Each trip to Spain is for me like reaching for the stars. What’s why, although I didn’t plan to come back there this year, when the opportunity presented itself, I didn’t hesitate for even a moment. As a pretext served me the round-up – an event with 500 years of tradition, which drives thousands of tourists into a little village in Andalucia. Even though in June the temperatures oscillate around 40 degrees, which normally would make me renounce the trip, this time the temptation turned out too big.
Once arrived, I had an impression that by an act of God, I had traveled back in time by a hundred years, to a village lost somewhere in the Wild West. Similarities with the movie “High noon” are striking. At midday, due to unbearable heat, the settlement almost seems abandoned. Doors, windows, shutters tightly closed, there is no living soul around. Searching for a hotel hidden among all the one-storey houses, my rental car nearly got stranded on the sandy streets (don’t even try to look for paved roads, sidewalks, zebra crossing and other inventions of our modern civilization). It explains the most common means of transportation around here are horses, carriages, mules, donkeys, and off-road cars. Besides, it’s hard to find a single house without a tie ring, often accompanied by a sign “Reservado a caballos” (“Reserved for horses”). Since I arrived one day before the event, I had enough time to take a little tour around this extraordinary place.
Square with a beautiful white basilica from 1969 is the central point of the village, where life of tourists and locals goes on. It replaced a previous one, destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake in 1755. Just in front of it, on wide marshes, innumerable flamingos and other birds are seeking food, as well as herds of horses are grazing. There aren’t many things to visit here aside from the church. However, one can see a lot of really fascinating and unusual scenes. Riders on horses, mules and donkeys stopping in front of bars to revive tired bodies without dismounting, horses lead from a car, off-road jeeps resembling the beginnings of motorization, and coaches pulled by mules, as in the Gold Rush times – all these things make for a unique and exceptional climate of this place.
The day of the round-up, at dawn, riders called here “yeguarizos” (from Spanish word “yegua” meaning “mare”) free the mares with their foals from the corrals situated in the national park and lead big herds towards the village where, on the square in front of the church, horses will be hallowed during the holy mass that is celebrated especially for this occasion. The sight of hundreds of horses running in the cloud of dust is really breathtaking.
After the church service, animals set out for their journey, taking a road which passes across the picturesque Pinia forests, where the light filtering between the trees, through omnipresent dust, create beautiful dreamlike images. In the early afternoon they reach the corrals, where they will rest till the evening, waiting for the most oppressive heat to pass. That’s when they will start the last leg, which ends 15 km far off in a neighboring village. Afterwards, having passed through its streets, the horses are enclosed in the corrals where they will spend the entire night. Next day, the mares and the foals have their manes and tails cropped and they are put up for sale. The ones which don’t find buyers, will soon come back to their pastures by the seaside.
What struck me the most was the authenticity of this event. It had nothing in common with typical cliché images of tourist attractions. I had the chance to take a close-up look at the riders and their horses while they were passing through the streets. Tanned by the sun, unshaven faces, headscarves and hats protecting from the heat, shirts all sweaty and grey from the dust… All these details being a true testament to their effort and the long hours they spent in the saddle, in a cloud of dust and with the heat pouring from the sky.The not-that-uncommon view of 5-7 year old boys riding alone in the saddle and even smaller children sharing a horse with their fathers, testify that the tradition passes from one generation to another. I don’t know if they were riding the whole route, frankly speaking I don’t think so, however, even if it was only a small episode, participating in this event shows their great courage and determination. Also, horses that pass this punishing journey must be incredibly strong and enduring.
The round-up was the main point of this trip. However, it would be difficult for me not to take the opportunity to visit several farms in Andalusia and Extremadura, which I have not seen before. In June, in the arid Sierra Morena region (homeland of Curro Jimenez), there is no trace of anything green any more. The crops have been collected, flowers are done blooming, the landscape is dominated by dry grass and the ubiquitous dust. Animals are looking for some shade under the trees. Only the palm trees don’t seem to suffer from the heat. Although the Spaniards always repeat that their country is the most beautiful in spring when everything is green, for me, this landscape also has its own unique charm.
During each stay in Spain, I have the good fortune to meet true enthusiasts who can talk about horses with no end, at any time and under any circumstances. Can you imagine something more fun than to swim in the pool at night, after a really hot day, and, on this occasion, listen to some fascinating stories told me by a breeder and a veterinary, about the inheritance of horses’ coat colors? Such experiences are priceless and always make me leave the Iberian Peninsula with a bit of nostalgia, which in turn makes me come back later with even more joy and curiosity.
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