BEING VOLUNTEER ON ROTA VICENTINA
THE TESTEMONY OF VOLUNTEER MARA
Mara came from Latvia to do her European Voluntary Service in Portugal, in particular on Rota Vicentina. She wanted to step out of comfort zone, explore other things – places, people, culture and learn, always learn! Not everything was pink, between cultural challenges and rurality of this region, but Mara started tracing her way, calling into her habits, questioning her values.
Mara’s volunteering on Rota Vicentina, although with some discretion, was memorable. Mostly in the back office, helping with the organization of our photos (we have a dense archive), translating documents, it also gave some time to the Walking Trails, their maintenance and the photographic register of the moments shared with the other volunteers. Although the year of volunteering has ended and she has already returned to her homeland, she still tireless, helping us with everything she can!
Today, we remember Mara’s first big journey on the Rota Vicentina, sharing a text written (in English only) by herself:
In December 2018, I had an opportunity to experience part of Rota Vicentina trail network; in total, approximately 35 kilometres from Odeceixe to Arrifana by walking sections of Fishersman’s Trail, Historical way and the Circular Route of Aljezur. My first impressions were that these trails are very well marked – I had accidentally forgotten my guidebook at home and, taking into account previous hiking experience, was slightly worried about getting lost or not finding the way. However, whenever I got to crossroads I could always spot a helpful sign to guide me further.
The sceneries were nothing but splendid as well – small, white houses lying at the foot of forest-clad hills, vast, tranquil fields of olive trees and vineyards, magnificent cliffs standing strong against the waves, surrounded in a shimmering mist. This being sad, Rota Vicentina is an experience rewarding to all senses. It is the gentle sweetness of wild medronho fruits and the crisp sourness of camarinhas. It is the scent of pine trees, eucalyptus and heather that captivates more than the most exquisite perfumes. It is the whispering of the ocean, the morning chants of the birds as they celebrate the start of a day, and the melodic chime of church bells – a gentle reminder of the time that passes away, of all that it wipes along and of all that remains nonetheless.
I believe that hiking teaches us three very important things: modesty, gratefulness and patience1. Oddly, these values often get neglected in the modern world – a world that celebrates and puts an ever increasing value on consumerism, instant gratification, self-centredness and haste.
I also see hiking as a form of purification. Before every hike one has to decide not so much on what to take along but, more importantly, on what to leave behind. It does not only concern the things that are too large or heavy to fit into a backpack, but also the things that have been too large or too heavy for one’s heart, soul or mind. As I start and continue the journey, my body gets weary whereas my mind becomes more attentive and my heart opens up.
Hiking means leaving behind of what is surplus and preserving of what is integral. It also means opening up to whatever comes ahead, it means acknowledging one’s vanity and vulnerability. It means visiting fewer places than the modern means of transportation would allow, instead experiencing the places that you do visit on a much deeper level. It means appreciating the gentle shades of rocks and the bright tints of the ceramic rooftops, the tenderness of winter flowers and the roughness of tree bark, the fragility of dew drops and spider webs, the warm touch of the Algarve’s sun on your skin and the refreshing caress of a shadow from a cork tree. It means talking to people with whom you do not share a common tongue and opening up to cultures you were not familiar with. And, ultimately, it means treading carefully – leaving all these wonders, experiences and sensations intact and ready for the next walker to come.
Cogito, ergo sum – Descartes wrote in 1644, asserting that the very act of thinking, of questioning and doubting serves as the proof of one’s existence and being, of one’s consciousness – I think, therefore I am. Yet, lately I have been wondering if the modern human mind, constantly overwhelmed with the never-ending torrent of impulses, temptations and obligations of the 21st century is that conscious or that present.
I would like to thank Rota Vicentina for the invaluable opportunity offered to me and thousands of other visitors to experience consciousness and being on a deeper and more profound level.
I wander, therefore I am.
I ramble, therefore I am.
I leave behind, therefore, I am.
I move onward, therefore I am.
I differ, therefore I am.
I belong, therefore I am.
I become lost, therefore I am.
I find a way, therefore am.
1 In my mother tongue (Latvian) these three words also sound very similar – pieticība, pateicība, pacietība.