As I passed through customs and stepped into the arrivals section of Lima airport, I scanned the crowd. Off to the left, away from the huge group of people eagerly awaiting friends and relatives at the entrance, I saw a man with a white sign that had ‘Aracari’ and my last name written in large, clear letters. That man is Raul Varela, a key character at Aracari for the last decade and somebody with whom many of our previous guests will be familiar. Raul smiled and waved then hurried over to me to help me with my luggage. I immediately felt relieved and happy with my decision to come to Peru, and grateful to have someone in charge of the plans, as I was exhausted from my long flight.
Raul is the first person that those who travel with Aracari meet upon arrival in Peru–a crucial moment after many hours of travel and arrival in a foreign country. He is just the person to deliver a warm welcome and instill a sense of excitement for the upcoming journey. When our guests send feedback after their trip they speak very highly of him.
Intrigued to find out more about a character who is an important protagonist on any journey with Aracari, we took time to interview him to find out what he likes to do in his hometown of Lima and what he loves about his job. In particular, we wanted to know what has kept him at Aracari longer than anyone else, with the exception of the company founder, Marisol Mosquera.
Born in Miraflores, in 1953, Raul grew up in Lima and in the late 90’s began working in tourism. He has worked in tourism for a little over 14 years, 10 of those at Aracari. Having gained experience with client transfers from prior work experiences, he was offered a full time position at Aracari as our Client Relations Representative in 2004. In the years since, he has seen Aracari grow from being a 4 person team to the 20+ team we are today. The first task that was requested of him was to create a manual on how to assure good quality service; not surprisingly this turned out to be the main theme throughout our conversation.
Raul is a very friendly and energetic person–get him talking about something he likes (for example pisco, Peru’s national drink) and his face lights up. Those who return to travel with us again always remember Raul’s smiling face greeting them at the airport. He mentioned that he has received hugs and kisses and requests to take photos with him from those that fondly remember what a great job he did, and continues to do, making sure that our guests have everything they need.
When asked what challenges he faces in his position, he said that he challenges himself to be the best he can be every day. He has a very high standard, he told us, while gesticulating just how high, and he holds everyone he works with accountable. It can be challenging to try to fix every problem that comes up or do everything a client asks but, “I never say no,” he said. “I always say, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’” When asked what has inspired him to work in tourism for so long, he mentioned that he enjoys meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds. “People often say, ‘Peruvians are lovely.’ So I try to be lovely with them.” He likes to show our guests how much Peru has changed over the years and what an amazing place it is to visit.
Raul was also full of tips on how to be the best Client Relations Representative possible. He doesn’t overload our guests with information on the day that they arrive because he knows that they are tired. He understands the importance of rest and relaxation prior to starting their Peruvian experience. On the ride from the airport, he uses the time to provide general information about Peruvian customs like typical meal times, opening hours for restaurants and shopping centers, and facts about Lima, like the population. He likes to tell jokes and find out what interests our guests. He is great at making them feel comfortable and welcome, like friends, all the while staying professional and making sure that everything runs smoothly throughout their stay in Peru.
Must-sees in Lima according to Raul? The Miraflores, Barranco and Pueblo Libre neighborhoods, the Larco Museum and Dédalo Arte–the art gallery and handicraft shop. Peru is famous for its cuisine, and everyone has a favorite restaurant…or two or three. Raul’s top picks are Pescados Capitales for seafood, El Rincon Que No Conoces for Creole dishes, and Rana Verde in La Punta of Callao, to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. He is a self-described “traditional Limeño”, and he likes to have a siesta (which no longer exists in Lima, but does in Cusco), relax in a nice cafe with a coffee, and observe the city around him. For drinks, he heads to Pueblo Libre to get a Chilcano (pisco, ginger ale, sugar and lemon) at El Boliviarano or to Quierolo in the center. For guests, he recommends Barranco as a nice area to walk around with many different bar options– the trendy Ayahuasca Bar being his preferred choice.
Asked about his favorite places in Peru, he mentioned Cieneguilla, a small district in the mountains within the Lima province, where one can rent a house and relax by the river or swim in the pool and there are many restaurants to choose from. His top choice would be Arequipa, for the incredible food, climate, and the peace and quiet. He said one day he’ll probably retire there, but for now, in his free time he can be found relaxing in his apartment on the 18th floor with a view of the city, waiting for the next group of Aracari travelers to arrive, so he can greet them with his smile and wealth of knowledge and make them feel safe and at home as soon as they set foot in Peru.
Photos by Pedro Chincoa