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The Mujeres en las Veredas Association

You may not believe it, but Marbella is not all glitz and glam. In the folds of the Sierra Blanca Mountains that overlook the many urbanizations littering the coastline, Mujeres en las Veredas (Women of the Footpaths) have taken matters into their own hands. Brandishing shears and hoes they are working hard to clear the footpaths throughout the southern slopes.

By: Cecilia Bogaard

Environmental Association
Women of the Footpaths
Birth: 2008
Location: Marbella
Stands out for: altruistic work in support of the local environment

Marbella. The name brings to mind images of long rambling beaches, rolling waves and mountains covered in lush vegetation. What could be more normal than going for a walk and exploring the area? For those who haven’t heard (which means they probably haven’t read a newspaper or watched the news in the last twenty years!), Marbella is a town that has experienced a uniquely devastating amount of construction that has eaten away at the surroundings. The result: a landscape littered with urbanizations.

Overlooking the city, La Concha and the Sierra Blanca mountain range of which it is a part have been all but forgotten. Many of the paths that should be a dream for adventurous tourists have been abandoned, replaced by litter and overgrown vegetation that make it virtually impossible to enjoy a simple, everyday walk.

That’s where the Mujeres de las Veredas come into the picture. “For several years I was unable to explore the Sierra Blanca Mountains. I returned to find that the majority of the paths leading up from Marbella were closed, blocked by shrubs and bushes,” explains Dolores Navarro president of the association. “I tried to take some friends to hike the Sendero del Faro in the autumn of 2008, but it was impossible. That’s when we realized that with a little work and some tools we could unblock it ourselves,” she continues.

In the beginning it was just four women working in their spare time to open up the footpaths in order to be able to use them. “We were taking a break at the viewpoint one day after a long days work and we realized that as individuals there wasn’t much we could do to ameliorate the situation. We wanted all this hard work to pay off and so we founded the association,” explains Navarro. Mujeres en las Veredas was born.

Since then their small army has grown to include children and men in their ranks. Born in 1944, Navarro is the oldest on the team. Their youngest member is three. Numbers fluctuate depending on the season and you’ll often find foreign residents getting stuck in. They are all united in a common purpose: to signpost and clear the paths throughout the southern slopes of Sierra Blanca.

Ever since their first appearance in the press the Mujeres en las Veredas have ignited the imagination of residents in the area. When he heard them in an interview, the environmental town councillor of Marbella Antonio Espada offered to give them tools and signposts to help with their project. But is it enough? “Something is better than nothing,” she jokes.

The area itself is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Environment [1] of the Regional Government of Andalusia: “They don’t do anything to clean or maintain this part of the Sierra. We’ve written to them to tell them what we’re doing and what we’re planning to do. They haven’t even acknowledged our letters,” she complains. “We’re working and fighting in the hope that they’ll start to clean and signpost these footpaths. In the meantime, we’re enjoying what we do”.

So far they’ve managed to create a 5.5 km circular route that starts out in Puerto Rico, behind the Don Miguel Hotel that looms on the skyline. “It’s really hard work. It’s not just about going out and having a picnic in the countryside. It’s tough cleaning the landscape with shears. It’s exhausting on your arms, back and legs. What we really need is an electric strimmer. It would make life so much easier!”.

So, “what are their plans for the future?” you may ask. These Women of the Footpaths are editing a guidebook for the circular route they have cleared with information about flora and fauna in the vicinity. “We want to promote the footpath and educate people about wildlife on the slopes of Sierra Blanca,” insists Navarro. “People in Marbella [2] don’t realize the natural beauty they have around them. Even when they do, they often don’t know how to defend it,” she concludes.