18th March 2017. El Rocio, Spain.

I dragged my weary body out of bed, Darren was bright and breezy having slept very well, lucky devil.

Our plan for today had been to check out El Rocio and stay another night but I was feeling rather sleep deprived so we changed our plan to a walk round the nature reserve and then a look round El Rocio before moving further up the country to Almonaster La Real.

It was already feeling very hot even though it was reasonably early.  We walked out of town and hoped we were going towards  the visitor centre.  We passed an expanse of water where horses were grazing on little grassy islands and there were two large flocks of flamingos squabbling noisily, I wish I’d taken that opportunity to take a photo of them because they’d gone by the time we came back.

The nature reserve was an oasis of calm.  It was wonderful.  We kept ourselves amused wandering around spotting lizards as they scurried off the boardwalk, usually before I could focus my camera on them.  I also tried to catch the birds of prey which kept flying past but to no avail so I was thrilled when Darren pointed out a big fat beetle plodding along the board walk towards us we figured I’d have plenty of time to focus on him as he was walking so slowly however no such luck, as I raised my camera to my eye he disappeared from view as he fell down a gap in the board walk!  I didn’t see that one coming!

As we walked past a couple of people sitting on a bench we noticed they had a bird book written in English and assuming they were bird enthusiasts we asked them if they could tell us what type of raptors we were looking at.  they just laughed because they had no more idea than we had.  We did have a nice chat though and discover they lived not far from my parents in the Ashdown Forest.  He was surprised and confused when I asked him whether he played the guitar until I pointed out that I’d noticed his nails, long on his right hand and short on his left.  He told me that he and his wife play in a folk band.  We do meet some interesting people as we’re travelling around.

We bumped into them again later while Darren was holding up traffic on the board walk taking photos of a lizard who seemed to be enjoying the attention!  While we were talking to them another British couple came up and joined us for a short chat too.

It turns out there were more hides in the nature reserve than we’d appreciated and 3 and a half hours later we finally left.  I could have stayed far longer but we could hear the call of a cold drink as the day was getting hotter and hotter.

The walk back to town was full of interesting things to see, as we were admiring the view we suddenly heard jingling bells and looked towards the sound along the dirt track that ran along beneath us where to our amazement we saw horses, with bells on their halters, pulling two covered wagons coming towards us .  Riding along in front of them was a man riding a horse side saddle, we were very excited, that’s not a sight you see every day.  It took a while for them to pass as the horses ambled along and we called out “Hola!”to the horse rider who waved back at us.

When they had disappeared from sight we returned to looking at the wetlands in front of us.  The view from the road back to the town was intoxicating, the huge white church was reflected in the blue water and a carpet of yellow wild flowers covered  the edges of the wetlands, horses grazed peacefully on small islands and in the water way behind them flamingos paddled in the water feeding whilst swallows swooped over the landscape squealing.   As we stood looking at the horses two of the birds landed on the phone line and I actually managed to get some decent photos of them and to make my day a couple of them landed on the ground long enough for me to photograph them.  It was great to be able to look at the photos afterwards, the swallows were so colourful and they  were completely different from those that I’ve seen at home.

We eventually came to El Rocio, it was hard work walking along the sandy street then we noticed people walking along a pavement which ran along one side of the town.  As we followed that we took in the sights, there were stands where horses were tethered waiting to take out customers for a ride around the town.  There were some tiny ponies which were very cute we saw them taking small children out a little while later.  Along beside the water large groups of swallows (?) were swooping into the iris covered banks where they were collecting mud from the waters edge and flying swiftly away.

As we turned back into the town we saw a group of horses tied to hitching posts while their owners sat in the restaurant eating lunch, further along 2 cowboys and a cowgirl sat on their horses while they chatted and drank beer.  It was a surreal sight.

By the time we got back to the main square the heat had definitely got the better of us so we found a bar where we sat and had a cold drink and tapas and watched people riding past in various horse drawn vehicles.  We were intrigued to see a man coming out a shop opposite with a big bag FULL of long candles, he disappeared into the church across the street and not long afterwards people came out carrying bunches of them and went into a building opposite.  When we’d finished eating we went over to see what was in there, there were racks and racks of burning candles, it looked beautiful.

As we made our way back to the van we had a look out for the spire that we’d seen gleaming as we’d walked in, we eventually found it, we had assumed it was made of copper but as we got closer we realised it was actually made from glazed tiles and the sun was reflecting off those.

It was lovely to be able to put the air conditioning on in the van, we haven’t had to do that very much over the last 9 months, we’re wimps when it comes to the heat so it looks like we’re leaving Spain at the right time and heading to cooler climes!

We drove through some beautiful countryside up into the mountains to Almonaster La Real.  We couldn’t believe our luck when we pulled into the car park that we were going to be staying in.  There was only 1 coach at the entrance, the rest of the large car park was empty and we were able to park facing over the valley to the mosque and bullring that were perched on top of the hill.  Superb.

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