Guiding in the Pandemic: A Q&A with Rita Jardim

Rita the guide gears up for life in tourism after the pandemic. "There used to be hundreds of thousands of tourists arriving in the city every single day. And now...silence, emptiness!

You’ve been working as a tour guide for many years now and before that, you were an actress. Why the change? Are there things that you find are similar to both professions?

I have been working as a guide since 2015. I was an actress for 10 years before that. Why the change? Well, it’s rather unromantic: despair! I’m kind of joking, but not completely.

It’s hard to live as an actor everywhere in the world — in Portugal, with such a small market, even worse. I started in the stage theatre and kept doing theatre plays but could never make a living out of it. I did some soap operas and hosted some TV shows as well, but you would never know when the next one is going to be and you have rent to pay every month. Also, I feel the acting world can be really unfair. Most of the time it’s not about how professional or good you are but how good-looking you are, who you know, how many parties you attend, how is your Instagram account is, etc. So I always kept side jobs, and one of them ended up becoming my new passion: tour guiding. I am so passionate about it, I completely let go of my acting career.

How did you come to it originally? What do you think sets you apart as a guide from the many around Lisbon?

People that knew me as an actress invited me to create a theatrical tour for their company. A tour where actors show up along the way, performing the stories about Lisbon. I did the historical research, created the route, and was meant to be one of the acting guides. I did this for a couple of months.

This project didn’t grow as it was expected, but I started studying history and applied to be a historical tour guide. What sets me apart from the thousands of guides… I am more a storyteller than a museum/bus guide. I believe my acting skills make a difference. I’m a history buff but my goal is to bring history to life. I try to make sure that my guests feel they have a real person in front of them who cannot be replaced by Wikipedia or a self-guided tour. I want them to remember a lively Lisbon, their emotions about the stories, rather than the facts and figures of the history lesson — because that they can always check on Google. Lisbon is my absolute favorite city, so I always try to make my guests experience why.

How have things changed in the guiding industry since the COVID restrictions? How have you seen your stops affected?

Oh wow, as a person who lives in Lisbon, you probably never saw the city as empty as it was the last couple of months. Especially after the last five or six years as one of the top destinations in Europe. There used to be hundreds of thousands of tourists arriving in the city every single day. And from one day to the other — complete silence, emptiness! Quite shocking.

Many, if not most, of the tourism companies, won’t survive this. And all the business catering to the visitors — all the restaurants, bars, shops that existed just for tourists…

I have been doing tours almost every day again, with far fewer people, of course, but it is restarting slowly. Still, many of the shops, restaurants, and bars I used to pass by are still closed, and some of them for good. I think half of the places I used for my food tours are still closed.

What’s the feeling like on the streets since you’ve been back guiding tours?

The streets are busy again. There is now a feeling of hope where there was only despair. At least I feel it! Also, most people who are traveling now are pretty relaxed and understanding about the situation, and are always taking all the sanitary security measures, of course.

What do you think it will take to get back to the way things were?

I guess we will need that vaccine. Restrictions won’t disappear without it unless the virus vanishes. I think that’s it, the day they tell you this doesn’t exist anymore, people will start traveling the next minute. Hopefully to Lisbon!

What’s next for you on the horizon?

All this gave me time to think about other ideas for more sustainable tourism, and especially different tourism, different tours, different experiences.

I want to escape from the regular circuit of Lisbon and offer a hidden Portugal, the real Portugal, one can say. I have a whole new project about to begin that I hope you’ll hear about soon. Meanwhile, you can follow my work, my tours and explore Portugal at @RitatheGuide on Instagram or Facebook. Besides the pure historical tours, you can find information about Lisbon’s darker stories, virtual tours that are perfect for these crazy times when we can’t travel the world.

And, last but not least: food tours! Atlas and I share the same deep love for food, so I’ll always share information about the terrific Portuguese food and create experiences around it. No better way to dive into the Portuguese culture.

Where do you go to relax away from the tour circuit?

I go tour the rest of Portugal! Before the lockdown, I used to travel whenever I could. Especially to places where I thought I would be surprised by different cultures. I think I know more about Asia or South America than Western Europe. Recently I was exploring Eastern Europe, and the Middle East was next in the plans. But with all this end of the world madness that fell upon us, we all had to look inside again. That gave me a great opportunity to learn more about my own country.

I went to explore a bit of the Algarve region before the summer season and without the touristy vibe it normally has, and then I explored the interior of Portugal, driving through our Route 66, called Nacional 2, that connects Portugal from North to South. What an interesting experience! Amazing landscapes, great river beaches, waterfalls, and the food. Oh, the food! Honestly, I ate my way through Portugal!

What hidden restaurant gem can you recommend to our readers as the purest taste of Lisbon you’ve found yet?

One of my favorites is Adega das Gravatas, in Carnide. It has a full list of all the traditional Portuguese dishes daily and a true Portuguese vibe — no one cares where you’re coming from because there, you are one of us. You can have amazing codfish, a whole octopus, or what they are known for: a massive steak on a hot stone!

How do people get in contact with you?

On my website ritatheguide.com you find all my contacts, and for a more regular update, you can check Instagram and my Facebook page.

Let’s hope it all comes to normality soon and, like the queen said, we will meet again!

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