Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Sanlucar and The Donana National Park

Sanlucar and The Donana National Park

Friday 22nd January 2016

We arrived at the Aire at Sanlucar de Barrameda yesterday about 5ish and soon settled in amongst about 100 other vans whose occupants were of a multitude of nationalities, but it seemed to be a cheerful and friendly place so we plan to stay for a few days (and it’s free!). Sanlucar is on the left bank of the mouth of The Guadalquivir River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean, and just on the boarder of the  massive Donana National Park, so we were fairly certain there would be plenty to keep us occupied for a while. 

The Aire is located right on the sea front with lovely sandy beaches and a long promenade with a cycle track that runs for a fair distance in each direction, and when we checked with the Tourist Info shop, they informed us that there were plenty of cycling opportunities in the vicinity.

So with the map that they had given us and with our usual  picnic lunch we set off to explore the Pine Forest of Algaida which is part of the Donana National Park.  However, we’d only been cycling for about 5 mins when we came across another bull ring, but this time a wooden one that dated from the 1900's.  It didn’t appear to be open to the public but as the gates stood ajar I took a chance and nipped in for a quick pic!

From here we continued to head towards the Pine Forest, but it turned out to be about 12 kms of cycling along dusty roads, first through fishing territory, and then through the agricultural colony of Monte Algaida.  Additionally, we come across some salt lagoons, but maybe the fantastic scenery of Ardales had spoiled us because what we saw here was a bit of a disappointment really.

Eventually we arrived in the pine forest where we found a designated concrete cycle track that went on for about 5kms, but again sadly the landscape remained uninspiring, and at the end there was nothing other than a picnic area that had seen better days.  But by now we'd cycled about 17kms so we stopped for lunch anyway, and while we ate we were treated to a flying display by several kites, who along with other birds such as vultures, black storks and flamingos call this area home.

We then had the pleasure of retracing our steps back to the T4rdis - it was an ok ride but really nothing to write home about.

Saturday 23rd January 2016.

Today we decided to visit one of the many ‘Sherry Makers’ in this area.  We chose Bodegas Barbadillo Manzanilla which advertised that they did ‘tours in English’ at 11am. The Bodega was across the town so we set off in good time and arrived a bit early, so to pass the time we thought we’d  nip across the road to have a look at the 15 century castle.  It was built  in 1478 to defend the town and the mouth of the Guadalquivir River, but since then it has also seen service as a military barracks, a prison and a hospital - but our visit was terminated because it was closed for renovations for the next 2 weeks!

We went back to the Bodega - but only to be informed that they needed at least 6 guests to conduct the tour - it didn’t seem to be our day.  However, they invited us to look around their museum while we waited it the hope that other visitors may arrive - but sadly none did.   Having said that the museum turned out to be really quite interesting - we now know a lot more about ‘sherry making and it’s different types’ than we did before, and because we felt compelled to buy some, we got our own private tasting session anyway!

In the end we settled for ‘Oloroso Seco’ which is dark and dry, and for me took a little bit of getting used to, and ‘Oloroso sweet’ which is more like the traditional sherries we haveto in England - but much nicer!

The corking process for these fine wines particularly amused us.  We read that ‘having been soaked in wine the cork was then ‘chewed’ to adapt it to the neck of the bottle…. and then it is beaten repeatedly with a thin supple bar until it ‘saw scene’ and got itself into it’s final resting place’

When we opened the bottles we checked the cork for teeth marks but we didn't find any on ours!

After our Bodega visit we wandered back through the indoor market that sold every kind of vegetable and fruit you could imagine, along with a huge array of meat and fish.  However, it was absolutely heaving, so we didn’t linger long (definitely not John’s cup of tea), but we did manage to buy something that I originally thought was tuna, but when we ate it I changed my mind - it was very nice but we couldn't put a name to it!  

After all that hussel and bussel it was back to the T4rdis for a welcome cuppa, and later, we wandered along the seafront and partook of a late lunch at one of the cafes with the lapping water just a few metres from our table.  And later still we sat and sunned ourselves back at the Aire - an occupation many people seem to spend most of the day participating in!

Sunday 24th January 2016

Today was another cycling day, and we were keeping our fingers very firmly crossed in the hope that it would turn out better than Friday.  We set off and headed for the Camino Natural Via Verde which is an old converted railway line that now provides a  multi use path that starts just outside Sanlucar and terminates in the coastal town of Rota which also happens to be a naval base - however, we didn’t quite make it that far. 

The path mostly traverses through agricultural land where you could see numerous crops of vegetables, fruit and flowers, but almost immediately we found it to be much more pleasant than our previous ride.  We stopped off at the town of Chipiona  where we found another lovely promenade fronting the Atlantic, and also another parking area where motorhomes had staked their claim for ‘parking’ with lovely sea views - we did consider moving the T4rdis but as we planned to move further down the coast on Monday we decided to stay put for the time being.  

Following our coffee break we rejoined the Via Verde and continued on towards Rota, but we had already decided that it would be too far to go all the way today, so John had a look at the map and identified the little village of Costaballena as a good lunch stop.  And it was a little gem!  We followed a paved path along the sea front and found a bench that overlooked the foaming crashing Atlantic - it was very good to be back by a ‘proper’ ocean rather than just a ‘Pond’ (The Med)!  We sat in the hot sunshine and enjoyed our lunch while watching the antics of the sea and surfers.

Then, after retracing our steps, I cooked a ‘proper’ Sunday tea which we ate along with a glass of ‘dry’ sherry - very unusual!

Monday 25th January 2016

Today we've moved on to El Rocio a very unique place! It's roads are covered in sand, (and rumour has it, that this covering is renewed every night), and everywhere you look there are hitching posts for the horses (of which there are many),  Additionally, there were numerous eateries and bars, but all of the establishments were of a character that blended in with the ‘era’ and ‘quaintness’ of the village. We parked up opposite a huge lake - Charco de la Boca - where all manner of wading and ‘floating’ birds can be seen, and when we arrived we were charged the grand sum of 1 euro - and told it’s ok to stay the night! (so I think we’ll stay 2 at least)

Our View from the Cab Window
We had a late lunch, or was it an early tea! and then went for a wander around the unique village.  The Ermita de Nuestra Senora del Rocio,  is the first thing that stops you in your tracks, and the doors are always open to welcome visitors, many of which were snapping away with their cameras even though the signs said not to!

An illegal photo!

And we quickly learnt that this building is very closely associated with El Rocio's main claim to fame. Each year, 50 days after Easter, more than a million people make a pilgrimage to the shrine of La Blanca Paloma in the church.  Apparently, the most traditional way of making the pilgrimage is on horseback or in a horse drawn cart, and they come wearing traditional costumes such as riding gear or flamenco dresses.  Many make 'camps' and stage parties around bonfires, singing and dancing until the early hours, thus providing a 'fiesta' atmosphere.  But the main event takes place at the end of the celebrations - the 'Salto de la Verja' or 'jumping the fence'.  This is when the people scale the altar railings to bring the statue of the Virgin our of her Shrine and parade her around the village on Monday morning.  

Later, we walked along the ‘paseo’ (walk way) that is just in front of the Charco de la Boca (lake) where the T4rdis is parked. From here we could easily spot ducks, geese, flamingos, spoonbills, avocets and many other birds that we couldn't put a name to, but what we didn’t expect to see was a herd of horses that sauntered through the shallows nibbling at the grasses as they went - it was just breathtaking!

Finally, we retired to the T4rdis but even then there was still more to see as by now, dusk was just falling.   The horses that we'd seen earlier galloped by on the lake side, and then as the church bells started to ring myriads of bats seemed to be  evacuated from their ‘belfry’ and we were able to watch them swooping and dancing in the air as they collected their supper.  

Tuesday 26th January 2016

This morning we set out to follow The Charco de la Boca trail that starts at the La Rocina visitor centre - just a short walk from where we were parked. It's a board walk of about 3.5 kilometres that follows the left bank of the Rocina and offers five bird hides for viewing the wildlife as the path winds it's way through a pine forest. As we walked we were informed by one of the many sign boards that the pines are one of the most important vegetation's in the Donana park, and that their apperance in the area occurred due to reforestation in the 18th century near the Guadalquivir's river mouth in order to provide wood for the royal navy for ship building. From there the trees spread rapidly and eventually were exploited to provide income from the harvesting of pine kernels - the trees are selectively pruned to yield a harvest each year, but even then the kernels take 3 years to ripen before they can be used.

Now, John and I are not really what you'd call 'twit-chers' but we spent several hours watching the fantastic array of all sorts of birds, both in and out of the water. We were treated to flight displays by herons, flamingos and storks, and their acrobatic abilities as they spiralled up on air currents were fantastic to see. And then, at times, we were amused by their somewhat clumsy and ungainly landings as they appeared to try to walk on the water before they touched down properly. For anybody who is seriously into bird watching this would prove to be heaven!

We were also fascinated to spot Storks preparing their nests for the breading season. Now, fairy tales would have it that storks find babies under gooseberry bushes, however they certainly don't have their own babies anywhere near the ground! In nearly every pylon we saw there were nests with a pair of strokes in it squawking and calling to each other, and in the one on the left there were 3 - oh well it'll be handy for babysitting!

Finally, I just need to impart a little bit of wisdom to the ladies that I learnt the had way! It's quite important that you don't need to use the bushes for a delicate purpose, if you do the indigenous insects are quite likely to bite you on the bum!

After our walk it was back to the T4rdis for tea, and then in the evening we walked in the opposite direction to yesterday and had the privilege of seeing the birds on the lake as the sun set over the horizon.

Wednesday 27th January 2016

This morning we're going to move onto Camping La Aldea so that we have internet access to post the blog and so that we can service the T4rdis properly after our last 2 nights 'wild camping.' However, before we left we had one more wander along the 'paseo' in front of the van and were lucky enough to get chatting to a young lady who works for the Spanish equivalent of the RSPB. She had with her a telescope which she invited us to use to spot the 'The Red Knobbed Coot' which is apparently a very rare specimen, and one that she was very excited about seeing. We both looked, but later admitted to each other that we'd missed the main event, but we did have the pleasure of looking close up at the many other varieties of birds on offer.  

Anyway, we ended up staying put until after lunch, but then, because our 'facilities' had been stretched to their full capacity we were forced to move. The site was just a kilometre down the road so it didn't take us long to get there, and we are now settled amongst quite a few other European vans, many of which are English so we have spent the afternoon chatting and blogging and planning our ongoing journey.

Click here to see our Spanish Camping Spots