Tuesday, 28 June 2011

It is delicate and fragile: a lake complex disappearing in the summer and reappearing like a phoenix in the late winter (almost spring), only to disappear again with the next summer. Its fragile and subtle: a cyclical ecosystem dying and germinating with the seasons, fighting to come back and dying again. To the sentimental observer, it is a land of impossible contrasts, mirages and illusions, amazing apparitions, kaleidoscopic colours. There is green and blue and yellow and white and ochre and brown and grey and pink and black. They are all there, against the horizon that throbs beyond the corn fields and the olive trees and the lonely tractors and the whistling trains. Campillos Lakes: a delicate, subtle, fragile, unique ecosystem.

Lagunas de Campillos Nature Reserve

There used to be seven of them, but they were so fragile that two of them –Redonda and Toro– vanished years ago. Now they are five within the boundaries of Campillos: Dulce, Salada, Camuñas, Capacete, and Cerero. They are connected by trails, walks, paths, back roads, rail tracks, and even a royal cattle drive, connecting Ronda to Algeciras. You can get around this 1,126ha nature reserve on foot, on a mountain bike, on horseback, or by car (although not all of them are accessible this way), enjoying the surrounding plains and their olives and wild olives, corn fields and sunflowers. Lagunas de Campillos was designated as a nature reserve in 1989. Given the dramatic changes the area undergoes with the seasons, it is better to come from fall to spring. In times of drought, the lakes become white saline mirages –a sort of shrunk magic veil.

Five Lakes and Corn Fields

Given the fragility of this ecosystem, it is surprising to read that, in the nineteenth century, the people living in Campillos used to go fishing in Dulce Lake. This means that, 150 years ago, this lake may not have gone dry in the summer and had a stable fish population. An 1833 manuscript proves this. Thinking about this, I park my car and get ready to explore the lake area. Dulce is a big lake. Getting off my car, I can hear the first sounds that transport me to a different space with a unique yet universal language. The wetlands in Málaga Province are well cared for; most of them feature a bird-watching area where visitors can take a look at local birds and other animals without disturbing them. Of course, I am carrying my binoculars with me (together with my camera and notepad). Bird watching takes time and patience. You can first hear them in the reed: wing flapping, cawing, clucking, splashing. Then you can see a static landscape, where everything looks so quiet. On closer examination, things begin to move. You can see the wings, the wakes on the banks, the glides in the warm air. Pieces fit in, as in a puzzle: clucking and wakes, cawing and glides, flapping and splashes. Then you start to match images with names. Water birds –common shelducks, little egrets, ducks, Kentish plovers, typical waders, flamingos, common stilts, coots, avocets– are the most abundant. If you stay for a while, you can see many of them. (It could be a good idea to bring a handbook of Málaga’s birds if you want to enjoy your trip even more.) From my vantage point, leaning on the wooden shelves, I can see how the birds dance gracefully by the lake –a smooth, tender dance.
The lakes in Campillos have the same bird population as the lakes in Fuente de Piedra, Archidona, and Alameda (La Ratosa). The birds fly from south to north or from north to south, and some species feed and nestle here. A sign shows a route that must be interesting in spring: 22km in 7 hours, from Dulce Lake in Campillos to Los Gaitanes Gorge in Ardales. It can be done on foot, by bike, or even on horseback. The route covers most of the Guadalteba region, visiting some of the best bird-watching spots. It is perfect for bird lovers. Write it down. The five lakes beat at the same rate, but each has a character of its own, either because it is closer to the fields or to the passing train, or because it was put to commercial uses in the past, or because it barely shows seasonal effects. Salada Lake, for instance, has had an eventful history. The whole lake complex is characterised by low salinity. However, until 50 years ago, locals got sodium chloride in non-industrial ways from this lake. It is in the middle of the complex, behind a hill. Together with Capacete, it is the second lake in terms of size. It is also remarkable for its aquatic plants: Althenia, Chara, ruppia, and so on. Going from one lake to the next, I can spot more animals. The paths crisscrossing the fields make it possible to see ocellated lizards, Montpellier snakes, viperine water snakes, green frogs, common parsley frogs, common frogs, rabbits and hares, weasels, or foxes. The ecosystem is self-sufficient and we are just visitors here, so reptiles and their friends do not care about our curiosity and do not show. We just get hints: an orange speck behind a gorse bush, an astonished rabbit in grey and brown in the middle of a trail, a hissing snake… The road from Dulce to Capacete Lake, past Cerero Lake and Camuñas Lake, cuts across the fields. I can picture farmers in old times, loading their mules with olives, chewing rosemary, wearing caps against the sun, their skin weather-beaten and their hands hardened. Few signs remain of that past life. Donkeys and mules have been replaced by tractors and baling machines that greet the world with their clouds of ochre dust. I wander about slowly under the morning sun. From time to time, I can feel the refreshing breeze. I you are planning to visit all five lakes, do not forget your bottle of water. The tour is short and the course is flat, which is great for mountain bikes. However, fountains are nowhere to be seen. Water can be found in the lakes only. So bring some with you. Some of the nearby paths show silvery threads across them. They form a fine network that can only be seen in the reflection of the sun. Some of the birds feeding in the lakes build their nests in the reed beds surrounding them, so they leave their wet footprints on the trails when they move around. These are fresh. The aromas in the lake complex are unique, giving rise to a special blend: salt from the water, sweet thyme and rosemary from the sierras (these two abound in the fields, alongside rockrose, sage, gorse, or lentisk around Camuñas. The clouds are reflected in the quiet water like a mirage floating in the air. Colours –ochre, green, blue, yellow…– mix to create a perfectly unique landscape. Whereas in winter everything turns green, in spring ochre and yellow prevail. A single landscape dominated by different hues, depending on the season. I stroll down the fields between the trees, skirting a sunflower field. Bales of corn rest on the hills. I step on the earth and then on the asphalt. I can hear the train from Ronda to Algeciras in the distance. It could be a nice route. Note it down.


Sitting on a wooden bench, I can hear wings being flapped. Then a pink and white flame shines before my eyes. Just a shake. The flamingo stretches its neck and sinks its beak in the water once more. Then it flaps its wings again. It takes off. It glides above me. It draws a circle above the lake and flies away to the north/northeast, in the direction of Fuente de Piedra. A white and pink stroke ripping the air. The clucking, buzzing, and splashing in the area seem to die away. Everything is so quiet.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Useful links: To read more about the lakes in Campillos, go to the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Government of Andalusia, A Visitor’s Window Into Natural Areas. Lagunas de Campillos Nature Reserve lies between the township of Campillos, in the region of Guadalteba.

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

Geolocation: Find the exact location of this nature reserve, located in Campillos, on the Google map below.

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