It was hard to know where to go for Christmas. I had to take some leave or lose it, and I knew that if I stayed in Dakar I would end up "popping into the office to see if there are any urgent emails" (= spending my leave at work) so I had to go somewhere. Flights from/within Africa are generally expensive, and I had already taken holidays in all of Senegal's neighbouring countries - then I saw a trip advertised to Extremadura, in the west of Spain. Birdwatching, but with a company who don't take it too seriously - that is, they (and their typical clientele) are happy to stop to look at views/ruins/butterflies and not keen to spend three hours trying to coax a little brown bird out of a bush, unless it is an extremely rare little brown bird.
So I flew to Madrid with a case full of jumpers and thermals, and joined a group of Brits on a birdwatching trip. I won't list the 100-odd bird species we saw, but they included cranes, storks, bustards, owls
and a wonderful view of the extremely rare Spanish imperial eagle. Only a few hundred of these birds are left, and one sat on a rock in full view for a good half-hour, before flying off slowly (for those not into birds, the photo is a little owl, not a Spanish imperial eagle...).
When the others returned to Madrid for their flights home I stayed on for a few days. Extremadura has a number of old hill towns full of well-preserved old monuments, so after a quick visit to Trujillo I made my way to Cáceres. Here the extensive 'monument district' on the top of the hill, within an old city wall (including one remaining Roman gate), is full of grand, powerful-looking palaces, next to narrow, winding streets and alleyways. There is also an old Arab underground cistern, and an interesting museum. I ws particularly impressed by some ornate bronze bedsteads dating from the 7th-8th centuries BC.
Of course it was cold, with a damp, cold mist most mornings. Stopping off in the bars for the odd glass of red wine and free plate of tapas kept me going but I was relieved to get home to the warmth and light of Africa. Nothing beats stepping onto the balcony in a Tshirt to watch the New Year's Eve fireworks!