Crusties and Cowboys

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December 2nd 2008
Published: December 3rd 2008
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El Rocio

Chinchon, Near AranjuezChinchon, Near AranjuezChinchon, Near Aranjuez

The Plaza was used as a bull ring.
December 1st 2008
Three months off work. Seems like a lifetime ago now.
November seems to have gone very fast. The warm weather seems to have gone the same way as November too. It surprises me how wintery it has been here the last few weeks.

After Villagordo Del Cabriel ( Kiko Park Rural) we moved to Camping Internacional Aranjuez for a stay of what turned out to be a week and a day. Aranjuez sits just south of Madrid and it is the site of one of the royal palaces of the Spanish monarchs. The intention was to explore Aranjuez, Madrid and Toledo whilst there but we only managed the first two but we had a quick visit to look at Chinchon’s picturesque plaza.

Aranjuez was a confusing little place to find your way around. A latticework of criss-cross blocks, all looking similar and badly labelled. It is crossed by the blue green river Tajo which winds its way around the Royal Palace and our campsite. Across the river from the site were the Principe gardens which we strolled through one afternoon.

On two days we got the “Cercanias” trains from Aranjuez to Madrid Atocha Station (site
The prado museumThe prado museumThe prado museum

Getting a bit of culture!
of the Madrid Bombings in 2004) We spent a very pleasant Sunday afternoon at the Prado Museum overdosing on the vast collection of old masters that it contains. Mid-week we returned to explore further but in my opinion ( for what its worth) the city lacked any great beauty. It had some charming buildings but seemed a bit shabby around some of its more famous bits. The Plaza Mayor was definitely a let down and looked like it needed a good wash and some fresh paint. The Puerto del Sol was scruffy but being restored but we felt decidedly uneasy there as there were scores of dodgy shady youths milling around , some of whom were being frisked and arrested by the police. The Royal Palace is grand in a regal grey way but It left me cold in more ways than one. .....

Madrid and its surrounding area were freezing, literally! After a few hours walking we were chilled to the bone and grateful for the warmth of the train returning to Aranjuez.

On some sunny frosty afternoons we cycled around the outskirts of Aranjuez. One particular ill fated trip involved getting half way round a
Its freezin'.Its freezin'.Its freezin'.

Royal Palace Madrid.
route and M getting a flat tyre. He’d not brought the pump, so we walked all the way back, changed the inner-tube and set off again only to get lost on some dusty track through derelict land below a housing estate. A group of young lads approached and were amused by our presence and our Englishness. We asked if this was the way to the camping and although they tried to be helpful they ended up confusing us further . We kept on down the track and just as we were thinking “this is really not a good idea” it emerged just up the road from the site!

The site itself was interesting. At this time of year it seems to survive on people staying for just a few nights as they traverse the country on their way to (hopefully) warmer locations. Each night we would watch the arrivals and see them move out the next day.

A few Spanish campers came in on Saturday night to stay in their caravans, permanently pitched on some of the site. This created a noisier ambience, not least from the group of Spanish Scouts who decided to camp in dilapidated tents about 20 m from us. They made typical teenage lad noise till about 1 am , the freezing temperatures not seeming to dampen their enthusiasm, at one point they knocked on our van window and exchanged a brief friendly chat to M through the pane. Their spokesman must have been trying to earn his foreign language badge or something as he spoke pretty good English and seemed delighted we responded! In the morning all was very quiet round their tents and two of them had decided to sleep outside their tents in their sleeping bags !!! I worried they might have been hypothermic after the sub zero temperature of the night but the surfaced a few hours later and seemed to have survived.

Other temporary neighbours that night arrived in their "shed" of a silver sprayed VW camper with the skull and crossbones motif. I thought we had a couple of "crusty hippies" moving in. They pitched up and began to play loud didgeridoo music and the chap lit a fire stick and started twirling it in the night air to the rhythm of the “doo”. Yes ...definitely crusties. I sneaked a few photos from the sanctuary of our ‘van. Getting into his flow after dropping his flaming wand a few times he danced and gyrated to the hypnotic sounds only to be rudely interrupted by a site official telling him !no luz! (put your lights out!)
Interesting herbal smells drifted across the camp the next morning. We exchanged good morning with the “crusties” and expressed our concern about the comatose scouts. Later that afternoon Mr VW knocked on our ‘van. Could I help them with the site computer as they couldn’t understand the Spanish Windows? Warning them that my Spanish was basic to say the least, I played the good neighbour. They had gotten into a pickle trying to download a digital site-guide onto their Garmin Sat Nav via a bloody awful p.c. in the site reception. Needless to say I couldn’t help but offered the use of our laptop to try to re-download it. Two hours later in our caravan they were still trying and despite “International IT support to the masses” from Tom we failed .

They were not really crusties but nice couple from London, an ex-teacher and a scaffolder on their first tour abroad. Somewhat ill prepared but full of enthusiasm they were heading next for Murcia. No heating, in a tiny VW, I did not envy them the next few months. Later they bought us a few drinks in the bar to thank us for our efforts and we stared in horror at the TV as reports of snow storms and floods north of Madrid flashed across the screen!

Other neighbours were somewhat more dubious. A group of about 6 very smart caravans, awnings and very expensive luxury 4X4s were pitched across the way. We suspected they were an extended family of Travellers. Their cars were Dutch registered . The Patriarch of the family would take a stroll round the site every so often and very politely say hello and exchange pleasantries. One day a lorry arrived on site and the whole clan emerged, unloaded masses of boxes out of it and stacked them in their awnings. We called them the “Dutch Mafia” and the “Godfather”. To be fair, they did not cause any trouble or noise and kept themselves to themselves and they seemed to be the only people braving out the cold and staying long term, they were still there when we left.

And the weather really did get cold . We turned up the night heating and snuggled up in bed under quilts and extra fleece blankets. The night before we left it must have been -5 or -6 in the night as the car’s temperature monitor showed -4 at 9 am! We had to pour hot water from a bucket to defrost the ground around our step to get it off the frozen ground to stow it before leaving! The cold water taps on site had all frozen up.

We decided enough was enough and forgot about Toledo, we needed to get somewhere warmer.

During this week our compensation for our IceSave losses came through and we spent a frustrating day or two finding out we really had limited choices about re-investing it until we returned to the UK. Anyway, it’s now safely(?) in our hands and hopefully earning for us again, albeit at less than ideal interest rates.

We towed down to a site at Villafranca De Cordoba just east of Cordoba city and stayed two nights which broke our journey and allowed us to visit Cordoba’s historic old town and the splendidly unique Mezquita (a Moorish Mosque reclaimed and converted to a Catholic Cathedral).

We also saw the Alcazar and Roman Bridge and had a stroll round the atmospheric streets.

Back on site we were invited round for a drink by a Brit couple . They were in a massive bus like motor-home that was loppy inside and stunk of fags and dog. They did nothing but moan about how bad the weather was and the problems that they had and how they were disappointed with this and that. I don’t think they really were interested in us at all as they just went on and on talking about themselves. We sat with fixed polite smiles thinking “let me out of here”. Unfortunately they have followed us to our present site at El Rocio. They spotted us today. Hope they don’t expect a return invite!

Camping La Aldea -El Rocio, south-east of Huelva in Andalucia. We have had to pay full price here and God it’s expensive. 25 euro a night and it doesn’t even have heating in the toilet block! We need to get an ACSI card urgently to get more discounts.

It’s warmer than Madrid but there was a cold wind today and we needed thick fleeces and a gilet to keep warm outside when we cycled to the adjacent town of El Rocio.

Where do you start to describe El Rocio. It’s seriously strange. Really really strange.

Today it was like visiting the abandoned film set of a spaghetti western. No proper roads just sand tracks for streets. Empty houses and the odd person on horseback trotting down the back alleys. Every house has a verandah out front with a hitching rail for horses .

4x4 vehicles are necessary to negotiate the roads as they are rutted and potholed. A battered pick up rolled past us with about 6 greyhounds trotting behind, tongues trailing . The town sits on the edge of the Donana national park and one of the creeks sits alongside the town.

The town’s sole reason for existence is the presence of its Church and the cult status of its revered virgin.

Empty for most of the year, it’s a ghost town and you fully expect the tumble-weed to blow across the dusty streets.

But at Pentecost in May - June, it receives over 1 million pilgrims
Whisky barman!Whisky barman!Whisky barman!

El Rocio watering hole.
in the space of 3 days to participate in the rituals of the Church and the procession of the scary looking Virgin statue around the town.

People travel on foot, horseback or in horse/ ox- drawn carts and wagons from all over Spain and the world. Dressed in their finest flamenco style. When they arrive, the party lasts 3 days. Organised by the religious “brotherhoods” of El Rocio which has branches in just about every Spanish (and many other country’s) cities. Each brotherhood owns a large house or property in the town.

Lesser festivals and events are organised by the brotherhoods through the year and most Sundays there are processions of carriages and horses . We missed the event yesterday (Sunday 1st), something to do with Advent but when we went in the church to see the Virgin in her splendid Baroque style bower she was surrounded by sumptuous arrangements of fresh flowers each with the sash of a brotherhood to identify its origin.

Cycling around the town we came across an area of common grazing with cattle and horses and a dead , bloated white camel that looked like it was ready to explode!

I told you it was seriously strange.

Additional photos below
Photos: 12, Displayed: 12


The famous "Our Lady of El Rocio"The famous "Our Lady of El Rocio"
The famous "Our Lady of El Rocio"

I tried to take other photos but they all ended up corrupted ..Spooky!

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