Saca de las Yeguas 2019

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Almonte has not just the Romeria and the Virgin of El Rocio, it also has one of Andalucia’s most important horse events, the Saca de Las Yeguas, the Running of the Mares. There is a unique race of horses here in the Doñana National Park, the Marismeña race. These horses are the original American mustangs. They were imported to America on ships from Huelva, starting with Christoph Columbus in the 16th century.

For the past 500 years on the 26th of June, the mares and their foals, born in the marismas of the Doñana National Park, are brought by the Yegüerizos, the local horse men and women, first to the church in El Rocio to be blessed. Then they proceed through the streets of Almonte to the Recinto Ganadero, the livestock corral, where they are cleaned, vaccinated, reshod, their manes are cut, the foals are branded and some horses sold. After three days they return to their grazing grounds in the Doñana, passing by our gate. This year there were 1,500 horses being herded to and from their grazing areas.

The horse men and women have had a few very tough days finding and gathering up the semi-wild horses in the over 150,000 ha large National park. They arrive there 3-4 days in advance of the drive to camp out and follow a tradition that has no rules or standards, only instinct and the deep understanding and love of the mind of the horse.

It is breath-taking to see groups of riders bringing groups of 300-400 horses, that have not seen a human being for much of the year, into the towns of El Rocio and Almonte. The horse dominates the life for a lot of people here: from the townhouses in El Rocio, that have poles in front of every house to tie the horses and at the back the stables, to the carriage manufacturers, saddle and reins makers and the gorgeous riding boots, hand-made with traditional decor. Alone on our camino are two riding schools and further the other direction is ‘Doñana Horse Adventure’, owned by a french girl, Sandrine, you can book an adventure on horseback through the national Park or the dunes along the beach. [ see https://www.inspirock.com/spain/el-rocio/donana-horse-adventure-a1399490733 ].

There is a monument to the Yegüerizos in Almonte which says: “For he who has never won a horse in the swamp, does not know what it means to ride.”

[ see more at https://www.spain-holiday.com/Almonte/articles/the-saca-de-las-yeguas-almonte-huelva]

The Saca de las Yeguas is followed by the Feria de San Pedro, the patron saint of Almonte, which seamlessly continues the fiesta-athmosphere and celebrations, of which the Spanish are famous.

Spring mornings, Summer days and the darker side of Sunny Southern Spain

Spring has arrived and merges into summer as tulips and daffodils are up and the geckos have come out of hibernation. The cuckoo has been here a while but can now be heard more strongly calling for a mate.

We can also see lots of tiny flowers on our olive trees, despite the leaves falling like it is autumn. We are not sure if this is normal or induced through the fungal disease, that has been spreading due to the very heavy dew most mornings. Diego informed us that this is a bad location for going organic, as the moisture, because of the closeness of the wetlands and sea, makes it a good place for fungal diseases to spread rapidly. That is why our neighbours spray Bordeaux mix, a copper sulfate treatment every 4-6 weeks, which is more than what would be allowed under organic guidelines. So we will just have to see what will happen and judiciously apply our allowable amount of 5 kgs of copper per hectare.

In the garden the garlic and tomatoes are having a good time, leeks will be transplanted next week, but I have no luck with the green beans. Four came up and three died. I am not sure, if it was the transplanting, lack of or too much water or frost or heat that got them; so many possibilities. Broad beans are way easier to grow, but I don’t like them much. We still have some frosty mornings, so that might have something to do with it. The lack of rain makes watering a real must and the well is also pretty low.

Our neighbour Lauren has put four of his horses here to eat the herbage. They contribute their dung as fertiliser and also act as fire-control by keeping the vegetation low.

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our neighbours horses

Free Chimney Cleaners

Some birds try to build a nest on top of the chimney but end up sliding down the new steel pipe inside the chimney and are not being able to get back up. They try and in the process dislodge the soot, which falls onto the fire-grid. Eventually they end up in the fireplace which is closed. So we have to free them, after making sure doors and windows are open for a swift escape to freedom.

Bitter Fruits

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We have a steady trickle of guests and recently hosted two sets of French journalists. Both groups (two and three persons) were interested in environmental matters. The first group wanted to know about the hidden, illegal wells that apparently are used for watering crops. The two lady journalists came here for several reasons; to see some local markets and to investigate the labour conditions and environmental impact of the fruit growing industry. Both are well documented and paint a sad picture.

In fact, if consumers knew or rather wanted to know how these fruits are grown, then they might not be so keen to have soft fruit from Spain on their tables. Here are links to some articles:

https://www.theolivepress.es/spain-news/2019/02/24/too-posh-to-pick-work-shy-spaniards-leave-andalucia-fruit-farmers-berry-concerned/

https://www.thelocal.es/20180628/moroccan-fruit-pickers-complain-of-exploitation-and-harassment-in-spain

https://www.thelocal.es/20180605/metoo-moroccan-fruit-pickers-file-sexual-harassment-complaints-in-spain .

https://www.france24.com/en/20180719-focus-spain-fruit-farms-hell-strawberry-picking-moroccan-women-victims-sexual-assault.

This seems to be a well-known situation and health and social workers and unions are aware of the conditions on some farms, but nobody seems to be doing anything. The rate of abortion goes up each season, when the mostly Moroccan women arrive, as one article stated. So all is not sunshine here and vegetable and fruit growing all over Europe has some very dark sides. The consumer wants cheap food and all sorts of varieties all year round. As long as somebody buys it, it will be grown as long as there are workers available that put up with these conditions because at home there is no work. It is mostly women that suffer the consequences through becoming pregnant having to seek abortion which is subsidised here. But even if they are not pregnant the shame of having been touched by a stranger will be reason enough in their home country to be ostracised, some husbands abandoning their wives and divorcing them.

https://www.france24.com/en/20170616-video-reporters-modern-day-slaves-migrants-workers-exploited-fruit-pickers-spain-italy .

Most workers are too afraid of losing their job if they report unfair, unhealthy or downright slavery conditions.

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Learning Curve No. 6

or   How to look after your Pool

So we thought we want a pool, somewhere to cool down when the thermometer hits 36 plus degrees. Of course a real big one would cost about €7000-9000 and needs a licence. We won’t go there yet – or ever.

Carrefour had this round, over-ground 17 m3, 1 m deep blue thing on sale. Complete with pump, ladder, ground cover and top cover, a real steal. And since we also bought a hoover, they delivered for free. But not without costing me some nerves and had I not already grey hairs, I’d have them now. This Carrefour is ca.20 minutes by car from here, in Bollollus. And they had delivered our fridge, wash machine and oven before. But did they remember the way? No. It was even the same two guys. This turned out to be a drama stretching over three days.

Delivery was to be on the Wednesday, but on Thursday the guy on the phone informed me his colleague would do the delivery the next day after hearing we are out the country (a mere 4 kms from Almonte).  It finally arrived on Friday after nearly an hour on the phone to give directions. By then I was on the way to the beach with Nigel’s brother Stan and daughter Maeve and they listened to this exchange. Me repeating over and over directions I had written down in Spanish and their background rattle and noise as if they were on a horse and cart.

Nigel waited at home and was ready for the new arrival. The next day we levelled the site, removed stones and roots and Nigel heaved buckets of sand to smoothen the site. The three of us then set about sticking the pool together.

A day later we filled the pool up with well water and let it warm up. Now I had to purchase 3-in-one chlorine tablets for keeping the water free of algae, organisms and bacteria and at a pH of around 7.6 so that the chemicals could do their work effectively. This took a while, because I also had to purchase a pH- and Chlor-level testing kit and a floating gadget to put the tablets in. The pH was over 8.2 and it showed by the slippiness of the bottom and walls of the pool that something was amiss. So a bucket of pH-minus was also purchased, 550g of the powder dissolved and added to the pool at night, with the pump running all night to distribute it. I had to repeat this several times to get the pH down to the desired 7.6. By then the water looked clear, the slippiness was gone and all we have to concern ourselves about is to fish out olive leaves, suicidal flies and other critters. Still, the lovely pool water has to be monitored constantly for the correct levels of pH and chlorine so it won’t tip over to a green soup, which would not be very inviting. Although saying that, I had once visions of a eco-pool with self-cleaning plants like reeds and watercress living around the edge. But that would require running water and quite a complicated construction. These were my visions [ see https://www.bing.com/images/search?%5D :

 

NEVER A DULL MOMENT

Today we witnessed the first wild fire. And it happened to be pretty close. The first I knew of it was the helicopter flying over our house and swerving into a semi-circle where I then saw, and smelled, smoke. I run up to the terrace and saw in about 500 m distance a line of smoke. The helicopter was in fact transporting water from the nearby lake at El Rocio to quench the flames. This all happened quite swiftly and within 40 minutes all was under control and the smoke lessened. At one point there were two helicopters doing the round-flight over our finca.

Today we drove to see where the source of the fire was. It was not all that dramatic but got very near to a house. To my eyes it looks as if it was started in a square field of scrub but I could be wrong. Because this seems to be the time where fields are ploughed and prepared for sowing in September, when the first rains are expected. And how to get rid of scrub and dead grass easier then torch it? Which would be madness considering the drought conditions we have now. In fact there is a fire ban in place from the 1st of June to 1st of September. Luckily no wind was blowing and the fire was confined to one side of the road and away from olive groves and our farm. In fact, to prevent fire from spreading most olive and vine groves are ploughed with no vegetation left between the rows, so that fire can’t find food and spread.

 

On a lighter note,

The storks around here have now nearly finished rearing their young and we can spot them on most rooftops in Almonte. On the church roof alone are six nests at least. We can also see them hunting for food near El Rocio in the meadows, a lovely sight.

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As were the Solstice fires on the beaches of the Costa de la Luz, which we witnessed In Mazagon. They are lit every year on the longest day – and shortest night – all over the coast in Spain.

Another sight I do not tire of are the horses, donkeys, mules and carts that casually trot about the streets and byways of Almonte.

And riders on horse-back, photo by Maeve:

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La Saca de las Yeguas – Almonte

Almonte is a small rural town, one of the famous white villages in Andalucia. But it has some very interesting and unique festivals, which are all based on customs typical for the Doñana area. The Andalucian horse plays a very important role in the life of the people here. Nearly everybody rides or owns horses, it seems. They ride through the town, cross the main road or exercise their horse in the field nearby and make them dance.

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After the festivities of Easter have died down the Romerìa is next on the calendar. The pilgrimage to El Rocio at Pentecost is a vibrant exhibition of traditional costume and religious fervour. This takes place in late May or early June, depending on the date of Easter. This is the most important date in the calendar of Almonte, as the Virgin of El Rocio, La Paloma Blanca, is carried also to Almonte every seven years, and back to her shrine in El Rocio.

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In June, on the 26th, then the running of the mares, La Saca de las Yeguas, takes place. Also a fiesta that occupies a whole week of festivities as it merges into the fiesta of the local patron saint, San Pedro. The mares and foals are herded up from the marismas, the wetlands, of the Doñana National Park, and driven by riders first into El Rocio and then into Almonte. Everybody lines the streets to see the up to 1,000 half-wild horses run by, together with the exhausted and dusty Yeguerizos, who have already spent days camping out in the marismas [see https://www.spain-holiday.com/Almonte/articles/the-saca-de-las-yeguas-almonte-huelva and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFscycRzYq8 and  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UzIPTZl_mo ].

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In the outskirts of Almonte, in the towns special corral, the horses are being prepared for sale. They are being cleaned, their manes and tails are cut, young horses branded. These horses are of the local Marismena race, a race that is known for its strength and endurance.

 

We are very lucky in the way that our finca actually lies along the camino that the horses are guided back by the riders to their grazing grounds in the national park. They literally passed by our gates the other morning.

The wetland of El Rocio:

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