When some old friends came to stay in the Tramuntana a few years ago, we arranged to meet at their rented place. Not certain of its exact location, I borrowed a parking space at a nearby finca hotel, phoned and waited for a rendezvous on the hotel terrace.
It was as well that I hadn’t been certain, as I learned that when they had first arrived, the clutch of the hire car had almost burnt out, such was the difficulty with accessing the place.
From then on, the car was left at the bottom of the track. So, walking was the best means of getting to this mountain chalet, a retreat indeed, with only some friendly goats for neighbors. An idyllic spot, the peace was shattered by just one thing – the roar of motorbikes echoing around the ancient peaks.
Tomàs Vibot is a researcher and writer whose body of work related to Mallorca must be among the most extensive. Richard Branson may be familiar with one of his first publications. It was all about Son Bunyola, the estate that Branson owns in Banyalbufar.
Guides to Esporles and Puigpunyent; the history of Llubi; legends of the Saracens in Majorca; ensaimada and sobrassada; the legend of the evil count, El Comte Mal; King Jaume I; a guide to the Raiguer region; cycling routes of Mallorca; crimes, infamies and immoralities in Bunyola and Orient; the essential coves of Mallorca; hiking routes in Mallorca …. More and more, and more again; Tomàs is a true chronicler of his times.
This prolific author has a new book out – the Essential Guide to the Tramuntana Mountains. In talking about it, I mentioned one of the “entrenched” problems in the mountains – the illegal bike races. “They should be eradicated immediately.” He is not alone in wishing this. The trouble is that it seems to be easier said than done, and so on peaceful afternoons in the mountains, even from a good distance, you will be able to hear the sound of powerful bikes.
A few days ago, there was a presentation to mark the tenth anniversary of the mountains having been declared a Unesco World Heritage site. It was a presentation to which only passing attention was paid. One might have expected more; perhaps there will be at the main event at the Raixa finca in Bunyola at the end of June.
One of those who worked on the candidature of the Tramuntana was Tomàs Vibot. His book is therefore a timely reminder of the efforts made to secure the declaration and of the reasons for it having been made. Unesco doesn’t hand out recognition to natural spaces as vast as the Tramuntana unless there are good cultural and heritage reasons to do so.
Unesco recognized that the landscape of the mountains had been shaped by man’s intervention – the ingenuity of centuries past and of different cultures which created the likes of the paths, the terraces, the hydraulics.
The dry-stone route ran near to that retreat where my friends were staying. Ultra respectful of the environment, of local traditions and people, they enjoyed the hiking and the cycling. They would have had this enjoyment, blissfully unaware that in a sense they were contributing to a problem. As Tomàs Vibot has remarked: “The concentration of people and bicycles exerts great pressure on the ways. Some have degraded faster than normal. “
The Council of Mallorca, responsible for events to mark the tenth anniversary, has been holding meetings with representatives of Tramuntana town halls to hear their concerns. One that has come over loud and clear – louder than most – has to do with the motorbikes.
Another is the “saturation” of hikers in some areas. An appeal from the Council for people to show responsibility so that there is a balance between enjoyment and conservation is all a bit wishy-washy. Mayors such as Escorca’s Toni Solivellas have been demanding more specific solutions and greater vigilance for some considerable time.
The Unesco declaration has certainly contributed to the promotional messages for the Tramuntana. The promotion has had its successes. It has highlighted aspects like hiking. But in seeking to make the touristic case for the mountains and mountain activities as an alternative to sun and beach and as a means of tackling seasonality, the Council of Mallorca and others have also succeeded in generating a problem. They wanted alternative tourists, and now they have got them, there can be too many of them.
The motorbikes, and I would stress that there are only some bikers who disturb the peace, are an issue that predate the declaration. The saturation of hikers and cyclists has followed the declaration, and it isn’t one, once Covid passes, that is about to go away.
The mountains are successful. Tomàs Vibot emphasizes the need to disseminate a respect for an environment where, for centuries, man and nature have found a balance. Indeed. But there again, if the essential is highlighted, people will come looking for it.