Spain, travel

Sun And Life In The Tabernas Desert

Driving down the two-lane highway, surrounded by a vast natural desert landscape, the wind started to pick up. An actual tumbleweed blew across the road right in front of the car. Immediately afterward, there it was. The gawdy, star-spangled sign atop a flat rectangular building alerted us that we had reached Route 66. We looked at each other wide-eyed and said, VAMOS!! We pulled into the gravel parking lot, delighted at this discovery. It appeared to be a huge bar. An American bar. Patrons were sitting outside on the covered terrace while waiters in Route 66 t-shirts buzzed around, taking orders. People were eating burgers, steaks, fries, chicken sandwiches, and so on. A sound check coming from the speakers announced a band was about to start playing. On the stage were a group of Western-dressed musicians. As the music started to play, a massive roar of engines approached. A cloud of dust swelled around the parking lot. We shared another wide-eyed glance – ¿qué está pasando aquí? The dust started to settle, making visible the group of no less than 30 bikers. And by bikers, I don’t mean bicyclists, I mean real, Harley-Davidson, leather-clad bikers. They stopped to pose all together for a photo in front of the bar with their motorcycles. Turned out they were all Spanish and were just out for a Saturday afternoon ride. But those fifteen minutes felt like they were straight out of a movie.


Mini Hollywood

Route 66 was just the beginning of the American-themed weekend. We drove up to the parking lot at 9:30 am, ready to get in line to buy tickets, expecting a massive crowd of people. Turns out, we were the second ones in line and there wasn’t really a big crowd. Enter: Oasys Mini Hollywood, the backdrop of a number of Western and spaghetti Western movies filmed in the 1950s and onward. The town has been kept intact and is now an amusement park, complete with a zoo. Our feet trampled across the wooden planked porches, sounding exactly as if we were wearing cowboy boots. People dressed as Western cowboys rode horses and wagons around “town”, kicking up clouds of dust. The sun beat down hot, and the desert’s dry heat was all-encompassing. The can-can show in the Yellow Rose saloon was full of raucous laughter and whistling. The re-enactment of a street fight between gun-slinging citizens had everyone’s rapt attention. Just another day straight out of a movie.

Sol y Vida

Turning off the main highway, we drive along in a rural area, wondering where we’re going. We almost miss it but we spot the sign on the right. The car pulls up to an iron gate, I ring the bell, wondering if this is actually the place. A wolf-looking dog pokes his head through the bars and I think, we must have made a mistake. A couple of minutes later a man on a golf cart rides up and opens the gate. His accent tells me he’s probably German. He leads us down a gravel trail lined with cacti to a one-story orange house. This is the place I found on Booking to spend two nights in the Tabernas desert. The name is Sol y Vida Arco Núcleo Zoológico. The German explains that we have free reign to walk around the grounds (but please stay on the trails), and that we could sit and peacefully contemplate the turtles in the turtle pond. Another shared glance – ¿y esto qué es? ¿Dónde me has metido? I thought there was a swimming pool, and am a little disappointed it seems it’s just the turtle pond. No, the owner explains, the swimming pool is just down the path, you can use it whenever you want. Sigh of relief. The wolf-like creature heads straight toward my legs and I bristle. Oh, he’s friendly. He leans his whole body against my legs and wags his tail as I scratch his ears. That’s Rex, the owner says. Are you okay with dogs? (Claro que sí.) He explains that this is a conservation organization for reptiles and amphibians native to the region and that he lives just down the path in the bigger house.

Entering the guest house, I’m awestruck by the enormous indoor porch full of rustic decorations and wide windows. Going further into the house, I’m impressed by the tasteful decoration and also by the straight-out-of-the-80s appliances. The long, smooth wooden table by the window is the perfect spot to have dinner, so after we get our provisions from the supermarket in town, we sit down to a nice dinner overlooking the turtle pond and the trees outside. Rex stops by to greet us outside the window. The next two days, when we’re in the house, are full of relaxation, swimming, turtle-gazing, and walking around the grounds to see the other animals. Frogs, chickens, more turtles, some exotic-looking birds the size of turkeys. Rex, the world’s most sociable dog, stops by to greet us several times a day and sits with us by the turtle pond. The chorus of frogs singing and roosters crowing were the only sounds in that natural paradise. I enjoyed the daily rhythm of waking up with the sun, taking my cup of tea out to the turtle pond, and sitting in silent contemplation. I can say for sure that the Tabernas desert gave me a feeling of renewal. Maybe in part because I felt like I was back home again. I can’t wait to have another opportunity to go back to Sol y Vida, where my new best friend Rex will hopefully be waiting to see me.