We have recently joined an initiative which we find the best of the century. At least one of the best we have experienced during our four and a half years in El Salvador. It is a group of people which goes hiking every Saturday afternoon in the extraordinary nature of El Salvador (or what is left of itL). It is organized through Facebook and is a private/closed group, so I cannot reveal the name. People join it by the means of recommendations/invitations of members in order to…maintain some standard, I guess is the only appropriate word.
But the standard is quite loose and open, based on “good spirit”, I would say. The requirements are otherwise: You love hiking, you love nature, you show respect for the others of the group, for the people you might meet on the way and for the nature you tread on and observe, you don’ t throw rubbish – and you leave all your problems behind for a few hours. And yes, you do need a decent physical condition.
There are some 50 members and each Saturday afternoon 10-20 persons meet for a physical challenge and some hours of peace, good spirits and splendid natural experiences. Some come in an old Volkswagen, others in new SUVs, some are consultants for the UN, other work at call centres. There are people from left, from right, of all colours, ages, mainly adults. Some are foreigners, or have international connections. Sometimes bigger children or adolescents participate. And dogs. Also of all colours, ages and races.
The only thing we regret is that we got part of this group so late in our stay in El Salvador – we are soon leaving. But our experiences so far have nothing less than marvellous. The walks are tough and can be quite long, up to 20 kilometres. Sometimes they are more based on sights, sometimes on the physical challenges. Usually they are in heights – the tropical climate makes it difficult to walk in lower levels – and usually they are close to the capital of San Salvador, where most live.
And the incredible thing is that there are so many hiking opportunities in this tiny, urbanized and deforested country (the most deforested in all of Latin America after Haiti) and so close to the capital!
During the walks there are conversations – if your physical condition allows it! – on any topic and without any hard feelings– and many contacts are made. But it is also totally comme il faut to walk by yourself, just enjoying the exercise, the nature and your own thoughts. We see lots of new plants and animals and if we are lucky, somebody in the group knows both the names in Latin and Salvatrucha, if not, it is also fine. Another person does territorial analysis and we get insight into recent Salvadoran history. Afterwards some go to a local pupusería or pizzeria for a cheap meal and some social interaction.
The dogs behave well. We bring our two pitbull-sisters along. They live up to all the standards of the breed and can be pretty dominating towards other dogs. But during the walks in group, with other people and other dogs, all grudges disappear (Yes, Cesar Milan, you are so right!!!). They are happier than we ever see them in other contexts and I think that it applies for the humans as well.
The spirits are always high, and there is a lot of solidarity. Someone may have a bad day, or a bad knee. That is considered and nobody is ever left behind. We are our own guides and within the group there are people who know paths and routes very well. We, ourselves, were the hosts and guides the other week in our wonderful environment.
Afterwards we share pictures and re-enjoy the walk!
We have a theory: Get all seven million Salvadorans together, make them walk 10 kilometres together – and we will have peace in this country!
(For those not updated: things are bad here. See for instance this pretty recent article: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/22/el-salvador-worlds-most-homicidal-place)
If you live in El Salvador and want to join the group, contact me!