Our last night in Portugal was spent roughly 10 meters from the border, surrounded by rugged hills in a carpark by the side of a river in a little village called Pomarao. It was very peaceful and very beautiful, a lovely way to end a fantastic time in Portugal.
Although we didn’t really expect very much from it, Pomarao had some fantastic routes heading off into the hills, so we were able to get a lovely long walk in before we stopped in a café to toast to our last night in Portugal and watch the sun go down.
After seven and a half weeks we have finally moved on from Portugal back into Spain and I can’t think of a better way to have started ‘Spain part 2’ than El Rocio.
It deserves its own page on our blog as it is one of the most unusual places that we have ever been to. Whilst settling in at the campsite (Camping La Aldea – 16 euros a night inc. electricity with ACSI), an English lady stopped as she was riding her bike back from the town and all she could say was ‘It’s amazing – I had to tell someone and you have obviously just arrived, it’s absolutely amazing’ – which pretty much sums it up.
El Rocio is one of those places that you couldn’t ever believe exists, you would probably expect to come across a town like this in the mid-west, but it would be much smaller and less authentic. We struck it lucky as Sunday is apparently a sacred day, when four masses are held at the church by four different bishops as part of the pilgrimage, so we think that it was slightly busier than normal, but there were hundreds, if not thousands of horses here – all being ridden by what appear to be fairly well to do Spaniards in traditional attire – mostly holding a gin and tonic, rum and coke or a beer as they rode.
The main festival / pilgrimage is the weekend before Pentacost Monday, when thousands of people come on horseback to El Rocio blocking all the roads leading across Andalucia with horses and carts …. I imagine pretty spectacular. The celebration this weekend was religious, but I think that mainly the families use it as a good excuse to get together and have a party and a good old Flamencan sing song.
The streets are all sand and the bars are set up so that they have high tables for people to ride up and drink a glass of wine or beer whilst still on horseback … all quite impressive. As you walk through the town you are surrounded by people on horseback, or horses drawing carts full of people – every now and then one of them breaks into the traditional flamencan song, or there is a group with a guitar …. It is quite a scene which carries on into the night ….. all a bit dangerous considering the streets are poorly lit and oddly, horses don’t have any lights fitted 😦
If you are in the area near Seville we would highly recommend a trip here for the day. It is quite a sight and also quite a party town … just beware you don’t go over the limit if you are driving as when we left this morning they were stopping a large percentage of cars and breathalysing the drivers.