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The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

Head­wa­ter of­fers three new self-guided cy­cling ex­plo­rations of the Ebro Delta from six to eight nights in­clud­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion, bike hire, lug­gage trans­fers, route notes and most meals. More: head­wa­ter.com.

Ap­proach­ing the har­bour at Port d’Illa, the huts of weekend fish­er­man owe noth­ing to gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, in­formed in­stead by style cues of washed-up flot­sam. Sleepy jet­ties host tin­ker­ing skip­pers, piles of tan­gled nets, and peel­ing paint. It’s a bit smelly but it’s hon­est.

It’s not al­ways been this peace­ful. The Ebro has wit­nessed epic con­flicts over the cen­turies.

In 218BC it saw a de­ci­sive sea bat­tle that ended the first Pu­nic War, fought be­tween Rome and the Phoeni­cian city-state of Carthage (now Tu­nis). Some years later the river was the red line crossed by Carthaginian com­man­der Han­ni­bal and his army to trig­ger the rematch.

Much more re­cently, in 1938 Repub­li­cans and Na­tion­al­ists bit­terly con­tested the Ebro shores in the Span­ish Civil War’s blood­i­est bat­tle. In July that year, Gen­eral Franco’s fas­cist Na­tion­al­ist forces faced a loy­al­ist Repub­li­can army across the river’s banks; by mid-Novem­ber an es­ti­mated 20,000 had lost their lives in a fight that sealed the fate of the Span­ish Re­pub­lic.

The lat­est con­flict is qui­eter but no less fierce. Nearby, Cata­lan graf­fiti writ large along the river’s banks an­grily op­poses plans to ex­tract wa­ter for use else­where in Spain which, from a Cata­lan per­spec­tive, is an­other coun­try.

At the har­bour, we board Ruben Cabr­era’s skiff. He guides the boat over clear shal­lows to­wards the wooden gantries of shell­fish beds. “My fam­ily has been here for­ever,” he says. “Well, ac­tu­ally 34 years.” He says the fish­er­men are suf­fer­ing now: “We make one pro­duc­tion a year. There used to be two.” I ask why. “There’s not so many nu­tri­ents for oys­ters. The hy­dro-elec­tric plants are part of the cause. There’s not so much sweet wa­ter now, and less silt. But the wa­ter is warm­ing too.”

At Fan­gar Bay, Ruben cuts the mo­tor. We chug to a halt and moor be­neath a plat­form sup­port­ing a wooden

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