Zoi has been a traveling aficionado since her 20’s, but it wasn’t until her 50th birthday that she took what she calls her first “big, out-of-comfort- zone adventure,” –– a trek in the Himalayas from Lukla to Goyko Lakes to the base of Mount Everest.

“For me mountains are alive,” Zoi says, “they have a life of their own; never static, constantly changing; ever comforting and embracing. I find peace and serenity in the mountains, even in harsh conditions.” Since the Himalaya trip ten years ago, Zoi has been mountain trekking on the regular, and at 60, she has no plans of slowing down.

The Interview

How many countries have you visited, how long are your trips, and how many languages do you speak?

I’ve been to over 62 countries, with highlights including Bhutan, Botswana, Ethiopia, Peru and Russia. Mountains trekked include the base of Everest, Kilimanjaro and Machu Picchu. Trips are typically three to ten weeks with ten weeks being on the unusually long side.

Alas, I only speak two languages (unless you consider Kiwi and Aussie!), but you meet fellow travelers and guides along the way who can happily help you in English.

zoi_Summit day at Mt. Toupkal -- Morocco -- Atlas High Mountains

Summit day at Mt. Toupkal, Atlas High Mountains, Morocco. Contributed by Madelyn Zoi.

What is the first thing you do when you land in a new place?

The very first thing I do is walk the streets, checking out the sights, local shops, eateries, services, architecture, and scenery.
 And it’s absolutely a must to consume the local food and drink!

What are some of the strangest cuisines you’ve consumed?

  • Cat’s pee coffee in Vietnam (the most expensive coffee in the world.)
  • Warm monkey brains and bear claws in China
  • Witchitty Grubs in Australia

What do you do for a living?

I’m retired. I previously worked for the State Department, then for an advertising agency and finally for a real estate developer.

You have a spouse: What does he think of your travel?

I traveled for 18 years before my husband and I were married. When we got married 23 years ago, my generous husband gave me a globe and promised me “the world.” Ever since he’s been delivering.

For Christmas and birthdays he gives me trips. The only caveat is that if it’s an adventure trip, he’s not expected to accompany me.

What is it about travel that keeps you intrigued and on-the-move?

Corny as it may sound, travel has almost become an addiction. While lots of people think the worst word in the English language is change, for me, it might be routine or sameness.

It’s the not knowing, the lack of control one often experiences with travel, and it’s the most wonderful people one meets that keep me intrigued and on the move.

Do people ever tell you you’re nuts for traveling so much?

I deeply believe that travel is a gift and a blessing for me. Therefore, I am sensitive to — and sometimes reticent to — talk about it. It’s easy to 
sound braggadocios. It’s easy to feel as if you’ve less and less in common with friends who have not travelled. However, when I run into a serious traveler, it’s like finding a kindred spirit or long lost friend. They are the ones sincerely interested as they relate. More often than not, people think I’m nuts. I’m often gobsmacked by strong or judgmental comments like, “Well, you should think of your family.” I can only laugh as that person simply doesn’t get it!

Morocco, Atlas High Mountains. Contributed by Madelyn Zoi.

Morocco, Atlas High Mountains. Contributed by Madelyn Zoi.

Traveling (and I imagine mountaineering especially) can be exhausting and hard on the body. How do you stay fit for travel?

Try to build as much exercise into your everyday routine as possible and keep a regular sleep schedule. As an early riser, I tend to avoid late nights, if possible. While traveling it’s tempting to spend many late nights up swapping stories, but try to fit those stories in early and sleep by a decent hour. Otherwise you’ll feel it in the morning.

Have you endured any dangerous situations on the mountains? Can you describe one experience in detail?

Yes. Unfortunately we had an emergency “medivac” at Gokyo Lakes, which is a dangerously high altitude for a helicopter evacuation. A member of our group was suffering from pulmonary edema.* The patient was bleeding from the ears, was a pale shade of green and had spent several hours in a gamma gag (a.k.a. decompression bag.)

The helicopter (which had been totally stripped down to lessen the weight) was unable to land so he attempted to hover beside on of the lakes just long enough for the patient to be tossed inside. As the patient was tossed in the chopper by five Sherpas, the helicopter’s tail hit the ground causing it to spin out of control. Fortunately the pilot was able to regain control and get our colleague back to a Katmandu hospital. Eventually our friend fully recovered but was restricted from flying for another two weeks.

Do situations like these deter you from trekking or travel at all?

Au contraire! If anything, situations like these motivate me to be more prepared. A requirement for me with adventure travel now is that I travel with someone trained in emergency medicine — a doctor, a qualified mountain guide or the like. We always have an inclusive medical kit and a gamma bag — if at altitude. Nowadays we carry locator beacons and satellite phones. Even then not everywhere is accessible by helicopter so I think knowing what to do enables me to respond in a helpful way.

One must always be prepared and fit for the challenge they take on. I’m especially conscious of this as I age. I stay prepared and informed. I am perhaps most concerned about being that person who is not fit, not prepared, should not have taken on the challenge and who becomes the potential problem for the group. Stuff happens, and we all get that, but not to be prepared at the expense of the group is something else.

What do you feel towards the mountains you climb?

A deep sense of awe and respect. The mountain is not our adversary, we are her guests. As I said, she can welcome and embrace us, but also, if we are not welcome, she may be direct in telling us so. After all, let’s be honest, man had become rather abusive on more than one occasion.

Simien National Park, Ethiopia. Contributed by Madelyn Zoi.

Simien National Park, Ethiopia. Contributed by Madelyn Zoi.

How do you prepare for a trekking trip, and how is this different from preparing for general travel?

The preparation for adventure travel is quite different and more important than for general travel. If one is carrying her own gear and traveling to remote places where spare batteries, shampoo, a flashlight etc. are not readily available, she doesn’t want to get caught out. Equally she does not want to carry more than is absolutely necessary.

I previously read travel magazines, books and did in depth research. These days I find that talking with fellow travelers and friends provides the best leads. No doubt my best resource is word of mouth. When one gets plugged into this travel network, her sources are worldwide. This is especially feasible with the internet at our fingertips. Find someone who has been where you are going and ask, ask, ask!

It also gets easier as you gain experience. I’m not saying that I “wing it,” but I’ve become much more relaxed as I gained a sense of what to expect from trekking and travel.

Is there something you always bring with you?

Top of my list would be a large Pringles can — if one is camping particularly at an altitude where overnight wees are more frequent — this waxed can does the trick. It does not leak, is large enough to use overnight without being emptied, and can be used inside a tent. Besides it’s good for at least 4 nights before it begins to break down, and you have a snack too (even if one must eat the snack early on in the trip)!

A deck of cards.

How do you decide where you will go next?

I keep an ongoing list of “must see” and “wanna see” places, but frankly, I’m finding it increasingly more difficult to identify adventure travel destinations.

So many of the places I most want to see are unsafe now — Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan being examples. I particularly like remote and beautifully scenic sights with few tourists. It’s increasingly difficult to find enticing destinations.

What do you do when you’re not traveling?

Hike, golf, and plan my next trip!

What would you say to someone preparing for their first big trip?

Remain open-minded and avail yourself of all opportunities that come your way. Also, don’t be scared to go with the flow. You’ll have more fun that way!

Friends we met along the way. Atlas High Mountains, Morocco. Contributed by Madelyn Zoi.

Friends we met along the way. Atlas High Mountains, Morocco. Contributed by Madelyn Zoi.

Do you think everyone should take a big trip at least once? Why or why not?

Absolutely everyone should! Travel is liberating, exciting and scary all at once and well worth it.

Is there an interesting quote that you’d care to leave us with?

“Adventure is worthwhile.” – Aristotle

*Pulmonary edema: the accumulation of fluid in air spaces of the lungs which can be caused by acute exposure to low partial pressure of oxygen at high altitude.