In the first week of May one hundred years ago, the Fomento del Turismo (the Mallorca Tourist Board) broke a record. Its 'excursions group' had arranged an excursion for its members. Eighteen of them took part in what was described as an "interesting route" from Soller to Lluc via "La Calobra". That was the record, eighteen people, who in 1923, because they tended to back then in official circles, visited a place that didn't have the Mallorquí 'Sa'; it was La Calobra, not Sa Calobra.
On that Sunday all those years ago, the eighteen were "excursionistas". A direct translation of this, excursionists, sounds distinctly odd. The word exists in English, but it isn't really common usage. It can also be a touch misleading. An excursionist, a person who goes on an excursion, conjures up the idea of someone on a coach trip. An excursionista can refer to coach trips, but it predominantly implies a walker - a hiker.
Which isn't to say that motorised travel isn't combined with walking. In May 1923, one suspects that the excursions group was, for the most part, being transported. Soller to Lluc, to say nothing of a diversion to Sa Calobra, is a fair old distance to cover on foot. The group had presumably travelled to Soller on the train, which was steam at that time (electrification was in 1929), before hopping on a bus of some sort, which one guesses took them back to Soller from Lluc.
A record of eighteen people doesn't sound like much of a record, but for the tourist board it clearly represented a bit of a milestone, albeit a minor one, in its development of excursions. In recent years, it is as if hiking has been rediscovered, when it had never gone away and was in fact part of the core aims of the tourist board when it was constituted in 1905. The Fomento del Turismo set out to facilitate in a practical way all types of excursions by ways (roads, tracks) and "hiking trails". There would be signs to indicate ways. There would be guides and there would be accommodation (hostels).
Excursions were therefore of major importance. By 1908, two commissions - one for "improvements and excursions", the other for "information and publicity" - had produced a short guide to "excursions from Palma to the island's interior". These were excursions yet to benefit from the Soller train, but in that same year, a specific group was established - Grup Excursionista Lo Fèmur. The translation isn't too difficult: the femur, the longest of bones, was necessary for this excursionist activity, i.e. walking.
In 2023, the tourist board still has an excursions group (minus the femur). It is one dedicated to hiking, the trips led by experienced guides - they are open to anyone. A member of the group said some years ago that "the fundamental purpose of hiking is to get to fully know the land where you were born and where you live". "And if this land is as surprisingly beautiful as our island, with so many attractions - natural, climatological, light, sun, colour - then it becomes an unbeatable pleasure for those who enjoy it."
José Antonio Cros was directing his comments at a resident population - there was a specific promotion to islanders at the time - but they apply to visitors as well, and quite clearly so. This goes back to one of the core aims for tourism in Mallorca and to a culture of excursion, which was the predominant culture of tourism in the early decades of the twentieth century.
In 2014 and on the fiftieth anniversary of its original publication, the tourist board updated a book about fifty hiking excursions on the island. The book from 1964 had been written by Gabriel Font, a one-time footballer with Real Mallorca and who believed that "to be a good hiker, it is necessary to be able to meet conditions beyond the physical, those of a different nature such as education and culture". "It is essential to know how to walk in the countryside, which isn't exactly just walking."
Cros argued that people who didn't hike would be unable to know the island's "historical roots" or how the islanders' ancestors lived. He was speaking about the culture of excursion - getting to know and understand an island historical culture at first hand, or foot.
There was some regret, he admitted, that some ways had fallen into an unfortunate condition, partly because of the "bad behaviour" of some hikers and because there were so many. Human saturation of the Tramuntana had never been a concern in 1923. By 1964, it still wasn't. And so rediscovery can have its downsides, blurring what in a way is a romantic view of simple pleasures and delights from many years ago. Back to a time when, as old film footage indicates, people from Palma could take the train to Soller in order to have a Sunday excursion.
Romantic yes, as these were day trippers, dressed in their Sunday best. They may have walked a certain distance, but there was absolutely no way that they were ever going to make it as far as Lluc or La Calobra.
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