In this series I'm contacting a number of Tour Guides from around the world and asking them how they’ve been affected by the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, what restrictions their individual governments have imposed, the impact, what they’ve been doing to keep their business ticking over, what their thoughts are for the future …and things like that.
This post features Frank, a lovely guy, who I first met a number of years ago when he came on one of my tours in London. Frank's company Asado Adventure in Buenos Aires is a little bit different from some of the other guides I'll be including here, as his tours involve actually going to his house to eat food. Sounds intriguing? Well, read what Frank has to say about it.
Tell us a bit about your company?
My name is Frank Almeida and I have been a tour guide in Argentina since 2016. I am originally from Chicago. I followed my then-girlfriend, now wife, because she was missing home and wanted to be back near her family and I have always been curious what it would be like to live outside of the States. That was in 1999. In 2002 I created a gourmet cookie brand called 'Sugar and Spice' and I had the cookie factory up until 2015 when I sold it. I then went into food tourism and created Asado Adventure. The idea behind this tour was to recreate the weekend family asado (grill) that is a big part of Argentine culture but that visitors rarely would get to experience because they would need to be invited to someone’s home. I receive visitors into my home and I show them how to light the grill and they make the chimichurri, a classic south American parsley and vegetable oil based sauce that accompanies steak dishes. They put the salad together, we then go shopping for some additional ingredients and visit the wine shop, bakery, and butcher shop and then head back home and finish putting everything together and have the food grilled by a professional Argentine grill master and we sit down to eat. Since then, I have added a full-day food and neighbourhood tour of Palermo Viejo and a craft-beer tour as well. Currently, I am developing an online half-hour quick streaming class on how to make chimichurri. This will be available shortly.
How has your government’s approach to Coronavirus impacted you and your business?
The Argentine government went into lockdown mode on March 20th. Before then, they had recommended social distancing and suggested that people should stay home except for essential outings like grocery shopping, medicine, etc. But once the order came down to lockdown, all of my touring activity ceased and I had to process a lot of cancelations. Argentina placed a strict stay-at-home order. We were only allowed to walk to the local shops for food and using automobiles or public transportation was not allowed except for people who had essential jobs. Basically, all of my business screeched to a halt as we saw all tourists head to the airports to leave the country. Everything was closed and at first only a small handful of restaurants offered to make dishes for pick up. The whole city looked like a ghost town and it was eerie walking down desolate streets that would normally be teeming with tourists.
Have you been self isolating / in lockdown? If so, how long and what’s your top tip for surviving?
At first, as a family with our two teenage daughters, we were consuming news about the pandemic and we hunkered down and came up with schedules for taking care of the house with the cooking and the cleaning. We also started watching a little more TV together. The girls started baking more and I also started looking up recipes to try new things to eat. We even tried some of the Instagram food trends like Dalgona coffee and mini pancakes (cereal pancakes). For Dalgona I incorporated sweetened condensed milk and Bailey’s turning out to be very successful experiments.
What have you been doing during this period to keep your business ticking over?
I have been working on a virtual class where I teach people how to make chimichurri live. This is a very short class that only takes 30 minutes. I am doing this with a multinational technology company that is currently in beta testing so I can’t say who it’s with, but it’s going great so far and shortly it will be available to the American market first. In the meantime, I am working on having it available directly through my own website as well. I have also been doing a lot of cleaning, cooking, and house maintenance.
What have you most missed about not being able to do tours?
I have mostly missed meeting new people and introducing my neighbourhood and local foods to them. I miss the interaction and the walking around. So basically I miss the people and being outside.
How are you feeling about the future? Do you foresee changes in the tour guiding industry?
I think for the time being there will have to be changes. There will be no more handshakes for one when meeting someone. We have to get used to wearing masks and once we start loosening restrictions, we need to be more aware of our surroundings and how to stay safe. I think smaller activities that take place out in the open will be safer than large group tours for one. I have never liked being bussed around for a tour with a large group of people myself, but I would imagine that more people will want to avoid those types of activities in the near future. I think small private tours will be in a better position. I also think that these new virtual tours might also have a place in the market going forward.
Do you think life / business will go back to normal?
I’m not sure if we can go back to normal like we knew without a vaccine in place. I would imagine that once we do get a vaccine that we will most likely go back to normal, but we should also require that our governments focus on pandemic reactions and have a better idea of how to respond to these types of things going forward. There are plenty of really good examples of societies that were able to react quickly and control this thing before it got out of hand even though the majority of us did not experience that. Going forward, that would be a choice.
What have you been reading / listening to / playing / watching?
I admit that I have started watching way more TV than I had before. I watched mostly series like Better Call Saul, Killing Eve, Billions, The Kominsky Method, Chernobyl, Tiger King, Crashing, The 100 and a little bit of regular TV like Blackish and Modern Family. But one thing that my daughters have grown to love is sitting down to watch Last Week Tonight, The Daily Show, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. They grew up with me watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report when they were younger. Now that they are teenagers they started to understand why I liked those so much. I also purchased a subscription to the New York Times because I just wanted to have more access to the news. Considering everything that has been going on lately, I have no shortage of up to the minute information. I am also still getting used to running inside my house which is a bit boring, but it’s what I have. Starting on the 8th of June we will be able to go running outside in our own neighbourhood and only between 8pm and 8am. That is better than nothing.
Is there something in your city that you’re most looking forward to getting back to / revisiting?
I am looking forward to just being social again and going out and interacting with friends face to face. That first social pint is going to be excellent! I am also looking forward to sharing food with future guests to Argentina on my tours. I admit that when I have a lot of tours I start skipping a lot of the eating, but not always. I try to eat and drink alongside my guests as much as possible.
Have you found any positives from the current situation?
At first it seemed a bit scary what we were all living through, but the silver lining was that we got to spend more time together as a family. We cooked together more; we cleaned the house together more; we watched TV together more often. Fortunately, our house is big enough that for a great part of the day we could each have our own space without being on top of each other, but we would come together for shared activities. Our teenagers who normally would be more distant, have started sharing more during dinner and having more conversation, for example.
If you think you might be heading to Buenos Aires in the next couple of years, then Frank would like to offer anyone reading this article a 10% discount on any of his Asado Adventure Tours, using the code: ASADOFRIEND at the checkout (and only redeemable if you use the above link and valid throughout 2021 and 2022).
Also in the series:
#01 - Silvia in Rome
#02 - Mark in Amsterdam
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.