Tuesday 5th February 2019. After successfully purchasing the new fresh water pump in Ayamonte we headed for El Rocío which Chris & Fred had said was a “must visit” place. The fitting of the pump will be a job when we get home as Steve will need too many tools which we don’t carry with us and a bit of carpentry. The submersible is working well enough to get bye for the rest of this trip.
We arrived at El Rocío after 237km at about 5pm and turned off the road towards the coordinates they had given to us. It was very strange very wide streets but no tarmac in sight, just sandy, dirt! We took a left and what a strange sight, we had been transported to the old wild west, not the modern wild west as we had found during our trip to America and towns like Cody & Flagstaff which had been modernised, this was original with verandaed buildings with hitching posts outside and people on horseback and the odd Mule pulling a buggy. The bars even had high level shelf like tables so people could have a beer without getting off their horse. Had we been transported back in time? Then a car trundled slowly past us, then another. It was odd, very odd. We found our way back to the tarmac road and found a few motorhomes parked next to the wooden Police office. At least is was called police, not Sheriffs office! We parked up but before setting off on foot to explore we grabbed the guide book to find out a bit of history first. (GPS N37.133881, W6.489624)
El Rocío is actually a very religious town and the destination for an annual pilgrimage in May called “The Romería del Rocío”, when a million or more people from all over Spain and beyond converge on the town on horseback, in brightly covered wagons, cars, tractors and whatever. to worship a statue of “La Blanca Paloma” (White Dove). Ninety or so hermandades (brotherhoods) who own most of the the streets upon streets of fairly similar houses fight in a fairly good natured way for the honour of carrying the statue round to each of the hermandad buildings. This all obviously culminates in a massive festival with music and flamenco dancing.
There were a number of outfitters for traditional male & female Spanish costumes in the town and a shop selling all the riding gear and even a carriage if you wanted, plus of course many shops selling all the religious paraphernalia and other usual tourist tat.
We spent a couple of hours wandering around the town just soaking up the atmosphere and looking around the church with the magnificent centrepiece containing the statue of “La Blanca Paloma” although it was very quiet we got the impression that it would get much livelier at the weekend so after a quiet night and another walk around next morning we decided that we would move to explore the surrounding area until the weekend.
El Rocío is at the north west corner of an enormous National park & Nature Reserve the “Parque Nacional de Doñana” the eastern side of which can only be entered on guided trips in large four wheel drive coaches so as to protect the delicate floura & fauna. We headed to Almonte 25km on the extremely bumpy road and found a large car park to stay for the night as far east along the coast as you can go. (GPS N36.98922,W6.52243). From there we had a really nice walk on a very good board walk to the sea then along the prom into the town.
On Thursday we drove back to Almonte then north a few miles to one of the visitor centres for the park which had 8km of board walks and many beautifully constructed bird watching hides where we had the opportunity to try out the new spotting telescope we had bought in Lidl in Portugal. Unfortunately a school party came in shortly after us producing the racket kids usually make and most of the birds had taken fright but we did manage to see some interesting water birds one we identified from a notice board as the Common Pochard which was black & white with a beautiful rust coloured head and an enormous Stork which kept trying to hide behind bushes but both were about a 100 meters away at the other side of the lake, so the telescope was great bringing them right in to see properly. We spent the evening at Mazagon which was 40km along the coast but had little other than a very new marina, the car park of a restaurant closed for the winter was our night’s stop with a few other motorhomes (GPS N37.13129, W6.82505).
Friday 7th February 2019. We arrived back at El Rocío at about midday and found a space at the camper parking next to the police office. The town was a little livelier than before which suggested we might have a good weekend and by the evening there were many cars pouring into the town and families partying on their verandas until the early hours. There were also a few people “promenading” on their horses or small horse-drawn carts.
Saturday morning saw a constant stream of cars and coaches so we wandered into the town at about 11am. The long car park which they only charge €1 for all day, was heaving as was the centre part of the town around the church. Pony rides for the kids and carriage rides for the families were on offer and horses and buggies were again promenading constantly.
Opposite the church was a small building in which there were thousands of candles burning and a bronze statue of “La Blanca Paloma” blackened with the smoke from the candles over the years except for the shiny hands which had inevitably been touched by thousands over the years, for luck. At night the candles were quite a site, twinkling in the dark building.
We wandered around all day just soaking up the incredible atmosphere and sat in the square for lunch.
In the evening the merriment continued and there were a number of the different Hermandades Brotherhoods parading to the church in columns carrying their colours led by drummers who interestingly were playing a flute with one hand while drumming with the other.
On Sunday we walked into the town at about 11am but not much was going on, maybe because it was a church day, maybe they were all sleeping it off after yesterdays merriment so we decided to move on, but a definite place to return to. We had really enjoyed the town, probably one of the most different places we have been so far.
So, onwards towards Seville. Till next time …..