A Solo Side Trip To El Rocío

Posted on September 21, 2012


It was our last night in Seville before taking a train heading further south, to Cádiz. It had been a first for me, spending a vacation with friends rather than boyfriends, family, work or alone, and it was already one of my best experiences ever. I was having all the fun one would expect from such a trip; three girls backpacking their way through the south of Spain. But despite all this, that last night I couldn’t bring myself to sleep. A certain restlessness had taken a hold of me and as I lay awake in my otherwise comfortable dorm bed, my mind started to wander.

Something just didn’t feel right. Yes it had been fun, a lot of fun even, but I suddenly felt like I had wasted precious time. Despite having had some good laughs and meeting tons of new people over the past week, I wasn’t getting everything I wanted out of this trip. The days had gone by so fast and I felt like I was getting carried away in a haze of parties and people, not taking any time to myself. Suddenly I felt the walls closing in on me and I knew I needed to be alone for a while.

I had read about Doñana National Park before I got to Spain and had more or less planned on going there. However, as the days progressed my friends and I decided to skip it, because we didn’t have that much time and would rather spend an extra day in either Seville or Cádiz. But that night I just knew I had to go there. At 3 am, I made my way downstairs to the deserted lobby to do some last-minute research on the internet, went back to bed and got up again 5 hours later, to tell my friends I’d meet them in Cádiz the next day.

I took a morning bus going from Seville to the town of El Rocío, from where I would be able to access the park. As I sat there in my comfy seat, I noticed that I was the only tourist there and felt relieved. I enjoyed listening to the Spanish chitchat, occasionally understanding a few words here and there. I spent my time looking out the window, taking in the beautiful scenery as we drove past picturesque little white villages, outstretched olive groves and orange trees. I was all by myself, driving away from everyone I knew and I had never felt better. I felt my body relax while I was listening to my favorite songs and slowly drifting off.

The man in the seat next to me woke me up, telling me that we had reached the town of El Rocío. After he gave me directions I gathered my things, still half asleep, got out of the bus and followed the long sandy road that would lead me to the center of the town. It turned out to be exactly what I needed, a quiet, sleepy town, where nobody speaks a word of English. It was unlike any place I had ever been to. Wherever I looked I saw people on horses or donkeys and there was only one paved road in the entire town; a long boulevard-like street that divided the city center from a green open field where more horses stood, peacefully grazing.

I walked around for an hour or so, amazed at the sight of the white buildings, the beautiful cathedral and the decorations hanging over the streets. I found a decent looking restaurant and I sat down for a tinto de verano. Apart from two elderly ladies who were playing a card game I didn’t understand, I was the only one there.
Here, in this remote place with its slow pace and easygoing people, I found exactly what I needed.

In the end, I never made it to the park, but it didn’t matter. Being there on my own was enough. Traveling with friends is fun, but it can also be exhausting at times. You don’t always want to do the same things, you don’t always agree on directions and sometimes you get sick of each others company. Sometimes, you just need to be on your own. I’m glad I made the spontaneous decision to just head out and see where I’d end up, finding my own way and doing things that I wanted to do when I wanted to do them. Right then and there, I promised myself I would do what I always dreamed of, but wasn’t sure I would be able to do; travel to Asia alone.

The sun was setting and I returned to Seville fully recharged, excited about what was ahead. I took a train to  Cádiz, where I met my dear friends, shared a few drinks and had the best vacation of my life.