A Woman Who Hikes Her Mountain Dreams

Marinel M. de Jesus empowers others by sharing her journey

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By Diana Nadira, Staff Writer

Marinel had everything: a wonderful family, a good education, a profession as lawyer, friends and much love from everyone. There was no reason to be unfulfilled with life, but she felt a void within her soul. She lacked happiness. In her late 20s, she started to struggle with her weight and suffered from back pain because of weight gain. Some difficult relationships added fuel to the fire. She lost her sense of self-love and led an inactive lifestyle.

In 2003 she spent a couple of months in Guatemala while in-between jobs, where she experienced her debut in hiking. She hiked the summit of an active volcano with her fellows, and it was the most challenging experience she ever had. Later she continued hiking to take good care of her health, but shortly it turned into a passion and successful career. The journey wasn’t easy. She quit her job to chase her passion, but never looked back or regretted it.

Now Marinel is a full-time traveler and hiker, who inspires others, especially women, to follow their passion. Born and raised in the Philippines, Marinel currently lives in D.C. Marinel and her hiking groups have trekked Kilimanjaro, Inca Trail and Peru’s Ausangate Trail, to name a few. In June of 2016, she launched her social enterprise, Peak Explorations LLC, to further her goal of sharing with others her passion for trekking and traveling worldwide. Marinel is the author of the book entitled, Tales of a Brown Gal Trekker, which is an introduction to her series of inspirational travel/trekking books entitled “Life Happens on the Move,” Besides all of these, she serves as a public speaker and manages a beautiful blog named ‘Brown Gal trekker’, which shares her insightful thoughts and traveling experiences.

It takes a lot of courage to quit a career of 15 years as a lawyer to travel around the world and hike mountains. What were the challenges? Did you get support from anyone?

The challenge was to believe in my desire and to trust it.  Once I overcame the fears attached to my desires, everything else was easy. Things just fall into place without much difficulty. The support I received was in the form of words of encouragement in the beginning, but as I transitioned and became a nomad, people have gave support in many ways such as friends/family letting me stay in their homes, having home cooked meals with friends, family and strangers, a ride to my next destination and even more recently, I started receiving sponsorships for some of my hiking endeavors.

How did ‘Peak Explorations’ happen?

It happened before it became officially called that.  I enjoy organizing trips for other people and the joy that comes out of people learning other cultures and pushing their boundaries. My role as a trip leader/organizer/guide started in 2006. That joy hasn’t left, and because it’s something that I truly like doing, I decided to make the endeavor official which prompted me to start Peak Explorations in 2016.

Being a CEO or hiking a mountain – which one is more challenging?

Tough question!  I have to say they’re tied!  My feeling of frustrations with running a social enterprise mirrors the life I have when I’m on the mountains trekking.  Like hiking, there will be ups and downs as a CEO of a company. In many ways, I can certainly say that being a mountain trekker prepared me for the mindset necessary for the role of a CEO.  And when I’m on the trails now and having a bit of a difficult time, I do reflect back on my CEO role to remind myself, “hiking is a piece of cake!”

Tell us about your vision of empowering women in outdoors?

I always knew I was going to do some work pertaining to women’s empowerment but didn’t know initially how to properly execute it.  It’s the part of my enterprise that can easily be labeled as “political” and threatening to some potential customers. My vision is two-fold with respect to women’s empowerment: (1) for women who seek camaraderie with women as an encouragement to go outdoors, I decided to offer women-only treks and (2) for women who are fully confident with their skills and don’t mind being with the opposite gender, we also provide tours that will fit that type of category.  Women’s empowerment doesn’t necessarily mean it always has to be women only. Women can also be empowered knowing they can summit a mountain side by side with men.

There’s another angle to our women’s empowerment vision – one where we also focus on marginalized women in the trekking tourism industry.  I have made it part of our business plan to ensure that we seek local tour operators that support women in the roles of guides, porters etc. for the purposes of normalizing the notion of women playing a relevant role in the trekking tourism industry. Our hope is one day travelers will associate mountain guiding with both men and women, not just with men alone.  In turn, we hope women will realize that they have a place in the trekking tourism industry with respect to employment.

How much does gender play a role in running a successful career? What were the challenges as women in this field?

There have been instances of condescending looks and views towards my work by the opposite gender from the start but to be frank, I put very little energy in analyzing others’ opinions of my mission or work.  It’s a male-dominated industry, and as one of the very few women of color, I stand out. People either appreciate that I’m different or they have no interest working with someone like me who doesn’t look like them.  The best approach is to focus on your allies, rather than critics.

The preconceived notion that I’m not capable as a hiker to do certain treks is always there, and this happens everywhere in the world.  Men and women globally continue to have the notion that men are better and stronger hikers than women. So, when I’m out on the trail alone, I get to hear that mantra often.