Monday, October 03, 2016

The Revival Of The "Excursion"

There's a short film that those good people from Fotos Antiguas de Mallorca have loaded onto YouTube and which shows an excursion from Palma to Soller on the train. The date says 1930, though there is a short bit which shows a steam train. The electrification of the line was from 1929. There is a further short bit which says Ferrocarril Alaro, so maybe that was a separate excursion.

Be the trains as they may be, the film - black and white - is typically evocative of times past. By the looks of the trees the excursion would have been in winter or early spring, though had it been in summer one doubts if the dress would have differed greatly. Going on an outing in those days required attire, as one can see from other images of the era, to include a cap, a bow tie and a suit, which of course was just the men.

The excursion probably wouldn't have occurred in summer, however. Too hot. While the film shows people sitting or ambling around, it also features a spot of rambling and hiking. A somewhat bizarre aspect of this is that people - parents and children - are doing some clambering clad in their Sunday best (and it may well have been a Sunday).

It is just possible that there were "foreigners" among those on the Soller train. By the time of the film, "excursions" were an important aspect of early Mallorcan tourism. The word "excursionista" when translated - excursionist - sounds somewhat odd. It isn't a word that is greatly used, the preference perhaps being for a day-tripper or tourist. But neither of these words capture the essence of "excursionista". While it can be used more broadly, that real essence is one of an excursion into nature - rambling, hiking, enjoying the open air.

We were informed recently that there are some 300,000 hikers who come to Mallorca in the low season. It's a figure that I personally find hard to believe, but then other tourist statistics can seem somewhat fanciful as well. Whatever the real number is, there are - shall we say - a lot of people who come to hike and ramble. And for the tourism authorities - regional government and especially the Council of Mallorca - this open-air excursionism is virtuous tourism: respectful of nature and environment, or at least one hopes that it is.

A curious aspect of this seemingly recent promotion of hiking is that it is absolutely nothing new. This is why those trippers in 1930 - citizens of Palma, added to by one or two from Bunyola - may have been sharing the carriages with the odd foreigner.

The Fomento del Turismo, the Mallorca Tourist Board, was founded in 1905. Under the first article of its constitution, there are five particular objectives: things to be developed and promoted. "Fomento" means both development and promotion. The fourth of these states that it will facilitate in a practical way all types of excursions by ways (roads, tracks) and "hiking trails". There will be signs to indicate ways. There will be guides and there will be accommodation (hostels).

At the time of its founding, the Fomento recognised the essential need to improve Mallorca's transport infrastructure. A reason why was in order to indeed facilitate the fourth item on its agenda. What was to follow in terms of roads, railways, tunnels was driven in no small part by a need to develop tourism.

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. 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.

So here is evidence that Mallorca's tourism was from the very beginning intimately tied to hiking and walking. The mountains were obviously a key aspect, though not exclusively, and over time - up to the start of the Civil War - the excursion broadened its appeal. It ceased to solely be for walking. It was a cultural trip usually involving a bus to key "attractions" on the island, such as Formentor and the Caves of Drach.

Although hiking has remained a constant since those early days, it is only recently that one senses a real determination to recapture the essence of the excursion that had been identified in 1905. The Fomento's wish for signage, such as now for the dry-stone route, has been a long time in really becoming complete.

The Council of Mallorca is very committed to this type of tourism, but it is one that always been there. It's as though we have gone full circle.

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