Monday, June 18, 2012

La Fería Real de Algeciras

A few months back, when I was deciding when to buy a plane ticket home, a friend told me that I at least had to stay for the beginning of la fería. She explained that although Algeciras absolutely sucks the rest of the year, they throw everything they have into this fería, and the result is incredible. I was definitely dubious, but I bought my ticket late enough that I would be here for the first 2 days.

With that in mind, going to la fería this weekend was one of the best cultural experiences I've had this year. I am so happy I stayed! The first night, Saturday, one of those nights where I literally had to work to keep a silly grin off my face. My jaw hurt from smiling so much.
  • The fería kicked off with a parade from the port. I thought it was supposed to start at 10 and end right at midnight. Instead, it started at 8 and ended around 11:15. So when Cassidy and I showed up at 11:30 all excited to see a parade......well.........we were a little disappointed. Here's what we missed: 
[Source] (Click on the pictures to make them larger)
  • Everybody crowded around the fería entrance around 11:30pm. At 11:59, I heard "cinco, quatro, tres, dos, uno!" and the huge gateway of lights lit up right on cue. It was incredible! Kind of like New Years Eve when everybody counts and the ball drops, only so much cooler because 100,000 little lights all lit up at the same time. 
(I took the rest of these, unless otherwise noted)

  • It might have been midnight, but entire families were still out and about. I saw babies in strollers, little girls dressed to the nines in their flamenco dresses, and girls walking around in 5 inch heels. Ow!
  • Back home, fairgrounds close down right as it gets dark: so to walk through a maze of carnie games and rides and smell popcorn and see little kids running around and realize that its pitch black out and 1am, was a bit of a surreal experience. 
  • A fería is divided into three parts. First there are the casetas, which are individual stalls dedicated to different bars and companies in Algeciras. For example, the club Kube has a caseta, which means that if you want dance music, go to the Kube caseta. If you want to hear Flamenco music, there's a caseta for that too. If you work at BancoSabadell, then you can go to that caseta. So on and so forth. And this year there are 65 of them. You grab a drink, dance a little, and move on to the next caseta. (Bar hopping at its finest.) 

  • The second part of the fería is the games/rides/fair food part. 

  • And then a little farther down the street, is the Moroccan market. That is something I was not expecting. Grab a drink, eat some fair food, and buy a knockoff leather purse? 

  • Cassidy and I had schawarma and churros for our fair food experience. What a strange take on the usual hot dog and mini-donuts route. 
  • Saturday night we met up with a group of guys from Gibraltar, who found Cassidy on couchsurfing. There was a Kenyan, a Swede and 2 Italians, and they all spoke English so well that at first I assumed they were American. (Except for the Italians. There is no mistaking that nationality.) Talking in English felt so strange, and I kept accidently reverting to Spanish. I had to make a conscious effort to continue in English. 
  • A Spanish song came on at one point that consisted of short verses. I caught this one: (Everyone was belting this out) "camarero! .......qué! camarero.........qué! Champiniones!!!!!!!!" And then everybody started dancing enthusiastically and singing "Champiniones champiniones champiniones champiniones!" (For those of you who don't speak Spanish, this is saying "waiter.....what! waiter.....what! Mushrooms!! Mushrooms mushrooms mushrooms mushrooms!") Oh Spain.
  • Then during the day on Sunday I went back for a little bit just to walk around. The first Sunday of fería is when all the women and girls wear their flamenco dresses. It kind of reminded me of Halloween, except that everyone looked gorgeous, not scary. They pull their hair back and wear a flower, and then wear tight, mermaid style flamenco dresses in all colors and patterns.
(I took this one too)
  • Everybody was in the streets drinking pitchers of manzanilla (sherry) mixed with sprite, snacking on tapas and just having a great time. There were also horses everywhere. I've never seen a horse-drawn carriage in the streets of Algeciras until today. I also saw a little boy riding an even littler pony. Cutest. Thing. Ever.
  • The only thing I didn't like was that taking pictures is really awkward. Who wants to look up and see a strangers camera aimed at you? Not most people. But I sneakily took these pictures on my way home.
  • Sunday night I went back again. The feeling in the air is so contagious that I was completely content to just wander the aisles between the casetas for an hour or so. Cassidy and I spent the night with her roommate and her roommate's girlfriend, having deep intellectual conversations about the fundamental basics of 'society', whether or not Al Queda was really behind the 911 attacks, and wether bullfighting can actually be described as an art form or not. We held all these conversations in Spanish, which is not an easy feat.
  • This is also when I saw my first real bar fight, where each guy had 2 or 3 friends holding him back, and one left with blood spurting out of his nose and completely covering his shirt, as well as the shirts of several friends. It was not a pretty sight. And I can't unsee it.
  • After her roommate left, we bumped into two off duty police officers. They confirmed our thoughts that Algeciras really is a dirty, crime-ridden city. It's always been fun to discuss a mutual dislike of this city with strangers. It's a great icebreaker, and we wind up bonding over what an unfortunate place we live in.
This was such a great last weekend to have in Spain. It was such a cultural experience and a great chance to go out one last time. But like always, Spain was there for me, to keep me from getting too sappy and too sad about leaving. There are always little things, like waiting in line for forever and a day for no reason at the bank, or the Spaniard shows up 45 minutes late to meet you, or your friend happens to get locked in her house because in Spain its totally normal to need keys to open the door from the inside. (In America, we reserve this feature for the special rooms that serial killers build to keep their victims.)

So sayonara Spain, nos vemos cuando vemos!

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