Pilgrimage to El Rocio
May 1989


When my wife and I arrived at the home of our friends Juan and Maria for tea there was already a small group of people sitting by the swimming pool having a lively conversation. We got quite curious, but arriving in the middle of the discussion we were at a loss for a while. One word kept coming up that made us so curious, comico.

Juan, reading the curiosity in our eyes, told us that Comico was the name of Fernando’s stallion. Fernando, Juan’s nephew, nodded with a gleeful smile as Juan exuberantly explained to us that Fernando’s Comico had won the regional beauty contest for horses the day before. 


Fernando, Lola and Comico
Fernando and Lola loved Comico not only because he was so beautiful and graceful but because he was also a bread earner. Fernando trained him to do some tricks and dances and so would grasp every opportunity to display his own skills at the back of his beautiful Comico and also proudly show Comico play the tricks he had taught him.  Fernando and Lola lived rather comfortably but liked a little more spice in their life.
 Fernando was not the only man in Andalusia who adored horses. Horsemanship was, and still is, a source of pride in the hearts and minds of Andalusians, almost a cult. Traditionally, horsemanship was one basic prerequisite for a man to earn the title “caballero”, and the tradition continued till our present day. Addressing a man “caballero” is a sign of respect and admiration.

 And the Andalusians, men and women, would not let an opportunity escape without showing off their riding skills and the agility and gracefulness of their horses. Fiestas and ferias are unimaginable without horses. And those occasions provided the best opportunity for Fernando to do some marketing for Comico.  Mare owners looked at Comico like mothers would look at eligible young men for their daughters.  Deals are struck on such occasions and everybody is happy, Fernando’s wallet is a bit fatter and the owner of the mare is proud to have such a flamboyant father for his dear mare’s kids.

The most important of all such occasions was the famous Rocio, an annual pilgrimage that takes place on the Pentecost Monday towards the end of May near a village called Almonte, not far from Huelva in the southwestern part of Andalusia. El Rocio draws pilgrims from all over Spain as far away as the Canary Islands and even from Latin America. 

Many of those coming from the mainland start their journey to the place weeks ahead of the peak rituals. They come on horseback, in decorated wagons, or in other types of carriages and vehicles, even tractors to participate in the activities of El Rocio.  Many come all the way on foot in homage to the Virgin. And Fernando together with his wife Lola never missed this unparalleled occasion to market Comico and have some fun at the same time.

Fernando and Lola hammered the idea into our heads of sharing this occasion with them, as part of a group of about 12 couples. My wife jumped to the idea. I was rather hesitant fearing that the venture would be too tiring and boring. Besides, being non-religious myself, I normally try to avoid all religious rites. But seeing her enthusiasm I finally gave in.
We bought the necessary clothes and gear used on such occasions and on the appointed day we took Fernando and Lola with us and drove in the evening to San Lucar de Barrameda where Comico and other members of the group would be waiting for us to cross Guadalquivir River and the dunes on the way to our destination. Traveling at night, we were told, was in line with the standing tradition that night was the time when the Rocio  Romeria (pilgrimage) activities take place, and traveling to do the Rocio is considered part of these activities.