Posted by: yachtcrewsing | February 6, 2012

A Hike with the Hash House Harriers

   “Welcome everyone to our 550th hash, which means, provided you can do the math, that we have been doing this biweekly since about 1991!”

   The crowd of approximately 50 athletically-clothed individuals, ranging from around age 7 to 70, erupted into wild cheering at this statement by the grey haired man known here as  ‘Goldilocks.’  

   Welcome to the Antigua chapter of the Hash House Harriers, a worldwide non-competitive running and hiking club where strange nicknames are insisted upon, activities are governed by an extensive ‘Bible’ rulebook and fun is the ultimate goal.

   “All of the new people introduce yourself and tell us where you’re from!”

   There were two ladies from Antigua, ‘Chief Long Pole’ from Ascension Island (“show us how long your pole is” a lady yelled) and us- a Canadian and a Welsh joining the diverse group of expats and locals.

   With these formalities completed, the rules were explained. For those who have never participated in ‘Hashing,’ the concept is based on the format of a fox hunt. The ‘foxes’ (two volunteer members) set the two trails the day before- one for walkers and the other for runners. The ‘scent’ is denoted by piles of finely shredded paper scattered on the ground. A large dot with a circle around it symbolizes a point of divergence where any number of paths branch out. To find the correct trail, the group must scatter to check on these various paths- 2 circles of paper spaced about 5 meters apart followed by an ‘X’ means that it is the wrong way, while 3 consecutive circles denotes the correct trail.

   With that knowledge secured in our minds, the host blew his whimsical rams horn and we, the Hounds, set off either at a sprinting run or a fair amble.

   The entire hike was a veritable treasure hunt of discovering new territory on the island, replete with shouts of “this way!,” talking to many different members of the HHH group, and walking through residential areas, beside the sea, clambering along sandstone cliffs and up tall hills. It was a profoundly delightful voyage of discovery and camaraderie.

   The sun was low in the sky by the time we had all found our way back to the meeting point, the runners having completed around six miles (not accounting for wrong paths) and we have clambered a little over two.

   What I thought was the end of a wonderful afternoon was only the beginning.

   In our absence, a large taxi bus had parked and set up a makeshift bar out of the van’s insides. A lady with whom I had been walking began selling cakes out of a basket, while another woman brought out three thermos bags of still-warm roti. Everyone mingled, enjoying a beer and a roti while greeting us newcomers and eagerly chatting with the older members. “I have been doing this every second week without fail since 1994” a slightly more elderly man happily shared with us. “We even held one right before Hurricane Luis in 1995!”

   When the ram’s horn demanded silence once again, it was declared that it was time for the religious portion of the event. Thus, I was surprised when we four new members were given a drink (Antiguan rum punch) and made to kneel before the female, black-robed ‘priest’ for a hilariously unorthodox ritual. While the members formed a circle around us singing a cross between a sea shanty and limerick, we were made to down our drink before the completion of the song or else told to pour the remaining liquid onto our heads.  

   Undoubtedly, this will go down in my individual history as the first time I have been simultaneously initiated by both a 7-year old and a 70-year old.  

   With the sun setting on us in the middle of a field in Eastern Antigua, listening to pop music out of the trunk of a Land Rover, drinking beers from a taxi/bar and sharing stories with amazing and wonderful people, I vowed to myself that this would not be the last encounter with this multi-country organization that is delightfully self-described as “a drinking club with a running problem.”

Note:

   There are over 1,900 Hash House Harrier groups in just under 200 countries. If you are interested in participating in one of their “hashes” you can get the contact information for your regional chapter at http://www.gthhh.com/ and find the location and date of their next hike/run.

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