Sherry, Sand & Bullfighting

Monday was definitely a relax day as both of us were slightly fuzzy from the after-effects of the Feria. The weather was dry and sunny so we relaxed in our recliners and let the day slip past along with our hangovers. No point in going into the town as it was a public holiday and the only thing open would be bars and restaurants.

We couldn’t decide whether to stay or go as the weather forecast showed continuing good weather in the area. Too much choice! In the end we decided we would stay around a couple more days, spend a bit of time on the beach, and go into Cadiz for lunch one day, inspired by watching the Rick Stein Long Weekend episode about it. Over the next 2 days we caught up with the blog, raided the local Mercadona – still distressing lack of any chillis or chilli powder – and we did go down to the beach for a couple of hours one sunny afternoon. A big beach with a lot of good fine sand before the water, dotted with small clumps of stunted palms and shelving gently into the Atlantic. The views are interesting rather than pretty, with the port and modern part of Puerto Santa Maria to the left, Cadiz and its bridge in the distance, and the harbour town of Roja to the right. But the sun shone, the water was warm and there was a nice breeze.  Our first beach jaunt.

Another day, another change of plan – Cadiz was shelved and instead we determined on a guided tour of the town bullring, to try to understand the still popular event so deplored by many. There was a bullfight scheduled for 27th May and we had discussed attending to see for ourselves what the attraction is for the Spanish. After much discussion and a bit of internet research however, we decided against it – we wouldn’t attend a fox-hunt in England after all, and the arguments for and against are all out there. In “our world” we cannot find justification for its continuance. However, wanting to understand more we headed to the bullring. The Real Plaza de Toros de El Puerto de Santa María – to give it its full title – is one of Spain’s largest bull-rings, seating 12,000 and with a 60m diameter central ring. It can be split to hold 2 bullfights at the same time although I don’t think they do this now. The Cadiz tourist blurb says that its one of the most beautiful bullrings in Spain, but as it acts as Cadiz’s bullring this may be biased. When we arrived there were about 30 English school kids waiting for their tour so the english guide wasn’t available until 1pm. They were from Oakfield Preparatory School – but well behaved for all that. At least while we were there. We decamped to our default position, a locals’ bar, and had a couple of cold beers in the shade. We duly presented ourselves to a harassed looking receptionist at 12.55 and he apologetically told us the guide had gone home due to ‘sickness’ undoubtedly brought on by over-exposure to too many English schoolchildren. He therefore let us in for free and we had a happy hour wandering around, reading the blurb and admiring the matador outfits.

The ring was impressive and in the heat it was easy to imagine the place full of roaring spectators, theatrical matadors and snorting bulls. We visited the chapel where the matadors get on their knees to pray before facing the bull, conscious of the very basic infirmary prepared for them next door. And the places where the bulls were kept before the fight, and the stables for the horses. We saw the gouge marks in the wooden barriers protecting the 4 emergency exits from the ring for the matadors and picadors. We saw the size of the bulls’ heads on the wall near the exit with gavels a good idea of the immensity of the whole animals. I think we developed some appreciation, given the importance of cattle, horses and machismo in this country, for the way the bullfight developed and why it remains popular with some parts of the population. We both agree we wouldn’t getting the ring with a bull for any money, but whilst we can admire courage our sympathies remain with animal. This is, to us, a relic of another era.

To commemorate what would have been mum & dad’s 62nd wedding anniversary we went for a commemorative meal (as we have since we lost dad). We had walked past Los Portales on several occasions and it was clearly a lovely, traditional Spanish, good quality restaurant.We had a lovely meal, the best bit being the ‘red prawn’ Kate had instead of the oysters that they had run out of. One prawn, huge and delicious – see picture. All of it was lovely, accompanied by a very nice white Rioja. And at the end a rather odd, sugary complimentary with our coffee – see below.

We should mention that in Puerto Santa Maria, which says it is the home of ’Fino’ sherry, if you ask for a glass of Manzanilla sherry they just look at you and say “Fino”. They appear to be in direct rivalry with Sanlucar de Barrameda where Manzanilla is made. Strangely, Oloroso and Cream sherry’s not appear to have a ‘home’. It is Fino and Manzanilla that compete. Below is one of the tiny traditional bars that refused an impudent request for Manzanilla. For the record, Danny prefers Fino & Kate prefers Manzanilla although, unsurprisingly, we’ll drink both quite happily.

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On Wednesday night the male from of our neighbouring van, which is kitted out with kitchen tent and living tent, started chatting to us on his way back from washing the dishes. We like our reticent neighbours as they came to check our van out when we inadvertently set the alarm off one day on our return – first time that has happened! They have been on their pitch since February and really like the place, having returned every year for the last 10 years ie. since they retired. They spend about 10 months each year in Spain in their van and for some reason really love this site. Despite having been flooded out 3 times since February. We are very ambivalent about it – it’s quite controlled, there is no proper fresh-water hook-up for motor-homes which is bizarre, there is no recycling, no loo paper or driers in the shower block, and the internet which is extra is intermittent and slow. Oh, and you get bogged down when it rains. On the other hand, the town is very interesting and the beach is nice enough. Possibly a bit too urban for us.

Our neighbour turned out to be very knowledgeable about the Spanish civil war and pointed us in the direction of some books on the subject, as well as showing us footage on his tablet of the Easter week celebrations. Really weird – they were in Spanish Inquisition/KluKluxKlan style outfits with very tall, very pointy head-coverings complete with eye-slits, and long robes, carrying torches. Would have warmed the heart of many a confederate in the American south! But they were being serenaded by a man on a balcony, singing in flamenco style, which broke the spell nicely. An interesting neighbour – maybe we’ll see him again.

Thursday morning we set off, on-plan, for Sanlucar de Barrameda to complete the third part of the sherry triangle. We did however take a detour to a fascinating store called Decathlon – a huge ware-house sized retail experience involving sports/outdoor pursuits. Bigger than the largest Sainsbury we have been in, it had everything from ballet to boxing, fishing to football, hunting to harpooning, running to rock-climbing, windsurfing to weightlifting.  All reasonably priced. Could have spent a fortune but confined ourselves to a parasol for the beach, hand-exercisers for my ongoing recuperation, and 60 feet of paracord because according to Danny you never know when it will come in handy! (He’s going to have to stop watching those programmes!)

An hour’s drive north got us to Sanlucar – we passed the dismantling of the Feria outside Jerez de la Frontera on the way but as one Feria ends another begins and the Sanlucar one appeared to be being built on our proposed overnight stop, the town Aire. Every way we turned we were faced with road closures, no entry signs, no parking signs, no parking opportunities and not a helpful diversion in sight. We gave up in disgust and headed for our next stop near Cape Trafalgar a day earlier than intended.

Once south of Cadiz, the roads cleared completely and we passed huge fields of golden wheat and others which had already been harvested. More wind turbines and fields of solar panels. The scenery was more rural and rolling than we had seen in some time and made us feel good. Once we turned off the main road near Vejer it was even nicer and in the distance the Atlantic re-appeared. At Camping Pinar San Jose the receptionist was lovely and advised us to walk around to check out the recommended pitch and alternatives. We took to it straight away, a complete contrast to the last place. Lots of the tall, mature pines with domed canopies we are coming to identify with these coastal areas. A car wash facility – what luxury – its own little supermercado open 7 days a week and, should we require them, a restaurant and bar. Excellent. We agreed to pitch 57 with alacrity and considered staying a week!

Before pitching we did a bit of a whistle stop tour of a couple of local villages – past Cape Trafalgar, through Los Canos des Mesa to Barbate – visible in the distance in the photo-

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a harbour town that provided us with a Lidl where we couldn’t park and an Aldi which we had to make do with. Still no sign of chillis or chilli powder, or chinese egg noodles. Spain seems to be devoid of such things. Then back to Zahora, looping below the pretty old hill town of Vejer which we intend to visit. Pitched and heaved a contended sigh – much more our type of site