Kilimanjaro hike to Barranco Camp Machame Route

Why Using Local Guides Matters

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover”.  – Mark Twain

Over the past twenty years, the world has truly become a smaller place. Once hard to reach, remote parts of the planet that used to be only for the most adventurous of tourists, have become more accessible. Places like the Himalayas of Nepal, the tiny fishing villages of Southeast Asia and the bushland of the Maasai have opened their doors for travelers,   allowing us to see their beautiful unique cultures as never before.

Although it is wonderful that more of the remote corners of the world are now accessible, it  comes with a price. The negative impact of tourism on the environment, culture and people of a place, threatens it’s very own authenticity and landscape. This is why choosing sustainable travel is critical if we want to preserve and protect these destinations for the future.

My father and I have been trekking in remote places for decades and every place we go we use local trekking guides and companies. I honestly admit that the initial reasons behind our choice were purely convenience and economical.  However, the more we began using local guides, it became clear how incredibly rewarding and important it is to hire locally. Not only do you get a more intimate cultural experience by getting to see a country through their eyes, your investment also greatly supports the local community in which you are visiting. By hiring local, all money you spend on your trip is directly reinvested back in that very place that is so special instead of profiting an international corporation who only has financial interests to gain.
Furthermore, the cross-cultural friendships and understanding that are made and shared by hiring local are priceless. Not only does it create goodwill, it brings a new perspective and understanding on both sides of the relationship. As a client, you get to learn as much as possible about a culture, history, society, life, flora and fauna and environment. As a guide, you gain a better understanding of people who are so different from those portrayed in the media. Together, you can create life-long friendships that promote cultural understanding and peace.

Kilimanjaro hike to Barranco Camp Machame Route

Our group heading down the trail on Kilimanjaro.

Here are three examples of why supporting local guides matters.

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Annapurna Trek Nepal

My heart breaks for Nepal

“We cannot stop natural disasters but we can arm ourselves with knowledge: so many lives wouldn’t have to be lost if there was enough disaster preparedness.” – Petra Nemcova

News of the devastating earthquake this past Saturday has sent shock waves throughout the world. Once again, Nepal is struggling to help rescue survivors after another catastrophe. For me personally, my heart is broken. A place that has meant so much to me has continually suffered and is now in ruins. A place where I found my voice and was inspired to start this blog.

Annapurna Trek Nepal

Me and my Dad at the start of the Annapurna Trek. November 2010.

They sometimes say that bad things happen in threes. In Nepal’s case, I certainly hope it ends at three. A series of natural tragedies over the last year has brought heartache and struggle to this tiny mountain country, one of the poorest countries in the world.

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Vivekananda Camp, Delhi India

A Snapshot of India

Sometimes it is true that a picture can paint a thousand words. This week’s photo challenge: A Split-Second Story, inspired me to dig deep throughout my vast archive of photographs, each one telling a story of a certain place and time. In my opinion, there is no place on earth that a simple photo can tell so much about a place than India.

India, one of the most populous countries on the earth, is full of color, contradiction, glory and pain. It is a place of wonder, sorrow, fear and hope. India bursts with humanity on every street or corner you pass. You can see it all there – poverty, wealth, good, bad, happy, sad, beauty and tragedy.

Behind the beautiful, lavish parts of India always lies the most abject poverty imaginable. Nothing can prepare you for the stark reality of desperation, misery and despair of walking through a real live slum in the heart of India’s capital. Sometimes the most severe poverty is hidden behind the walls and within the confines of a slum. Other times, it stares right back at you like a hard slap across your face. You try to look away, and ignore the creeping, uncomfortable nagging guilt. But you can’t.

Dignity

Vivekananda Camp, Delhi India

Woman leaving the newly constructed toilet compound thanks to WaterAid.

Irony

Vivekananda Camp

Women living on the street, outside the walls of the American Embassy near Vivekananda Slums in Delhi, India.

In the background of the lush green, beautiful grounds of the American Embassy lies the Vivekananda Camp, one of many unauthorized slums that surround every single part of Delhi. I visited this slum as part of a tour with WaterAid, a global NGO that provides safe drinking water and sanitation to areas around the world that do not have access to it.

The stark contrast between the neighboring American Embassy and the Vivekananda Slum were almost too hard to morally comprehend. These two places represent the immense contradictions and inequalities that can be found all throughout Delhi and India as a whole. One of the greatest inequalities ever seen anywhere in the world is right there staring into your face, making it impossible to not feel deeply distraught.

In the Vivekananda Camp, a slum of approximately 500 households, there is no running water, no sewer lines and people live in absolute dire circumstances. Thanks to WaterAid, improvements to sanitation have been made by the building of a Community Toilet Complex (CTC), a compound containing 20 toilets for women, 20 for men and a few for children as well as a couple of showers, providing some sort of dignity in a place where dignity hardly exists.

When I saw the old woman leaving the Community Toilet Complex, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She was moving slowly, at a snail’s pace, with the help of an old wooden cane. She was heading back into the deep confines of the dirty, dingy slum, to her home.  I watched her gait with wonder and hope. She had to be in her eighties and most likely spent almost all her life without a proper toilet. Finally after all these years she had the one thing every human being on this earth is entitled to: Dignity. It brought tears to my eyes for the simple things we take for granted.

Less than a third of people ( 772 million people) have access to sanitation in India, and 90 million people in India do not have access to safe water per WaterAid.  Over 186,000 children under five die from diarrhea every year. With 17% of the world’s population (over a billion people), the water crisis in India is only getting worse and is becoming life or death for millions of people.

-WaterAid

This post was inspired by the Weekly Photo Challenge: Split-Second Story. To view more entries, click here

 

Note: Right after I posted this today I saw the following tragic press release from WaterAid. Lack of toilets reportedly linked to murder of Uttar Pradesh girls . Via @WaterAidAmerica

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Annapurna Trek, Nepal

On Top of the World at Nepal’s Thorung-La

I will never forget the moment I was on top of the world. I was trekking around the Annapurna through the world’s largest pass – Thorung La. We rose in darkness and anticipation of our two-hour ascent up to the highest point of our Himalayan hike, the pass at Thorung La at an intimidating 17,769 feet (5,416 m). 

We had spent a sleepless freezing cold night at Thorung Base Camp to acclimatize before our morning ascent. I remember being so utterly cold during the night in our barren, unheated room that I emptied every single item of dirty clothing out of my pack and slept in everything I had along with three wool blankets. Unfortunately I was still frozen to the bone and could hardly sleep that night due to the high altitude and apprehension about the next day.

Would I be ok? Would I get altitude sickness? Would I make it to the top? These were all the worries and concerns that were racing through my restless mind and keeping me up in the middle of the cold, dark night.

Annapurna Trek, Nepal

Our last day-long hike up to the top of Thorung La Pass in Nepal.

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Lotus Temple Delhi India

A Unique Visit to Delhi’s Lotus Temple

Any trip to Delhi requires a stop at the spectacular Lotus Temple. Built in 1986 of pure white marble from the Penteli mountain in Greece, the Lotus Temple is a Bahá’í House of Worship where people of any religions can come to pray.  What makes this temple so incredibly unique and awe-inspiring is its shape and form.

Inspired by India’s sacred lotus flower, the temple is composed of 27 free-standing marble “petals” arranged in groups of three to form nine sides forming a lotus flower. It is fitting that the temple is designed to look like India’s treasured lotus flower as the lotus symbolizes many important things in Indian culture: Long life, honor, and good forturne. Images of lotus flowers can be seen throughout India as engravings on temples, buildings and in art.

Lotus Temple Delhi

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Los Glaciares National Park

My Top Five Wild Hikes

I just finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” a dark, raw and fiercely humorous book on how one woman finds herself during a three-month long trek through the wild Pacific Crest Trail. The book is powerful, emotional, honest and inspiring, and Strayed uses her brilliant memoir to take a hard look at self-discovery, heeling and change.

Of course when times are tough, we can’t always pick up our bags and leave town. Yet, I often find that there is no better way to escape and reflect upon life than to go on a hike, and the more remote and wild, the better. I have been fortunate to have done many wonderful adventurous hikes over the years.  Although every hike I’ve done has been special and has brought me to a new place, there are a select few that have truly inspired me and are unforgettable.

Here is a list of the top five wild hikes that are bound to get your mind thinking.

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Delhi Street Photography

The tilted view of the streets of Delhi

“It is impossible not to be astonished by India. Nowhere on Earth does humanity present itself in such a dizzying, creative burst of cultures and religions, races and tongues”. -A Rough Guide to India

A trip through the streets of India brings humanity to her knees. No place on earth is quite like India. When asked by friends “What is India like” I seem to suddenly become silent as no words can fully describe the place unless you’ve been there.  Through all her culture, her craziness, her unbelievable sights and her charm, India remains perhaps one of the most intriguing places in the world. I don’t think any place on earth can quite compare.

Getting around India is one of the most knuckle clenching, heart racing things you can do. Oftentimes there are cows in the streets, traffic coming at you in every direction and people everywhere. Many times you get awfully close to an overpacked car and the two dozen pairs of eyes seem to stare into your soul.

Inspired by the views seen through the streets of Delhi I compiled a post of my favorite street shots, many taken from inside a moving vehicle as I was tilting or craning my neck. Just taking a ride through the streets of Delhi is bound to capture your attention and your camera. I remembered to take my third eye along on this trip and it is a good thing I did. Everything and anything is possible in India.

Here are some of my favorite captures.

Delhi Street Photography

View outside the car at the over-crowded streets of Delhi.

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Pregnant mothers class at Indira Kalyan

How Save the Children is Saving the Unborn Child in India

Author’s note: This is the third post documenting my visit on behalf of Mom Bloggers for Social Good to see Save the Children’s work at the Indira Kalyan slum in Delhi, India. To read the first and second post click on the links. 

Indira Kalyan

Heading to our next visit within the Indira Kalyan Camp

Having a baby should be one of the most joyous times of a woman’s life. Yet tragically throughout the developing world childbirth is also one of the most deadly times of a woman’s life as well as the life of her newborn child.

Per Save the Children an alarming 3 million babies died globally in their first month of life (2010) and India continues to have a persistently high rate of newborn mortality accounting for 29% of all first day deaths globally or 309,000 a year.

India is not an easy place to be a mother either. A decade ago close to 75,000 women died during childbirth every year. Although that number has been reduced to 56,000 in 2010, it is still way too high, especially given the tragic fact that many of these deaths are preventable.

In India, there is no place that it is more dangerous to be a woman giving birth than in the slums where woman lack access to basic health care services, midwifes and hospitals. Yet organizations like Save the Children are making remarkable progress in educating women about prenatal and postnatal care as well as the importance of delivering their child in a hospital.

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Meeting with Frontline Health Care Workers in The Indira Kalyan Camp

India’s Frontline Health Care Workers: Working door to door to save lives

Author’s note: This is the second post documenting my visit on behalf of Mom Bloggers for Social Good to see Save the Children’s work at the Indira Kalyan slum in Delhi, India. To read the first post click here

India has made a tremendous amount of progress over the last two decades fighting to save the lives of mothers and children. A decade ago close to 75,000 women died during childbirth every year and this number has been reduced to 56,000 in 2010. Significant progress has also been made in newborn survival. Since 1990, India has reduced the rate of deaths of children under 5 by 46% or almost in half. Despite the major achievements, newborn and maternal dealths are still way too high given the tragic fact that many of these deaths are largely preventable. The situation is especially dire in India, the second most populous country in the world, with a hugely disproportionate percentage of maternal and newborn deaths.

The Indira Kalyan Camp Delhi

Inside The Indira Kalyan Camp, an unauthorized slum in Delhi

The Indira Kalyan Camp

Women inside the indira Kalyan Camp

Per Save the Children’s 2013 State of World’s Mother’s Report:

  • Nearly 1 in 5 deaths of children under age five are in India. (1.6 million children or 29% of the global total ).
  • 19% of these deaths take place on the day a child is born and 53% occur within the first month of birth.
  • Large scale inequities within India continue to persist today in terms of wealth disparities, rural-urban divide, education, age of mother, caste, which means that not all babies born in India have an equal change of survival.
Children within the Indira Kalyan Camp

Children within the Indira Kalyan Camp pose for a picture

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Save the Children: “Bringing healthcare to the Doorstep” in the slums of Delhi

India, the second most populous country in the world, is known for her rich, vibrant culture and civilization that has spanned thousands of years. Over the last two decades, India’s economy has grown at breakneck speed becoming the world’s 10th largest economy in 2011 and is projected to be among the fifth largest by 2050 (per a recent report by economic think-tank Centre for Economics and Business Research).  Yet despite the enormous economic success of the “Elephant“, as India has been sometimes called, tragically a large percentage of the Indian population have been left behind.

Millions of Indians live in dire poverty especially the people who have left the villages and have come to the urban centers searching for a better life. According to the World Bank, rural and urban poverty in India remains painfully high, holding the unfortunate record of having the largest concentration of poor people in the world: 240 million rural poor and 72 million urban poor.  With poverty, an immeasurable suffering has also taken hold. Hunger, malnutrition and a high level of preventable diseases and death have struck India’s poor and have unfairly impacted women and children.

Indian girls inside a Delhi slum

Smiling and hopeful Indian girls within a Delhi slum are sadly thin.

Child Labor, Marriage, Education and Survival Global Health Global Issues Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises India Poverty SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL BY REGION

A Girl called Braveheart: India’s broken heart

They called her Braveheart, a name that symbolizes a fighter. People have also called her Fearless and India’s Daughter.  Due to Indian law, the real name of a rape victim is withheld from the press. For some reason the name Braveheart seemed to stick.

Months after her tragic, horrifying death Delhi’s Braveheart continues to tear away at Indian society and many Indians’ cry for change. Braveheart’s December 16th gang rape on a moving bus has gained worldwide attention, outrage and grief. Further high-profile rapes such as the recent rape of a Swiss and American tourist have continued to push the not so pretty truth about the status of women in India into the forefront. Meanwhile, India’s tourist industry has been reeling with a 35 % decline in female tourists for the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year (Source: Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry in India).  It is evident that foreign women travelers are concerned about the dangers of traveling to a place with such a tarnished reputation for women’s rights and safety.

In a country where a rape is reported every 21 minutes, and gruesome rapes of young children are inundating the news, you would think that it would be enough to push for societal and governmental change. Yet has anything really truly changed for the millions of women in India and around the world who are faced with violence, discrimination, harassment, intimidation, neglect and unworthiness every single day of their lives?

Indian Women in Delhi

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