Thanks to a recommendation from Harry, the biscuit man I mentioned in the last blog, we drove yesterday the 191 miles to come to El Rocio. Harry just described it as a fascinating town with roads of sand and where you could just imagine a gun toting cowboy stepping out of a house at any moment. That was enough said…………..it became part of our route. There are no direct roads from where we are so we had to drive around the outskirts of the very busy city of Seville and then take roads west and then south back towards our goal
We are now parked on a campsite called Camping la Aldea del Rocio which is a very large site situated on the outskirts of the town. When we arrived there were only a few spaces taken and all the pitches and roads are covered in sand. Just as well there is a good wi-fi here because there is no mobile phone network which we use to keep in touch with family and friends.
Today we walked into town to see if Harry had been right in his description of the town. Before leaving we went on the internet and found out what a fascinating place we were about to visit.
Virtually all the houses and buildings have hitching rails outside and then we started to come across many much larger buildings, all with the word Hermandad followed by the name of a large city or town. All of these grandiose buildings have a bell tower and apparently are worth millions of euros and apparently there are 109 of them but we only saw some of them.
The reason why these have been bought by the many cities etc. is to house their people when they come on the pilgrimage here each Pentecost. Over a million people come to this small town from all over Spain and beyond and for so many miles they travel by foot or on horseback or by horse carriage. They come to see the Virgen (the virgin) del Rocio and people clamber to touch this silver idol because of the belief that “she ” had miraculous healing powers. On the Monday the statue is carried through the town…..just imagine a million people with one aim …..to touch the “idol” as it goes by.
If any of you that are reading this have a headache or a cold…….just touch the picture and believe. if you get an instant cure then maybe a trip here next Pentecost might be a good idea.
On our tours we have visited many cathedrals and churches but I will never get over the way the people who were visiting the inside at the same time as us were all staring intently at the Virgen.
People kept bringing in bunches of flowers and some brought much larger bouquets which were then placed all around the alter.
There are lots of shops selling everything imaginable with the virgin’s image prominent displayed from chocolate bars to large, copy, take home for your mantelpiece relics. The shops were also selling large candles at 50 cents each but the was no sign of any burning candles in the church. Why were people queuing up to buy them? We soon found out why. as we came out of the church we saw lots of people disappearing into a building over the square so we went to have a look and there was a special room with row after row of metal racks for the faithful to burn their candles.
In the large main square saddled horses and saddled Shetland ponies and many horse carriages were all available for rides around the town and Elaine and I took a tour on a large carriage pulled by two large donkeys and the driver used his whip a lot on one of them making it a tour we both wished we hadn’t taken. Where is the RSPCA when you need them?
The reason why we had to take such a circuitous route to get here was because the Donana National Park is right in the way and just past the main square is a huge lake that is part of this park with a large variety of wading birds and all sorts of ducks.
Tomorrow we will move again and we will head north to Merida so we can meet up with our friends Tom and Jo who get the ferry from Portsmouth to Santander. We both hope they get a fairly flat crossing across the Bay of Biscay.
I do know that this next bit is not going to get me a lot of sympathy especially those of you from the north of England. This afternoon the sun has disappeared behind a mass of dark clouds and then, horror of horrors, wet stuff started to come out of the sky. The Dutch couple from the van behind ours have told us that it is rain. It is so long since I have seen the like that I had forgotten that it can rain here. We must be on a plain.