AN INTERVIEW WITH OUR PERUVIAN MOUNTAIN GUIDE, ELIZABETH, AS SHE PREPARES TO TRAVEL AROUND THE WORLD TO TAKE ON ONE OF OUR FAVORITE MOUNTAINS: KILIMANJARO
WHOA GAL Amanda Chessa met and became fast friends with Elizabeth, aka Mama Sherpa, hiking in Peru in 2016. Since then, Mama Sherpa has launched her own company, become an essential part of the WHOA family, and is our lead mountain guide on all our Peru + Machu Picchu Adventures. Everyone who has met or had the pleasure of hiking with her knows she is special soul, and there's no better way to experience the Andes and Peru than with her leading the way.
At WHOA we live for sharing adventure experiences and trying new things, so we've invited Elizabeth to join us and be our guest on one of our other signature adventures on the other side of the world - Mount Kilimanjaro. Even though Mama Sherpa is one of the most experienced trekkers we know, this will be her first time on a plane and traveling outside of Peru (how exciting)!
Below is from a sit down that took place in Spring 2018 in Peru, where Mama Sherpa talks with Amanda about how they met, what motivates her, and her feelings about climbing Kilimanjaro.
Thanks for taking the time we're so excited to learn more about you! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Elizabeth Quillahuaman Mañaccasa, and I'm 32 years old and the president (CEO) of Mountain Gods Peru Travel company. My hometown is Pucamarca, a small community near Chinchero (which is nestled in the Sacred Valley), Peru.
I've two brothers and my mother, who remains in my hometown. My father passed away when I was younger. I'm very proud of my younger brother. He is finishing university in Cusco. I wasn't able to finish school because I didn't have enough money. It's a dream for him to finish school because I didn't.
Wow, that's beautiful that he's able to finish university. How special. So how did Mountain Gods Peru begin?
I started Mountain Gods in 2014, but I had been guiding for other companies, leading treks in Cusco and beyond, for many years. In 2016, I met you (Amanda) on a 6 day Ausangate trek, and you encouraged me and gave me the energy to go out on my own, and establish my own company. It's a dream come true to have this company to help feed and give back to both my community of women and others.
Incredible, the amount of heart you have. So you have our own company, but were you always guiding?
When I was 15, I started as a tour guide translator from Quechua (native language of the indigenous Andean people) to Spanish for Intrepid Travel. That is what gave me inspiration to study tourism and start guiding in 2010.
I thought, "Wow, one day I want my own company to work with women." When I met you in Ausangate - I knew that year was my year! To meet you, and have you help and push me live this dream. I don't have words to tell you but, thank you so much.
<tears and hugs>
We are so incredibly grateful to have met you, and cannot sing your praises enough. WHOA is all about supporting women in the adventure space, you are the perfect fearless mountain guide for that. Our partnership has been a game changer in our relationship with Peru, and grown into something that is inspiring so many women.
Looking back on where you've come from, what are your thoughts?
I see in different communities that ladies don't have opportunities. The boys abuse the women and that makes me so angry. Now I have this opportunity to tell the ladies, that they can do it. They can change their mindset and, at the same time, help change the mindsets of men and people in the community. This is how we can change the world.
The ladies are very important, we are very important. I thank my mother, who is very important to me. I came from a place in my earlier years, where we had nothing to eat. She would walk for miles and carry potatoes, fish, cheese whatever she could get back to our home. We were so poor.
Now my mother looks at me and I'm making her proud. My mother has always given me the energy. She has seen how life can be better and she's surprised. I'm so happy and satisfied to stay here in Cusco with WHOA and other ladies.
I need to help other ladies, and my company MGP and WHOA travel gives me that opportunity.
When did you first hear about Kilimanjaro?
When I was a child, this was my dream. Once my dad had friends visiting from the United States, and one of the ladies had been to Kilimanjaro. She showed me some pictures and I said, 'Oh I want to do that!'
For a long time I've tried to leave Peru, but it's a lot of money and I would need assistance. Some companies didn't support me. I met you and you talked to me about hiking Kilimanjaro and it was like, "Oh my god, it goes back to my dream to do that!" When you came and told me that WHOA is going to take me to Kilimanjaro in August 2018, I said, "Is this real? I don't know, I have to wake up!"
I'm so excited to do this hike, I'm also scared. So thankful to be able to see those mountains, the energy calls me to go. I'm ready for this hike. I'm so happy to meet you and WHOA and working opportunity with you, Allison and Danielle.
Again, I don't know how to express it - I'm so thankful to the cosmos, mother earth! I feel it's one of the purposes of my life, giving me this gift, to climb Kilimanjaro.
Scared, you? CyumOn!!! What are you most nervous about?
I'm nervous about the flying and flights! I've never been outside of Peru, but I'm ready to grow and learn about myself in this process. So yes, the flights are scary! I don't know if I'll arrive at the wrong airport, if I arrive on time, maybe I miss my flight. I've flown to Lima once which was hard, but I did it! <big sigh> But I will survive!
This experience is forcing me to ask the big questions. Can I do it? Am I ready to change the world? Am I ready to do anything? Of course I am ready!
Have you ever been on a trek as long or high as Kili?
Oh yes, I have done a one month trek - Choquequirao to Machu Picchu to Ausangate.
As for height, I think it's like Ausangate. I mean, the first time I did Ausangate it was impressive. I've also done treks around Salkantay; the glaciers, the mountains, the crystal rocks. I learned a lot about the mountains. There is rapid change in weather in the Andes so I think Kilimanjaro will be similar, but even higher in elevation. I'm ready for that, I think I should be okay.