Spain - Chris' 70th Birthday in Casarabonela

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December 17th 2016
Published: December 17th 2016
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Chris’ Birthday – Virgen de los Rondeles, Casarabonela, Spain

Arrived in Gatwick from USA 10.30am, and after a change over of suitcases, from cruise luggage, to hand luggage at the IBIS hotel, and also a change of Terminal from South to North, we caught the 16.45 flight to Malaga. Quick overnight stay in the house before driving the 35 minutes to Casarabonela.

Duly found Maria (In the bar opposite the Ayuntamiento) who then showed us three apartments, all very nice, for us to choose one. It was a no-brainer really, as the third apartment overlooked the main square, which, apparently, the festival was taking place in.

Had a wander around the town, looking at the Xmas decorations - there was a children’s band marching and playing these weird drums, with a hole in the middle and a plunger, to produce a strange sound. (we later learnt they were called zambomba or something like that!) Walked up to the church (shut) and the castle (also shut!) and passed various fountains of fresh water before reaching the Ermita del Santo Christo (shut – although we could peer through the door to the interior!!)

We were lucky enough to view one of the neighbouring apartments Christmas –I don‘t know what they are called, sort of model nativity tableau. It was quite amazing the actual detail, and he was obviously very proud showing it off. We then went to an Andalusian Horse Show which was incredible. It basically started off a horse and rider doing dressage, but there was also a dancer, who was dancing with a horse and rider, and then the show went on to show the skill of the horsemen, first controlling the horse, not by riding it but with long reins, and then no reins or bridle at all. It was the horse by itself mastering all the fancy footwork. Loved it!

Today was the Big Day!! Chris’ 70th Birthday!! After opening cards and presents on the sunny balcony, watched all the activity in the square for this evening’s event. They were building barbeques with bricks and cement and spent a good hour plastering them to make sure they were perfect!! Mooched about the town, (managed to get some oil burners for our balcony) calling into the Ayuntamiento to see if the Castle would be open. “No – sorry – the Castle is shut”. Wandered up there anyway, and lo and behold, it was open!! What do the Town Hall know about anything!!! I think we had just got lucky as there was a coach load of Spanish Tourists being shown around, probably on a private tour. However, we snuck in and had a good wander around, with excellent views over the town and down to the coast. The castle hasn’t been renovated in any way, so it’s a bit of a mush mash of tumbled down walls and towers, but its origins date back to 922AD, and it was very important during the wars of the 15th Century.

Walked up to the Cemetery and then started walking 2.5kms to a Fountain, but it looked like rain, so we abandoned the walk and followed the road around to the bottom of the town to see the Arab Gardens (not very interesting this time of year!!) Walked (or rather, climbed – the streets are VERY steep!) along the narrow, pretty streets to find the Chapel of Veracruz, ( mid 18th Century but built on the site of a former Mosque) which is where the procession is starting this evening.

The main square was a hive of activity with the BBQ’s lit and cooking well under way. Lots of people were standing around, so after eating a massive meal at Maria’s (We had to have a doggie bag for our enormous pork steak.) we watched a band playing in the main square, before making our way back down to the Chapel of Veracruz, where everything started from! Elf and Safety appeared in the shape of a fire extinguisher and two officers! Anticipation was building!!

There was a bonfire already lit at the Chapel. Fire plays a leading role in this event – The Festivity of the Virgin of the Rondeles, and its been declared a Fiesta of National Tourist Interest in Andalucia. Since the early 18th Century, the community of oil millers have staged a yearly procession, bearing their burning olive pressing mats (the Rondeles) in a simple act of thanksgiving dedicated to the Divina Pastoral. The oil lamps were lit at 21.00pm – all the street lights and Christmas lights were then turned off. Bands arrived in the tiny square, one band led by a sheep, and after, speeches, avid bell ringing, prayers, fire blessing – the Virgin on her tiny trono (throne) was brought outside.

About thirty men then lit the pressing mats, all saturated in oil and/or black tar, from the fire and started the procession along the streets back up to the main square. We made our way, not following the procession, back to our apartment and balcony from where I waited and watched for the procession to arrive (Chris disappeared to relocate the procession)

A faint glow along the streets showed that they were shortly arriving in the square, and the crowds parted to allow them though. Some of the pressing mats had burnt themselves out, and it looked pretty dangerous with bits of burning mat dropping on the floor. The bands arrived, followed, almost as an afterthought, the Virgen. They made their way over to the corner of the square and up the steps to the Church amid fireworks being set off from the balcony overlooking the square. It was about midnight by now! A lot of people then went to the Church Service and, at last, they started serving the food – people queuing for1/2 hour or more. Chris went down for food at 1.30am, when the queue had lessened a bit, and came back up with churrios, hot chocolate and a tostada. Went down really well with a glass of rose wine!! Anyway, went to bed about 02.00am in the end and when we got up at 8.00am the next day it was as if the festival had never happened! The streets and the main square had been cleaned, temporary barbeques that they had spent 6 hours building had been dismantled, no barriers, lumps of tar or sand remained. Just another normal day!!

We stayed another three days in Spain. The weather wasn’t brilliant with a lot of cloud and not too much sun. Had a lovely linear walk on the Wednesday, down through the gorge at Caesars, clambering over the rocks on the dry riverbed and admiring all the rock formations. Had to cross a ‘stream’ a couple of times – because of the torrential rain last week,I suspect it was slightly faster flowing than it normally is. Saw lots of evidence of last weeks storms in Manilva, with many walls knocked over and bamboo piled high on the beaches. Not sure if this had been washed up from the sea, or washed down from the rivers! Maybe a bit of both!!

Antonio’s mate appeared on the Tuesday to fit scissor security doors to the patio, but they were the wrong size……... However, he did fix the roof door so all was not lost.

Flight home on the Friday was delayed an hour, Dave the taxi driver drove us back to Scorpio Engineering, in Swindon, who had fixed our Campervan and stored it while we were away, only to find that the Campervan had been broken into and ransacked while we were away. Hotel in Calne for the night! Happy Christmas!!

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