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Elisabeth Easther meets the CEO of World Expeditions.
We were unconventional when it came to holidays — most people were going to the Gold Coast but not us. Because my parents were both avid trekkers, we went hiking in New Zealand, in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, in the Himalayas. The first time was when I was 8. We went to the Kakadu area in the Northern Territory. We did a hiking trip up there and every year after that we went overseas and there were so many adventures.
Without doubt, Nepal was a real standout, although it was also very challenging. Trekking up in the Annapurna region, climbing to altitudes of up to 4000m, it was late November, so getting towards winter, and I’d never felt cold like that before in my life. I also recall being so moved by that trip, and I think that was what drove me to work in adventure travel.
I also loved the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, the medinas are so exotic and hamlets are fascinating — it’s an outstanding destination.
We also went hiking in Ladakh. It’s very Buddhist and beautiful, although I remember watching my mother experience terrible altitude sickness there. It doesn’t affect everybody but she suffered awfully.
Travelling so widely, we learned to have empathy and respect for other people. We were coached on how to dress properly in Muslim countries, how to enter monasteries in Buddhist countries, the cultural dos and don’ts. Travelling at a younger age does give you a much more worldly outlook.
When I was 13 we did a trip to Kashmir and I always wanted to go back. I returned at 19 and, whereas most people bring carpets home from their holidays, I brought a husband. When he first came to Australia I think there were just 15 other Kashmiris in the whole country.
Trekking is my passion. I just find the whole environment of trekking, from mountains to beautiful jungle trails, powerful and uplifting. I’ve been privileged to have done the classics — the Inca Trail, Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp. I love the Pamir Mountains in Rajasthan, and Ladakh is another favourite, or hiking the volcanoes of Guatemala.
Although when climbing up Mt Pacaya, I was nearly asphyxiated on account of the sheer amount of sulphur fumes. With backcountry hikes in Patagonia on the Argentinian side, you can truly get away from the crowds.
Nowadays my passion is for finding the places left of field. A lot of people ask me, why do people gravitate to crowded places? And I think social media drives that growth. People look at posts of Everest Base Camp, but if they veer off slightly to Gokyo Valley they’ll find a cracker of a trek, but it only gets 7-8 per cent of the traffic to Everest Base Camp.
It’s so unheard of but it should be ranked right up there in terms of scenic splendours.
Active holidays, trekking and cycling, they take people into a different headspace, a different emotional space. It’s a very therapeutic type of travel, and aside from the cultural experiences and dramatic landscapes, when you travelling with a group, their sheer joy is infectious.
Our tours tend to attract like-minded souls, people seeking a deeper experience of the world, and who care about the environment and culture. Plus we pay a lot of attention to our footprint, and we ensure every tour we operate has a minimal impact.
The World Expeditions Foundation has had a long affiliation with the Himalayas and when the earthquake struck in 2015 we immediately mobilised help to make sure people had food and shelter. We did that within two days.
I have two sons who are both chips off the old block. They’re avid trekkers, which makes me happy — and worried about where they go and what they do. My son and I went hiking up in the Everest region one year in winter and we saw a lot of leopard prints. It was very interesting but we were always looking over our shoulders.
My advice to people: always walk at the back, that’s the best place, as you see a lot more from there. Take your time and take everything in. And always take your sense of humour.