Friday, 3 June 2011

The blue sheet plays hide-and-seek with the olive trees. It emerges between two olives, then vanishes. My eyes play tricks on me, as if I were before a mirage in the desert. And it is not just today. La Ratosa appears and disappears, depending on the season. It is bright blue in spring and in winter, brownish in autumn and in summer. It is an ever-changing territory in a delicate balance. Now it is brimming with life: clucking, trilling, swishing, whispering, murmuring, wing flapping, splashing, squelching… It is the soundtrack of the lake, a symphony of nature accompanying the distant murmur of human life, with its tractors and high-speed trains. The dark red earth lies in sharp contrast to the blue lagoon, the pale green olives, or the pink flamingos. So we have the soundtrack and the palette. We just need to let go now.

Laguna de la Ratosa Nature Park

La Ratosa Lake was designated as a Nature Reserve in 1999. It boasts a series of features that make it so special. It is a fragile ecosystem, surrounded by heavily cultivated areas. Moreover, it is subject to the whims of the seasons, drying up in the summer to be reborn in winter and spring. It is a small area, covering only 24 hectares, originating in the natural drainage of an aquifer. Located between Alameda and Humilladero, in the hinterland of Málaga Province and close to the border with Seville, this ecosystem suffers the summer heat, which evaporates the water in the lake. As a result, La Ratosa is surrounded by a narrow reed bed and birds do not nest there; it is only a passing and feeding area. These features make the lake inaccessible except to researchers, who must get permission from environmental authorities. But if you are not an expert, you can still have a great time skirting the lake on the outside. I can tell you you can. La Ratosa Lake is part of a larger ecosystem comprising other lakes –Fuente de Piedra, Campillos, Archidona– and the Guadalhorce Estuary, which is the gateway to Spain from Africa.

Walk, Silence, Life

I have parked my car next to the sign of Laguna de las Castañuelas. I am welcomed by a cloud of white butterflies and blue dragonflies dancing by the lake. The earth is bright red. Getting out of my car, I can hear clucking. Ten flamingos making a V against the bright blue sky fly over me. The flap their wings slowly and rhythmically, like ballet dancers. They are so close to me but they do not get frightened. Changing directions, they hide in the shadow of the olive trees. Taking a look at the lake, I can see some of the inhabitants of La Ratosa: as many as fifteen different bird species, including great crested grebes, black-necked grebes, little grebes, grey herons, cattle egrets, greater flamingos, Western marsh-harriers, common moorhens, Eurasian coots, black-winged stilts, black-headed gull, lesser black-headed gulls, gull-billed terns, and black terns. I begin my walk around the lake. Silence can be a tool and an ally here. I skirt the lake amidst the olives, greeting a couple of men spraying the wild trees. I keep walking, always silent. It is the only way of becoming familiar with the subtle sounds in the area –cluck, splash, swish… I can make out the green rings of a snake fleeing the main road, a yellow alligator almost 0.5m long just five steps away from me, a static rabbit in the grass surrounding the lake… Every now and then I stop and listen. I give the landscape a closer look and what seemed motionless begins to move in a unique secret dance. The reeds rock to reveal the blue lake behind them. I am walking down an earthen trail used by tractors which draws a sort of belt surrounding the lake. Behind a bend, hiding in the tall grass, a bunch of greater flamingos show their huge beaks and their pink wings. I take out my binoculars and watch them. Then I get my camera and take a couple of pictures. But I do not want to frighten them. I walk slowly, step by step, trying to make no noise. As I come closer, they swim across the lake, without flapping their wings, just moving smoothly in the water. They are so delicate… A heron is pecking at the water. As I make headway, the lake gets hidden behind a large field of daisies, lilacs, and poppies, framed by the ever-present olive trees. A high-speed train moves across the horizon in the distance, like a fleeting, muffled arrow. Fresh, sweet smells. I take a deep breath. I come as close to the lake as the reddish mud surrounding it allows me to. More moorhens –black body, white beak– swimming in V-shaped arches with their chicks trailing behind. The butterflies suck the daisies and the lilacs and the poppies, flying in erratic ways. The dragonflies buzz in the corn fields. And there is more. I cannot see it, but I know it is there. I have read about it in A Visitor’s Window Into Natural Areas: La Ratosa Lake has a high botanical value thanks to its underwater species and to the presence of specimens of Althenia orientalis, a plant living in shallow water. In the clearings by the lake, given the water’s salty nature, there are white salt pan traces –a harbinger of the forthcoming summer, of the ephemeral character of life at La Ratosa, of its fragile, changeable existence. I keep walking.


I stay put. Silent. Trying to become one with the environment. At first nothing happens. But then, little by little, life goes back to its old rhythm, impervious to the presence of man. I can hear the clucking again, and the flapping of wings, the drone of dragonflies, a hidden trill amidst the olive trees, the subtle sibilant sounds of reptiles, the creaking of branches, the swishing of reeds, the chirping of crickets, even my own breathing. I am now part of La Ratosa.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Useful links: To read more about La Ratosa Lake, go to the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Government of Andalusia, A Visitor’s Window Into Natural Areas. You can also read the entry for Alameda in this blog. >

When to come: The best time of year to visit La Ratosa is from February to June. After June, the landscape changes dramatically due to water evaporation. The vast sheet of water becomes a salt pan in the summer and remains like this throughout the autumn.

Images: Here you can see all the photos of this blog entry

Geolocation: Find the exact location of this natural area, between Alameda, Humilladero and La Roda de Andalucía, in Seville, on the Google map below.

Ver El Color Azul del Cielo "Espacios Naturales de Málaga" en un mapa más grande