Holiday to Spain, Friday 25th. August - Wednesday 30th. August 2006
To see a list of the birds seen on this trip click here
Friday 25th. August 2006.
My wife, Christine and me. Depart Stansted at 17:30 local time, approximately, to Seville, Ryan Air. Arrive Seville approx 20:30 local time then over an hour wait for hiring our car. Then drove to Carmona for two nights at the Parador.
Saturday 26th. August 2006
Depart Carmona Parador approximately 11 am for Seville. Day in the city, eating a lovely meal at a local Tapas bar near the cathedral. Then return to the hotel in Carmona for a relaxing swm in the pool, followed by a short drive in the local countryside. A lovely day, weather wise, with temperatures up to 38 degrees and no wind. The roads in this part of Spain have improved dramatically since our last trip here as has the food. It was nice to sample a genuine Spanish tapas bar at last, something that I had had ambitions to do for a while, even if I didn't quite get what I thought I was ordering! However the fish platter was excellent. The centre of the city was very quiet, especially considering that it was a Saturday, as indeed were the roads, which as a result were a pleasure to drive along, in air conditioned comfort. (I remember that the first time I ever drove a car with air conditioning was on our last visit to this part of Spain.)
Perhaps all the local residents had headed off to the cooler coast for the weekend. A reasonable meal in the parador was compensated for by its outstanding position. As most of the paradores we have so far visited, it is situated on the top of a hill in the town and the views from the dining room, 'patio' and bedrooms were outstanding. We were in one of the more expensive rooms, and the view from our balcony revealed the plains of this part of Spain in all its splendour. It was difficult to judge how far we could see but a distant mountain range mush have been close to 30 miles away. It certainly is nice to 'pamper' oneself like this from time to time.
Sunday 27th. August 2006.
Today we sadly left the paradore after an early breakfast to make our way to El Rocio near the Coto Donana national park for a three night stay. Our route though involved a visit to the east bank of the Gudalquivir river, specifically the Bonanza salt pans and adjoining areas. The weather was hot again with clear blue skies all day, and once again air conditioning in the car was essential.
We found our way through to the salt pans, an area I had never explored before. It soon became apparent that seeing any land birds here would be very difficult, simply because it was so hot that any birds that were present were keeping themselves well hidden in any shade they could find (in truth there was very little of that to be found either!). The landscape was totally flat, dry and dusty. The only bright spots, from an ornithological perspective, were the few area of lying water. On these we found Greater Flamingo, Marbled Teal, Whiskered Tern and Slender-billed Gulls. In addition there were the expected Black-winged Stilts, Little Egrets and Kentish Plovers as well as a few Moorhens and Common Coots, but no Crested Coot. A Red Kite was a nice bird to see. The land around here must surely be more welcoming for the birdwatcher in the early part of the year!
From here, we made our way back north to the motorway and by-passed Seville to reach our hotel for the next three nights, El Cortillo Mimbrales, just south of El Rocio. We arrived at approximately 6:30 pm, and initial impressions were not good. The room we were offered smelt of something which we could not identify. Again, it was one of the hotel's better rooms. Although it was a large room with a high ceiling, it was made to feel dim and dingy due to the VERY poor lighting. Even in daylight, with all the curtains open it was still impossible to see what you were doing and so it was necessary to keep the lights on whilst in the room. Even then, the four lights present didn't seem to make things much better.
Things did not look promising, to say the least. The hotel receptionist who had met us and escorted us to our room, a tall, slightly balding 40 is year-old Spaniard, in immaculate local attire, was by now hovering over us in the room, awaiting our decision as to whether we would accept the room or not. Unusually for us, we had asked to be shown the room in advance before accepting it. This was precipitated by the fact that we had mistakenly turned into what we thought was the entrance to the hotel about 100 yards too soon. Instead of expecting to see the delightful hotel we had glimpsed images of on their website a few months ago, we had in fact turned into the adjacent orange farm. This was not a difficult mistake to make, since it was also signposted to El Cortillo Mimbrales.
We couldn’t find anyone to ask where we should have been so made our way back to the main road, to discover the entrance to the hotel a short distance further on.
I made some remark to Chris about only staying for one night, and we then hurriedly agreed to accept the room and told the receptionist.
By now, we were both quite hot as well as tired after the driving. Chris thus decided to have swim in the pool, to which our receptionist directed us.
The pool was very unusual in the form of a water garden laid out in the hotel grounds. My initial impressions were that it was indeed an ornamental feature, but I was proved wrong. Chris plunged in and had the pool to herself, while I tried to cool down, literally and figuratively, in the shade, lying on a recliner. In retrospect, I should have joined Chris.
Chris emergeed from the pool shortly after, on account of it's 'worse than Delphi' character.
Some years ago, when the children were much younger, in 1994 to be precise, we were on a family holiday in Greece and were visiting the beautiful village of Delphi. It being the summer, and we being very hot after a lot of travelling, we found a hotel with a pool on the outskirts of the village. We had been informed earlier that if you buy a drink at the hotel, they will let you use the pool for free. This we duly did, to be astonished that the temperature in the outdoor pool, in full view of the blazing sun, was just above freezing! Since then, all swimming pools (and the sea for that matter) which we swim in have their temperatures graded by the temperature in that Delphi pool.
It was therefore a surprise to me (as indeed it was to Chris) that she found the pool at El Cortillo colder than Delphi.
We then had a chat about the room we had been given and I was still unhappy about it. We agreed that we would take a drive to the town of Matalascanas, a beachside resort about 10 miles south of El Cortillo, with the idea of finding a hotel to stay in for the last two nights of our trip.
We had stayed in the Hotel El Flamero in Matalascanas twice before when we had visited the Coto Donana (one of these times was in the middle of the amazing Elo Rocio religious pilgrim festival, when over a million pilgrims descend on this tiny part of south west Spain). We tried to remember how many years it had been since we were last there, and decided it was about 16. We had seen programmes on television recently about British people buying second homes in Matalascanas, or retiing there, and we were both keen to see how it had changed since we were last there.
The answer was very much indeed! There seemed many more developments present than we could remember - every spare piece of land in the town seemed to have a building on it, and there were many more hotels as well. It was holiday time for the Spanish people and the town was clogged. Traffic was very heavy, and driving proved a bit of a nightmare. It didn't help that many of the narrow roads were one way, with cars parked on either side. I was conscious of the pressure there must be to develop further into the protected Donana park from Matalascanas. (We were, however, reassured on our trip into the park later in the week that the Donana remains protected, and that the Matalascanas development measures exactly 5km x 1km and this area remains the only place for new building.
Anyway, we eventually found the Hotel El Flamero, and I kept in the car while Chris went into the hotel to check room availability.
Somewhat ironically, we were both very much relieved to hear that there was no vacancy and indeed that, due to the Spanish holiday season, there were no vacancies in any of the hotels in Matalascanas, nor indeed at the Paradore at Mazagon.
Looking at Matalascanas now, we both agreed that it was nowhere near as nice as we remembered it, when we had the huge adjoining beach to ourselves. We later found out that for ten months of the year, the population is about 2000, and in July and August it is nearly 150,000.
We made the now easy decision to return to El Cortillo Mimbrales, relsolving ourselves to be grateful to be hidden from this Blackpool in Spain.
After a refreshing shower, we drove the short distance to El Rocio, to find that, thankfully, it was exactly as we remembered it on our two previous visits. It is an amazing experience to drive through this town where the roads are made of dust and sand, and among the road hazards one has to negotiate, are pedestrians, moped riders, buses, cars and the many horses and carriages which abound.
It never ceases to impress. Seeing certainly is believing. The focal point of the town, though, is the church which is the destination of the pilgrims who descend on the town once a year in the spring.
There are no road markings in the town - there would be no point in putting markings down - they would be erased by the next morning! Streets are very broad and seemingly anything goes. There are no signs to confirm this, but it is our hunch that horses have right of way at all times. However, that being said, cars, horses, buses, mopeds all pass each other on the wrong 'side' of the road, or drive two or more abreast, turning without a thought for a signal to other 'road users' about your intentions.
The thing I like most about this aspect of El Rocio, though, is that in spite of all the above, everyone seems to move about, whether by conventional or unconventional horse power, in a sedate way, and it almost seems elegant - if driving could ever be described so!
After a brief look at the town, we retunred to our hotel for dinner, which was taken out doors on the patio among the lemon and orange trees. Service and the food was good but the menu was a little limited.
We retired to bed not looking forward to the non air-conditioned night, and somewhat concerned about the mosquito net provided. We had both acquired 'mementos' of their activity over dinner.
Monday 28th. August 2006
We slept very well and agreed that this was a nice hotel after all!
We awoke early to catch breakfast when it began at eight o'clock. I had harboured thoughts of getting up earlier to do some birding and photography before Chris got up, but in the end, I couldn't be bothered. When we got up, I was immediately glad that I hadn't set my alarm for earlier, since we awoke to thick mist, with visibility about 50 yards or even less. Neither of us was expecting this, as it yesterday had ended as it had begun, a clear blue sky all day with temperatures into the high thirties celsius.
After breakfast (a simple affair again, but nice nonetheless), we made our way to El Rocina reserve on the way to El Rocio. The helpful lady at reception tried to reassure us that the mist would disappear by lunchtime. We decided that we would head to Huelva.
We spent the rest of our time on this trip exploring the countryside around the Donana park area.