WE were six consenting adults who’d come to the woods around Jimena de la Frontera to see a sex show! A once-a-year opportunity to watch the local babes shaking their booties in front of the ‘horniest’ males.
More precisely, we’d booked on an excursion to witness the berrea, the awesome autumnal forest ritual that goes on, for the most part unseen by humans, as summer mellows into autumn in Spain.
‘Nocturnal Observation of Deer on Heat,’ read the publicity poster that lured us into the wilds of the Spanish countryside on a nothing-better-to-do Saturday night with a group of people we’d never met before. Yes, it does sound mildly pornographic. As a former townie from Fuengirola, I had no idea this kind of thing went on in the countryside. Not the deer rut, of course, the organised excursions to see it.
The densly cork-forested Los Alcornocales Natural Park which surrounds the Campo de Gibraltar is home to some 35,000 roe, fallow and red deer – perfect for indulging in a spot of voyeurism. Several local companies run organised trips at dawn, dusk or all-night, along ‘safe’ routes, and it’s best to go with one of them if you don’t want lead shot up your derrière… The cazadores furtivos (poachers) are also out in force during the rutting season. It gives them more of an unsporting chance to bag a nice piece of venison and a wall trophy when the deer are off their guard.
I had great expectations from my trip: foreplay, perhaps, accompanied by a chorus of baritone bellowing; a thrilling trial of strength (antlers away!) and, if we were extremely lucky, the grand finale – with transport, guides and a picnic thrown in.
But if snooping on Mr Stag getting his leg over Bambi’s mother sounds more than a tad voyeuristic I can only say, ‘if only’.
There we were, six strangers in the fading light, hung about with telephoto lenses and staring through binoculars better designed for the theatre at a small brown speck on the fringes of the tree line, at least a kilometre away. It was a doe (a deer, a female deer). The stags? They were at some other party. And, by the noise they were making, it was a wild gig!
It reminded me of the time we saw a grey speck in Tarifa, on a whale watching trip … But that’s another story.
No one’s to blame. (At least we heard the stags and saw more does, and the tour company offered to take us on another trip, free of charge.) But when you book a ticket to one of Mother Nature’s shows, there are no guarantees. Just ask Sir David Attenborough.
And, ok, you can see everything bigger and better on TV. But there’s something about the adventure, the anticipation, the craziness of doing something you can laugh about with friends afterwards, that makes it all worthwhile, with the following provisos:
• Forget binoculars – bring the Hubble telescope.
• Check the itinerary before you don uncomfortable camouflage gear. Expecting we’d be crawling through undergrowth, and not wanting to scare the deer off, I wore a forest green jacket made for English mid-winter, not this year’s Indian summer, and was hotter under the collar than the stags…
• If you’re planning some nocturnal camping this autumn make sure you know what the mating call of a sexed-up stag sounds like or you’ll be quaking in your climbing boots. The terrifying roars are more akin to a carnivore (think mountain lion) than a ruminant!