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We are being given the opportunity that women have been looking for

When Zamalloa started off as a porter, she doubted her ability. The night before her first trek she didn’t sleep. To top it off, she felt ill when she showed up for her first day of work, either from food poisoning or nerves – or both.

“I didn’t think she was going to make it,” Góngora said. “She was throwing up.”

“I said, ‘Yes, I’m going to make it,'” Zamalloa said firmly. The profession had been male-only until the year before she was hired. Knowing the significance of what she was doing, and how it could help her life, she refused to give up.

And she didn’t. For four days she dug deep, carrying a heavy pack along the tortuous trail and fighting her unhappy stomach. Typically shy, she found that she enjoyed meeting new people and developing friendships with her fellow porters. She since has been promoted to assistant tour guide and is studying English to become a fully-fledged tour guide.

When women first started working on the trail in 2017, they encountered resistance from men who questioned their abilities – and their very presence. “At the beginning, guys judged me for being a woman, thinking I wouldn’t be able to do the trek. They made me doubt my abilities, and that was hard at first,” Zamalloa said. “Then I realised I could, and that has made me stronger.”

There also has been some grumbling over women porters carrying less weight than men (15kg to the men’s 20kg) while earning the same wage (915 soles ($233; ₤168) a month for 16 days of work, plus an extra 398 soles ($101; ₤73) in tips.

But little by little, as the appearance of women guides and porters has become more prevalent along the Inca Trail, acceptance is growing.

Porters carry heavy packs of supplies and clients’ personal items between campsites, set up camp and prepare meals (Credit: Evolution Treks Peru)
Porters carry heavy packs of supplies and clients’ personal items between campsites, set up camp and prepare meals (Credit: Evolution Treks Peru)

“We are being given the opportunity that women have been looking for, to end discrimination,” said Evolution Treks porter and chef Silvia Flor Gallegos Flores. “To show the world that women are equal in a man’s job, not just on the Inca Trail, but in anything else. We have the mental and physical ability to complete those jobs. We’re more than what we’ve been taught.”

Flores dreams of becoming a lead guide and one day owning her own business. “I want to be completely independent,” she said. “I don’t want to depend on anyone else.”

We are being given the opportunity that women have been looking for, to end discrimination
This push to redefine Peruvian women’s role in society is not confined to Evolution Treks.

“We are forcing our competitors to do the same,” Góngora said. “We are forcing a conversation around women’s issues, inclusion, discrimination. It’s going to change the approach that tourists will have for tourism, and not only here in Peru. We want to inspire other people in other parts of the world to take on our initiative.”

What are other companies doing for women? “As far as I know, not much,” Tuesta said. A lot of work remains to be done.

In the meantime, Zamalloa, Flores and 16 other women porters and guides are making history on the Inca Trail, treading their way forward on the same polished stones once reserved for the revered – male – Inca emperor. And after every trek, Zamalloa returns to her mum, grateful she can support them both.

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