Tour Leader’s Guide on How to Prepare for Trekking
Is it difficult? Thatʼs usually the first question I get about trekking during a tour. Sometimes a few days before the trekking and sometimes already on the day the group arrives. Not the easiest question to answer since the consideration if something is difficult or not depends on so many factors and is very subjective. For me, trekkings are challenging. Not because I donʼt like trekkings. I love being outdoors and enjoy the beautiful views along the way, but itʼs about the only physical exercise I get nowadays and it shows. Some tour leaders are very fit and firm, but Iʼm not. I always end up dragging myself up to the beautiful hills and mountains this region has to offer. And if travelers need me, I will be at the end of the line. To keep the overview and to help the slower clients, so to say, but I have to admit that at the end itʼs easier not to talk too much and spare my breath.
A trekking is for sure one of the highlights of a tour. It gives travelers a great experience completely different from other parts of the tour. Physical efforts will be rewarded with stunning landscapes, welcoming families, home cooked meals and will be complemented, if lucky, with a bonfire and an acoustic guitar.
So how to prepare for trekking? First of all, I will talk to the most important person, the trekking guide, go through the program and provide him all documents and guestsʼ details needed. If possible I meet with him a day or so in advance and check if anything along the way has changed and to make sure we prepare everything that is needed like food, sleeping bags, mosquito nets and things I need to tell the travelers to prepare by themselves, such as good hiking shoes. Itʼs also important to check weather conditions and temperature. You donʼt want the group to be without drinking water or to be without ponchoʼs when youʼre halfway on your trekking and Mother Nature decides to pour down a merciless tropical rain shower on your group.
It doesnʼt happen often, but sometimes I meet travelers that are in such bad physical condition that I donʼt want them to join but have very poor self-knowledge. Iʼll then put my serious face on and have a talk with them separately. Itʼs ok to struggle along the way and even be exhausted at the end, but you donʼt want guests to jeopardize their own health and safety or that of the group. Needless to say, I check if anybody in the group has any (non-visible) physical limitations and make sure everybody has insurance, something we have to check on the day of arrival of the group anyway.
So, then comes the fun part of the preparation, explaining to my group what they can expect. The trekking is usually in the second half of the tour, so Iʼll has an indication which of them will be running up the mountains and which will be struggling at the end of the line with their tour leader (me!). But itʼs difficult to translate guestsʼ expectations to reality. This is where my diplomatic mode comes to the surface. I try to explain that for some it will be a piece of cake, but that most will find it challenging. Not only physically, but also because of the circumstances and accommodation in the local village, which will be very basic.
I usually work with Dutch and Belgium travelers and when they sign up for trekking they want a ʻrealʼ trekking. No short cuts or easy paths, but challenging hidden trails explored by a Rambo-like trekking guide who cuts his way trough the forest with a knife the size of a walking stick. But thereʼs is a limit to their imagination and sense of adventure. They want to know exactly how long we walk and how many times we have to walk up and how many times we have to walk down. Itʼs probably because in the lowlands at home we donʼt have that many mountains. So, to avoid any emotional meltdowns during the trekking, I tend to exaggerate a little bit to make them realize itʼs not going to be a walk in the park. I rather have them telling me that it was not as agonizing as they expected than that they try to hunt me down for not preparing them well enough for the challenge.
Sometimes itʼs hard for a visitor to see under what circumstances people in fairly remote areas live and get emotional. So itʼs up to the trekking guide and me to explain and show how people live. Iʼm very happy to say that my guests are always trying to adjust to local customs and respect the environment. But we do have to remind them about some things like asking first before taking pictures of people, or not to point their feet to people. But usually, they are a little overwhelmed and impressed by the whole situation and donʼt dare to do anything out of the ordinary and ask constantly if itʼs ok to do this or that. We talk a lot about long term effects of tourism and we realize very well that we all have to try to contribute in the right way. For many visitors itʼs very humbling to see how different their life is at home and that itʼs not necessarily better.
When we arrive at the village where we spend the night people have some time to relax and to let all new experiences of the day soak in. Some will go for a walk around the village or squat down helping to prepare dinner, others need a little while to adjust to the place they call home for the night. And if they need me, Iʼll be in my mosquito-net covered bed recovering from yet another little victory for myself. Ready to walk down the mountain the next day and face other new challenges.