In a ceremony at London’s Royal Geographical Society, Deana Zabaldo from Mountain Madness, Egyptian Hossam Moussa who guides for Intrepid and half Italian, half Ethiopian Dario Ghirlanda from Wild Frontiers, were officially named as the world’s greatest travel guides for 2013. Presenting the awards were BBC broadcaster Kate Humble and zoologist and wildlife presenter, Mark Carwardine.
The final three all won bursaries, kindly donated by Swarovski Optik with prizes donated by Nomad and Powertraveller. Previous winners have gone on to use their prize money to fund projects that benefit the communities and the environment that they know and love so well.
Now in their eighth year, the awards are the only ones of their kind to recognise the special individuals who really make our travel experiences. Wanderlust invited its readers to nominate and vote for guides, as well as other keen travellers from around the world via partners and social media. This year over 1000 nominations were received and a shortlist was judged by the team of experts who chose just three overall winners.
Gold Award – Deana Zabaldo
The Gold Award has gone to US-born guide Deana Zabaldo, who splits her time between California and Nepal where she guides for Mountain Madness. Deana's first encounter with the Himalayas was as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a remote mountain village three days walk from the nearest road. Charmed by Nepal she went on to direct cultural exchange programmes on her return to San Francisco and by splitting her time between the two countries, to advise Nepalese businesses and not-for-profits, teach yoga and guide treks.
When she's not guiding, she works on a sustainable artisan business in San Francisco and is setting up an orphanage outside Kathmandu. Deana is fluent in Nepali, holds a Wilderness First Responder certification and is brimming with stories about Tantric goddesses, the Maoist insurgency, royal massacres, arranged marriages and secret explorations.
According to her supporters Deana Zabaldo is “a gifted communicator and had great rapport with clients, support staff and locals too – she puts everyone at ease and is a lot of fun!” She’s spent years living in Nepal, and it shows: her “knowledge of Nepal’s culture, language and religion runs deep” and, as well as knowing every inch of trail, she’s “both caring and empathetic.” One client reckons Deana is “truly the model for her profession.”
Deana wins a £5,000 bursary and plans to donate part of it to the sustainable organic agriculture programme she has worked with for the last 13 years through the not-for-profit, Changing Lives Nepal programme. So far Changing Lives Nepal has created an organic tea industry in a remote area with over 500 farmer families now earning a significant portion of their annual income from tea. The programme has recently expanded to growing organic almonds with over 300 almond trees planted and with the money from the bursary Deana can support this programme over the next 5 years to plant over 10,000 trees with nearly 200 farmers. She also plans to use part of the bursary to further her own development as a leader.
Kate Humble commented, “Deana is a remarkable woman who has a deep relationship with Nepal and its people. Fluent in Nepali she is dedicated to ensuring those who travel with her have both fun and meaningful experiences in Nepal.”
The standard of the shortlisted guides this year has been both high in quality and sheer volume of nominations. Wanderlust Editor in Chief Lyn Hughes said “We had a record-breaking number of entries this year making it harder than ever to whittle it down to our three podium winners”.
Silver Award – Hossam Moussa
The Silver Award goes to Egyptian guide Hossam Moussa who will receive a bursary of £2500.
Hossam (known as ‘Sam’) guides in Egypt for Intrepid, and his supporters declare that “travelling Egypt with Sam was fantastic.” He’s proud of his nation and has a passion for history, but is equally open to introducing travellers to the Egypt of today – showing sensitivity around cultural issues such as Islam, Middle-Eastern stereotypes and the treatment of women. His supporters describe him as honest and tolerant with “a wonderful sense of humour” and “always genuinely willing to help.”
Hossam encounters many street kids when guiding and one little girl selling souvenirs to provide for her family at the Pyramids particularly affected him. He plans to use his bursary to educate and care for street kids in Egypt. Sam says, “This little girl was tired from chasing tourists and trying to sell souvenirs to them, and I thought that she should be in school or playing with toys like other girls her age. When I asked her about why she is trying to sell souvenirs, she told me that she was doing it to take care of her family. The way she said it made me feel that I was not in front of a little girl, but a woman who had seen too many things”. Sam will work with Intrepid’s Responsible Travel team to identify suitable projects to direct the bursary to.
Bronze Award – Dario Ghirlanda
The Bronze Award goes to Egyptian Dario Ghirlanda who will receive the £1500 bursary.
Coming in a close third with the Bronze Award is half-Italian, half-Ethiopian Dario Ghirlanda from Wild Frontiers. Fluent in four languages (Ethiopian, English, French and Italian), means he can help guests understand and interact with local people. Praised for his “easy-going and charming nature”, his knowledge of Ethiopia is “excellent”. One happy traveller loved how Dario drew links between experiences throughout the trip to keep a sense of continuity and how he “appears to know everything there is to know!”
Ghirlanda plans to donate his £1500 bursary to invest in women's education in Ethiopia - empowering women so they don't need to rely solely on their husbands. Says Ghirlanda, “I think the best route would be to support the education of women in artisan traditional crafts such as pottery and weaving.”
Judging the awards were BBC Broadcaster Kate Humble, TV wildlife presenter Mark Carwardine, head of travel at Telegraph newspapers, Charles Starmer-Smith and Lyn Hughes, Editor-in-Chief at Wanderlust.
The full results of the World Guide Awards 2013 will appear in the December/January issue of Wanderlust, on sale from 24th October, priced £3,99.