Between Salamanca and El Rocio we discovered that staying in campsites in Spain is easier than trying to find aires to park at. In France we’d navigated by finding an aire somewhere in the general direction we were travelling and then heading for it. In Spain, they’re just not as common and seem to only be available at fairly sizeable towns or cities. So we joined a European camping club and downloaded their app. What joy there was to be had reading about the various sites’ provisions of running water, hot showers and electricity; like children in a sweet shop we gleefully pored over our options.
So it was that after Salamanca we drove to a campsite on the edge of a natural park. There were horses running about in the field next to us, azure winged magpies hooted and fluttered about the many trees surrounding us; the sunset was golden and the future bright. Overnight we’d become campsite junkies.
The next campsite was less romantic but conveniently placed for visiting the Donanas National Park. The park covers a huge area and is supposedly one of the most important wildlife reserves in the world. Due to its highly protected status, public access is limited to the lake at El Rocio and a small patch of the park in which a boardwalk has been built in order that the masses may enjoy a taste of the place without trampling through delicately balanced ecosystems. It’s possible to take guided tours into the more distant parts of the park, but out of season we couldn’t find any with an English speaking guide and we figured that three or four hours of driving in a 4×4 with a guide we couldn’t understand might not be that much fun…
Instead we headed into El Rocio to see what we could find for ourselves. El Rocio, as has been noted by most commentators, is an odd place. The streets are made of sand and the buildings are like something lifted directly out of a wild west movie. The shops seemed to sell only leather riding boots and horses are the primary form of transport. After an hour or so of attempting to ride our bikes in a place of sand we understood the fondness for equine travel. Grumpiness settled about us until we got chatting to some fellow motorhomers who pointed out that we could see plenty of birdlife on the lake at El Rocio without paying for a tour and they were right. The flamingos that Monty had so desperately wanted to see were right in front of us, along with a whole host of other wading birds – no guides or expensive tours required.
Having spent some time meandering about the lake, we cycled up to the bit of the park that’s open to the public and enjoyed biking about the boardwalk through woodland, marsh and scrub. Although we knew we were far too noisy to really see any rare wildlife, we talked as if at any moment we might spot a wild boar. The sand on either side of the path showed numerous paw and hoof prints, some of them could surely have been lynx?
Arguably the most interesting spot of the day however, were the processional caterpillars. Initially, they’d escaped our notice but as I was cycling behind the others I spotted that in one place on the wooden walk a fuzzy rope of creatures had been broken where their tyres had passed. I stopped to look more closely and was amazed by the little chain of caterpillars that were walking, nose to tail, completely attached, across the path. From then on we looked out for them, thinking that caterpillar genocide would probably be frowned upon in a nature reserve. We later learned, again from the motorhomers Lynne and Malcom, that processional caterpillars are pretty dangerous little critters and as Monty is not usually reticent about picking up all manner of bugs we were very lucky that in this instance he didn’t. As Malcolm asserted that one could ‘kill a dog’, who knows what damage they may have done to a Monty.
Our day ended more harmoniously than it had begun, the frayed tempers of the early part of the day melted in the evening sun. We were a day or two away from Morocco and luxurious campsites with their gleaming white toilets were beckoning.
campsites with their gleaming white toilets were beckoning.