The Coast News Group
Female porters or “ngumus” carry 44 pounds of gear on their head as they hike up the trail toward the 19,341-foot summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Women make up 18 percent of the porter force in Tanzania. Ten years ago, there were none. Courtesy photo
Columns Hit the Road

Hit the Road: Female trail porters, ship captains achieve Herculean tasks

If you’ve ever been unlucky enough to be stuck in Terminal 1 at San Diego International Airport where it’s often standing room only, you probably feel as though every one of the 24 million passengers that came through our airport in 2018 was standing in line with you (or in the Starbucks line in front of you). 

That record-setting number was a nearly 10 percent increase over 2017 and includes 1 million international passengers — a 19 percent increase. 

These bigger numbers are generated by 16 new routes that include San Diego and more passengers flying with all but two of the 17 airlines that land and take off in San Diego.  

You can help sustain the beauty and integrity of our state parks by volunteering with the California State Parks Foundation to clear trails, maintain campgrounds, pick up trash, prune plants and make repairs in places like Cuyamaca Rancho and Palomar Mountain state parks. 

Volunteers must be at least 12 or 14 years old, depending on the project, and minors must be accompanied by legal guardians. Camping is free (email 

Limited spots for RVs are available in some locations.

The foundation’s Earth Day (April 13) activities from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Old Town State Park in San Diego include making baskets, potting seeds to take home, building bird feeders, and learning about native plants and Kumeyaay nation history. 

Between 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., volunteers will remove invasive weeds, plant natives and repair fences. 

All ages welcome; minors need a waiver signed by legal guardians. Info:; (916) 442-2119.

Amazing Ladies Dept. 

Captain Selena Melani will be the first woman in cruise history to captain a new ocean cruise ship at launch. 

The ship, Seven Seas Splendor, belongs to the Regent Seven Seas Cruises fleet and makes its first voyage in February 2020.

Melani, 45, began her nautical career at age 16 as a cadet while attending school and working on cargo ships in her hometown of Livorno, Italy. 

After graduating from Nautical College in 1993, Melani was one of only a few females to hold roles of increasing responsibilities on oil tankers, and cargo and container vessels. 

She joined Regent in 2010 as a bridge officer, held many positions, and became the company’s first female Master Captain in 2016.

They are called ngumus – women-porters who carry gear up the trail … to the summit of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet high) … on their heads and necks. 

Their loads weigh 44 pounds and the women have fought for years for the privilege of performing this amazingly strenuous task. 

Until a decade ago, being an expedition porter was a man-only job. Now 18 percent are women. 

Ngumus is the Swahili word for “tough,” and you can watch these female porters in action in a 22-minute documentary.

It is produced by Exodus Travels (, a tour company that offers more than 600 tours worldwide. 

The film includes the perspective of field hockey Olympic Gold Medalist Crista Cullen, who has Kenyan heritage and speaks Swahili. 

She tells what it’s like to make the trek up Kilimanjaro carrying gear on her head without previous experience. 

Exodus Travels provides scholarships to Tanzanian women so they can attend guide school. 

Got pre-trip anxiety? 

Here’s a checklist of 10 things to do the night before you leave from The Discoverer Blog.

In my opinion, however, you should probably do most of these two or three days before leaving. 

Happy trails. 

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