When my French roommate invited me to join her on a hike last Sunday I couldn't but say yes. The mountains around Madrid are truly beautiful, and living in a big city where everything you need seems to be within 5 minutes of walking through concrete makes you appreciate moments of escape into nature, of hiking until you're out of breath, and of views that remind you how everything is relative in the larger scheme of things. What I did not know as I tied my shoelaces and swung my backpack over my shoulders was that I would be hiking together with a group of nine other people, all French. And that I was in for a hike-long culture immersion, which is best summarised in three main realisations.
Realisation 1: French Planning
As soon as we exited the train, the one question came up that would define the entire hike: "À droite ou à gauche?" ('To the right or to the left?'). This question was each time followed up with a 5-minute-long debate about which direction looks more correct, followed by another 5 minutes of first walking in the one direction to then decide to head into the other. In retrospect, I wonder whether these debates were truly for the purpose of not getting lost or rather to be able to light up another cigarette.
Realisation 2: French Hiking Lunch
On my year abroad in Freiburg, Germany, I too frequently joined hiking groups with friends I made at university. There, once it was time for the mid-hike lunch, I would get out the one pretzel I bought at the bakery on the foot of the mountain before we started hiking, surrounded by (German) friends who shared their home-made picnics; their three different kinds of snacks (usually bread with spreads, nuts, and fruit), which were all neatly packed in three differently sized Tupperware. Now, in Spain, I have learned from my German experience, diligently filling a Tupperware I borrowed from my German roommate with two smoked tofu-red pesto sandwiches and adding cherry tomatoes on the side. Finally, when it was time for lunch, I nibbled on my tomatoes, with my water on the side, as everyone around me opened their chips bags, coke, and sandwiches bought at the train station.
Realisation 3: French language
While I did have some conversations in English with the others, I spent most of the hike trying to eavesdrop on the French conversations. When this didn't work, I took in the view, listened to the birds chirping, smelled the fresh and warm resin, and got lost in old memories. As I focused less and less on the conversations around me, I focused more and more on everything else. And, I must admit, I quite enjoyed it. While the hike did spark an interest in picking up French again, I also enjoyed being fully emerged in nature and noticing what you might not when you're constantly emerged in conversations.
Thinking back to the hike, also compared to those I did in Germany, I realised one main thing: It doesn't matter how you do it, as long as you do what you want and love.
Jesler van Houdt