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Adventure travel for some is no more than visiting the next town or city. But, for others, this means trekking to Nepal, Africa, or Laos.

Also known as heritage travel, ecotourism, and community tourism, adventure travel is an active and expanding industry that contributes significantly to economic growth.

The ‘ecotourism’ industry, according to a World Travel and Tourism Council report released in 2000, was estimated to be worth $154 billion and had a forecasted annual growth rate of 20%.

National Geographic stated in 2002 that adventure or ‘active’ travel accounts for approximately 22 percent of the travel market, with more than 20 million travellers electing to take part in adventures annually.

Di Westaway, the founder of  Wild Women On Top, an adventure travel business, turned her passion for travel into a tourism entity that empowers women.

“10 years ago I found myself at 20,000 feet on the edge of the highest mountain in the southern hemisphere, struggling for breath, and wondering what the hell I was doing,” said Westaway. “I realised that I was ill prepared for the world-class trekking peak of Mt Aconcagua, Argentina, 6,962m. Not long after my return, I knew that I had discovered a new passion. I wanted to empower teams of women by getting them fit enough to safely experience awesome wilderness challenges,” she said. “Thus, Wild Women On Top was born.”

Westaway, who is the managing director of Wild Women On Top, says that establishing the business and maintaining it can sometimes be tricky, especially when it comes to balancing her lifestyle.

“As a single mum, this is a very tricky juggling act. By running my own business, I am always working, but I love it, so it does not feel like work. However, sometimes the balance swings too far in one direction or another. When this happens I compensate.”

“It’s more a matter of riding the roller coaster of shifting priorities. Of course, my kids are always number one, but I know that without my health, none of my other roles can be fulfilled so I won’t sacrifice my physical activity,” she said. “I ensure that I always have at least three reasons for doing something. I make my exercise social, transport, or work-oriented, and then I fit work around my family commitments.

It is all about being healthy says Westaway.

“Health is number one. If we do not have health, both physical and mental, we cannot work, exercise or nurture. So, finding ways of making exercise pleasurable and social is essential,” she said. “Women love walking because they can chat, learn, and rejuvenate themselves in a mind, body, spirit experience.”

Westaway, whose number one health tip is to make exercise part of your daily lifestyle, says that by committing to take part in extraordinary physical challenges forces you to train every day so that you can achieve the goal you have set yourself. Plus, you are able to find like-minded people to share this experience with.”

Having travelled to Kosciuszko in Australia, Kinabalu in Borneo, Rinjani in Lombok, Fansipan in North Vietnam, Machu Pichu in Peru, Everest Base Camp in Nepal, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Elbrus in Russia, just to name a few adventures, Westaway says that she has experienced newbie treks and climbs to moderate and hardcore. In addition, it is these same challenges that she encourages other women to join.

“In 2012, Wild Women On Top will take trips to Everest Base Camp in Nepal, Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru in Africa, and the Gibbon Experience in Laos. We will also visit the Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia, and Chomolhari Base Camp in Bhutan, as well as the Castle in Morton National Park, Australia, Larapinta Trail, and the Walls of Jerusalem in Tasmania, the Jatbula trek in Western Australia, and the Bungle Bungles in the Northern Territory, Australia,” said Westaway.

Di Westaway says she is addicted to travel. She explores Australia every second month, and she does three big overseas trips every year.

“All of my travel involves exercise of some sort,” she said. “Wild Women On Top trips involve trekking or mountain climbing, and occasionally alpine touring or rock climbing.

“When I travel with my kids I ensure that I include some sort of adventure fitness activity,” said Westaway. “We skied in New Zealand, and I rock climbed in Greece, while the kids went to the beach.

“I also try to embrace the food of the culture while I am away and I choose healthy options,” she said. “I have found that the best way to avoid weight gain while I am travelling is to just enjoy beautiful food in small quantities. Taste everything, but don’t over-indulge.”

Westaway says that nutrition is vital to her strength and endurance, and that balance in her diet is important.

“I try to eat every colour of the rainbow every day,” she said. “And I eat a wide variety of whole foods. I love treats, and I have to say ‘NO’ more often than I would like to so that I maintain my ideal health. However, I have, too often than I might like to admit, been known to have ice-cream for dinner.”

But, travelling is not without its difficulties says Westaway.

“I have encountered many difficult experiences whilst travelling in the wilderness,” said Westaway. “I’ve had gastro on Kilimanjaro and been ill-prepared in terms of fitness, on my first attempt of Mt Aconcagua. However, the most serious was my experience on Mt Everest, and this is a story I must share,” she said.

“In 2010, on my attempt to climb the North Col of Everest, 7000m, I began to suffer from the early symptoms of the potentially fatal condition called high-altitude pulmonary oedema,” she said. “I sat in my tent, gasping for air, and kept thinking I could die if I lay down to sleep. I knew I should descend rather than stay.”

“The nights for me were frightening. Life involved sitting in a mess tent, forcing copious amounts of hot water, tea, soup, hot chocolate, and any other liquid you could find, into your mouth, then braving the freezing conditions outside to pee,” said Westaway. “For many of the climbers, handfuls of Panadol were required to manage excruciating altitude headaches and various gastro and throat complaints. I was lucky to avoid all of these. Nevertheless, this did not help me acclimatize fast enough, she said. “My main thought was for my kids and my responsibility to stay safe for their sake. I descended the three-day walk in 8 hours, and felt instantly better.”

“There are hundreds of people on the planet who have, and who will continue to, put themselves through the physical, mental, emotional and financial suffering required to summit Mt Everest,” said Westaway. “It is a great privilege to step briefly into that world and see what is required. I’m 50-years-old and my ‘raison de etre’  is to empower women to achieve their goals, and my goal, my true passion, is to one day, be part of an all women’s team that will journey to the exquisite summit of the highest point on earth.”


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