Klaus Fielsch divides his life’s passions in two: art and biology. And looking back on it all, he seems amazed: “With that background, there was just no way I could have survived in this world”. Of course, he did. In what he calls, “the best office on Earth.” He was referring to the Galápagos Islands, and probably to Amazonia as well, where he began his work as a guide in Metropolitan Touring’s iconic Flotel Orellana.
At the time, he had a stint as an architectural plan draughtsman at the Municipality of Quito, and was studying Biology at the university, when a friend, Yadira Múñoz, mentioned guiding opportunities at Metropolitan Touring. He and Yadira went way back, as did he and Metropolitan Touring. His first experience with the company was when he was still a kid, and his parents booked a weeklong cruise on Flotel Orellana. “I walked onto the boat as excited as can be, with the jungle all around me, and the first thing I see was this chisel-faced man, with long hair and dramatic features, looking straight at me. The sight impressed me deeply. It was none other than Samuel Padilla.” Samuel Padilla was a legendary Huaorani, the isolated Amazonian tribe only discovered in the 1940s, so infamous for its die-hard will to avoid the civilized world. Samuel’s mother, Dayuma, had made the headlines as the first Huaorani to leave the depths of the jungle and contact missionaries. Samuel was thus the result of two opposing worlds; he not only knew the jungle by heart, but spoke perfect English, too. Everything, from this encounter to discovering the marvelous world of the tropical rainforest, sent Klaus dreaming back to Quito.
One of the official guides at the Flotel, Adonis Múñoz, was Yadira’s uncle, a tall, sculptural featured man that fit perfectly with the name. He had informed Yadira of the opening and both Klaus and she applied. Timing coincided with the unfortunate hepatitis of the German-speaking guide at the Flotel, and Klaus, whose father is German, and who speaks the language fluently, ended up becoming a perfect fit.
He learned on the spot, obviously aided by his academic studies in Biology, but was taken under the wing of Raúl García, the Flotel’s long-time captain: “I mean, he was the captain of the boat and he left his post just to walk with us and show us all he knew. One of the most important things I learned from him early in the game was his philosophy about guiding. ‘The best guides’, he’d say, ‘aren’t those who know everything, and talk all day and dish out information nonstop... they are those who listen, those who know how to listen. You need to be a real people’s person, and be that added value of a guests’ memorable experience’. When I came in, I thought it was all about being a professor, paid to teach things to people that had never been in this neck of the woods before. ‘El Capi’ had a different approach, which for me turned out to be pivotal”.
This guiding experience, what Klaus only envisioned as a parenthesis before embarking onto bigger and larger adventures in the real world (perhaps finishing his studies, becoming an architect, or a designer and illustrator), ended up becoming his dream career, a career in which people would actually pay him to show them the bugs and plants he so loved. After working a year at the Flotel, Klaus actively participated in making guiding an official profession at a national level, which also turned out to be pivotal, not only for him but for the burgeoning tourism sector as a whole. He freelanced for several years all through the Ecuadorian mainland. He added mountain guiding to his jungle proficiencies, and created for himself a good life. “I would work hard, especially in the jungle, to make people feel the excitement I felt there. The jungle can be hard. I remember that competing against the Galápagos Islands was an enormous feat. Everything was so easy over in Galápagos, all the animals would just hang out and everyone raved about it, while in the Amazon I was treading in slush, constantly struggling to get people to see things. So when guests would tell me, ‘you know, I actually liked the rainforest better’. Wow! that was like winning gold!’”
Antoon Blom at some point along the road noticed Klaus’s talents during a jungle trip and insisted that he join Metropolitan Touring’s operations in Galápagos. Which he did, in 1992. Klaus combined studying illustration in the States with working extensive periods on the Islands. “In those days, I loved the fact that my addresses were so dreamy: San Francisco, California during the winter months, Galápagos Islands, in summer; New York, New York in the fall, Galápagos Islands in the Spring!”
As one of Galápagos’ most important guides, Klaus was promoted, in 1997, and became one of the first expedition leaders in the company as part of a new strategy for Galápagos operation. The job included training guides and making sure that the entire team worked homogenously, a challenge he accomplished until the birth of his first son, when he left the company to spend time with his family. He returned 2 years later to Metropolitan, first as a guiding coach, and now, a Business Development Manager, since he knows the destinations so well. Klaus now sits in an office or travels the world to sell Metro’s products. Galápagos? He doesn’t visit much anymore… “And the Oriente?” I ask.
He turns a bit serious: “The jungle is still, to me, one of the most amazing things this planet possesses. It’s so awesome, so complex, you could study it all your life and only scratch the surface… I’ve been involved in community projects for the Secoya Nation, and then there’s Mashpi, as well. Having been a guide, I had the idea that to make a difference in tourism, the lodge should have an urban feel… Throughout my experience as guide, I have always met, on every tour I’ve led, a member, no matter his age, his social status, or his origin, that has issues with creepy crawlies… I thought I spoke for people everywhere when saying that if we could guarantee no surprises in the bed, in the bathroom and in the food, then people would just have their all with the jungle all day long, and it wouldn’t matter… I thought that would be a good contribution. And that is one of the ideas behind Mashpi Lodge”.