Well this week has been a game of two halves. Forest v City. Sounds like a football game, the result of which has to be a draw, although it’s a tough call. Now we love our mountains, wildlife and Mother Nature’s call and we’ve revelled in it this week in a Park just east of Plasencia. Monfrague Nacional Parque did not disappoint, being home to a couple of endangered species of bird who thrive in this very special ecosystem.
Our campsite was fabulously rustic, yet impeccably clean and welcoming. We were surrounded by trees with cheeky Magpies, that had sparkling azure wings and tails who chuckled and chortled in the early mornings as they played amongst the branches. Then there was the odd Red Kite who would do a fly-pass – of course when your camera is least ready for action! And white storks, with their red legs and beaks who nest on anything that is tall and narrow, balancing as perfectly as any circus performer. We were also entertained by darting swallows, honing their fly-catching skills, which just seems so odd to see in March.
The Parque itself was captivating and lured us into the bosom of its reserve, enticing us with spectacular views, long and winding roads, undulating mountains with lakes and rivers that had carved fascinating shapes into the valley floor. The birdlife was astounding, with raptors (not of the dinosaur variety) having 2 metre wing spans, who would roar like lions. These majestic Griffin Vultures would soar above you, catching thermals, circling and floating in the summer sky. These often, tiny black spots in the sky were, I must admit, tricky to photograph, although suddenly you would hear the sound of an incoming fighter-jet swooshing past your ear, only to see a glimpse of a Vulture diving past you at break-neck speed, towards its craggy nest on the rock face. And then, as if by magic, a swarm of 100 vultures ascend from no where, when the thermals are right, encircling your head, chilling on the waves of the wind. What an incredible sight and no wonder this place attracts ornithologists from all over the world. I took a few photos – that might rival a Japanese tourist with a selfie-stick.
Interspersed with these flocks of fascinating aves, are their Black Vulture cousins, who are the endangered ones, as too are the Black Storks and Black Kites who try to compete for airspace with the Griffins. Oh it is bird heaven and I was in the heart of it. Poor Myles did his best to be patient, although we resorted to taking Scoobs with us on day two rather than hiking, so that he could work and I could practise my David Bailey impression, which has been in hibernation since our NZ trip.
We had only planned to stay for a couple of nights at Monfrague although four nights on, we were totally converted. Now it would be worth adding at this juncture, that our stay wasn’t totally wildlife focused. There were domestic duties and work calling. My inaugural edition of the Scoobie Club, A Travel Education Programme for kids had to be issued to its first customers. I had a book on Mindful Leadership that needed proof reading and we had the toilet to fix. Somehow or another it had become impregnated with a sharp object that had generated the biggest crack you’ve ever seen. Now the jokes about what we’re putting down that toilet have been done to death, of course, over on our entertaining Facebook page, (www.facebook.com/motoroaming) yet Myles’ DIY skills were seriously put to the test as he executed his fixing solution. I won’t go into detail, although it had to be mended, as the alternative option was not pretty. Anyway, my hero, he did it with dexterity, determination and tenacity, as he does with all his challenges. So now we are with toilet again and leak free – for the moment at least. A new one is waiting, we hope in Malaga.
Oh, and did I mention that the sun came out? After the snow and rain of the previous week, our patience was rewarded with the most gorgeous sunshine, warm winds and the right type weather of the short sleeve, summer sandal variety. Hip hip hooray. And of course, we both got burnt on the first day of our beached whale competition. This weather has pretty much stayed with us all week, which has just been delightful.
It was with great reluctance that, on Wednesday, we left Monfrague and its bird sanctuary, heading a little bit further south. Again following our ‘Road Less Travelled’ route back through the Park and out the other side to experience the booty waiting for us on the planes outside of the Parque’s treasure chest that we had called home. The road was spectacular with oak tree fields, hidden gorges rising up out from the middle of the earth and simply no traffic! I tell a lie, we had a slight interruption to our journey as we waited for a herd of goats to be shepherded across the road in front of us. They sounded like something out of Heidi with their Swiss style jangling bells soulfully tuning the air.
As we move south from the Extremadura region into Andalucia, the countryside is forever changing. We are seeing palm trees and cactus plants, olive groves and orange trees, which are all firmly in Spring’s grasp. It’s fascinating to see the differences as we travel down.
After a failed attempt to find a sleep-over spot half way to Seville, we resorted to a mile crunching journey south. After a five hour trip and 200 miles, we finally arrived in the city of sour oranges two days earlier than intended. Now, hitting any major city at 6.00pm is a big mistake and Seville is no different. Can you imagine it – after miles of no traffic to speak of, suddenly three lanes of hot blooded Spaniards, jumping lanes like their lives depended upon it and in the middle of all this, an English plated motorhome with the Mrs at the wheel trying to find their way through the myriad of foreign looking signposts. Interesting, to say the least. After a few laps of Seville’s Ring Road, we found our intended overnight spot in a marina alongside Seville’s new river. On the face of it, it sounds idyllic although sadly being squeezed in, outside the Chandlery was not quite as romantic as the vision suggests. Still we were just very, very grateful for a place to stay having not arrived until 6.45pm. This city introduction was most certainly a bit of a shock to the system after our mountain tranquility.
And so this second half of our week, the city element, did not really hold much promise, given the moods we had arrived in. Still we put on our open-minded heads and took ourselves on the local bus straight into the heart of the city. We were not expecting yet another city to capture our hearts so dramatically, although capture it most certainly did. Now, I could tell you about the Alcazar Palace of Gothic design with ornate gardens and follies that transport you to somewhere in Morocco or talk about the mini Venice housed within the intricately tiled half-moon Plaza Espana. Instead I feel compelled to tell you about Seville, The Sensual City.
Whilst, like any city, you can visit one museum after another and probably fill a week, dancing from one memorable site to another; for me it was the way the city played with each of my senses that truly places it up there with my love for Venice. Its Cathedrals, Palaces and historical buildings, swathed in regal dignity, dating back to Christopher Columbus, share with the onlooker their rainbow coloured fascias, haunting us with their intricate artwork – a feast for the eyes. Seville’s orchards of orange trees that line every street and Plaza, tantalise your nose with their intoxicating blossom. The sounds of the doves and parakeets play melodies for your ears and the buzz of its visitors dashing around its many historical treasures, pulsates in tune with your heart. Around every corner, the energy of its historical and religious ghosts produce a story that surpasses every page of War and Peace and is palpable as it vibrates through your soul. I dare you to not fall in love with Seville. We did, despite our reluctance. It pulls you in with every sense you possess and dazzles you with its beauty, Spanish passion and charm.
To get a feel for the city, we must admit to doing the very touristy Sightseeing Bus tour, which meanders its way through the heart and fringes of the city, showcasing its magnificence. It was such a great introduction as there is no way you could cover the same ground on foot, so it seemed like a sensible way to experience the Sevillian big picture. With lunch in a quiet Plaza, surrounded with that heady orange blossom scent, a couple of cervezas and a paella, away from the hum of the tourists, we felt right at home here.
It is a stunning city with so much historical and modern culture that you are definitely in for a treat. Next week, the city becomes infamous for its traditional Samana Santa, Holy Week which is where the whole city throbs with processions of the Brotherhood as they celebrate Easter. It’s quite a morbid affair by all accounts and although all the cities in Spain celebrate, Seville is the capital of the festivities, which people flock to be part of. Our cue for leaving.
Before I go, having reached the pinnacle of this week’s adventures, there is a old Arab proverb worth noting, ‘He who has not at Seville been, has not, I trow, a wonder seen.’
I hope our experiences share just a little of our week’s magical ‘game of two’ halves. ‘I think it’s all over, well it is now.’ Adios until next week.