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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Vejer de la Frontera

23 December 2007

Vejer de la Frontera is contemporary with the nearby town of Conil de la Frontera so that much of the political, construction, occupation and re-conquest history is identical. The major differences between the two are threefold. First, Vejer is inland and, second, it is one of Andaluz’s famed white hilltop cities.

Third, it retains, largely intact, the characteristics of a walled city: narrow, winding streets, no sidewalks, front doors that open literally on the street, interior courtyards and paving block streets.

A church of the period is in the largest, but still very small plaza within the original walled city. Beside it is a café, apparently the pre-eminent place of worship today, with a series of loudspeakers blasting its music up and down about 3 blocks.

Parts of the old fortifications are more evident than others.

While el Castillo is not well preserved as castles go it did provide us with some entertainment in the form of four 8 year olds who were determined that we should see the best views of it. Their insistence should have been a hint, but Roger blithely followed their instructions taking us deeper and higher into the site.

Eventually we reached the highest vantage point with some nice but not overly dramatic views, including the ubiquitous clothesline.

Now that we were at the top, their fun could begin as they closed and barred each door we had gone through and sprayed them with a spray bottle of sudsy soap. It gave them a big thrill to run away hooting with laughter, as they hid around each successive corner, at the crazy foreigners who fell into their trap.

Just outside the original walls, the city’s lovely Plaza de España boasts a beautiful palm-shaded fountain.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Dinner al Flamenco

20 December 2007

Ostensibly this is about Christmas Dinner 2007 in a campground in Spain with a bunch of retired Brits and Finns and a sprinkling of Dutch and Germans (and 2 Canadians – us).

But you can’t be in Andaluzía without exposure to the incredible Flamenco of the region. The flash of eyes, the graceful, sometimes tortured poses, the swirl of the dresses, the underlying staccato rhythm that fires your blood – this is FLAMENCO.

Roger was first introduced to it in university as a student, of among other things, Spanish language and literature. Carlos Montoya was something of a rage in North America in the 1960s. Born in Madrid, by the age of 14 he was playing in concert halls around the world. By WW II he had settled in New York City and although he returned to Spain each Christmas he was far more accepted as a flamenco guitarist in North America than in his native Spain. His idiosyncratic playing style alienated him from traditional flamenco guitarists, primarily because he abandoned the compas that flamenco had developed over many hundreds of years. Many of his works do not keep perfect tempo, increasing and decreasing whimsically at times. Montoya was admired for the speed of his picados which brought him fame in the USA and other countries. But to the aficionado, speed without compas is like wine without fermentation – nothing. The core of flamenco, according to Montoya’s critics, is to play rapid, beautiful falsettas without straying beyond the framework of the fixed rhythm.

Nonetheless Roger was overwhelmed by Montoya’s guitar. His music seemed to breathe the airs of the sierras of Spain, to embrace gypsies dancing in smoke filled caves, tavernas and bodegas, to embrace the tragedy and spirit of the bullfight and the Spanish Civil War, to capture the duende – the mystical spirituality of this complicated country with its multifaceted roots. Probably if Roger had taken an exchange year at the age of 20 and been immersed in the Flamenco of Andaluzía he would never have left. But like most people his personality had two auras: the spiritual rebel who would have fit into the republican side of the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s and the straight arrow dreaming of a career in the Canadian navy.

But – “There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” Did Roger choose fortune? Shakespeare has Brutus go on to say, “Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea [flood tide] are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures”. (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar) Roger’s life has certainly not been “bound in shallows and in miseries” so he must have chosen fortune. The route was long and torturous but has come full circle - now here he is Spain.

So enjoy these few photos of this impassioned dancing by girls from 10 and up, and by young women of this town. Maybe you will experience the duende. At the end are an excerpt from and a link to a website with more information on the Flamenco.

A note on these pictures: when we arrived for supper we discovered that our table had been changed from one in front to one in the back. Therefore, the bulk of the Flamenco pictures were taken by Roger from under a table in the front giving the angles and resulting limitations of the photos.

The following is taken from a very good website on flamenco and will provide a more in-depth introduction. Interspersed in the excerpt are more pictures of the Flamenco Troupe of Conil.

Flamenco history has only been documented for the past two hundred years or so, and anything before this time is open to debate and speculation.

Much of what we know from before this time comes from stories and legends that have been passed down through family dynasties, in a similar way to the flamenco song itself.

One thing we can be sure of is that flamenco in its original form was only voice, a primitive cry or chant accompanied only by the rhythm which would be beaten out on the floor by a wooden staff or cane.

These styles are known as Palo Secos, or dry styles, and they are the oldest forms of song known today.

The Toñas are the family of songs which represent these style and they include the toña, one of the oldest known styles, the martinetes, which are the songs of the blacksmiths, the rhythm

being supplied by the hammer beating on the anvil, the carceleras or prison songs, and the debla, which at one time was thought to have had connections with a gypsy religious rite.

The saeta is a song of ardent devotion, which is sung to the scenes of the passion during Semana Santa, and is thought to have Jewish origins. Although the saeta is not strictly flamenco, it has all the spontaneity of flamenco, and has been added to the flamenco repertoire of many jondo singers.

Cante jondo means “deep song,” and these are the styles of which most of the other forms derive.

Flamenco is made up of four elements, Cante-Voice, Baile-Dance, Toque-Guitar, and the Jaleo, which roughly translated means “hell raising” and involves the handclapping, foot stomping, and shouts of encouragement.

It whichever way jaleo presents itself, it is performed by the audience as well as the artiste and anyone else who feels the urge to participate.

The handclapping or Palmas is an art in itself, and although it may look easy, it is not, and the palmeros will weave intricate rhythms around the bases of the song, and in the tablaos this is used in conjunction with the zapateado.

The zapateado is the tap dance style of footwork, the dancers show piece where he will demonstrate his skill with his feet, and the noise created by this and the palmeros will be ringing in your ears long after you have left the tablao.

The addition of the guitar is surrounded in apparent mystery as the exact date is not known, but gradually the guitar was introduced as an accompanying instrument for flamenco.

Another important component of flamenco is the element known as duende, and this is shrouded in as much mystery as flamenco itself. Writers and poets over the years have given duende a magical and mysterious meaning, a spiritual significance that goes beyond human understanding. The poet Federico Garcia Lorca romanticized duende saying, “Duende could only be present when one sensed that death was possible.” Many will say that duende can only be experienced in certain surroundings like an intimate flamenco session where a singer will be possessed by the dark tones of the song and the spirit will enter the mind and soul of anyone who opens up to it. “Duende a strange presence that everybody senses but no philosopher can explain , or, “All that has dark sounds has duende.” Whatever you believe, duende does exist, and to experience it, is one of the wonders of this mystical art.

The origins

Most of today’s flamencologists will agree that the baile flamenco has descended from the ancient dances of the Indian Hindus. Although the flamenco dance has shed many of the elements of the Indian religious dances that will unfold a story with set eye and facial movements, it does still have similarities with the Indian dance.

The early flamenco dancers, especially the woman, concentrated more on the upper body and arm movements, similar to that of the Indian Bharata Natya, where the dance is focused on arm movements and facial expressions. Also from India is the Kathuk, which is a dance performed by men and woman, where the very intricate footwork has similarities to the zapateado in flamenco.

These dances reached Spain as early as the Greek times, 500-250 BC, where Indian dancers where brought into Spain via the port of Gadir, today known as Cádiz, to entertain the royals of the time. The arrival of the Moors nearly one thousand years later, and also the gypsies, who brought with them, dance and music styles from Pakistan and Persia enriched the existing andalucian styles.

Many theorists lay the blame for the lack of footwork in the early female baile flamenco on the Muslim discouragement for women not to show their legs. The zapateado or intricate footwork displayed by the dancer was not introduced into the female dance routine until the early twentieth century.

The decrees of the 16th century, where Moors, Jews, and gypsies were persecuted, resulted in these outcasts going underground, and taking with them their music and dances, and this is where it stayed, and this is thought to be the very beginning of the formation of flamenco.

The style of dance we see performed today has changed considerably since these times, and now styles of flamenco song that were never danced are being taken up by modern dancers striving to find new directions for the flamenco dance.

The jondo dancer is today a rare commodity, and what we see is choreographed dance a lot more in the tablaos and commercial establishments.

But what makes a good dancer? His grace, his rhythmic skill, his duende, or his ability to perform spontaneously.

Spontaneous does not mean that a new dance be created every time the dancer takes the floor, but that the dancer will feel the music and dance what he feels for the music at that particular moment, expressing himself and letting his personality take grip of the dance, and not just going through the motions of a show that is rehearsed right down to the facial expressions.

Spontaneous or academic?

There is a phrase, which says, “When you learn to dance, you must also learn how to forget it.” All that he has been taught must at times be ignored, and the dancer will rely on the wisdom that flows in his blood, something that he inherited from an age-old tradition. He must feel the rhythm of his own heart beat and let that guide him with his interpretation, and with his natural instinct, and the knowledge of how to use the rhythm of his heart, he will unleash a mysterious force, searching the most inner depths of his soul to attain a certain high, when the spirits appear to guide him and the duende fills the dance.

This type of dance will not normally be witnessed in a commercial setting, but it is possible in an intimate surrounding where the person dancing is transformed by the flamenco, unaware of anything around him other than the rhythm of the song, drawing his inspiration from the genetic sediment that lies in his soul.

This is the best possible way to witness flamenco dance, on the spur of the moment when someone feels entranced by the music, since the purest of dance exists in the body of those who know how to listen to its rhythmical call, and the more simple the dance, the better.

Outside of its natural surroundings, flamenco can appear dull and weak, rather like an uprooted plant, but in an old taverna or the small backroom of a bodega, where the smokey atmosphere and the scorched, cracked voice of the singer combined with the passionate tones of the flamenco guitar accompanying the solo dancer can sometimes leave you mesmerized.

It is the belief of many, that you cannot be taught flamenco; it is something that you are born into, an age-old secret that the only gypsies hold in their hearts.

Dance is one of the most beautiful ways for a performer to express himself, letting his character shape the routine, if he is a good dancer he will not be interested in flashy techniques or showmanship, just intent in relaying what he feels for the dance at that particular moment.

In the commercial establishments it is most commonly the dancers that the audience is there to see, and anything the singer or guitarist is doing is considered unimportant, because they will most probably not understand what lies inside the music. Even if they have no knowledge of flamenco they can appreciate the grace and passion of the dancer, and the sensual, rhythmical, and graceful movements will normally be enough to satisfy the uninitiated.

If it is pure jondo dance you are looking for, then you will not normally find it in the tablaos, but if it is an enjoyable night’s entertainment, then the tablaos are good places to see flamenco dance.

There is a release in spontaneous dancing that does not exist in academic, choreographed dancing, and the two different styles are considered as separate arts, rather like the guitar soloists as opposed to the accompanists.

Flamenco dance was initially a solo act, but it was with the invention of the café cantantes that dance troupes were formed, and today many of the top dancers have their own companies. These companies can have up to twenty dancers on stage at the same time, and it would be with disastrous effects if the routines were not choreographed. Today these flamenco troupes take shows to the theaters and arenas not only in Andalucía, but to the rest of the world, and in London’s Sadlers Wells theatre, where they hold an annual festival of flamenco, you will have to book months in advance to obtain a ticket.

Today flamenco dance is becoming more popular world wide, but these styles are now mixed with classic Spanish dance as well as ballet.

To witness jondo style flamenco dance today you will have to seek out the peñas and flamenco recitals that are aimed at the purer side of this fantastic art.

The fiesteros, which are normally of the older generation of artistes who sing and dance, will show you that there is still room for both sides of this art, and whether it is the tablaos, the theaters, or the antiquated jondo style of dance you prefer, flamenco is one of the most visual and emotive forms of expression, and to witness a passionate display of flamenco dance will leave most people impassioned.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cabo de Trafalgar

16 December 2007

Cape Trafalgar is best known, certainly in British history, because of the battle that took place there on 21 October 1805 (the 200th anniversary was celebrated in many British and Commonwealth cities 2 years ago).

A few kilometres south of Conil along the Atlantic coast it is a little more than midway between Gibraltar (British stronghold) and Cádiz the base from which the combined French (18 major ships) and Spanish 15 major vessels) fleet commanded by the French Admiral Villeneuve would sail to eventually meet the British fleet of 27 major warships under the command of Lord Horatio Nelson. As a Captain on 14 February 1797, the somewhat remarkable, erratic Nelson had left the British line to cut off the Spanish retreat at what was initially known as the Victory of St. Valentine’s Day, soon renamed the Battle of Cape St. Vincent (see November 2007). For this he was knighted. At Trafalgar, he would again be victorious but on this date he would lose his life, and some would argue Britain, its greatest admiral.

Today at Cabo de Trafalgar one has to search for any indication of the ominous events of 200 years ago. While there is one small plaque for those keen enough to walk up to and around to the seaward side of the lighthouse, the rest of the signage deals with the geology of the formation of the tombola of Trafalgar. The actual cape is an offshore rocky cliff and reef that over eons have been joined to the continent by the build up of sand.

The lighthouse to the right of the picture is an imposing structure, although not the first on the site. From a closer vantage point and backlit by the sun the size and height of the light are more evident. The building up of a dune against the rocks of the cape can also be seen.

The base of a former lighthouse can be seen to the right on the rocks of the cape with placed rocks in the foreground to stabilize the sand dune.

Following the Treaty of Amiens, Europe had been at peace for over a year and ships in the Royal Navy had been paid off, reducing the capability of the fleet. This was a long-term and much criticized practice of successive British Kings and governments. Meanwhile in France Napoléon was planning the next stages of his domination of the continent. Realizing that a resumption of war would result in the British blockading France’s ports thus strangling its trade (especially the supply of food) and its war efforts, Napoléon laid plans for the invasion of Britain, concentrating troops and invasion vessels at Calais in northern France. To cross to England he would need to control the English Channel. To do this he needed his fleets to break out of the blockaded ports of Toulon, Brest, Ferrol and Rochefort.

Admiral Villeneuve eventually managed to break out of Toulon and sailed for the West Indies where he was supposed to meet the French then blockaded in Brest, and then return to Europe and meet up with the fleets from the other blockaded ports.

With Nelson, more or less on his heels (actually Nelson headed for the southeast and Egypt), Villeneuve met up with the Spanish from Cadiz (under Gravina) and sailed west for Martinique. Nelson realized his mistake and set off in pursuit. The chase would last throughout the summer as they manoeuvred for position in the Atlantic.

Ultimately, after the high, but typically dull drama of a long distance sea chase and the engaging political intrigue of the Napoléonic court, Villeneuve arrived in Cadiz on August 20th.

Nelson arrived off Cadiz on 28 September to join Collingwood’s fleet that was blockading the port, setting his frigates inshore to watch the port for any movement and his battleships 50 miles offshore in the hope of drawing the French and Spanish fleet into a decisive battle.

As the British patrolled offshore Nelson met with his Captains in the flagship HMS Victory and laid out his plan of sailing in two columns, the windward one under the command of Nelson and the leeward one under Collingwood. The intent was to attack from offshore with the wind from offshore, sail the two columns into the middle of the line of French and Spanish ships splitting the line in two and thus preventing ½ of them from effectively engaging in the battle. While Villeneuve apparently knew of or had surmised these tactics, he did not provide his Captains with a plan of defence against them.

Once the fleets were arrayed against each other on 21 October, Villeneuve seeing that the British had the windward advantage, and afraid of fighting with his ships thus on a lee shore, ordered his fleet to turn around and head back for Cadiz. Ordering them to wear around resulted in a 2 hour long manoeuvre, completed at 1000 hours. (With ships with square sails it is a great advantage to have the wind blowing from anywhere beyond 90 degrees away from the direction you wish to go. You can manoeuvre much more easily and much more quickly. So if you are to windward, or upwind, of your opponent you have a major advantage. If your opponent is also closer to the shore and the wind is blowing onto the shore you now have a double advantage – the windward and pressing your opponent against a lee shore.) They French/Spanish fleet now had to reform themselves in line of battle sailing in the opposite direction. By now the center of their formation had sagged off towards the lee shore making their position even more problematic.

Aboard the Victory, Nelson ordered the hoisting of the signal “England confides that every man will do his duty”. This would have required the use of individual flags to spell out each letter of “confides” so the signal was changed to the one that has gone down in history;” England expects that every man will do his duty”. (The Victory is the only ship surviving this era. To see more of her, visit her official site.

The diagram shows the disbursement of the two fleets as the battle began.

By now many will be fatigued by all this description of naval action. For those who want to pursue an in-depth description of the Battle of Trafalgar, there is a reasonably good one at this site

The proximity of Conil de la Frontera can be seen in this shot – it is the cluster of white buildings on the hilltop, to the left center.

The proximity to the African coast can be seen in this shot.

The nearby town of Zahara de los Atunes has undergone extensive development in the last 15 years and more is underway. This will be the story for all of the Costa de Luz as the demands for ocean-side vacations increases.

Power will be supplied in part by the wind, which as we write this blog has been blowing steadily for 24 hours in excess of 30 knots with gusts to 45 knots (double those figures for kilometres – but don’t tell Marie-Claire that).

Wind in this general area is funnelled by the Straits of Gibraltar, compressing between the mountains of southern Spain and northern Africa (Morocco). In the area of this town there is a further compression caused by local mountains, hence the large windmill farms, with the wind, on this day blowing offshore – not a Nelson’s wind. (

Thatch roofs can also be seen in this area, just as in Normandy, France.

We leave you with this nonsensical thought; “People who live in thatched houses, don’t burn expired safety flares in their living rooms”.

Are You New to This Blog?

19 December 2007

For those who are new to this blog here are some directions. For those who have been reading it, a few reminders.

1. The blog begins in October 2006 with our trip down the west coast of the USA to San Francisco, and across the continent to New York City where we boarded the Queen Mary 2. To access older parts of the blog, simply scroll down to Archives on the left hand margin and pick the month you want. Up until our arrival in Europe in the Fall of this year, the topics covered included in addition to the USA and our transatlantic trip on the QM2: Belgium; some of Normandy in France; almost all of the Mediterranean coast of France, including Monaco; Biarritz and parts of the Atlantic coast of France; sailing in BC including the filming of part of a BBC documentary on Stellar Sea Lions; and a few other sidelights.

2. Each picture in the blog can be enlarged by left clicking on the picture. To get back to the blog, click on the "Back Arrow" on your Internet Browser.

3. There are some links to websites in some posts. Left click on the link to get to the site. To return to the blog, click on the "Back Arrow" on your Internet Browser.

4. Most importantly - enjoy.

5. We can be contacted at although it often takes some time for us to reply since access to the Internet is intermittent.


Roger and Marie-Claire

La Real Escuela Andaluza Del Arte Ecuestre

13 December, 2007

The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art is located in Jerez de la Frontera, about half-way between Sevilla and Conil de la Frontera, was founded in 1973 and is dedicated to the training of horsemen, dressage, and breeding of Cartajuna horses.

Here is a profile shot that illustrates the features of the breed.

It is known that this breed of horse probably existed in the Iberian Peninsula as far back as 3,000 years ago, in the 4th century BC. It was praised by Aristotle and later by other historians such as Plinio the Elder, Virgil and Columela. The Iberian horse was famous and renowned throughout the world, and was thus exported in order to crossbreed with other breeds beyond Spain's frontiers.

During his reign, Felipe II planned the improvement of the then existing Spanish stock, sparing no efforts in his venture, this great labour achieving enormous success in the selection of the Pure Thoroughbred Spanish Horse. Concerning the same, the Grand Master of horse-riding François Robichon de la Guernière stated "All writers have always given preference to the Spanish horse and considered to be the best of all horses for the arena, due to its agility, resourcefulness and natural rhythm. It has been esteemed the most appropriate for the arena, for displays and parades, for its poise, grace and nobility; and even more suitable for war on a day of action, both for its great spirit and docility". And adds: "the Spanish Horse is the most fitting to be mounted by a King on occasions of triumph".

The Spanish horse was the most highly appreciated in Europe for several centuries and it is easy to see portraits of the age where Kings and nobles appear mounted upon Spanish horses. This information on the breed is drawn from the school's interesting website.

To access the various parts of the site, in English, click on the British flag at the lower right "Skip introduction". This should kick you into the English language version. If you prefer Spanish, click on "Saltar Presentacion" - accent on last syllable. Once in the site on the left-hand top click on "Presentation" for more on the history and also for the photo gallery. There is also a section on training - so for the horse aficionados there is lots of information.

These are highly bred, spirited horses that nonetheless react well to intensive training, allowing them to with time excel at dressage. Unfortunately no photos can be taken during the incredible 2 hour show, How the Andalusian Horses Dance, which runs each Tuesday and Thursday at noon hour so we are relying on digital images that we purchased at the school. None of the purchased images actually covers the show but some images illustrate certain aspects. This is unfortunate because the precision, symmetry, musicality, and discipline of both horses and riders are spellbinding. Sometimes as many as 10 horses and riders are in the ring at one time so the need for each of these learned skills is paramount. In fact the horse and riders in the show are more synchronized than those in this posed picture.

Perhaps this captures more of the action and precision of the show. With the mane knotted and hanging on the opposite side you can see one of the breed’s features, a short thick, strong neck.

Equally attention grabbing is the spectacle of two teams of 4 horses pulling buggies, often in such tight circles that the inner two horses, especially that back one, is sidestepping rather than moving forward as they complete turns up to 360 degrees. All of this is taking place in a relatively small area, approximately 20 meters wide by 60 meters long (60 feet by 180 feet).(1)

The school is located on the grounds of what was once El Palacio del Recreo de las Cadenas (the recreation, or perhaps vacation, palace) begun in 1864 by King Francisco de Asis de Borbón. Although there is a royal box in the stadium and

the riders give a salute to the box, the palace is not occupied by royalty. It can be booked for conferences, dinners, weddings etc. How about marrying off your daughter here, riding in a buggy drawn by these beautiful horses and then enjoying a reception in the opulence of this Louis XV style palace?

We will leave you with a picture of this stunning leap, a number of which can be seen during the show.

Jerez de la Frontera is a big city, and difficult to navigate in. Perhaps it is easier for Europeans to find their way by car without street signs and periodic indications of direction. For example, we were told by the school to follow signs for the city center and that we would see signs for the school. In the final analysis we saw one sign for the school, about 3 blocks from it. Luckily a friendly cashier in a gas station responded to Roger’s Spanish and the mention that we were from Canada with a big smile and the international thumb to forefinger sign of approval and the comment “ooohhh Caaaanada” and gave us excellent directions that got us to the right side of the downtown and the right major street. From there a lady at a bus stop was able to direct us to the correct turn about 4 blocks on, where we finally saw the first and only sign for the school. So for two Canadians IN A MOTORHOME big cities are rarely easy. And that’s a real shame because larger European cities often have more examples of historical buildings and spaces, as well as more cultural opportunities. For example, 4 blocks from the Real Escuela is one of the centers of Flamenco. But we will probably have to miss it. Once you get your motorhome into the city center you might be able to find day-time parking as long as you don’t get into the narrow-streets of the “old city” but you will not be able to legally park overnight. In fact in the places we have been able to day-park in big cities we would not feel safe parking overnight. As for the Flamenco cultural experience, the Flamenco group of Conil will fortunately be performing after our Christmas dinner on 20 December and we will get to be a part of that.

Spain - Conil de la Frontera

10 – 26 December 2007

Heading east from the Algarve coast into Spain, there is a very large national park fed by the salt water tides of the Atlantic Ocean and the fresh water of the Rio Gualdaquivir as it flows south into the ocean. The largest national park in Spain at 73,000 hectares, it is home to a wide variety of animals including lynx, deer and wild boar, as well as numerous species of birds and waterfowl: imperial eagle, ducks, heron, and flamingos. Influenced by its proximity to the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and Africa it is an important refuge for migrating European and African birds and waterfowl.

We hope to visit it in some depth. But for now, the lack of roads running from Portugal to Spain along the coast means a big detour for us towards Sevilla in order to get to the province of Cádiz and the Costa de la Luz. (In Spanish most letters in all words are pronounced, so Roger’s last name would be “Elmayz”; accents indicate which syllable is to be emphasized if it differs from the typical accent on the second to last syllable.)

Roger’s attempt to avoid Sevilla and its high speed freeway interchanges and heavy traffic included a route to follow secondary roads to cross the Guadalquivir River at Coria del Rio by ferry, thus remaining at least 40 km south of the big city. In the end we were unable to find the ferry, it was getting dark, so we ended up having to go north to Sevilla and navigate its freeways during the rush hour. “The best laid plans of mice and men…” This meant spending the night at a free campsite at a gas station on the freeway, with 4 or 5 big transport trucks and no one else since the station closed at 2300. Marie-Claire slept like a log to the restful pulsing of the traffic.

Our maps or our navigation skills brought us during the morning rush hour into what looks like a small town on the map, Puerto Real. In reality it was a small city. Fortunately Roger’s Spanish was sufficient to get directions to the National Highway we were seeking to lead us to the coast. Interesting talking to a taxi driver at the train station during the morning rush, but knowing that we were visitors from “el Canadá” he was very helpful and patient, although unable to slow his machine-gun Spanish.

Having investigated a few campsites along the way and finding them too isolated with no bicycle paths linking them to a town we continued on to Conil de la Frontera, which we had read allows or at least turns a blind eye to overnight parking along their ocean-front promenade. We got temporarily installed and wandered up the hillside of this white-washed town that, apart from its extensive beach, could have been lifted from a postcard of Greece.

At the Oficina de Turismo a friendly lady gave us good information on the town and a nearby campsite, and told us that overnight parking along the promenade is prohibited and the police would tell us to move. Consultation with four German motorhomers who had stayed there three nights told us that we need not worry. So we decided to set ourselves up for a few days. Walking back to our motorhome we suddenly see a familiar face with a grand moustached smile jumping out of a big motorhome. It was Bernard; and Lucy from the Netherlands who camped beside us a month ago in Évora, Portugal. They have been on the road for several years, with brief visits to their former town. Australia was one of their long term trips, not in their big motorhome, seen here beside our smaller offspring (yellow highlights) and close to a green self-converted van. The last was carrying 4 young guys and one young woman, all from Sweden, on a trip for several months making music with their guitars, flutes and harmonicas. Bernard and Lucy were en route to Morocco with their motorcycle in their motorhome. Ah the contrasts in travel – viva la diferencia.

This area has been inhabited since the pre-historical period. But the first recorded settlements were those of the Phoenicians who set up highly productive tuna fishing almadrabas, a specialized net system for catching the migrating tuna, a method still practised today. These colonies were taken over by the Carthaginians who continued the tuna and sea salt industries. The Romans turned the town into an important port on the Roman Road from Málaga (on the Mediterranean about 100 km east of Gibraltar) to Cádiz 41 km north of Conil. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the town suffered invasions by the Vandals, Byzantines and Visigoths until its capture by the Moors in 711. The conquest of Sevilla by Ferdinand III in 1248 marked the beginning of the expulsion of the Moors from southern Spain. But the expulsion took time and the frontera (border) between the Moors and the Spanish Kings shifted with time giving rise to many towns and cities here enjoying the suffix de la frontera (of or on the border).

Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, a knight to whom Ferdinand IV granted the village of Huedi Conil, founded the modern town which was known for more than two centuries as Torre de Guzmán after this tower, here with its Christmas decorations, which he had constructed for defence.

Later Conil and the surrounding area on the Costa de la Luz became part of the fiefdom of the Dukes of Medina Sidonia until 1812 when the French influenced Cortes de Cádiz (Parliament of Cadiz) established a liberal constitution that abolished the 500+ year old feudal system.

Seven years earlier, on 21 October 1805, the combined French and Spanish fleet commanded by the French Admiral Villeneuve departed Cádiz harbour to meet Admiral Horatio Nelson and the British “Hearts of Oak” in what became known as the Battle of Trafalgar, one of the decisive battles of naval warfare. Cape Trafalgar is a few kilometres south of Conil, so the town was a witness to the decimation of the Spanish fleet.

Today there are few physical signs of this tumultuous past. The early 14th century Guzman Tower above, a small portion and one gate of the old town wall (Puerto de la Villa) are the two principal examples of the few to be found.

The beautiful 16th century Iglesia de Santa Catalina was restored in the late 19th century resulting in a mix of architectural styles. Currently under renovation from its foundations up, its Moorish influenced beauty shines through the construction barriers and scaffolding.

The Count of Cinco Torres (5 towers) ordered the building of the Iglesia de la Misericordia in the 1760’s. Under his directions it was built in two parts; a church with an oval floor plan and a courtyard surrounded by dwelling places for 30 poor families.

In 1648 when it became clear that the existing municipal buildings were insufficient for the town’s administration, plans were drawn up to construct a new building. The lack of funds prevented this. One hundred and sixty-five years later the French occupation resulted in the dismantling of the 16th century Monastery of the Mínimos Order and the
expulsion of the friars. In 1839 the municipal offices were installed in part of the old monastery (to the right of the church steeple) and in 1843 that part of the monastery was officially taken over by the town council.

The church is now the church of the parish of Santa Catalina.

In the district of the town historically inhabited by the fisherman the dramatically simple Capilla del Espíritu Santo (Chapel of the Holy Spirit) has a stark interior highlighted by
natural light and by the contrast of its simplicity and a gilded Saint Carmen. This 17th century chapel was founded by a private family.

But this is a vibrant living town which expands its numbers 5 fold each summer as Spaniards

and others come to escape the heat of the interior and cities and enjoy sea breezes for summer vacation. In the winter, while a bit slower, it is still a busy place. Imagine having lunch at the “roadside” restaurant. To expand his business this restaurateur has simply expanded the footprint of his space by setting tables up in an available part of the street, and in summer each of these tables would be filled.

A winter night sees the local youth marching band rehearsing for Christmas. Now marching bands in Latin countries are a different experience from their counterparts in North America or for that matter in northern Europe. Picture “Feliz Navidad” played and marched at the slow march, lightened by drum riffles and the brass crescendos of blaring bugles blended with trombones

and trumpets. Add a dollop of cold evenings to get the feel for Christmas and call a daily practice for 8-10 P.M. 50 meters from our motorhome. Check out the range of ages with a concentration of younger members on the blaring bugles – maybe that explains the discordance. Actually it was a nice experience.

To add to the musical feel of the town each day at recess and lunch at the school in the background of the second picture (above in this post) classical music is played over an outside loudspeaker system while the children play games and run in the asphalt covered yard.