IMAGINE… carrying a heavy load up and down the mountains, all day long, day after day in all sorts of weather, sometimes only equipped with flip-flops for footwear and a plastic bag as protection from the rain…
Trekking porters are often from the lower valleys. They frequently have to carry heavy loads in remote areas, sometimes higher than many expedition base camps (well over 5000 meters) and with the potential for severe weather.
While trekkers sleep in down sleeping bags in lodges or tents, porters sometimes have to use caves, sleeping in damp clothes and with a thin cotton blanket.
Do you know that porters suffer from more accidents and illness than Western trekkers? Every year, trekking porters die unnecessarily in the mountains mainly from altitude illness and hypothermia.They may also be affected by frostbite, accidents or injuries that may render them unable to work.
Can you imagine the difficulties faced by dependents if a porter dies or can no longer work? There is no government social security in most trekking countries other than family.
Trekking porters are found mainly in Nepal but also in Pakistan, Peru and other South American countries, Tanzania, and New Guinea. Although their life and the conditions of their work is different from one country to another, they all share similar problems:
- Lack of adequate clothing and footwear
- Lack of adequate shelter
- Lack of food and warm drinks
- Lack of appropriate medical care
- Lack of insurance
- Inadequate wages and theft of their tips
Apart from the above, life threatening issues porters also face are lack of education on mountain safety, environmental issues and hygiene/HIV/STDs.
They also can experience homesickness when they are gone for months on end and may be more prone to gambling and binge drinking as a result.
They are often the meat in the sandwich of political upheavals and are usually discriminated against through race, social position or religious caste.
Exploitation, often by their fellow countrymen, can mean overloading, poor wages and diversion of their tips or gifts.
Employing porters is a great form of aid if done in an ethical way. It can lead to escape from subsistence farming. The more porters you employ, the better. Understanding the complex problems facing porters and interacting with them will give a new meaning to your trip.