A visit to the land of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns - Mini Hollywood
WHILE I was writing a column for today's Daily Post about a visit to Mini Hollywood, the film set in the middle of the Almeria desert in Spain, where Sergio Leone filmed his Dollars trilogy, it struck me that it would be more interesting with photos.
So here is an embellished version - illustrated with some pictures and video.
THERE are no spurs on his trainers but this doesn't stop the office worker-turned-aspiring cowboy from striding boldly over to the bucking bronco and leaping, gazelle-like, to its back.
An onlooker places a coin in the slot and we wait, our breath baited and our knuckles white, for the beast to begin lurching about and unseat its unwelcome passenger.
There's a clunk and the bull turns very slowly anti-clockwise, pauses and carefully begins to turn back the other way.
"Ah, it's clever," we onlookers think. "It's biding it's time before the kill."
A few minutes of this later comes the roaring laughter as someone in the group spots the sign to the left of the bronco: "For ages seven and under".
Our aspiring cowboy sheepishly gives up the reins, slides off the bull's back and lands on the crash mat with a pathetic thud.
He may not act the part but our location certainly does. Surrounding us are rugged mountains towering above desert and arid scrub land as far as the eye can see.
If you let your imagination take over for a moment you can just make out The Man With No Name riding over the crest of a hill.
We are in Mini-Hollywood, or Wild West World as we've taken to calling it, the film-set deep in the Tabernas desert in Spain's AlmerÃÂa province where Sergio Leone shot his Dollars trilogy. Built in 1965, the buildings have been well preserved - although they do have a definite stage set feel which the cameras could disguise but the human eye cannot.
We drink in the Yellow Rose Saloon (a cup of coffee served on a tray instead of a shot of rum slid at speed down the bar), pose for pictures inside giant Wanted posters and trapped within stocks. We watch a shoot out between the sheriff and dastardly bandits, booing when the most handsome one is shot dead. He waves goodbye as his soul leaves his body so the watching children know it is just pretend.
It is all a bit much for some of our group, who slope off dejectedly to stare at enormous yellow pythons in the adjoining zoo and miss the can-can girls and the Spanish guitarist who bizarrely decides it's a good moment to launch into Waltzing Matilda.
The whole experience is, just as I was secretly hoping, a little bit rubbish.
If mini-Hollywood were actually in America - in Las Vegas say - there would be hourly bank heists by Clint Eastwood look-a-likes culminating in a lazer and fireworks show with gyrating Calamity Janes in white leather bikinis.
There would be bucking bronco rollercoasters and rum-flavoured candyfloss served by men in horse costumes, and Indiana Jones would swing in on a piece of vine (The Last Crusade was also filmed here) despite his appearance clashing with the overall theme.
Instead there is a teepee-shaped children's swing, a shop selling cowboy hats and dreamcatchers and the sort of ineffectual water-shooting game you find in British seaside towns.
However, oddly Mini Hollywood is far more glamorous than real Hollywood, which I was surprised and disappointed to discover is like a cross between the St John's Centre and Renshaw Street with a few stars added to the pavement.
From there, actually seeing the famous Hollywood sign is as tricky as finding a mobile phone signal in an underground car park - stand on one leg, crick your neck to the right, squint and hope for good weather.
It is easier to see the Wild West in AlmerÃÂa. All you have to do is pretend the cowboys are a foot taller and a bit more dashing. Then stare out at the dramatic scenery and look for a glint of gold.