Spotlight On A Trailblazer: Maybe The First Female Mountain Guide In E. Africa

Spotlight On A Trailblazer: Maybe The First Female Mountain Guide In E. Africa

From AkilahNet/Nation Media Group/AllAfrica. Story by Peter Musa.

For Zoe Wanjiru, life is one continuous climb — and she wouldn’t have it any other way. For seven years, the Kenyan national has been guiding tourists up some of East Africa’s most treacherous peaks, including Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya, and through some of the region’s most scenic safari parks.

As one of the few women guides operating in East Africa, she’s faced skepticism and downright discrimination. In many lodges, accommodation for women guides simply doesn’t exist. Then there are the flirtatious guests and subordinates who don’t take her seriously.

But over the years Wanjiru has hit her stride and knows how to deal with these challenges. She’s struck deals with hotels to stay in guest quarters and has assembled a trustworthy and respectful team. She knows how to handle everything from feisty tourists to life-threatening accidents.

She co-owns the travel company, Bush and Events Africa. “I have always loved hiking because it is therapeutic to me,” she said in an interview. “So when I realized I could use an activity I truly enjoy as a source of income, I was more than elated. I’m at peace when I’m on a mountain. If it wasn’t that cold, I would live up on Mount Kenya or Kilimanjaro.

Most people expect a tour guide to be a man, she said. “The advantage of being female is the other climbers take you as their benchmark. They think, ‘If Zoe can do it, why not me?’ And they end up at the summit!’

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The biggest challenge she faces as a female tour guide is hotel accommodation. Facilities for drivers and guides are mainly outside the main lodge or hotel, and rooms and washrooms are often dormitory style.

“About 90 percent of the places that I’ve been are not conducive to female guides because you have to share facilities with male guides, and chances are, you will be the only female. The hotels and lodges hence advise that you book a regular room on the client’s side, which is more expensive.”

It used to bother she said, but she developed good working relationship with the lodgesand now they offer her discounts. “However, I wish female guides were more accommodated,” she said.

Her most frightening moment was on a climb up Kilimanjaro. One of the climbers developed pulmonary edema, a serious altitude-related illness, and had to be evacuated.

“We ran for three straight hours (over rocks, scree, and bushes) to the evacuation point and dashed her to the hospital via ambulance. This was the last day of the climb, so we were already exhausted. Once the client was out of danger, I still had to follow up on the other 17 climbers, then have a sit-down with my crew since it was the last day. During such times I think I get special strength from above.”

Read more at AllAfrica.