La Romeria del Rocio – Part 1


“Sixty loaves, forty bars of chocolate, forty packets of paper napkins, 400 bottles of beer…” I overheard The Hermano Mayor, (big brother) Alfonso, our host for the day, was ringing ahead.

The second and last day of the camino had begun with the lighting of 3 loud bangers. BANG to tack your horse,  BANG to mount it, and BANG to get walking quick-march. The horses didn’t flinch. They were used to it and this was their favourite occasion of the year.  The day was as much about them as it was about their owners.

Over 100 hermandads all walk towards  the village of El Rocio every year in pilgrimage. A feat of organisation and logistics, a feat of endurance kept pace by the spiritual rhythm created by walking the endless stretches of path through the sand and grassy dunes and a drummer plays his pipe while beating a drum.

The smell of eucalyptus, and pine warming to the early morning sun was overpowering.

People chatted excitedly, making new friends, catching up with old ones, and a time for contemplation, would come later in the day, when tiredness overcomes us, we become quieter and take the time to think up future plans, or simply steal a moment for one’s own company.

The sound of a whistle played Rociero tunes into the warm wind, accompanied by a beating drum. It mesmerised and calmed us like an indian snake charmer on a whistle and drum all at once, and we kept walking.

Discarded husks of prawns were thrown from wagons onto the sun baked tarmac, and  chalk-white scuffs of hooves were evidence of  hundreds of pilgrims moving in the same direction towards El Rocio before us.

35kms to cover today. (35 degrees, with dry breeze made it quite comfortable)

Aniseed grew pertly on the verges and as the sun rose, the woods below darkened in contrast. The dust softened the profiles of horses and people into shadows in dappled light.

Bright polka dots (lunares) in extreme contrasts  on crisp skirts and hourglass silhouettes excited the eye.

Dust, dust and more beautiful dust gave everything a magical ‘sfumato’ effect all around us.

At 11 o clock on the dot, we gathered very close.  Frills of skirts closed up together, arms embraced/entwined in their neighbours, horses squeezed together and snorted, and stillness reigned for the Prayer Of The Angel, under a huge umbrella pine on the outskirts of the donana park.

It is was a very emotional moment for everybody, steeped in ritual and tradition.  Poetry was spoken, and music sung. Dedications were made to the people who had spent 6 months preparing for this day, and those who made this pilgrimage every year were overcome with joy and grief together. And for the new buds like us; the peregrines; the true honour and privilege to been invited, and included, was felt at this moment more than any other.

“Viva la fiesta” – Long live all this, they shouted.