Every village in Matarraña has them: Fiestas Mayores, the yearly fiesta week which consists of drinking, eating, dancing, chasing bulls (or being chased by them), and more eating and drinking. And depending on the size of the village, there might be expositions, workshops for children, parades, competitions and much more.
With only 170 inhabitants, our local village Lledo (also called “Lledo d’Algars”, not to be confused with its neighbour Arens de Lledo) is one of the smallest villages around here. Still, they take their fiestas seriously, and everybody was looking forward to the “toros” (bulls) on Saturday. We’re not big fans of most things they do with animals in Spain; nothing can ruin my appetite more than having a corrida on TV at the restaurant. But since we missed last year’s fiestas alltogether (we were off to see our families in the North), we decided to give it a chance… and I’m quite glad we did!
Every local farmer lend his trailer to a makeshift arena that was set up in front of the brand new bar. Those trailers were then provided with temporary benches (a few stones with a piece of wood on top), so everybody could sit while enjoying the entertainment: very young bulls (not quite calves anymore, but definitely no bulls yet) being encouraged to run around and “catch” one of the many boys who would make a show of not getting caught… jump over it, climb up the fence, crawl up a pile of hay bales in the middle of the arena, or just run really fast.
The men in the arena were mostly boys looking to be between 14 and 24 years old… although there were a few “real” adults, the eldest one in the ring was 77 – and he seemed just as fast as the young ones. They had prepared for this event and for the many other bull-related games this summer; most were wearing t-shirts from their village – the orange ones for Lledo, yellow for Cretas, red for Horta de Sant Joan. Spectators were everything between between 0 and 99 years old, families and friends, from Lledo and other surrounding villages. There were a few carts loaded with young girls, cheering at the technical prowess of the studs in the arena…
Much of the time consisted of the young bull standing or walking around, confused by the many people trying to get his attention – and trying to decide what to do next. Until he spotted the one waving the most exciting jacket, jumper or other piece of clothing – by the time he got there, most guys would have found their way to safety. There were lots of close calls though – and one guy who got a blow to the stomach (probably not serious though – the ambulance standing by didn’t go anywhere).
Every 20 minutes or so, the bull would be led away to a shed (the people in charge had a formidable big ox with them to lure the young bull in), and a new one would be ushered into the arena.
To be fair, we didn’t sit on a bench and look at bulls all afternoon – there was just as much activity around the ring as in it. There was the band, the bar, people who brought their own drinks and home made food. The bigger part of the village was there, and brought their relatives from all over; we were introduced to many children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews – not sure we’d recognise them all if we met them now.
And after the bulls, the party went on; when Axel, Ruby and Mario left around 1:45 (I was fast asleep at home by then), the dancing had just begun, the orchestra was still setting up, and the upbeat Spanish Latin music would probably go until morning.