When I, Karla, was in Guatemala in December 2015, Phillip and I, had set our hearts to climb the tallest mountain in the country, Volcan (Volcano) Tajumulco. It was right before the New Year and we were in Lago Atitlan, approximately 8 hours away from the town of San Marcos.
We decided to head out and attempt the climb.
1 boat ride and 5 sketchy bus rides later, we finally reached the little town of San Marcos. When we arrived we hired a local to show us the way to the peak the following morning. On December 31st our alarm woke us up at 3:30 a.m. to meet our guide. It was freezing cold, and for a moment, we contemplated just staying in bed under the warm blankets. After a minute or two, we got up realizing this is what we came here for, so we met our guide and started our trek up the volcano before sunrise.
As we hiked, I saw a cold glittery frost covering the floor and heard other footsteps of people on the trail too. As the morning light started to appear we came across a large crowd of people. It was very strange to us, so we started asking, why there were so many people on the trail?
We found out that the locals climb the volcano to celebrate the New Year. They set off firecrackers and held celebrations at the peak. During the hike, I saw hundreds of local women climbing in dresses, skirts, and sandals. The women were of all ages and it was admirable to see culture trumped weather.
I wondered how the women had the drive and stamina to make it to the top? It became clear that customs and traditions are very powerful. It is a glue that makes us feel empowered and we are a part of something bigger. It may have been tough, but these women all wanted the same thing: to celebrate another year with their loved ones and community on the highest point in their country. All these women are a #ForceOfNature.
I wondered what other cultural traditions take place in the outdoors that make women feel like unique or empowered. So I asked our wonderful 52 Hike Challenge community to share how they celebrate their customs in the outdoors.
Regina Salazar told us she and her family camp in the Sequoias at Dinkey Creek every year. “We plan the menu before our trip & prepare accordingly! Our Sunday ritual is enjoying a bowl of menudo (Mexican soup!) This hearty meal keeps us sustained for the daily outdoor water activities we have planned. The tortillas are warmed on the comal (a flat grill used in Mexico) over the open fire! The menudo simmers in the Dutch oven over the open flame as well. All the fresh garnishments for our delicious bowl of menudo are cut fresh in our outdoor make shift kitchen. Cilantro is cut, onions are diced, the lemon is sliced & the tepin chiles are ready to bring the spice our taste buds crave! There is something about #menudosundays in our Mexican culture. It's about family, togetherness, and creating memories, as each of our family members contribute to create a delicious meal. Menudo is created with love & the intent to fill our stomachs up as much as our hearts as well.”
Ana Soto added, “When I was little, my great grandfather and grandparents used to walk from one ranchito (a small ranch) to another, through the woods to take a shortcut. I was lucky enough to go along, I think that is where my love of hiking comes from… During these trips (2 to 6 hours long) we crossed rivers, creeks, and went around mountains. When the walking became hard, they talked about dedicating the physical sacrifice and suffering to someone who was in need of spiritual help, and they would pray. This is something I now do when the climb gets hard. I dedicate my pain to a good cause and my pain and suffering reduces. I think that in the middle of meditating/praying I forget about my pain. My great-grandfather would also take breaks by leaning on big trees. He would say that those trees were full of life and strength they would share with you if you asked. I do this when I hike and when I run. He would walk barefoot to "hear the earth." I was very lucky to walk with him, he was almost 100 years old when he died.”
Pooja Babbrah shared, “In India there are a lot of temples and shrines that require hiking. One in particular where my family is from (Jammu and Kashmir) is called Vashno Devj. It's a temple in a cave approximately 16 km hike up a steep mountain. There is a whole story behind it, but basically one of our goddesses hid in the cave which is now a shrine in her name. When you hike up, you keep saying "Jai mata Di" which is basically a way to show respect to "Mata" or the mother/goddess. People usually start hiking in the middle of the night to reach the top in the morning and then go into the cave for worship. You will see all types of people on the trail: young, old, handicapped, blind...but somehow they make it up. By putting one foot in front of the other saying "Jai mata di". It is truly an amazing, spiritual experience.”
We women, can keep our cultural customs while enjoying nature. Whether it is celebrating the New Year on top of a volcano, creating a meal with our loved ones at camp, touching a tree, or taking a spiritual journey, it is important to maintain our culture alive. It makes us unique, it makes us empowered and makes us a #ForceOfNature.
*This post was sponsored in partnership with REI, the official retailer and outfitter of the 52 Hike Challenge and contains affiliate links which help fund the challenge. Thank you for your support.