Igualada Travel Blog› entry 42 of 43 › view all entries
From Portugal I headed to Sevilla and flew to Barcelona, arriving late afternoon to be picked up by my wonderful Camino friend, Ramon. Do you remember my first couple of weeks walking the Camino - Ramon featured as my Castillano teacher and great friend. We had stayed in touch ever since and the plan was always to spend my final weekend in Spain attending the annual Fiesta Major in his home town of Igualada, 60km from Barcelona. I was not really prepared for what the next few days would bring but here goes!
A little bit of background is required before I get into the juicy stuff.
Driving in to Igualada we passed the famous mountain and monastery of Montserrat, only 12km away. Our first stop before getting to the festival was to drop off my (now overflowing) pack at Ramon's crazy appartment. It is four floors up, right on the Plaza Major with perfect views from his little balcony to the main stage and Ayuntamiento. I was clearly in for a treat!
Ramon's group of friends are collectively called the 'Ghetto' and have a strong social bond along with many other teams or groups in the town.
How does this work? Simply put, the local council (Ayuntamiento) manages and pays for the festival and provides the opportunity for these groups of friends to participate and entertain the town. One such event is called the Barraques. In one of the main local parks the council sets up about 40 empty bars, complete with water, electricity and cooking facilities. Each group has free use of these Barraques for the duration of the Fiesta. They decorate with a theme, stock with drinks and provide tapas (remember no-one in Spain drinks alcohol without also eating food).
The 'Ghetto' team had a theme for this year's fiesta called 'Liquidatio Total' (in Catalan but could not work out what it means). Along with a well-stocked and pumping Barraque they also had an annual activity on the Sunday afternoon which I would take part in.
After our speedy stop at Ramon's incredible snake-shaped appartment we wandered around the corner straight to one of the other group's activities. It was called a Butifarrada (meaning barbequed spicy sausages) and took place in one of the main plazas. We were greeted by the wonderful smell of smokey roasting butifarras, strung together on wire to make it easier to cook them in bulk and efficiently remove tham in a batch once cooked.
The square was filled with long communual tables and a queue stretched 50 people long from the central BBQ drums. It was all a little disorienting to start with but I soon understood how the 'pay, queue, eat' system worked. Apparently this was the precurser to a much bigger event to follow called the Cercanits. But first, my sausage!
Not just slapped in some tasteless white commercial bread it was a culinary spectacle. There were loaves and loaves of crusty wholesome artisan bread, sliced and laid out on top of thick napkins on the long tables. One person would work a row and smear each slice with garlic, another would rub generously with freshly cut tomatoes and then the olive oil. Once the bread was prepared,, the steaming butifarras were laid on top.
At about 11.00pm, the tables were cleared, there were comedic speeches, strange costumes and a brass and drum band (very spunky local boys dressed in chinese pyjamas) struck up the music. The town mascot is a (hessian) dragon powered by eight or so blokes walking under it (think: Chinese dragon). The mouth is stuffed with red and green flares creating a sense of drama and a fair amount of smoke! At each plaza-stop, the dragon marching off and seriously loud music by the band was the sign for everyone to follow.
So what is Cercanits? It is sort of like a crazy pub crawl but you travel around the old town stopping at each of the plazas, not pubs. The drinks follow in a float contraption and you use your drink card (swinging from your neck) to purchase top ups. At each stop, there are silly activities that volunteers participate in (like a run with trousers around ankles). It reminded me of university days but the crowd was a little older. Everyone took part and the streets were lined with families cheering and enjoying the music and the dragon.
I was caught up in the fun and wondered where we would end up. At that stage I had no idea of the Barraques. Once the Cercanits was over, it was a mass exodus to the Barraques and the crowd dispersed to their relevant friends bar. I was made so welcome and Ramon introduced me to everyone he knew who had the slightest understanding of English. I struggled through with my Castillano although everyone was speaking Catalan.
His sister Montserrat was gorgeous and I instantly felt a kindred spirit. It wasn't long before they were all clowning around, dancing on the bar, and playing around with the loud music. It was all great harmless fun and although there was plenty of alcohol available, as usual they did not drink much at all. I sampled a local favourite called Rebijito but did not find it a pleasant drink (although it is touted as one of the most virtuous cocktails ever invented!) made from pale white sherry and lemonade.
There was also a stage set up with various bands but most people stayed close to their Barraque. I had been awake for nearly 24 hours when I finally hit the sack. But the Fiesta waits for no man! (or tired Aussie for that matter) and the next day was already here.