08 August 2007

El Presidente! Él está viniendo!

Yesterday the Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (for it is he) chose to visit the bird-watchers' paradise that is the Doñana National Park. So did the family Botogol. I think it is fair to say that of the two of us, he attracted the more attention.

Eventually, we found out it was the presence of el Presidente that was the reason we spent forty-five minutes parked on a beach in a sweltering bus containing 17 excitable and excited Spaniards, all speaking a style of impenetrable Spanish where all but the first two consonants of every word are silent.

We were waiting to cross the estuary back to Sanlúcar, a tantalising 500m away; the ferry was there, but it wasn't moving. Through my binoculars (with which I hadn't managed to correctly focus on a single bird all morning) I could see across the water people in the cool café shade enjoying their ice-cold manzanilla and tapas. We had 2 litres of tepid water.

With a peculiar sense of deja vu, I stood and approached the bus driver, plaintively, but the bus driver, he shrugged; I subsided.

Then without warning I leapt from my seat and made a grab for the door. Without even turning around, the driver snorted and hit the central-locking button, and I returned, defeated, back to my bench.

Perhaps, I thought, they are waiting for us all to collapse one at time in the heat, so that they can harvest our kidneys before propping us up in a bath of ice. I thought longingly of my phrasebook (Chapter 11: In a Hostage Situation). Why do you always leave it behind in the villa when you really need it?

At least our loved ones would have a decent photographic record of how we had spent our final hours: that is, bouncing around in a large-wheeled bus up and down a bumpy beach terrorising the local wildlife into panic or flight for the entertainment of the tourists. Totally ignorant of avian fauna, and in the complete absence of any English commentary whatsoever, we had enjoyed ourselves spotting big birds, little birds, medium-sized birds and - I think I can safely say - seagulls. Also, and really the highlight of the morning, a dead seal. And deer, lots of deer.

There are rumours of a lost stone-age tribe in the Doñana, living in prehistoric grass huts, feeding entirely off wild boar, berries, and medium-sized birds and totally unaware of the existence of Manzanilla sherry. But we didn't see any.

A shiny black Toyota suddenly roared from the trees and shot across the beach and straight on to the ferry. Spanish cameras clicked, the ferry turned and sped off towards Sanlúcar and we were finally released on to the sand to await its return.

When we finally got on the boat, some twenty minutes later, the ferryman was understandably excited. "You'll never guess", he said, "who I had in the back of my ferry this morning"

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