The Plaza del Mar is currently the epicentre of '4 Days Walking', a popular event which after a year's break has now returned to the town for its tenth edition with plenty of energy and a festive atmosphere. From early in the morning live music entertains the long queue of participants, most of whom have come from the Netherlands, although organiser Hans Wohl says that many more Spanish people are taking part this year. It seems that many people who longed to get out into the countryside when the lockdown finished still feel the same, a year later. Altogether, there are 1,950 participants from different parts of the world, keen to walk together. "Every year I wonder why people like doing this so much," says Hans. "But they are delighted to have been able to come, because Marbella is one of the first towns to hold this event," he says.
The atmosphere is very special. The groups arrive, some with tee-shirts designed ad hoc, others with flowers in their hats, flags, patches marking past achievements on their backpacks and, above all, great enthusiasm.
"People enjoy doing this. These are some of the best routes in the world because you can see the Old Town, the beach and the mountains," says Hans. For Jacob, who is also Dutch, this is his third year and he is delighted to be meeting the same people again, because many friendships are made on these walks.
Of course, the measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus must be complied with, so while they wait in the queue they have to wear a mask, although later, when they are walking at a safe distance in the open air, they can take them off. Other precautions are also in place, such as the staggered starting times.
Every participant receives a chip with their ID and a key cord at the start, and the chip is scanned at the checkpoints and at the end. Along the route, there are checkpoints every ten kilometres.
Altogether, these hikers will cover more than 170,000 kilometres. Also, 3,000 gladioli flowers will be presented to the participants on Sunday as a sign that they have completed the challenge, "just as the Romans used to give a branch to those who won, we give them gladioli for having conquered these walking routes," says Hans.
This year, its tenth, the organisation has joined the International Marching League (IML), which has brought them participants from other countries apart from the Netherlands and Spain. It has taken three years of work, with a pandemic in-between, to gain the votes in favour from inspectors of other hiking associations with a presence in Australia, Japan and the USA.
Now these walkers have the chance to add to their achievements and become European, Asian and international hikers as well.