Although our group didn’t represent all the countries in the European Union, there was a healthy mix; Germans, Belgians, a couple from mainland Spain, the two of us (a blend of Scottish and English – with Irish roots) and our Canarian guide (technically Spanish but in reality a different animal altogether).
First thought as we were given a briefing by our guide in the dappled shade of one of La Palma’s leafy forests was admiration for the linguistic skills of our affable guide, Jonas. He addressed the Germans in German, the Belgians in French, the Spanish in Spanish and us in English; fluent enough in each to be able to joke with people.
After the brief briefing we were off, descending through the forest together… for all of about 20 seconds.
Almost immediately, the Spanish couple were away like whippets out of a trap. Jonas called out to them to slow down but they ignored him.
It was a hot, hot day and the forest afforded only some shade. The Spanish man was wearing heavy jeans; not the greatest gear for walking at the best of times. In sweltering heat there was bound to be debilitating chafing before too long.
Andy and I looked at each other as he disappeared into the undergrowth like a rabbit and simultaneously muttered – ‘he won’t be able to keep that up for long.’
The German group pulled away from us every time we paused; their eyes straight ahead, focussing on moving forward; their walking sticks click-clacking in uniform rhythm. Rarely did they stop to look at the views, instead glancing briefly at the vistas as they passed breaks in the forest without breaking their stride.
The Belgian group was more spread out. One of them dropped back and walked with us for a while, telling us he loved British humour, especially Faulty Towers and Monty Python.
Apart from quoting Monty Python sketches, the Belgian man also informed us that not only did his wife not like British humour, she didn’t like the British. No reason given. It explained why our attempts at trying ‘hello’, ‘hola‘ and ‘bonjour’ had been met with a blank response. I liked the Belgian man, he was direct with no frills. He was also keen to share his opinion about British food – ‘it’s all rubbish’. At that point I tried to mentally list all the Belgian dishes I knew; moules-frites, moules-frites and moules-frites… oh, and chocolates. I knew about as much about Belgian cuisine as he obviously did about British gastronomy.
The route through the forest was exhilarating and the silence of the forest would have been golden if Jonas hadn’t needed to shout “No Miguel, not that way… it’s the other path” every now and again.
Miguel, despite not knowing the route and despite Jonas’ advice to wait when he came any junctions, insisted on doing his own thing and guessing the way forward. Most of the time he got it wrong. But it didn’t stop him from doing exactly the same again next time. Following advice from someone who knew better wasn’t a strong point.
Jonas treated each instance with good nature and a sort of resigned amusement. After a couple of hours of following her man down dead-ends, Miguel’s wife lost patience. Exasperated at being continually led down the wrong path, she joined with Jonas shouting “Miguel, Miguel… that’s the wrong way.” But Miguel refused to listen.
Jonas was like a benevolent shepherd whose patience was endless. When we stopped to eat lunch, one of the Belgians lectured him about how Spain was wasting Belgium’s money thanks to corruption and mismanagement of European funded projects etc. These Belgian walkers, it seemed, were quite forthright in letting other nationalities know what they thought about them.
Jonas merely smiled, the amused twinkle never leaving his eyes.
After lunch was over the pattern continued more or less as before. However, by the time we reached the final stages of our route, our little band of nations came together again. We emerged from the trail to descend on the counter of a small bar at the very end of the trail as one sweaty, thirsty mass.
In scenery terms it had been a beautiful walk. In other ways it was fascinating to observe how people with various cultural backgrounds had tackled the route and each other.
Whether this is a tale of traits, stereotypes or simply individualistic behaviour, you’ll have to make up your own mind. These are merely my observations of a mixed walking group.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+