Postcard from... Almeria

 

 

It is one of Spain’s most surreal sights: travelling on the motorway through the desolate region of semi-desert in south-easterly Almeria province, suddenly on your left a Native American village of wigwams – complete with occupants in moccasins, animal skins and full headdresses – hauls into view.

But it is really there and has been ever since 1964, when Sergio Leone shot the first of three spaghetti Westerns in Almeria and failed to remove the sets when he finished. For decades afterwards, Spaniards could visit the Wild West without getting on a plane – even as the wigwams sagged, and the flimsy “Main Street” house-front frames slowly toppled over.

But since 1980, when businessmen turned the sets into the “Mini-Hollywood” theme park, spectators have been able to take part in shoot-outs in the Yellow Rose saloon, cower as Indians stage dawn raids, and whoop and holler as cancan dancers thunder up and down a tiny bar-room stage – though however much they pay, customers are still not allowed to shoot the pianist.

In keeping with its surreal feel, in the park’s “bonus attraction”, a zoo, the latest exhibition recreates three Namibian ecosystems – one of the river Okavango, another of the Etosha National Park, and a third the Kalahari’s Skeleton Coast. All come complete with animals from Africa – and if drivers on the nearby motorway think the elephants and rhinos standing against a backdrop of wigwams somewhere in the middle of a Spanish desert must be a mirage, it would be hard to blame them.

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