THE BIG BIRTHDAY TRIP 2016 travel blog

Lunch spot near Calahondres

Lunch spot near Calahondres

Beach at Matalascanas

Boardwalk at Matalascanas

El Rocio

El Rocio

El Rocio

El Rocio

El Rocio

El Rocio

Inside Church El Rocio

El Rocio

El Rocio Flamingoes

Palacio del Acebron

Palacio del Acebron

Swallows nesting in palace eaves

Palacio del Acebron

Palacio del Acebron nearest to seeing a lynx supposedly National Park

walk around palace

Packed Church at El Rocio on a Sunday

El Rocio on a Sunday

El Rocio on a Sunday

El Rocio on a Sunday

El Rocio on a Sunday

Many lit candles

Touching the Virgen des Rocio statue

Horses tied up outside house

Sandy road of El Rocio

Caravan being towed by tractor


The beauty of being in a motorhome is that plans can change. In my last diary entry I said that my next entry we will be in Portugal. Sorry, but we are still in Spain!! The reason being is we did a stop off at El Rocio. More about this crazy town later on but lets start from where we left off.

We left Los Escullos nice and early with intentions of getting as far along the southern coast as we could but with no real plan of where we would stop. We didn’t get far. We were stopped by a Police speed trap accused of doing 78km in a 50km zone. Well you don’t argue with the Police do you and we were fined 150 Euros on the spot. Interestingly enough their card machine wasn’t working so we had to pay cash, we did get an official looking receipt. As it turned out this was a blessing in disguise. As the officer pulled us over he pointed to the front driver’s tyre which was looking a bit flat. John changed the tyre whilst I put on my most pleading, attractive smile to try and persuade the nice policeman to let us off as our day was already bad with the tyre. I knew I was out of luck as he was talking into his walkie talkie checking our number plate. We found a screw embedded into the tyre and had we not been stopped we could have had a blow out on the motorway which may have not had such a happy ending as a 150 Euro fine!! We stopped at the next town and found a tyre place and the guy not only repaired the tyre but swapped it back over again with the spare all for 10 Euros (15 times speeding fines)!! So we continued along our way using the motorway to bypass Almeria and the sea of plastic greenhouses and eventually got back on the scenic coastal road. Our stop for lunch was a lovely picnic spot close to Calahonda near Motril. We passed through places familiar to us from last year, Nerja, Torre de Mar and eventually took the coast road past the port of Malaga. Probably a mistake, the road was a bit stop-start with lots of traffic and traffic lights. By now, we were both feeling a bit tired and we managed to get back on motorway to quicken the journey. We spent the night in a large Aire (car park) at Cala de Mijas. As we were parking up we were kindly warned by an English lady to park somewhere else. Unbeknown to us was a golf course and a golf ball had hit the side window of a Dutch vehicle smashing the glass and had then bounced onto their van causing a small dent. We were grateful to her for warning us. Sounds like the sort of golf I might be playing!!

We then continued along very familiar road to Algerciras and turned off onto the road to Seville. Another familiar road to us as we passed the turning to Alcala de Los Gazules where we spent last Easter. We pulled off the main road and drove a while along a service road stopping to have a coffee. By now we had decided the town of El Rocio might be interesting and we would stop there. Along the service road we had passed a lad fully laden with saddlebags and a guitar in a case cycling along this path. Whilst we were stopped for coffee he caught up with us and he stopped for a chat, he was English and had just come back from Morocco. We offered his a coffee and found out about his past travels and his plans. He was heading for Seville via Jerez. He was going to cycle the 40km to Jerez and then catch a train. We would have given him a lift but we just did not have room for his bike and luggage. He was grateful though for the coffee and chocolate. By mid April he had to be in Monaco as he and a friend every year during the summer worked in a bar. He fly there from the nearest airport he found himself to. Sadly, I didn’t take a photo of him but I did find out his name…………….Django!!!! Yes he was certainly unchained and had heard all the jokes!! Although we didn’t know it at the time, his name was very apt for where we were heading.

The town of El Rocio is off the main Seville to Portugal road about 30km south of Almonte. You can wild camp but we chose to stay at the campsite. The town looks like something out of a wild west film. The roads are just sand, you can drive along the road but our cycles got stuck in the thick sand. The houses all frontier style with verandas and somewhere to tie your horse. There were signs of people on horseback and wagons galore. Most of the houses belong to the Hermandades (brotherhood) about 90 of them in all. The main part of the town is the Ermita del Rocio a large church alongside a lake/marismas. This is a great place to spot birds and wildlife. We saw many Flamingoes, Herons, Egrets and Spoonbills. The town was fairly quiet but we were told it all kicks off on a Sunday, so of course being curious, we stayed longer than planned.

We took the opportunity to cycle the 15 km to the beach at Matalanscanas. A 30km stretch of Atlantic beach set in the National Park of Donana. We were able to cycle along a promenade stretch of it for about 2 miles. The beach was pretty empty and we enjoyed our picnic lunch in the warm sunshine soaking up the atmosphere. We then walked along a tree lined boardwalk before cycling back. Now cycling 15km on flat roads is okay but cycling the same distance with a gusty wind against you on the way back was hard work and we were pleased to get back to the van.

We also visited the nearby Palacio de Acebron, a large palatial house built in the 60’s but when the owner died, it was left abandoned for a few years. The house and gardens have been restored with an exhibition on the history of the area and the life of the workers. There is also a 1.5km boardwalk around the gardens with its cork trees and charcoal making mounds.

However the highlight of our stay was on Sunday. What a difference a day can make. We walked into town and to the church square. This time it was amass with people, horses and wagons. The majority were dressed in riding gear, some more posing than others. Each Sunday Hermandes take it in turns to parade their banners and baskets of flowers along to the main church and then the surrounding chapels. They parade to the sound of drum beats and flutes. Inside the main church was packed and the balcony at the back had a group of musicians and singers singing “Happy Clappy” Spanish style in between sermons. Many of the visitors purchased very long candles and queued at a nearby chapel to touch a statue of the Virgen del Rocio with the candle and then light it. There were so many lit candles in this building that the outside was blackened from the soot. Inside it was very hot and smoky. Whilst we stood there the gates to the chapel were closed to stop people coming in and the candles were put out, presumably it was becoming a fire hazard.

Outside the main church and the candle chapel they were selling lottery tickets. Where better to wish for a miracle!! The church also had a bar and a gift shop. Many of the families were picnicking in the shade or in the large yards of some of their homes. They had come either by car, coach, horse and cart or in some cases gypsy style homes towed in on tractors. Apparently each Sunday this happens but is small scale to The Romeria del Rocio which happens every Pentecost (7th weekend after Easter,) where the town accommodates half a million visitors who arrive in brightly coloured wagons and dress in Spanish costume to celebrate and pay their respects to the Virgen del Rocio. We were told the campsite charges 80 Euros a night during this weekend!! I think we got a good taste of the event on the Sunday and would prefer to avoid the crowds, but it must be an amazing sight to see.

We left El Rocio on the Monday and continued along the coast road towards Huelva. We had read that close to a monastery was a museum which held replicas of Columbus’ three ships, the Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina. What we didn’t read was that it closed on Mondays!! We could just about see the ships from the outside. Another time.

Well that’s about it and we really have headed to Portugal, having been to one of the weirdest places in Europe and also the hottest weather we have had since we have been away. See you in Portugal, weather forecast not so good.



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