European Escapades

In Sergio Leone’s Wild West




The classic white washed buildings so reminiscent of Spaghetti Westerns
The classic white washed buildings so reminiscent of Spaghetti Westerns.

As we drove into the Tabernas desert, the feelings of elation were upon me for the first time in Spain. I now looked upon the same countryside that Sergio Leone once looked upon when creating his film masterpieces that I have come to love so much. Whilst I own almost every film that Clint Eastwood has ever been in, either playing bit part such as Tarantula, to his more famous films as the man with no name to the gritty Dirty Harry and the unforgettable Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. It took a while for me to appreciate that it was more the direction of Sergio Leone, which I loved more than anything. This shows itself in my passion for Once upon a Time in the West, my favourite film of Sergio’s. The opening sequence that lasted oh so long at the start, with not a whisper of dialogue but so overwhelmed with description and suspense. Here I was looking at the same views, wondering what he felt as he surveyed the barren landscapes, looking for the perfect location for his filming. To be where one of the people that helped shape your view and enjoyment on life is a magical thing.

The desolation, broken now by a number of manmade object on the hill tops, such as TV masts and telecommunication towers in no way took away the ambience of the place, as I bathed in the sunlight and looked back in time when this was all desert and mankind has still to put his mark on such a place. The towns as we drive further south are changing and the white stucco contrasting with the red tiled roofs are becoming more the norm and giving a more Mediterranean and warmer feel to the places we pass through. Maybe it’s a perception thing but the places look cleaner and somehow more cared for than the darker buildings of the North. Am I beginning to enjoy Spain at last?

Did Clint Eastwood once look out on this town
Did Clint Eastwood Once Look Out On This Town?

This film makers paradise was not only used by Sergio Leone for his spaghetti westerns, but the landscape also captivated a number of other directors. Because of its similarities of the deserts in the American West, North Africa and the Arabian deserts and also it’s said lunar landscapes. It has been used for hundreds of films including notables ones like Conan the Barbarian, Mad Max III, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and My Name is Nobody. And of course the real reason I am here.

Once Upon a Time in the West
A Fist Full or Dollars
A Few Dollars More
The Good the Bad and the Ugly

Within the confines of this desert, there are still remnants of the old western towns that were built by the studios and you can see then littering the landscape from various places. Three still remain accessible and are Fort Bravo, Mini Hollywood and Western Leone. Our first stop at Mini Hollywood for information had an entrance fee of €19 and seemed a tad expensive for what we wanted. It had moved from being about the film set and the films to a mini adventure park with a wild animal zoo and other attractions as well. Maybe other tourists need the extra excitement of additional attractions. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Wild West roller coaster there next year to add to the fun of the place and the freshly painted garish wooden buildings. Fort Bravo was up a road we didn’t fancy taking the van and so it was at Western Leone that we made our visit. We took the no through road off of the roundabout signposted for our destination. It looks like this was the old road before the new motorway was built and it took us up to a ticket office off to our right. Once we had paid €11 each at the entrance, we meandered down the dirt road to the parking area outside our chosen Wild West town. The fake wigwams on the hillside and the loud music pounding from atop the saloon that we had to suffer as we exited the van, was a little disheartening and I hoped in my heart that the feel of the place had not been lost. Once you moved away from the central area to the quieter parts of the film set and were able to enjoy the uninterrupted views of the mountain ranges all around you. The white well in the centre of the square, and the white buildings with their grass reed roof tops reminding me of similar ones from A Fist Full or Dollars. It was indeed magical as we explored the less obvious places.

Anyone recognise in which Film The Daws Store was
Anyone recognise in which Film The Daws Store was?

In the distance we could see a wooden scaffold and facades of another Wild West town that in my mind was more of the idea I had come to see. Walking into the saloon we grabbed a beer and then sat outside looking at the wooden platform in the middle of the town, with the noose hanging from the top beam and then across to the horses tethered to the posts over at the corral. Was this as I expected yes and no, it seemed that although we had plenty of old pictures hung on the walls of the salon and the stark sheriff’s office with the three jail cells just ready to be occupied, the magic of what was, was no longer there. Sure the pictures told you about the movies but the music was from westerns never shot in this area. No one it seems had any idea which films were shot in this town and the surrounding areas around us. It is as if they thought that the horse ride around town and the offered photographs dressed up like a fake cowboy was going to be enough. Even the costumes were not of this supposed world, as I looked for a Poncho or a long wax coat that Cheyenne’s men wore in the films, instead I got the Three Amigo’s and shiny sheriff badges I used to have as a kid. A tad disappointed we left Western Leone and headed up the old worn road to catch a last glimpse of the film set we had seen in the distance and to go back to an earlier time, before heading off to Almaría itself and our final destination of the day.

If these places want tourists like me they are going to have to take more account of facts and locations and films to tantalise us movie buffs and keep the places as they were when the films were made. If they want uneducated tourists out for a nice fun day, with not a care for the history of the place, they can keep doing what they are doing. In my opinion they are losing a little part of their history and the magic in Tabernas. I hope that if they do decide to take their heritage seriously, that it is not already lost forever in the winds and shifting sands of the Tabernas desert…

This entry was posted on Monday, April 26th, 2010 at 7:27 pm and is filed under Travel Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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