Chasing Don Quixote across the Spanish plains of La Mancha

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Chasing Don Quixote across the Spanish plains of La Mancha
A field is seen on the way to the inn where locals believe Don Quixote might have been knighted in Puerto Lapice, Spain, April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Windmills are seen at dusk in Campo de Criptana, Spain, April 4, 2016. Locals believe that Miguel de Cervantes drew inspiration from the windmills of Campo de Criptana to narrate the battle between Don Quixote and the windmills he mistook for giants. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Angel Gutierrez Carrasco, 55, caresses his dog Paco as he tends to his flock of sheep by the dam of Penarroya, near Argamasilla de Alba, Spain, April 7, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
A white cross belonging to a Via Crucis is seen on a street in Alcazar de San Juan, Spain, April 5, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
A sign for a hotel is seen in the outskirts of Dosbarrios, along the A4 highway that links Madrid with Andalusia in Spain, April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
A couple walks together after buying bread in Alcazar de San Juan, Spain, April 5, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
A traditional pan de cruz (bread with a cross) is pictured in Puerto Lapice, Spain, April 8, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
A house painted in the traditional indigo and white Manchegan style is partially seen in Alcazar de San Juan, Spain, April 5, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Fernando Ortega, 40, runs past the windmills in Alcazar de San Juan, Spain, April 5, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
A cross is seen reflected in a puddle of water in Alcazar de San Juan, Spain, April 5, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
The morning sun illuminates an old inn named after Don Quixote in the outskirts of El Toboso, Spain, April 7, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
The surname Cervantes is seen on a tombstone at the cemetery in Alcazar de San Juan, Spain, April 6, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Tourists take pictures at the inn where locals believe Don Quixote might have been knighted in Puerto Lapice, Spain, April 8, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
An elderly woman braves the rain in Consuegra, Spain, April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
A windmill is seen at sunset in Consuegra, Spain, April 5, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
A dish of "Duelos y quebrantos" (griefs and breakings), which Cervantes wrote was Don Quixote's Saturday meal, is pictured at a restaurant in Puerto Lapice, Spain, April 8, 2016. The main ingredients are scrambled eggs, chorizo, ham, bacon and sometimes lamb brains. REUTERS/Susana Vera
A wooden door carved with Don Quixote motives is seen at the entrance of a home in Alcazar de San Juan, Spain, April 5, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Sculptures of Don Quixote (L) and his ladyship Dulcinea (C) are seen at dusk by the windmills of Mota del Cuervo, Spain, April 6, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
A door painted in the traditional indigo Manchegan style is seen in the hometown of Don Quixote's ladyship Dulcinea, in El Toboso, Spain, April 6, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
A woman carries groceries as she walks out of a market in Alcazar de San Juan, Spain, April 5, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
The cave where according to local legend Cervantes was incarcerated and wrote part of "The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote" in the town of Argamasilla de Alba, Spain, April 7, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
The vast plains of La Mancha are seen from El Cerro de San Anton (Saint Anthony's hill) outside Alcazar de San Juan, Spain, April 5, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
A sculpture of Don Quixote shows him wearing the basin he mistook for the enchanted helmet of the fictional Moorish king Mambrino in Alcazar de San Juan, Spain, April 5, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Sister Isabel, 39, a cloistered St. Clare nun, poses with a box of sweets "Caprichos de Dulcinea" (Dulcinea cravings) made at her convent in the hometown of Don Quixote's ladyship Dulcinea, in El Toboso, Spain, April 6, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza wine bottle corks are displayed for sale at the inn where locals believe Don Quixote might have been knighted in Puerto Lapice, Spain, April 8, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Manolo Carrasco, 75, cuts Juan Francisco Ortega's hair in his family barbershop in the hometown of Don Quixote's ladyship Dulcinea, in El Toboso, Spain, April 6, 2016. "My father had a basin like the one Don Quixote used as a helmet hanging outside the barbershop, but children used to throw rocks at it and he ended up taking it down," Carrasco says. Now that his father is gone (he worked at the barbershop until 84 and passed away at the age of 95) he keeps it at home. REUTERS/Susana Vera
A windmill is seen in the rain after dusk in Campo de Criptana, Spain, April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
A lone dog wanders empty streets in the hometown of Don Quixote's ladyship Dulcinea, in El Toboso, Spain, April 7, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Italian travellers Irene Decarli, 57 (L), and Enrico Kaswalder, 60, have dinner in their camper as the sun sets by the windmills of Consuegra, Spain, April 5, 2016. REUTERS/Susana Vera
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ARGAMASILLA DE ALBA, Spain, April 19 (Reuters) - When he wrote "Don Quixote," Miguel de Cervantes did not give away the name of the birthplace of the eponymous middle-aged gentleman obsessed with heroically righting the world's wrongs and bringing back lost chivalry.

But many identify Argamasilla de Alba, a weather-beaten village of almost 7,000 people, as his hometown. It is found in the arid central Spanish region of La Mancha, a patchwork of buff and green fields.

"The two most well-known things about La Mancha are Don Quixote and our (manchego) cheese," says Angel Gutierrez, a 55-year-old shepherd and rancher, tending to his flock of sheep not far from the quiet town.

Four hundred years after Cervantes' death, references to Don Quixote, his loyal squire Sancho Panza and his beautiful lady Dulcinea abound in the surrounding villages of La Mancha from sweet treats to theater productions involving livestock.

Every year, for example, Gutierrez lends his animals to a theater group to re-enact on the streets the part of the novel when Don Quixote charges at two herds of sheep after taking them for armies.

The region is dotted with historic, white-washed windmills, central to the best-known episode of the book when Don Quixote fights windmills he imagines are giants.

The scene gave rise to the expression 'tilting at windmills' or fighting imaginary enemies, just as 'quixotic' now means idealistic and impractical.

At dusk in Campo de Criptana, the windmills do indeed seem to float like giants in the distance.

Other locations in La Mancha fight for the distinction as Don Quixote's birthplace, but Argamasilla de Alba showcases a rebuilt house with a cave underneath where, according to local legend, Cervantes was imprisoned.

In the prolog to his masterpiece, Cervantes wrote that his work had been "engendered in a jail" and these days visitors can see Medrano's Cave and imagine Cervantes writing there.

Don Quixote's great, unrequited love Dulcinea, a common farm hand he imagines as a refined and beautiful damsel, supposedly lived in the village of El Toboso, a small town surrounded by vineyards. Sister Isabel, a cloistered nun of the Order of Saint Clare, makes sweets named after Dulcinea at her convent's bakery.

Sister Isabel, 39, and other nuns have been making the 'Caprichos de Dulcinea' (Dulcinea's Fancies) since 2005, the fourth centenary of the publication of the first part of "Don Quixote." They have become one of their most popular sweets.

Meanwhile, grey powder lies on the ground in Montesinos's Cave near the Ruidera lagoons, where Cervantes is believed to have based the part of the book where Don Quixote falls asleep in a cave to be beset by fantastic dreams.

They are the ashes of Bob, 'The English Don Quixote', who came to the region to live with his Spanish wife and started impersonating Don Quixote outside the cave and along the lagoons.

After dying in a car accident in January, his family decided to scatter his ashes in the places he was so passionate about.

Almost quixotic, some might say.

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