How memories of her late husband fueled Gabriele Brown’s passion for travel and adventure

Gabriele Brown during the Kilimanajro expedition. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Kilimanjaro captivated her, and growing up, that was all she could think about, going to Africa and climbing the highest peak

Gabriele has always been fascinated with Tanzania, which started with a childhood dream.

As a young girl born and raised in Germany, she learned how Germany colonised Tanganyika and that the first recorded foreigner to climb Mount Kilimanjaro was a German geologist, Hans Meyer.

Kilimanjaro captivated her, and growing up, that was all she could think about: going to Africa and climbing the highest peak.

After a lengthy world list of places travelled, Gabriele and her husband made plans to visit Tanzania and climb Kilimanjaro.

“It has always been on our bucket list, but raising children and building a business prevented us from doing it sooner,” Gabriele remembered.

Sadly, by the time all the stars aligned for them to make the trip, her husband fell ill and could not make the trek.

When it appeared that he would not get better, he requested that Gabriele make the climb and take his ashes to the top to release on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

“He wanted it to be his final resting place, but deep down, he wanted it so my dream of reaching the summit would come true,” she says pensively.

Gabriele’s connection to the mountain is beyond the physical experience, and she says, “Kilimanjaro is very spiritual for me. The climb was brutal, but with the grace of my amazing guides, I made it to the top and honoured my late husband's last wishes.”

In 2012, after the passing of her late husband, Kenton, Gabriele quit her job of 35 years and headed to Africa.

She travelled extensively to several countries in Africa and learned to appreciate life again.

She was able to summit Africa’s highest mountain, stay with different tribes, travel on local transport, go on safaris, volunteer in local communities, go to Zambia and see Victoria Falls, raft the River Nile in Uganda, get up close to mountain gorillas, and meet some of the most wonderfully inspiring people she could hope to meet.

“I fell in love with Africa; there, the idea for Urth Expedition came to be: a mountain trekking, Safari, and exotic beach holiday tour company. After my initial trip, I returned home, but Africa was never far from my thoughts,” Gabriele mentioned.

She would always return whenever she could, even working briefly as a manager at an Adult Education School for Women.

Tourism is one of Tanzania's significant sources of income, and Gabriele wanted a way to spread awareness of how beautiful and fulfilling a climb can be while also having the opportunity to work with the local communities and create employment for the people living there.

She had become proficient in working with local social enterprises and impact-minded ventures. The dynamics of what tourists want when they travel differ.

Still, increasingly, travellers want unparalleled personal experiences tailored to their unique tastes and desires, and Gabriele, who is an avid traveller, has been able to cater to that.

She aims to inspire and help others travel to Africa and experience some of the things she has been fortunate to see and do.

Since then, she has led groups to Mount Kilimanjaro's summit and personally summited Kilimanjaro 15 times.

In 2017, she was part of the 7 Summit Africa Expedition to conquer seven of Africa's highest peaks in seven weeks over five countries for seven causes.

By far, this was one of her most adventurous trips ever.

All in support of promoting tourism.

Tourism has a direct impact on conservation and communities. The benefits of visitors' physical presence and their crucial revenue spending are critical to protecting natural areas home to unique flora and fauna.

One of the organisations dedicated to this is called "Conservation Through Tourism."

They aim to encourage travellers to visit vulnerable areas that need conservation help, habitat and biodiversity protection, and community support.

When Gabriele is not in Tanzania, you can find her in Austin, Texas.

When in the US, she still promotes Tanzania’s tourist attractions; “the most challenging aspects have been the language barrier and business culture,” she said.

The first year as a tourism investor in Tanzania was quite hard, and she lost a lot of money during that transition period.

She tried going local, partnering with a local guide she thought she could trust. “Unfortunately, I was taken advantage of my generosity,” she sadly reminisces.

Being a foreign woman in a male-dominated world was quite challenging.

But by good grace, Gabriele has earned the status of "Mama Africa," which she proudly likes to hear.

She now caters to French, Spanish, and German speakers.

She eventually switched to a professional and knowledgeable local tour operator who was licensed and insured, and for every Kilimanjaro trek they make, they donate to "Give a Heart to Africa," a local social enterprise.

Gabriele believes that travel can be the catalyst to inspire people, touch their souls, and make them feel truly connected and alive.

The tourism industry in Tanzania is a huge contributor to the overall economy and the prosperity of local economies scattered throughout the country.

However, tourism also leaves a large footprint on the environment.

As for tour operators, Gabriele believes it's their responsibility to offer safaris and experiences that are responsible and respect local cultures and communities.

Conserving their cultural heritage and authentic values is essential and contributes to intercultural understanding.

At the same time, they must protect natural assets and wildlife to support a viable natural environment and conserve its heritage and biodiversity.

“Everything I learned, I learned because people were willing to teach me,” she said.

We have an obligation to pass on what we know works.

And to be open to new ways of looking at the work,” she added.

In recent years, she has participated in several goodwill trips, the Wellness in the Wilderness Retreat in Tanzania and Morocco, and charity climbs to Mount Kilimanjaro.

She has also participated in an organisation called Youth Without Shelter, which aims to end youth homelessness.

She also works with an organisation in Tanzania called "Give a Heart to Africa," a grassroots, hands-on, volunteer-run, and supported organisation that empowers women by providing free education in business, vocations, math, and English.

With her network in the US, she created an online store to help sell their goods, and any profits made will go back to the individual female entrepreneur in Tanzania.

This helped immensely during Covid-19 as tourism was slow and the women had little or no earnings.

Gabriele has experienced the transformative power of travel and its ability to create lasting change in the world, especially when done more intentionally and meaningfully.

She believes that, at its core, travel is an investment in new experiences, significant memories, shared connections, and personal growth as one meets new people, explores unknown parts, and gains a deeper appreciation of cultural diversity.

“It's about learning and growing into our unique way of engaging with the world, being awed by its natural beauty, and revelling in that bond across physical borders,” she reckons.

“Travelling lets us live with more meaning and purpose to make a lasting impact in the world, one trip at a time,” she concluded.