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Guiding Light - Insights from Industry Professionals, Mariano Curiel

Mariano Curiel - Director of Expedition Operations


Mariano Curiel - Director of Expedition Operations

As a seasoned expedition veteran, Mariano Curiel has sailed pole to pole, skied across Greenland and even graced the pages of Argentina's national paper with the Pope and Messi. He brings a huge array of experience and knowledge to any team he work's with. When he's not sailing the Antarctic Peninsula or organising expedition teams, he can be found spending time with his family in Patagonia.


Thanks for taking the time to share a little part of your story. Let's get underway.


Who are you and where are you from?


My name is Mariano Curiel, I am almost a 40 year old senior expedition guide somewhat specialised in polar regions. Northern Patagonia - Argentina is the place I call home.


What is your current role in the expedition industry?


Director Expedition Operations with Antarctica21, representing the company in IAATO in different committees and working groups in the realms of the field operations or guiding standards. As well as fulfilling the roles of Expedition Leader, Lecturer, and Zodiac Driver, during expeditions.


What's your background?


I hold a university degree in Communications and Strategic Planning. At the same time, I belong to a family of seafarers and grew up in a maritime environment, I have quite strong nautical training, from motorboat driver, to skipper, to coastal master, as well as proficient as a fast rescue boat driver. On top of that, training-wise, I believe that I count with over 20 courses in management, maritime, and mountain skills.


How did you get your start in the industry?


By chance, back when I was 22 years old. It was a classic 'a friend of a friend of a friend needs someone' situation. I didn't know this world even existed and rapidly felt in love with it.


What's the best thing about expedition guiding?


Travelling around the globe, exploring the ultimate remote places, with the mission of making those areas accessible to other people.


What’s your favourite expedition destination?

My favourite expedition would be anywhere remote where I haven't been yet, full discovery and exploration.

Looking back, I'll probably choose the expeditions onboard the Kapitan Khlebnikov back in the day. Breaking through the frozen sea and running helicopter operations on the sea ice in a very isolated setting deep in the Weddell and Ross seas.


"I like it rough and cold, strong strong winds... true story"

What aspect of guiding are you most passionate about?


Planning and achieving the objectives is something that I really enjoy, especially if venturing in difficult zones. On a more human level, sharing amazing adventures that will change clients' perspectives on life, and with colleagues which are many times very good friends is a very unique and powerful experience.


Knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself starting out?


Hard to say, career-wise I feel that I have been quite reasonable with accomplishments... not sure where would I be now if I was more patient or worked harder. I know I worked hard, I trained & improved, I had a strong focus on where to be next, and I always had faith.

What is your favourite part of the job?


Nowadays, definitely taking part in the building and development of performance teams. Of course, as well as exploring, accomplishing challenges and making the impossible happen :)


What is the thing that surprised you most about guiding?

In the expedition guiding world, the people that I met, both clients and guides.


What skills/ knowledge do you rate the most important for modern guides?


Let's start with the more the better, and it is always strong to hold one specialisation that will make any guide stand out from the others. The same that happens in any developing industry, the newer will bring greater theoretical knowledge, and the old salty dogs will have the experience.


For those looking to join the industry, what advice would you give?


It is still a small industry, aim to get in whatever way possible, and then work on a solid reputation. While waiting for that chance: train and acquire as much area and operational knowledge possible. Get acquainted with IAATO, AECO, and PTGA. Doors will open.

Briefing the team pre-zodiac cruise

For those looking to continue advancing their expedition career, what advice would you give?

I always saw a few paths to consider: find good mentors at the job, know, and understand the duties and responsibilities from where you want to get before trying. Once at home, continue improving your skills, its fun. Recently I was looking into my resume and found that during my first 4 years in the industry I completed more courses than in the other 14.


What is the biggest learning moment from your time in the industry?


The day I realised that this was going to be my life. Then, there are many. All those times when one of the older or more experienced guides hold my shoulder and shared knowledge with me. It's crazy, those flashes stay with me forever. After that, personal errors or near-misses, it is important to be able to accept those to grow.


Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?


Being a seafarer, a superstitious creature, I prefer not to tempt destiny. Whatever comes I'll do my best to be ready - probably related to expedition cruising in high management levels, or team development consultancy. Regardless, hopefully always with a foot in the field and guiding.


What future trends do you think guides need to consider?


Expedition guiding is becoming a full-time job, it is possible to make a career and a living from it. As it is becoming a more professionalized industry further certifications and requirements will apply to guides. Be ready on that aspect, and do not underestimate the importance of soft skills.

Describe a “normal” day for you at work?


In the field. Wake up at 6 am, go to the bridge, check on conditions, confirm the plan is suitable or needs adjustment. Draft the plan for the team, specifics in timings, actions, and areas to cover. Wake up the rest of the ship at 7 am.


Once at the location, final check of the area to make sure we can operate in safe conditions. Gear up and drop first boats with the scout team at 8:30 am. Secure the site and start the show... Planning, assessing, planning, assessing, planning, assessing, grab a bite, planning, assessing, planning, assessing, planning, assessing... and so it goes.

What’s your favourite zodiac driving conditions and why?


I like it rough and cold, strong strong winds... true story. Probably because that's when I need to focus and perform to my best.


If you could bring anyone on an expedition to Antarctica with you, who would it be and why?


I am super grateful that I was already able to bring my parents to Antarctica. In 20' years from now, I would love to see my kids sweeping the deck of a ship and learning the ropes.

If you could've been on any expedition ever, which would it be and why?

Fram, Nansen. Because it was simply such a great endeavour.


Thanks again to Mariano for taking the time to share some of his experience and industry insight. If you'd like to try and keep pace with Mariano then you can find him here online:


Instagram: @polarconnection

FB: Mariano Curiel

Web: polarconnection.com

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