Argentina, Peru, Uruguay
Countries lived in: US, Ireland, Italy, Argentina
Trips guided: Somewhere around 40
Q&A with Amanda
Everyone at B&R has their fair share of wanderlust, so naturally the first question we ask everyone is: when did you first get bit with the travel bug?
When I was 10, my parents won a trip to Borneo for work and we saw sea turtles come ashore and lay their eggs, and shook hands with orangutans. I think that was it.
What’s your preferred method for immersing yourself in a country or region?
Smile and ask stupid questions.
How did you cross paths with B&R?
My roommate in Italy while I was studying abroad (veteran B&R guide Mark Nojaim) started guiding for B&R. When I graduated a year later, he told me I should “stop by the office,” which at the time was 5,000 km away from where I was studying, for an interview. So I did.
What’s the best thing that ever happened to you while travelling?
When I was 18, I backpacked across Europe with my best friend. Our first stop was Interlaken, Switzerland and on the train we met two sunburned English guys. Upon arriving, all of the hostels were full and so they invited us to stay with them — they gave us their tent and slept outside.
We became good friends but bid each other farewell, as they were off to Greece and we were headed to Budapest. (This was before Facebook and cell phones, so we had no further contact.)
Later in our trip, we had a change of plans and randomly decided to go to Amsterdam instead. Wandering around, we found a hostel and they assigned us bunks, but when we got to the room, there were already people sleeping in our beds. We asked at the front desk and they said surely the people were just “napping” so we left our stuff and went out. When we came back later that night, they were still in our beds.
I went to wake them up, and low and behold, it was our friends from Interlaken—five weeks later, in a different country, in the same room in a six-floor hostel. Ridiculously amazing.
B&R is famous for the magic and spontaneity that happens on-trip. Do you have any memorable “B&R magic” moments?
When I used to guide in Ireland I was in charge of planning the picnics, as was the custom on B&R trips. Frequently challenged by the weather (it was Ireland, after all), I always had big ideas and a plan B.
Once while planning a picnic on the last day of a biking trip, I had a local chef do the food and send it in a taxi about 45 minutes north, to a beach at the head of a lake where our ride would conclude. As a back up plan in case of rain, I had arranged with the owner of a pub down the road to have the picnic there.
That morning, I had two travellers who didn’t feel like riding, so they were in the van with me as I swept the bike route. It started to drizzle, so I hoped the taxi driver would know to deliver the food directly to the pub. Nearing the lake, I passed the taxi driver, who told me he’d dropped the food at the pub—but that nobody was there, so he left it outside!
I flew up there with my two travellers in tow and discovered that the pub was indeed locked, and the food was sitting in the rain. I started going from house to house looking for Harry, the pub owner (who naturally had no cell phone), all the while worried that my travellers would arrive any minute at the beach, following the route notes, and see nothing.
After driving back and forth along the lakefront and ringing several doorbells and coming up empty, I came across a woman who was gardening in her gravel driveway in the rain. I explained that I was looking for Harry and I had 15 bikers on the way to have a picnic.
“Oh, Harry is a drunk, he’s in the pub 20 kilometres away in Cong. But if you want, bring your picnic here.”
She said “Oh, Harry is a drunk, he’s in the pub 20 kilometres away in Cong. But if you want, bring your picnic here. I’ve not yet finished building my house, so the toilet doesn’t flush, but I’ll start a fire and you are welcome to have the picnic in my living room.”
So that’s what we did — we arranged the whole thing there, and I went to the nearest town and bought bottles of water for the toilet, and it was amazing. It turns out that Carmel, our host, used to be the right-hand woman for Salman Rushdie and a music reviewer for the London Times. To boot she also studied as a chef, and we made the lunch a regular event on the trip.
Amazing! Magic meets immersion. Alright, let’s go to the lightning round: What’s your favourite trip you’ve ever taken?
Learning to surf in Sayulita, Mexico.
Favourite hotel in the world?
Narbona Wine Lodge in Carmelo, Uruguay
Café San Juan, Buenos Aires
Favourite bar/wine bar/or watering hole?
Doppel, a martini and cocktail bar, also in Buenos Aires
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had? (And where was it?)
Hosteria del Bricco, Firenze Italia (pictured below)
Do you have a favourite bottle of wine?
I do! Diamandes de Uco (Valle de Uco, Mendoza) Voignier 2014
Well done! What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen in your travels?
A Russian walking his ferret with a diamond-collared leash on the beach in Latvia.
What items are absolute musts on your packing list?
Sounds comfy. Alright, let’s wrap up with some words of wisdom. Do you have a favourite travel quote, mantra or words to live by?
“Remember the rabbit’s foot if you will but remember it didn’t work for the rabbit.”