Human Nature’s new initiative: Empowering Women

Supporting and empowering women has been one of GATA’s driving forces since our inception.  While we have always considered the impact all of our trips have on both local women and our female travelers, we are very excited to launch a new project that has been years in the making–an all-female trekking trip in Nepal.  

GATA has partnered with Empowering Women of Nepal (EWN) to offer an incredible experience for women of all ages designed to empower not only our travelers, but also an entire network of local women in Nepal.  EWN does amazing work training women in Nepal to enter careers historically occupied only by men, not the least of which is mountain guiding. These brave women are working to break through societal gender norms and structural barriers in order to create a better life for themselves and their families and to change the sometimes oppressive culture in the communities where they live.  They are pioneers working fearlessly to forge new paths of opportunity for women in Nepal and becoming leaders in their own rights along the way.  

We were so inspired by EWN’s mission and work that we decided to create an all female trekking trip using EWN trained female trekking guides and porters.  GATA believes not only in the importance of fostering female leadership, but also in the value of women supporting women. On our new adventure, female Nepalese guides will be leading a group of intrepid women as we connect with and support each other along trek through the mighty Himalayas.  Not only is this a trekking adventure, but an excursion designed to equip women with the tools to be able to make and execute decisions in their personal and professional lives that will help them navigate in a society that systematically challenges women.  

Women of all ages and walks of life are welcome to join us for our inaugural Empowering Women’s Adventure on April 1st of 2020.  This 12 day adventure will take you from the bustling metropolis of Kathmandu teeming with history and culture, to the quiet, lake-side town of Pokhara,  and up into the tiny mountain villages and wild landscapes of the Himalayas. We will also offer a later date beginning on November 18th – November 30th for those who will not be available in April.  Whether traveling in a group or solo, this adventure is sure to change the way you see the world and yourself. For more information, visit the following link:

Offering women’s trips has been a dream of ours since the beginning and is at the very heart of our mission.  We are honored to be working with the amazing women of Nepal, and can’t wait to embark on this new adventure of connecting and empowering women.  We hope you will join us!  

An Update from the Frontlines

After my article “Battle of la Carolina” was posted, I was really excited and motivated by the response that we got from readers.  I even shared the article with one of my male Ecuadorian soccer friends who I met while playing in la Carolina. In response, he wrote me a short text that made my heart swell to the point of exploding that said: “Alex, I would rather play soccer with you than any man.”  And before you even think about raining on my parade, NO….it’s not like “that”. We are straight up talking about the enjoyability of playing soccer and companionship on the field here–nothing more.  

That response, combined with now being chosen before my male counterparts whenever teams are being chosen had me walking pretty tall…until last week.  Last week I came the closest I ever have to inciting physical violence. Here’s what happened….

Having recently returned from a 6 week visit to the States, I was eager to return to “la cancha” (the field).  Despite being woefully unprepared for physical exertion at high altitude, I ventured to my battlefield (soccer fields in la Carolina park) last week to play with a group of university professors who play on Thursday nights.  The guys were all excited to have me back, and I was feeling good about my warm welcome “home” and my companions’ excitement to have me back on the field. 

 About halfway through our first hour of play, this random guy wearing jeans and a red sweatshirt sauntered onto the field.  He entered the field on the far end from me, and I could see him talking to a couple of my companions, or talking at them rather, and gesticulating in an argumentative manner.  Play stopped and after a minute or so, I became impatient and walked toward the intruder. All the guys who play soccer with me call me “la princesa” –the princess– because they have all learned the very important lesson that I am the Boss.  So since this guy was holding up my game, I started to cross the field to lay down the law and tell him to beat it.  

When I got within hearing range, I stopped dead in my tracks.  At first I thought that I was misunderstanding the words I heard–he couldn’t have been saying what I thought he was saying.  I took a few more steps to listen better–heart hammering now. By the time I arrived alongside my companions who had been arguing with the man, the intruder had started to cross the field and walk away, but not before looking back at me, making eye contact, and spitting on the ground in my direction.  That was when I knew my ears hadn’t betrayed me, that I hadn’t made an error in translation–he really had said what I thought I had heard.  

He had come onto our field and stopped our game to say that I had to leave.  He said that no women were allowed to play and demanded that I exit the field immediately.  He remained on the field arguing with my friends, stating that he would not leave until I was off the field because it is “against the rules” that women play–that it is “prohibited”.  He was adamant–hence why it took so long to get him to leave. When it finally hit me that I really was hearing him correctly, that it wasn’t a misunderstanding, he was already walking off the other side of the field.  I tasted blood in my mouth and moved to go after him. It was a primal rage. I never understood why people fight–it always seemed so barbaric and immature to me, but in that moment, that was my instinct. Henry, my friend who had led the argument against the intruder, caught me as I moved toward the man and spoke calmly to me to let it go.  I didn’t need to say anything–he knew what I was thinking, even if he couldn’t imagine the depth and heat of what I was feeling. My other friends had their eyes on me and almost seemed to be holding their breath, waiting to see what would happen.  

Henry didn’t actually have to physically restrain me–it was more of an avuncular embrace meant to soothe; and I didn’t really try to pursue the man, it was just a flash of instinct.  Within a second (or maybe 2), my logic and rationale kicked in, overpowering that initial primal surge of emotion. I remembered who I am, what my values are (violence not being one of them), and the wise words of my bestie, Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high.”  I was better than the brawling men I so often rolled my eyes at who felt the need to physically prove their masculinity and physical dominance. No, that wasn’t, isn’t, me. I realized that my best defence and most powerful weapon was to keep playing–day after day after day; to continue to stake my claim on the field.  

So the game restarted, I promptly scored 2 goals in quick succession, and I came back the next night to play again, and the night after that–daring anyone to try to tell me again that it’s not my place.  

Just writing this got my hackles up again, anger pounding through my veins.  So I have to remind myself to go back and reread the beginning of this post and remember that, slowly but surely, I am indeed winning both battles and respect in my ongoing war on machismo.  La Princesa de la cancha triunfarà.

Only Love

Posted on January 24, 2019by thelinkschool

by Emily Oubre , The Link School

It feels fitting and timely that Colombia seems to perfectly embody MLK’s quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Over and over, I have seen examples of Colombians who – after years of hatred and darkness – have chosen to respond with light and love.

Rafa is the perfect example.

Rafa was one of those guys who chuckled when he greeted you. He said, “Hola, Emily” with a gleeful amusement that made me feel like just my presence brought him excitement. I wasn’t sure what it was about my “Buenos dias” or my “Hola, Rafa” that made him laugh every time—maybe my smile looked funny—but it sure made me happy to greet him.

In fact, Rafa chuckled just about every minute. His quickness to laugh made it seem like he had never had a care in the world. He was the one guide who did not speak any English, but he looked at everyone and smiled, anyway. He just seemed to be daring you to give him a reason to smile. Actually, he seemed to just know you would. I remember when we got stopped and searched by the police, he was just looking at each of us the whole time, smiling, almost laughing – wanting us to know it was okay and also waiting for us to make him laugh. He had a knack for making light of any situation.


He also was the best climber of them all. One night, I was sitting outside our hotel, recovering from a rough bus ride through the mountain roads, and Rafa came over and sat next to me with that playful sparkle in his eye and crooked smile. He didn’t say anything or expect anything from me. He was just happy to smile and sit next to me. I knew he had to have a story, as he was probably close to my age, which meant he lived through the violent years in Colombia, and I knew this was my chance.

I asked him how he found climbing. He chuckled, paused, and told me it was a good question. For the next 20 minutes, I sat in awe, as he told me how climbing had transformed his life.

He told me he used to work for the paramilitary, hiding and transporting drugs and weapons. He shared a few details of the risky work he did, all within blocks of where we were sitting. He knew he could be killed at any second, so his life did not seem to be of much value. In his free time, he just partied and numbed himself. He didn’t feel much worth.

Then, a friend took him climbing. As he was climbing, he was scared, realizing that only that rope was keeping him alive. This fear for his life seemed to open him up to the idea that he did, in fact, value his life. He was also part of a healthy community, where every person truly mattered – not for their ability to deceive or kill or conform to what was being asked, but for what they had to offer, just as they were. Gradually, he started associating less and less with the para-militarists and more and more with his climbing friends. The problem was that the para-militarists threatened to kill him if he left because he knew too much.

Still, the people in that group saw how much climbing meant to him and started encouraging him to go more and more. Eventually, they decided they trusted him, and he was able to leave the group with their blessing. As he started climbing more, he said, he started thinking more about what his grandparents had taught him about valuing the land, building houses, and building community.


Now, he has built and opened his own “refugio” – a little hostel for climbers—where he meets interesting people from all over the world. He has biked from Bogota to Quito, he built his own house where he grows coffee, and he dreams of visiting Yosemite. He smiles and laughs every minute of every day – genuine smiles and laughter – not induced by mind-altering drugs.

Climbing saved his life.

It has been weeks since I met Rafa, but my mind keeps going back to him. I don’t think this is an uncommon story, but it meant a lot to me that he was willing to share it with me after knowing me for just a couple of hours.

His willingness to be vulnerable and trust me with his story is something I will never forget. In fact, it had an impact the very next day, when we went climbing. Lately, I have felt extremely vulnerable with climbing, since I have one leg that is not really working. I have not been willing to climb much at all, knowing I would inconvenience others by taking a long time, I would not look very good, and I would be at risk of getting hurt more. But when we were climbing the next day, Rafa was belaying, and he looked over and offered to belay me. In the past, I would have contemplated the offer for 10 minutes before saying, “No thanks.” Before I knew it, though, when Rafa offered, I had said yes and was tying in to his rope. I realized that his willingness to be vulnerable with me the night before had made me so much more open with climbing that day. This is the power of vulnerability. If he could share that story, I could look like a fool at the crag. I struggled through the climb, with Rafa shouting carefree encouragement the whole time. When I got back down, I thanked him and told him he had a lot of patience. He laughed, like he always did, and said if he didn’t love it, he wouldn’t be there.

After everything he had experienced, having to belay a little longer really probably was no big deal.


I am so grateful for this lesson in vulnerability. I have spent most of my life trying (and of course failing miserably) to appear perfect. I have avoided vulnerability and been hesitant to show my real self or true, messy insides. Being willing to climb with Rafa was a very minor thing, but for me, it represented a big change. I have seen the power of vulnerability – the way it connects people, opens people up, puts them at ease, makes them okay with their own imperfections. Vulnerability makes our interactions less calculated. It builds community by showing trust. It allows us all to be seen and heard, just for who we are. It seems to me, now, that the rewards of vulnerability far outweigh the risks.

Rafa seemed so free, and he was so lovable and easy to be around. I realized that if he could be so open, I, too, could let go of being stifled by the image I’m trying to present and just be me. Next time I’m trying to hide my mistakes or my shortcomings, I will remember how grateful I was that Rafa shared his so openly and joyfully.

I will remember how he responded to darkness with light; how he responded to hatred with love; how he allowed himself to be softened and opened by hardship, rather than hardened and closed off.

Thank you, Rafa.

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