Pilgrimage to El Rocio

There were two couples already there in the caseta where we all were to stay till the end of the romeria, (pilgrimage).  Both couples came from the North one from Catalonia and the other from Leon. They were all young and friendly and we all felt quite comfortable with each other.

Food and drink were always at the table ready to be enjoyed. Jerez and Jamon Serrano were the mainstay. There was always someone ready to slice the Jamon with expert hands and a cook was at our service all the time.
As promised, the beds were reasonably comfortable and so finally we had some rest. Next morning we decided to go around together with another couple to discover the place. They too were first timers.

We soon learnt that the hours of the morning were usually spent parading on the sandy roads either by foot, on horseback or in extravagantly decorated carriages or wagons. Men normally wore laced white shirts with suspenders and striped brown or black traje trousers and western style leather boots and the typical black flamenco sombrero hats. Around their waists they wrap wide silk belts of the colors of their province. Women on the other hand wore highly colorful gypsy type flamenco dresses with flowers decorating their hair and heavy makeup to match the clothing extravagance.

Parading on horseback...
... or in extravagantly decorated wagons!

Wherever you looked there was an exquisite mélange of colors and smiles that were a feast for the eye. I was still tired and sleepy, but this unusually vibrant atmosphere put me in another dimension.  I felt a strong wave of energy driving away the exhaustion. We went on further and further exploring other neighborhoods. And wherever we went the atmosphere was equally colorful and gay. The Spaniards certainly know how to spice up such festive occasions!

When we finally returned home there was a larger crowd than the one we left behind earlier that morning.  The group that was to comprise twelve couples was now twenty. They were camping everywhere in the house.

Fernando and Lola, who had in the meanwhile arrived, introduced us to the new arrivals and we quickly blended in. They all came from different parts of Spain. It was a friendly bunch of people who came to enjoy this occasion and earn some benediction from their beloved Virgin del Rocio. We were the only non-Spaniards in the group but they all went out of their way to make us feel part of them. And we did.

New faces continued coming in and gong out, casually helping themselves with the food and drink displayed permanently at the dining table while singing the traditional rociero songs.

Singing traditional rociero songs

After a while the old timers of our group took us with them to do the rounds to other casetas where we were to return the visits and play guests. It was all a friendly informal exchange of genuine generosity where friendships are often struck and promises of reunions made for the coming Rocios.

Wandering around in that festive atmosphere one has to look or smile at the jubilant crowds to find a bottle of Jerez swaying before one’s eyes and out would come the glasses off their leather pouches.  Jerez , the famous sherry drink that originates in the Jerez area of Andalucia is the traditional drink on this occasion. Each person carried his or her glass in a sort of raw leather pouch or cup holder hanging from the neck with a leather stripe.

Equestrians never miss the opportunity of El Rocio to show off their horses and their riding skills. They seem to live on the back of their horses. They make their rounds to other casetas on horseback and are entertained while on horsback. On more than one occasion some even entered our caseta on horseback although almost every house there has wooden rails outside the porch with signs saying “Reservado Caballos”, where horses are tied. It is all reminiscent of the Far West.

Making the rounds
Horses everywhere!
"Reservado Caballos"

In the evenings colors change as dresses change (18) and sounds tend to become louder as rumbas and sevillanas fill the air while both young and old jump to dance with who ever signals an invitation. (19). And more and more Jerez pours into and out of those little glasses hanging from the necks. And the hours pass but no one seems to or rather refuses to notice how late it was getting. But even if one did feel one’s limbs needed resting one is never allowed to retire. That, they say, one may do when one finally returns home after the Rocio.  On one occasion a young lady member of our group silently slipped away from the crowd and went to her bed only to be discovered soon and be told she was breaking the rules. Getting tired is never an excuse to break away from the crowd. Failing to convince her out of bed by beating drums near her head, they brought in the mule that was used to carry the provisions and forced his head onto her face. We all learnt the lesson.