To get to Machu Picchu, one has to hike the Inca trail. Only the royal emperor was allowed to hike this trail, and it was a sacred site. When it was ‘rediscovered’ in the early 1900s worldwide attention was drawn to the hidden spot in the Andes. People began hiring locals to lead hikers, and nowadays over two hundred tourists are led by three hundred certified porters up the trail each day. It’s a reliable way to make money in remote areas, but people aren’t always paid what they should be, and even more are denied jobs they are fully capable of. Alpaca Expeditions and Evolution Treks has made it their mission to change this, trying to bring equality to the industry throughout the Andes and Cusco.
Equality is a big issue in Peru, where women are expected to be quiet and obedient. Most of the women working for these companies are indigenous Quechua women. Being a porter gives women a chance to free themselves from restrictions, and earn their worth by trekking the trail. Porters often move on to become guides, and can bring home four times a porter’s pay. They also get certification for guiding with increased education.Sara Qquehuarucho Zamalloa shared a bit about her life and how becoming a porter has changed it. “In my community, not a lot of people finished education. Our school was a three-hour walk there and a three-hour walk back. Parents made children marry when they were 13 years old. I wanted to change all those injustices.” To do that, she studied tourism, and eventually joined Evolution Treks. She made her first trek in March of 2018 Zamalloa is one of these students studying to be a guide.
The trail is a hike taking four days and three nights, and it is twenty-six miles long and the altitude can reach nearly 13,000 feet. The male-dominated industry questioned women when they started lugging supplies up the trail in 2017. There is even a point on the trail called Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point on the trail, even higher than Machu Picchu itself. It’s a proclamation of the patriarchal Peruvian belief that women are too weak to act as porters and guides. Men have also made a fuss about earning the same wage as women, even if they are carrying more than their female counterparts due to regulations formed by an association of travel agencies. This has also been questioned on the basis of it being an unsound business decision, because more weight has to be split up when it comes to women workers. Peru has been ranked third in the world for gender violence by WHO.
The movement is not stopped by the challenge from traditional patriarchy. Miguel Angel Góngora Meza, co-founder of Evolution Treks believes that his company making the change, challenged the rest of the industry to do so. He wanted to create waves of change when he hired women like Lucia Merclajuly Vela Sosa, a single mother who was one of the first female porters to walk the route. Co-founder Amelia Huraya Palomino states that besides sexism, their mission is to combat the unfair payment of male potters and the poverty of the locals that live on the route. They continue to light the way for others, providing work for women in the lucrative industry, and inspiring outside it.