The world is full of so many amazing places I want to visit. Every time I go somewhere I enjoy, I promise I’ll return again. But inevitably, I don’t, because there are so many other trips I want to go on, so many more countries to explore, so many new experiences. Why would I go back and do the same trip again?
In 2013 I spent a week walking in the Serra de Tramuntana with Explore. Naturally, I blogged about it, and I had a fabulous time. I’d booked the trip more by accident than design: literally two days before I went, my Easter plans changed and I decided to get away on a walking holiday, so this was one of the very few options that fit the bill. It was a bit less challenging than I’d have ideally liked, but beggars can’t be choosers, and I remedied the quite short walking days with extra walks on my own in the late afternoons.
Move forward a couple of years, and Will, who runs Will4Adventure, had been talking about his great trekking holiday to Mallorca for months. Since a few of us were interested, I decided it would be fun to go back to Mallorca with them, especially as the trip would be a little bit different. We’d covered about half of the same terrain on the previous trip, but not all of it, since that trip had involved sets of daywalks from different locations, rather than trekking point-to-point and carrying all our gear. It’s actually been 25 years since I last did a multi-day trek carrying all my gear — the Abel Tasman route in New Zealand — when I was young and fit and fearless! Looking back at my diary, I see it involved river crossings in our underwear, getting lost in a swamp, and 10 people sleeping in 6 beds in a bothy. We appeared also to have completed a 3-4 day walk in 1 1/2 days! But as usual, I digress.
So what were the main differences between the two Mallorca treks? The first one was run by a large company, had a local (although English) leader, and was slightly more luxurious (we had our gear transported for us, so only carried light daypacks, we stayed in B&Bs rather than hostels, and the trekking days were mostly physically easier). On the other hand, the trip was a bit longer (6 trekking days rather than 4) and we had to buy all our own food rather than have the leader take care of it.
Let’s analyse some of these. The large vs small company means that Explore run multiple identical trips per year, rather than Will’s more sporadic annual trips (and in this case, the trip hadn’t actually run for a couple of years). One of the main advantages to multiple trips is that the leader knows the route, the accommodation and the details of public transport etc. inside out, so problems are less likely. On the other hand, having the leader (and his assistant) with less local knowledge meant that we had more of a feeling of being “all in it together”. There was more of a sense of adventure about it, as we never quite knew what was going to happen next, and occasionally had navigational and other challenges.
Having a local leader who speaks Catalan is undoubtedly a big advantage, especially since in rural areas many people, including hostel owners, really do not speak much, if any, English. And when challenges with public transport or accommodation arise, as they inevitably do, knowledge of the local area and the language is a big bonus! Add to that the fact that locals are far more likely to be helpful to group leaders who not only are local but also return many times to the same place throughout the year. The fact that our local leader also happened to be on good terms with many of the local women — and was young and good looking to boot — probably didn’t do any harm either! However, we were exceptionally lucky on that trip to have Jamie, because he was both English but also local. There are many advantages to having an English guide — typically they understand the mentality of the group better, they can communicate better, and group members may feel less shy about personal issues (Will maintains that it’s easier to talk about diarrhoea with an English guide, though I somewhat dispute that, as I’d rather talk to a stranger I’m never going to see again after the trip about such things!). While on this subject, I should add that I did manage to accidentally distract Jamie, our local guide, enough one day by engaging him in such interesting conversation that he forgot to navigate and went the wrong way! Apparently it’s a talent of mine. And because it was the first trip of the season, he was also foxed by the bus that we needed to catch no longer operating from the stop it had in previous years! Another advantage to a local guide is the local historical, cultural and botanical knowledge (which admittedly, a non-local guide could still brush up on). Unfortunately, I could only half-remember most of the stories Jamie had told us on my first trip, such as the famous tree stump in Cala de Deia, the women who saved Soller from pirates with treacle, and the pilgrimage to Lluc, amongst others.
What about carrying your own gear? I initially thought of this as a slight downside, meaning we had to be very selective about our packing and would be wearing the same clothes every day, with no room for luxuries. Plus it would mean heavier rucksacks, not great for someone with two frozen shoulders. However, it turned out to be a rather pleasant experience — once I realised that I barely needed anything more than the usual contents of my daypack, other than minimal washkit, medical supplies and a change of clothes and towel, it felt rather good to be carrying everything you need with you and be unencumbered by lots of kit. I posted recently about primal experiences, and this was a perfect example.
B&Bs vs hostels: not much in it really. We stayed in a couple of B&Bs also during the Will4Adventure trek, but since I was in a shared room with 2 other people in the B&B, it really wasn’t that different to being in a dorm. Actually I rather enjoyed the dorm experience, and had my best nights’ sleep in them despite the snoring! Other than that, there wasn’t much difference. To be fair, the accommodation we stayed in on the first trip was a bit nicer, as we had ensuite rooms, and we also stayed two nights in a couple of places, which was quite nice not having to pack everything up each day. The highlight of the accommodation on that trip was staying in the monastery itself in Lluc, which was incredibly atmospheric, if a bit like staying in Hogwarts!
On the subject of trekking days themselves, the big advantage of the original trip was that we had more days walking, and that was the one thing I regretted about Will’s trip – that it wasn’t long enough, with only 4 days of actual walking. However, the longer trip was countered by the fact that the walking was rather too easy except on one day when I took an optional tougher ascent of Puig Tomir — a tough day but very worthwhile. Because of the larger than usual numbers on the Will4Adventure trip, there were 2 guides, which meant that on one day we were also able to split into groups and have a tougher day for those who felt up to it. On the other trip, those who didn’t want the tougher day were simply left to their own devices, which some people enjoyed, but I personally would not have done.
Finally, what about buying your own food? I’ve also posted about this before. There are advantages and disadvantages. While I quite like being responsible for my own food, because I know what I like and don’t have to worry about whether suitable food will be provided for me, it can be a pain when you’re in a foreign country to have to faff around going to the local shops to buy your own sandwich materials each day, rather than just have it handed to you in the morning. And I eat almost anything anyway. To be honest, I’m happy with either solution. I rather liked Will’s solution, however, of buying group picnic materials and sharing them out amongst us to carry. Given the lack of space in my rather small rucksack, I decided not to carry the grapes or tomatoes for fear they’d turn into wine or soup respectively!
In summary, which trip did I prefer? I had a fabulous time on both of them, and I got different things out of each of them. Normally I wouldn’t go back on the same trip again, but this one was an easy sneaky few days away to somewhere with cheap flights, and while the towns themselves were not that interesting to revisit, I could happily go back time and again to the Tramuntana mountains. I probably had more fun on the second trip because the group comprised some good friends as well as some strangers, and I enjoyed the physical challenge aspect more. But diversity is the spice of life, and different experiences are always good. For me, the more personal nature of Will4Adventure is a big advantage, but there are also downsides. Next time, I want to do the whole GR221, however, rather than just half of it! That, for me, was the worst thing about the trip, that it was over far too quickly!