Rayna and I are really excited to be partnering with Empowering Women of Nepal (EWN), a non-profit company, based in Pokhara, Nepal; which aims to improve the lives of Nepali women and girls through adventure sports and tourism. EWN was founded by three Nepali sisters who have been pioneers in the promotion of female trekking guides in the Himalayas. I trekked the Annapurna Circuit with an EWN trained guide, and it was an incredible experience. I am a testament that EWN truly does empower women–and not only Nepali, but women from around the world who trek with them. Stay tuned for future posts to read more about my experience in Nepal! For now here is a little more about EWN’s Female Trekking Guide Training Program…
Twice a year during the trekking off-season, EWN offers an intensive four-week Female Trekking Guide Training Program. The average age of the participants is 20 and, for optimal results, the maximum group size is 40 trainees. The objective is to have participants from different regions of Nepal and especially disadvantaged women from rural areas (Karnali Region, Everest, and Langtang).
From 1999 to 2019 EWN trained over 2000 women from 52 districts of Nepal.
EWN’s 4 week intensive course includes:
Basic English Conversation
Trekking and Tourism
Culture and Religion
Leadership and Team Building
Cross Cultural Communication
Mountain Culture and People
Conservation and the Environment
Women’s Human Rights
Trainees undergo an intensive four-week program on technical and conversational English, which also covers a broad range of topics including First Aid (HIV-AIDS, STD, women’s health issues), leadership, women’s rights, trekking information, environment, history, geography, and culture.
The training also emphasizes ecological awareness and conservation, including water sanitation and waste management. As participants develop into adventure tourism professionals, they communicate the ecologically sound practices they learn at EWN to their clients. For example they promote iodine purification methods, rather than relying on mineral water with its attendant plastic bottles which litter the Himalayas.
At the end of the initial training, EWN’s partner organization, 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking, provides a five month paid apprenticeship program where the girls acquire field experience by working as trainee guides. From their apprenticeship they gain immediate economic benefits by earning wages equivalent to experienced male porters, and they develop the skills needed to emerge as independent entrepreneurs. Over 100 guides are now employed by 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking each trekking season.
After they finish the training cycle, the majority of alumni find work in the adventure tourism industry; some become micro-entrepreneurs, some continue with higher education, some continue with EWN refresher courses, some leave for work abroad and some return to their villages and spread the word about the program to their friends and neighbors.
Human Nature works with quite a few communities in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, Nepal, and Cuba. We value our personal relationships with the people of these communities, and are passionate about giving our travelers the opportunities to create their own relationships across cultures. This is a vital part of our mission, but also a delicate one. We are very conscious of our impact within communities and the effect of globalization on the indigenous people we visit. While we encourage cultural exchange, we by no means want to “whitewash” the communities we visit, and we certainly don’t ever want to exploit them. We have designed our programs to maximize the value of our trips for the local communities, and to encourage learning and respect for their cultures, languages, and traditions. We promote authentic interaction with communities, not just photo opportunities.
All that being said, here’s a very quick look at just 3 of the indigenous communities that we work within Ecuador. Stayed tuned for more information of communities in other destinations.
Sinchi Warmi: Sinchi Warmi is a woman-lead community of Amazonian Kichwa people. “Sinchi Warmi” means “Strong Women” in the Kichwa language, and in this amazing, close-knit community, women are not just respected, they are the bosses. The men also play an important role in the community and are valued as well, but it is the women who lead the community. They are dedicated to sustainable development and sharing their traditional way of life with travelers who come to stay with them. They have a cocoa farm where visitors can help make their own chocolate. Sinchi Warmi is a fascinating balance of managing volunteer tourism with their ancestral way of life in the Amazon Basin.
Tsachila: The Tsachila of Santo Domingo, also known as “los Colorados”, are a vibrant and distinct indigenous group in Ecuador. Santo Domingo is nestled in the tropics between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Coast, and is their ancestral homeland. The men are easily recognizable, as they have a uniform hair style that is shaved on the sides and back and then slicked forward on top and painted bright red with achiote seeds. The men wear black, blue, and white woven skirts and no shirts, while the women wear brightly colored striped skirts. They also paint their bodies with black horizontal lines. They speak Tsafiki, their native tongue, and their shamans are renowned for their healing power and knowledge of medicinal herbs and remedies.
Today, there are only about 2,000 Tsachilas who maintain their traditional way of life, the sum total of 8 communities. GATA has a close relationship with one of these communities and work closely with them on their sustainable development projects. Visiting the Tsachila is a truly unique and special experience, as this vibrant and endangered culture is so special and has an incredible history.
Andean Kichwa: There are many varieties of Kichwa culture and languages in Ecuador and across the broader region of northwest South America. Kichwa is a Quechuan language that connects its many speakers under one umbrella, but the millions of Kichwa speakers actually form many distinct cultures and across geographic regions. The language itself has more than a dozen different dialects, depending on region. The indigenous people I am referring to now are those that live in the Andean highlands of Ecuador. Even in this specific region, there are distinct communities and dialects, but also many commonalities.
Kichwa people are the most populous of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, with over one million people still using their traditional language and dress. Women wear long, wrapped woolen skirts–either navy blue or black, with white blouses, colorful woven belts, red or gold necklaces, and white closed toe sandals. Men also where the closed toed sandals and grow their hair long and keep it in a single braid. The Andean Kichwa people traditionally live off of subsistence farming, planting corn and “chochos” on steep mountainsides. GATA partners with several of these traditional farming communities to bring travelers to live and work alongside Kichwa. There is much to learn from their ancient culture, as well as how they have adapted to survive in the modern world. Today, many Kichwa live in big cities and are very visible in daily modern Ecuadorian life. They have retained their traditional way of dress, culture, and language while adapting and living in a modern globalized world.
I subscribe to various travel industry newsletters, which means that I get an average of 27 emails from Travel & Leisure (T&L) every day. Mostly I just skim the headlines, but occasionally something will snag my interest and I’ll give it a read. This happened a couple weeks ago, with a headline that read: “21 Items to Pack on Every Single Trip”. I was curious as to what the T&L found to be the 21 most important and versatile travel items–and, well, I wish you all could have seen my face when I read what made their list. I’m sorry, I’m not trying to troll T&L, but their list is ridiculous. It did, however, get me thinking…what would make my list?
Thus, “GATA’s 21 Items to Pack on Every Trip” was born. While a few of T&L’s items did make our list, I think it’s safe to say that GATA and T&L are not catering to the same market. Here’s our list, followed by a link to T&L’s list–see how we compare, and let us know what your most essential packing items are!
A good rain coat is like travel armor and an absolute necessity for any and all trips. I personally do not take a step outside my house without my raincoat packed. It is worth investing in a good one, preferably gor-tex; and I recommend ordering a size up, regardless of the brand, to allow for ample layering underneath. I also put a premium on pockets when it comes to raincoats. My number #1 pick for a raincoat is the Arcteryx Beta AR, but if you’re on a tighter budget, REI brand usually has some decent and affordable options.
Regardless of where you are traveling, drinking water from unknown or untrusted sources is never a great idea. It is also logistically challenging as well as environmentally and financially irresponsible to only drink bottled water. Simple solution: take your own water filter everywhere you go. I recommend Sawyer water filters–I always have one that can screw onto any basic water bottle or faucet. It’s lightweight, about the size of bratwurst, and filters 99.9999999999% of the bad stuff. Whether you’re camping in the wilderness or exploring a foreign metropolis, you’re covered.
No, your cell phone flashlight is not sufficient. Headlamps provide hands free illumination for whatever you are doing–whether it’s spelunking, trying to start a fire in the rain (so frustrating), reading in a dark crowded dorm room, or trying to change a flat tire on your rental car in the middle of the night. Take a headlamp. Always. My personal favorite headlamps are made by Petzl, followed by black diamond.
Bandana or buff or similar light cloth scrap like accessory. You can use it for sun, wind, or cold protection for you head, ears, and/or neck. It can serve as a towel in a pinch, a rag for cleanup, a hankie, an eye mask, a dust/pollution mask, keep your hair out of your face, tourniquette; the uses are limitless. I once used a bandana as a fishing net to catch fish in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Tie it on the outside of your bag–takes up no space.
6. Essential pills
I always travel with a small plastic container about the size of a ping pong ball with a few of the following meds:
That should take care of 95% of your traveling ailments.
7. Hiking boots
Footwear is vital, and if your raincoat is your body’s armor, hiking boots are armor for your feet. I put my hiking boots on and I am invincible–my feet are comfortable, protected, and can take on any terrain any place any time. The key is to get quality boots that fit you well. Not all hiking boots are created equal, so choose carefully. Again, I always recommend gor-tex for waterproofing. I am currently loving these Ahnu boots, because they are durable, have good ankle support, comfortable, waterproof but also lightweight. I love my old school Vasques too, but they are much heavier and more rigid, so I reserve them for my more rugged mountain climbing excursions, whereas my Ahnu’s are my go everywhere boot.
8. Extra socks
Wet socks are the worst–don’t ever wear wet socks. Your feet will stink, you’ll ruin your boots, and you’ll get blisters and fungus and all sorts of gross stuff. It’s worth it to always pack 2 pairs of socks more than what you think you will need. Just do it.
Cliche? Maybe. Still, I live in my Chacos. Plus, you really can’t get away with traveling anywhere with just one pair of shoes (hiking boots), so you really need a comfortable, breathable option that is still functional enough to get you around town in. Chacos are the solution. You can wear them in the water, you can hike in them, you can wear them with a dress, or–my personal style go to–wear them with socks! Chacos + socks = Sockos–the ideal airplane/airport footwear choice. They are durable but comfortable, and when you are freezing in your tent in the middle of the night but really have to pee, you don’t want to be trying to get hiking boots or even sneakers on….no, you just stumble into your Chacos and hit the bush–quick and easy like.
10. Warm layer
No matter what, even if you are going somewhere tropical and warm, be prepared for cold. This could mean a lightweight down jacket, or an insulated long sleeve layer or a fleece–but bring something cozy and warm. First of all, warm clothes are like a comfort item–it’s always good to have something snuggly when you’re far from home. Second, even if you aren’t wearing it, you can use it as a pillow. Third, even if you’re not expecting cold weather, you never know AND sometimes we get chilled even when it’s warm out. Example: sunburn–the night after you get roasted to a crisp in the sun, you will get chilled. Also, sometimes we don’t get warm showers — nice to have something to warm you up after a frigid shower or dip in a glacial lake. Don’t argue, pack at least one warm item of clothing no matter where you’re going.
11. Baby powder
Baby powder is another versatile and underrated product. Shoes stink? Blisters? Chafing? Ran out of deodorant? Greasy hair? Sweaty nooks and crannies? Baby powder has you covered. It is the catch all solution for when you are stinky, dirty, greasy, and/or sweaty but don’t have the resources at hand to actually clean yourself. I once hiked the entire Annapurna Circuit in Nepal using only baby powder as deodorant. Truth.
Blisters are debilitating. No matter how tough you are, blisters will disable you. Best to avoid them by using proper footwear and good socks, but sometimes that’s just not enough and blisters happen. Moleskin is the solution. It is a lifesaver–do not leave home without it.
13. fishing hook
Is fishing fun?–most of the time. Is that why a fishing hook is on this list?–no. In an emergency survival situation, a fishing hook can be combined with that floss you will always bring with you to actually catch fish. That’s cool and could potentially save your life in the wilderness….assuming you are near a body of water. But a fishing hook can also be combined with that floss to use as a needle and thread to mend clothes and gear. Here’s how.
It’s another small, multi use tool that could come in handy or even save your life–pack it!
14. Collapsible water bottle
Obviously for a water filter (mentioned above) to work, you need a water bottle. While there are all sorts of trendy stainless steel water bottles out there, I highly HIGHLY recommend a collapsible water bottle. I swear by Platypus. Why collapsable? Because when it’s empty it doesn’t take up any space…duh. Or, if you only need a little water, you can fit it into a daypack or purse with small dimensions. Rigid water bottles make no sense. I like the platypus bottles because they fit with my Sawyer water filter (and most other filters), they are durable, you can get a bite hose attachment (think camelback style),and they have a small opening which makes drinking easier and spillage less likely.
I hope I don’t need to explain why sunscreen is important. I personally like to travel with sunscreen sticks–solid form, like giant tubes of chapstick. I go with the solid so that a)I don’t have to worry about exceeding 3oz of liquid in my carry-on and b)I don’t have to worry about sunscreen explosions in my bag. I will say that you should take care not to leave a solid sunscreen stick in direct sunlight, as it will melt.
16. Dr. Bronners
A travel sized bottle (or bar) of Dr. Bronner’s Soap will go a long, long way. It is environmentally friendly, all natural, no synthetics, no detergents, no foaming agents, organic, fair trade, etc etc etc; and you can use it for everything. Wash your body, your hair, your dishes, your clothes, your gear, your floor, your dog, your boat, your car, your whatever…Dr. Bronner’s does it all, and a little bit goes a long way! Check it out here.
17. Duct tape
As we should all know by now, duct tape is magical. Fix things, create things, stick things together–you should never be without duct tape. I recommend wrapping a little bit around a pen or marker so that you don’t have to haul around an entire roll of duct tape…just enough in case of emergencies.
18. External battery
While we’d like to pretend like electronics and technology aren’t vital….they are, for most trips at least. Don’t get caught with a dead phone or ebook or camera–bring a power bank. They are small and affordable, and can save you in a pinch.
A daypack is essential on all trips. Whether you go for a small, lightweight backpack, a comfortable and functional purse, or a minimalist fanny pack; your essential items need a home–water, sunscreen, phone, camera, snack, raincoat, etc. I personally like to pack bags within bags–so I have my backpacking pack with all my stuff in it…inside that I have a lightweight backpack with my daily items inside, including a small fanny pack with my most essentials–passport, phone, sunscreen, cash.
20. E -Reader
As the former director of a library (long story), I love books….real books, the kind with paper. That said, ereaders have their place in this world–and that place is in my bag when I’m traveling. It is not reasonable to haul a half dozen books around with me whenever I travel…one little Kindle with hundreds of books on it?–That makes sense. I use the Kindle Paperwhite.
21. Waterproof stuff sack
It always pays off to have a waterproof stuff sack of some sort and size on hand. Even if you just have a small one, at least when it starts pouring rain you can through your phone, camera, passport, etc. in there and don’t have to worry about it getting wet. If you have a larger one, you can keep you clothes, shoes, and/or sleeping gear dry. I know packing cubes are all the rage these days, but I would take a waterproof sack every time if given the option. I pack all of my gear in waterproof sacks, so when it rains, I don’t have anything to worry about.
I have had the pleasure of working with Alexa and Rayna at Human Nature Expeditions for several years, and have been so impressed with their ability to deliver a rich, completely customized itinerary in a variety of environments and areas of expertise. Their teams in Costa Rica and Ecuador are professional and responsive, with a priority on student and guest safety. They possess such an intimate knowledge of the areas in which they operate, and do an amazing job communicating their expertise with our students. I would highly recommend them for any student or family travel experiences.
I've had Alexa Stickel from Human Nature Expeditions do my logistics for traveling with students in Costa Rica and I can say that it has been the best experience possible. She is responsive, knowledgeable, and highly tuned into the happenings within Costa Rica at all times. When I am on the ground in Costa Rica, working with students in Costa Rica, and understandably busy, she makes sure everything goes smoothly and all problems are solved with speed. The best part of working with with Alexa and Human Nature Expeditions is that she (and the company) ask what you are seeking, find the ideal experience for your goals, and are also willing to suggest ways to improve your program. I can say with confidence that my programs with students went better because of the hard work of this company. Matt Moran, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, Hendrix College
I had the pleasure of collaborating with Human Nature Expeditions on a highly customized student travel program, and I cannot speak highly enough of the team's exceptional professionalism, expertise, level of dedication, and attention to detail. Specifically, Alexa, one of the key persons in our collaboration, played a pivotal role in ensuring the program's success. Not only did she provide invaluable logistical support, but her expertise in designing experiential education and prioritizing student health and safety was commendable. With her guidance, we were able to create a program that offered a uniquely enriching and safe learning environment for our students.
Their ability to tailor the program to our specific needs was remarkable, and they went above and beyond to make our vision come to life. Throughout the entire process, they were responsive, flexible, and accommodating, making it a smooth, that enjoyable partnership that will continue to grow stronger.
We have worked with Alexa many times over the years, and she and others on the team have consistently provided an experience second to none. You can expect first rate guiding across different ecosystems, with particular expertise in birding. But you will also find her to be an extremely knowledgeable source of information and anecdotes covering all groups of tropical organisms (such as amphibians, insects, plants, fungi, etc.), regarding their natural history, biology and ecology. Among the advantages of working with this group is their strong connection to the local communities and cultures. In addition to their guiding expertise, they convey a high level of excitement, enthusiasm, and sincerity that engages students and tourists across all ages. You would be very hard pressed to find equally expert and professional guiding in the tropics. - Scott Connelly, PhD, Faculty, University of Georgia
We had a wonderful experience with Alexa from Human Nature during our Tropical Ecology course trip to Costa Rica. She led us on a really fun and informative natural history hike at Finca Ecológica in San Luis de Monteverde. She helped with the logistics of visiting the reserve and setting up lunch. We were able to process the payment through Payment Works to transfer funds directly from the university which was greatly helpful- if you work in international education at a university you know how valuable that is! Alexa is a joy and full to the brim with knowledge and passion. Her enthusiasm is contagious and she is very gifted at engaging students. I highly recommend working with her, whether for a one-day natural history guided hike or to plan an entire course abroad.