‘Shall we take the high road or the low road?’ I asked. ‘The high road’, they screamed with excitement! And so we did.
14 kids, the Park Ranger, Competa Hikes and Axareducacion set off to the high road. Walking sticks, water bottles and quizzes in hand, the wonderful excitement that only children can provide, buzzing around us, for our monthly walk with the children of Axarquia.
A 2 hour walk ahead of us, full of the history of the Old Silk Route between Malaga and Granada, spring bloom, aromas of medicinal herbs and new life beginning again with birds nesting, butterflies skipping and bees conducting their important daily work…. And out of the clouds, that had cast their grey shadow over us for days, came the sun, happy to see us all out and about on such a rewarding mission.
Every month Competa Hikes and Axareducacion, sponsor a free day out for the children in the region, and their parents. The aim of this initiative, is to get children and their families walking together, out in the splendid natural environment that we are spoiled to live in. To show them how stimulating and exhilarating such a simple activity can be, to teach them about all the interesting plant and animal life right on their doorstep, and to commit them to preservation and conservation of the area. To give them such a love of life here at an early age so that they grow up with the respect such an environment deserves and needs of the next generation.
This walking route is a challenging hike, climbing high above the Patamelara river valley, where few walkers tread the path, but where the nightly antics of Ibex, Wild Boar and others create a route of wonderful challenges, exciting for the children that tire easily of ‘boring’ flat wide tracks through the mountains. This is the perfect and appropriate route to challenge the physical ability of the children and at the same time engage their interest in all that is around them, as we ‘cut our way through the jungle’!
And so we hiked along a single, narrow, wild goat track, climbing over fallen trees, weaving through thick bush and shrub, and watching the wildlife busy with its Spring duties, not least Falcons and White Booted Eagles nesting in the high cliffs above us. Throughout the hike we were flanked by stunning views of the highest peaks here in the Almijara and Tejeda mountain ranges, the Mediterranean sea and the North Coast of Africa. And every 30 minutes or so we would stop for a drink and a briefing from the Park Ranger, resting on ancient stone walls that once upon a time, edged the Old Silk Trading route between Malaga and Granada. Here we reflected on the challenges these traders faced, with only donkeys to carry their precious loads of spices and silks that originated in Africa, docked in Malaga and now would bear fruit for these traders, at the markets in Granada.
The children learned about the animals that love in these mountains, about the highest and smallest peaks of this sierra range, about what is dangerous and what is good, about medicinal herbs and their uses, about the importance of various plants and trees, and about what we can do to ensure we do not ruin this natural environment.
Back at Finca Los Pinos, the walking lodge of Competa Hikes, the children enjoyed a well deserved swim in the heated outdoor pool and a large freshly made Paella and salads. And then it was time for the quiz.
Their enthusiasm warmed my senses [perhaps it was just the promise of prizes] but I truly believe they were very excited to show us what they had learned. And for us, I was keen to understand if this initiative was effective. Are the children really learning? With the final question of the quiz asking for free writing of thoughts and views by the children themselves, we would also be able to understand their sentiment.
Well sentiment was truly inspiring as the children wrote about how much they loved being outside and hiking high I the mountains, and they had absorbed so much of the knowledge that was imparted on them by the Park Ranger. This indeed had been a successful day against our objectives and mission. It was a tough call for 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes, but ultimately all the children received a little prize , prizes linked to the outdoors, walking and nature.
For me this day and all the other days we have had walking with children over the Autumn, Winter and Spring 2015/2106, have taught me so much about this young generation, their yearning for knowledge, and their ability to comprehend way more beyond what is simply physically in front of them. And that we need not lose heart over the seemingly abrasive and harsh thrust of technology they face and love so much in this day and age.
The great outdoors, nature and the environment still hold much entertainment and interest for this new generation. Our challenge therefore only lies in ensuring they are exposed to the great outdoors, and that we continue to drive their opportunity to be part of it.