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At Exodus, we aim to improve life through travel, for the places we visit on our adventures, the planet we explore, and the people we meet – and this includes our hand-picked expert leaders. They’re the beating heart of our adventures, and on International Women’s Day 2023, we’d like to celebrate women’s achievements in the travel industry and shine a particular spotlight on some of the incredible work our female tour guides in Bulgaria, Madagascar and Egypt are doing.
Svetoslava Toncheva, Expert Leader in Bulgaria
Svetoslava has been an expert leader for our adventures in Bulgaria for more than 15 years, making her our longest-serving and most experienced leader in the region. As well as being a qualified mountain guide and lifeguard, Svetoslava is also a highly successful academic, after becoming a certified anthropologist and ethnographer at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in Sofia.
When asked why she chose tourism as her main profession she explains, “I’ve always had a deep appreciation for the mountains and thankfully had the opportunity to turn this passion into a profession, one which enables me to share my love of exploration and nature with my clients.” She continued, “As well as a mountain guide, I am also an environmental anthropologist, exploring novel conservation approaches that could contribute to creating a more sustainable human-nature future.”
“At the beginning of my mountain guiding career with Exodus, I had no idea how big a role it would play in my other professional achievements as the years went on. It was while leading guided groups with Exodus that I discovered the village of Yagodina, in the Rodopi Mountains. I now regularly guide two trips here, Bulgaria: Realm of the Brown bear and Bulgaria: Rodopi Mountains and this fascinating area quickly became the focus of my academic studies.”
Over the last couple of years, Svetoslava has been conducting ethnographic studies into the traditional local culture, as well as investigating human-bear coexistence in the village and the surrounding region. “A pivotal part of my research has been highlighting the positive impact Exodus’ trip “Realm of the Brown bear” has had on local attitudes towards Brown bears, as many people in Yagodina previously had negative connotations on wildlife. I’m looking into how this example could be replicated in other continents to support the peaceful coexistence of humans and carnivores.”
Browse our Bulgaria trips that Svetoslava and other expert leaders run here
Claudia Randrianasolo, Expert Leader in Madagascar
Claudia Randrianasolo is a registered national tour guide and has been leading Exodus trips in Madagascar since 2014. Ever since childhood, Claudia knew her passion always lay in travel, as her parents took her for day trips around Antananarivo (Tana), the capital of Madagascar, nearly every weekend. These childhood walks paved the way for her growing curiosity and interest in her country’s architecture, history and culture. Today, Claudia is now one of our top expert guides in Madagascar. With a degree in tourism and certifications in urban tours, ecotourism and more mora lifestyle, her enthusiasm, incredible local knowledge and expertise set her adventures apart.
In her spare time, Claudia is actively involved in local community groups like the Tour Guide and Craftsmen Network in Tana. She explains, “This network is open to everyone, men and women alike, and as a collective, we work together through urban trail recommendations and sustainable small community-led projects .” She continues, “I’m also a member of a Tour Guide Association which has official annual meetings every year, during the low season, where we all get involved in tree plantation. It also is a great opportunity for those who are keen to set up teaching workshops to share knowledge with trainee local guides.”
Giving back to local communities is very important to Claudia. “On every Exodus trip, I make a point of encouraging people to buy from local stores and family-run businesses instead of supermarket chains. I also take them to small community-run workshops and local reserves. For example, in Ranomafana, we visit the local women’s community to learn more about the intricacies and traditions behind silk weaving in the region. Guests can even try their hand at weaving for themselves, and all the money generated from purchases made goes directly into the local community.”
“Without our local expertise, travellers wouldn’t have the opportunity to visit local and traditional houses, or schools, as many people in the area don’t speak English. They also wouldn’t have access to workshops where they can gain a fascinating insight into the local culture that they wouldn’t get with other whistle-stop tours. Here, they get to work together with the locals to make a truly unique memento of their trip to take home – that will last far longer in their memory than any market souvenir. ” She continues, “what I enjoy most about being an expert tour leader is seeing the happiness in visitors’ faces when they discover beautiful new places and spend time meeting my local people.”
Browse our Madagascar trips that Claudia and other expert leaders run here
Nermeen Hamdy, expert leader in Egypt
For a cultural adventure in the ‘Land of the Pharaohs’, there are few others with the experience and expertise to match Cairo-born Nermeen in Egypt. She’s been guiding tours around her home country for more than three decades, backed by a masters degree in Egyptology from Helwan University. She continues to be a keen student and takes an invested interest in keeping up-to-date with the archaeological findings uncovered in Egypt’s latest excavations and digs.
When she’s not leading tours, you might find her supporting Generation Global, an online programme that unites young students from across the planet to discuss and share their different cultures, traditions and customs. Nermeen explains, “This organisation aims to help students from different parts of the world communicate online. The focus is on finding similarities and gain an understanding of different cultures, to help communities become more aware and build a strong global community of like-minded people.” And she finds being part of this wider community helps her in her work as an expert leader, as she too is eager to learn about different countries.
Nermeen elaborates, “Egypt is a different country with a long history and complicated culture. So, when I guide my groups, I not only like to show them key monuments but as they always say “I make the monuments come alive” by telling the legends, folklore and stories behind different monuments and statues that you simply wouldn’t get from guidebooks. The little details make all the difference – the art, the life, the religion, the myth, family life and even politics.”
“The expressions on their faces when they’re amazed by a monument is priceless to me. And even 30 years on, I still find it’s so rewarding when I can teach people about Egypt’s fascinating civilizations, throughout the ages.”
Browse our Egypt trips that Nermeen and other expert leaders run here
If you’re keen to learn more about the people behind our adventures, you can read more about our expert leaders here