The last time I hiked in all my 24 years of existence was when I was in Grade 5. I was 11 years old and a member of the Pathfinders, a church group for kids aged 10-16, similar to the scouts. I remember getting muscle cramps and got bandaged for a sprained ankle, and sympathetic voices above me, telling me everything will be all right.
Fast forward, 13 years later, I am in Tenerife. And what do you know? I am volunteering with a project with the objectives to promote, create and improve sustainable hikes. Aha. That means a lot of HIKING.
The first time, I went to hike, I looked across the landscape and saw it was flat. YAY. After a couple of metres, the path went slightly up…up…up and then down….. down… down…NOOOO! But it was a good hike and it wasn’t tiring. Or so I thought until I woke up the next day with aching limbs and dead bones. The voices in my head panicked… Junita, this is your second week here, and imagine hiking for the next five months. You won’t survive. Why did you agree to this…How could you do this to the project? You should have said no. You can’t do this. WWWWWHHHYYYYYY?? I ended up sleeping the whole day and going to the work in the morning a zombie.
Back home, I have never hiked a mountain. I got the steepest hill in Honiara going up to my house. Did I walk it? Yes I did. Sometimes. Taxis are way more comfortable. But, yeah it wasn’t a good start here.
Fast forward again, two months into the project, a Slovenian arrived. She was going on and on about this route in the main land that she did for a month and how much she loves my project. Then she started planning to sleep outside, up in the mountains or on the beach. That got me thinking. I am here in Tenerife, with this beautiful natural landscape and environment and lots of opportunities to hike and see my home for the next five months. How can pass these opportunities? How can I be so lazy and unmotivated, when I can learn so much about my temporary home by hiking?
The next hike, we did it was with a couple of students. We went to Valle Jimenez to create a “story” for the route. A story of how the women from Valle Jimenez transported milk to Santa Cruz, marking out important spots in their journey. Chapter by chapter, we walked across the side of the mountain, up and down, stopping at certain spots to reflect and analyze why that spot was important and to mark the spot as one chapter in the story, until we reached the end. Interwoven into the route, was another story about the Guanches. Guanches were the original peoples of the Canary Islands. On the route, were some amazing locations where they got water and where they took shelter for the night and also a ritual ground.
Another route was in the Anaga Mountains. This time, it was my mentor, another volunteer and Aaron, an enthusiastic hiker and geographer. We hiked the Camino Las Vueltas, a route of 66 curves (hence the name; Vueltas = Curves in Spanish) that was used to transport wine from Tanagana to Sant Cruz. Aaron, being a local from Tanagana and very knowledgeable about the route, took us on a journey detailing the stories behind certain names, plants, spots, and marks on the route. And what an amazing story it was.
There are other amazing hikes that I did because I have come to love hiking so much. By far, one of the best activities of my EVS and the fact that my project is all about that is triple exciting. I have to come appreciate it so much, I take off on weekends, a couple of times, to hike across mountains, sleep on the beach, visit local villages where one wouldn’t catch a bus to for no reason. And each time, I conquer these mountains, I feel alive, I feel accomplished and I feel motivated. Each time, I reach the top and see an amazing view or learn more about the route, I feel at peace. It is therapeutic. And I had thought cleaning was therapeutic.
You see, hiking opened my eyes to the beautiful landscape and the wonderful cultures and stories of the routes, of the mountains and my home for the last three months. I have come to value and appreciate these experiences, also the natural and cultural heritage of my temporary home.
The voices in my head, from time to time, give me the worst case scenarios and ‘try’ to demotivated me. But I no longer listen to them. I march on. There are so many lessons learnt from hiking. Some are personal lessons, teaching you that perseverance is everything. Achievement means soldiering on, even if you have to climb a thousand mountains. Then there is knowledge you gain on how to create an amazing hike for your local community, to value the local resources, both natural and cultural.
That, my readers, is why hiking is the EVS activity I liked so far. And I will never stop liking it.