No sooner than I had got home from my last trip and it was almost time to head off again, this time though it was a photo specific trip on what has become an annual jaunt with my good friend and near neighbour, Mike. We are very lucky to have understanding and generous wives who let us loose on our own but they are safe in the knowledge that we won't stray and we are literally totally focussed on our passion, wildlife photography.
In previous years we have travelled together to Scotland,Hungary, Bulgaria( twice) and Iceland. This year we decided to head west to Spain and specifically for the region of Extremadura, west of the capital city, Madrid. Mike had been some years ago so he had some prior knowledge but for me inland Spain was an unknown quantity and in fact it was many years since I last visited mainland Spain at all, probably about 40!
Extremadura is well known as a birding hotspot with several species we definitely had hopes of seeing and capturing in camera and it also has the benefit of being easy to access too and not particularly expensive. Last year our trip was the shortest for some time at 7 days, this year we decided to make it 14 which was stretching the goodwill of our ladies to the extreme but they gave their approval to go ahead , so go ahead we did.
Flights directly to Madrid with Easyjet is the perfect travel solution as they have an extremely generous hand luggage allowance and depart from nearby Liverpool. The cost was only £109pp return including one hold and one large size hand baggage. Car hire was £275 for 14 days although there was an additional charge of £70 for a named extra driver which we took up. Accommodation was booked using https://www.booking.com and we decided on a two centre trip, 4 nights near the town of Almoharin, south of Trujillo, 10 nights in Colera Y Chozas which is actually not in Extremadura but the neighbouring province of Castille La Mancha.
Why Colera Y Choza?
Because there is an opportunity to hire professionally run bird hides form a local operator and we wanted a mix of both hides and walkabout photography.
Our accommodation in Almorharin was the excellent Finca Flores Amarillas, in Colera Y Chozas the very inexpensive Hostal restaurant Cuatro Caminos. 14 nights accomodation would add up to £425 pp and nearly half being for the four nights in Finca Flores In total we were spending around £800 each plus shared petrol costs, food, drink and the hire of the hides.
All set, we left Liverpool on 23rd of April arriving in Madrid in the early evening. What should normally be a quick hire car pick up turned in to a drawn out affair as the girl on the desk was learning. We were eventually given our keys and a copy of the report of car were getting. It had 25 recorded damage spots! Ah well, less likely to notice anymore so we didn't mind that however when we opened the doors the stink of stale tobacco smoke was overwhelming so we refused to take it. Instead we were given a virtually brand new but underwhelming Citroen Elysee. Still, it served it's purpose and got us safely through the trip, in fact despite our long delay in picking the car up we arrived at our destination ahead of schedule thanks to Spain's excellent road network.
We had arranged the first night at Colera Y Chozas with good reason. Firstly it was an ideal stop over to break the journey further south, secondly it gave an opportunity to meet the hide operator to discuss what hides would be available to us but most importantly it gave us the chance to meet up with friends Steve and Rich who had arrived there several days previously and had already had their hide experiences.
They joined us for dinner mid way through our meal and Steve looked eagerly at our chicken stew which included some vegetables in it. He'd been asking for chicken all week but as yet hadn't been served any nor had they seen sight of anything remotely vegetarian. Tonight wasn't his lucky night either, they were served slices of pork and gravy with nothing to accompany it.
Food it seemed wasn't a strong point of the Hostal Cuatro Caminos, no choice either, you got what you were given.
To a certain extent the hide operator seemed to work in a similar fashion too but that we would discover later.
For now we had a pleasant evening discussing the hide experience , the gear needed in terms of lenses and a general catch up.
The weather Steve and Rich had experienced so far had been cold and windy, not typically springtime in Spain.
Would it improve?
We'd find out in the coming days.