Q & A with Shane Goodwin, Co-Founder, Escape Trekking Adventures - Anna Bay, NSW, Australia
This family-owned tour company is lead by military veterans and wilderness experts.
“Safe and memorable guided hikes in Nepal, Tanzania, and Papua New Guinea.”
WHAT IS THE UPDATE ON TRAVELING TO NEPAL SINCE THE EARTHQUAKES OF SPRING 2015?
Nepal is open for trekking again, however we have decided to wait until more earthquake data is collected before resuming our treks there. Hopefully we can do so in either April or late September of 2016.
TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR RECENT AFFILIATION WITH MATES AND HOW THAT’S GOING?
This affiliation has provided us with more quality guides and added porters from small remote villages on the Kokoda Trail [Efogi1 and Efogi2] in Papua New Guinea.
ARE YOUR GUESTS EXPERIENCED CLIMBERS OR MORE OFTEN FIRST-TIMERS?
We tend to attract clients who are first-timers. They do need some guidance when shopping for gear. For that reason, we have an affiliation with an Australian mountain gear supplier who can make the proper individual recommendations. We also offer tips on our website regarding gear and also physical training prior to any hiking.
WHAT KINDS OF GEAR DO YOU PROVIDE IN YOUR TRIP FEES?
This varies from location to location.
For Nepal we provide free of charge: sleeping bags, duffel bags, insulated jackets
For Tanzania/Kilimanjaro: self-inflating air mat free-to-hire, insulated jacket $40 hire charge, sleeping bag $45 hire charge
WHAT CAN ONE DO TO REDUCE THE INCIDENCE OF ALTITUDE SICKNESS?
We only run sensible itineraries with ample time for everyone to acclimatize to the rise in altitudes. We encourage the trekkers to drink large volumes of water and oral hydration supplements (Endura powder). We also recommend the use of Diamox, a popular medicinal aid, whose active substance is Acetazolamide.
TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR TRIPS TO PAPUA NEW GUINEA…HOW ARE THEY SAME OR DIFFERENT FROM YOUR OTHER EXCURSIONS?
Papua New Guinea is a hidden paradise for the world yet to discover. Scientists are still uncovering new species of animals there. I’d compare it to Vietnam or Thailand before Western tourism became common. PNG is a tropical environment with the most amazing and unspoiled jungles, rivers and villages that can be found anywhere. The Kokoda Trail is our main destination, and we schedule up to 14 departures each year.
Did you know in PNG there are native tribes who have never or rarely seen a white person? You encounter village children who play with rocks and sticks and the occasional ball left behind by previous trekkers. They do not have modern toys or technology. It is like stepping back thousands of years to an earlier time in human history.
The Trail has a famous history itself; it’s where Australian and American soldiers fought against the Japanese during the middle years of World War II. Casualty rates were high. Many heroic stories are revealed each day as we walk past battleground relics.
First and foremost, we look for guides and porters from the places we travel to, it is one of our guiding principles to disperse funds back into these local communities in terms of jobs and wages. We put them through an extensive training program. We select from the pool of people who successfully complete all the training. Once on board with us, we give our guides and porters fair payment, medical aid, and food.
Because of our high standards and good benefits, our company has become a popular employer, and we do have a waiting list of candidates for future openings. I wish we could employ more locals, I hate thinking we’re letting anyone down. But we are only one company. I hope we serve as a good role model for other trekking companies in their training and hiring practices.
I myself select all our Australian guides; they must meet my requirements for knowledge, bush skills (no Bear Grylls but similar), leadership, superior customer service skills and proven respect for local staff and communities. Then we offer these new guides training so that they are prepared to handle the many situations that could occur during trips.
WHAT SURPRISES YOUR FIRST-TIME GUESTS THE MOST ABOUT ESCAPE TREKKING ADVENTURES?
They like that we offer quick and informative responses to their questions. We maintain a philosophy that there are no silly questions! They are also surprised by the nutrition-packed tasty meals we can provide for them during our treks.
We are a “carry-in/carry-out” operation with regards to rubbish. We don’t allow soaps to get into the streams or waterways. We use gas cooking facilities for Mt. Kilimanjaro and Nepal. For the Kokoda Trail we only use fast growth milky pine for cooking – as there are no gas facilities there. We are planning a clean-up event along the Kokoda Trail during our off season.
Our responsibility includes people not just the environment. As mentioned, we recruit staff from local communities where jobs are limited. We provide above-award wages and medical kits for their personal use while employed with us. We also adhere to the international porter code of care to ensure our teams are not overloaded with gear or over-worked too many hours per day.
We’re proud that in Tanzania this year we paid for two local kids and one teacher from poor backgrounds to join one of our groups for a Mt. Kilimanjaro climb.
In PNG we delivered 10 laptops to local grade schools so the kids could acquire some IT skills. We plan to deliver another 50 laptops in the same manner in the near future.
IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT CAN TRAVELERS DO ON THEIR END TO BE MORE RESPONSIBLE?
Be selective! Choose tour companies who pay their staff well, provide them with food, accommodation, clothing and sleeping equipment as part of the deal. I see many tour companies not providing these things. That means it often falls to the traveler to step up when porters are short-changed. Meanwhile, the tour operator is making all of the money and showing little to no compassion for these employees.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT YOUR DESTINATIONS THAT YOU PERSONALLY LIKE THE BEST?
In Nepal, I like the powerful mountains that tower above 8000m. In Tanzania, I like the altitude challenge that Kilimanjaro presents as a free-standing mountain. In PNG, I definitely love the raw beauty, untouched environment, and the opportunity for cultural exchange.
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