Trip Start Dec 10, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
La Casa

Flag of Spain  , Valencian Country,
Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fiesta time anywhere in Spain is always a big deal, and despite the many reasons they find to party during the year, seemingly each town has its own major week-long fiesta.  Benissa is no exception.

The atmosphere started to build some couple of weeks before, as the decorations were hung from every possible pole, rafter and beam.  There was not a street that didn't have streamers swinging from above, and many home onwners had adorned their doorways with plants/hedging and flowers.    All this in itself, was a sight to see as was the huge stage they spent days erecting, in this very average size town square.  This stage in the small town of Benissa, was fit for any major rock concert.

The reason for the fiesta was primarily religious, and I will do my best to explain, a little bit of (I think) ....  On one of the first nights we went into town, we headed for the square, but got carried away with the crowd heading towards, what looked like nothing more than the doorway of any other house.  Apparanty though, this was the home (some 400 years ago), that the foreign saints visited and were received by.  The Spanish hospitality was rewarded with a 'holy cloth', and it is said, that despite wherever it was stored or packed, the person that opened the chest (where the cloth was stored) would always find the cloth on top.   We could argue of course, that there is a very logical reason for this, but this gave cause for them to believe there was something powerful in the gift, etc, etc.    As the hour of midnight drew near, we were standing shoulder to shoulder (and closer!) with song sheets in our hands and the band (think trumpets) at arms length, there was an 'eruption' of music and singing from all and sundry - obviously most people knew the words - I imagine like we would know the National Anthem, and the atmosphere was incredible.   Five versus and chorus later, everyone moved off the road (in saying the 'road' I'm talkimg one car width) and onto the cobblestone footpath ...  at this point we weren't exactly sure what was happening,  but within minutes it was evident, as the fireworks that were hanging by strings above our head, were lit, and went off down the street leaving a trial of smoke, and our ears ringing!  We've never seen anything like it - of course we wouldn't as in other country you wouldn't be allowed to do it - but it was absolutely incredible.

From there, we finally got to the square, where Rosairo Flores (famous Spanish singer, check out google), was performing and as you can imagine the atmosphere was electric.  Everyone was there, no matter what age, sex or religion - it was the only 'rock concert' that I've been to, that has literally spanned generations and has been 'incident free'.  It was a family affair - as everything is in Spain.  In fact, as we were watching this at 12.30pm, Harrision went off with his friends to play hide and seek for an hour - just one of the things I do love about this town, the ability for all ages to enjoy themselves, in safety.

The Fiesta went from Friday to Sunday the following week - with concerts and or DJ's every night - generally these start around midnight and go on to the early hours of the morning. A few of the nights - we would get the kids to have a sleep early evening, and then go into town after 10pm.

Of course there were many things going on during the week that were new for us, including 'bull running'.  Again, this was set up in the town square area.  Imagine jail cells, going down one side and back up the other - this is where you would run if the bull came for you - you'd squeeze between the bars, and theoritically the bull can't get his horns though the bars.  The more daring would run in the square (between the two rows of 'cells'), in front of the bull daring it to charge.   It was safe enough for the bull (you weren't allowed to use anything to provoke it, or throw anything etc), but I can't say the same for the spectators.  If you sat, up on the stand, out of harms way, like we did, you were fine, but unfortunately we did see one older man get rammed because the bull, had got up on it's hind legs on a makeshift stand/seat (with no protection), which caused this man to fall, and be attacked. Not moving, he was very quickly carried away.  Only in Spain!

Of course, for the town of Benissa, this is as good as it gets, and they certainly now how to celebrate in style.  Seemingly, every second night they let off fireworks fitting of Disneyland.  From the perspective of our home, overlooking the valley and into the town, the spectacle was jaw-dropping.  The first time we watched it, we couldn't belive the quantity, quality and sheer awesomness of it - as I said, we could have been in Disneyland.  The incredible thing is, they did it again, twice more, that week.    

The other thing I have to mention is on the Saturday (it finished on Sunday), we all went up to the top of town where the locals were gathered in their attire - let me explain ... they all wear the same t-shirt type thing, for the year they were born.   I still haven't figured out how all that is organised, (or why) but there were groups of people there with 1943 to some little ones with 2007 on them.  Obviously it's the same t-shirt they wear every year.  After we'd been there for half an hour, listening to the school music band play ABBA and Boney M, they dished out octupus for everyone.  There was plenty, and you could back and have as much as you wanted.  Also, all that morning, there was free beer and water.   It was that hot, that I even had a cold lager, and with the octupus it wasn't half bad.   From there we follwed the groups down through the streets until we got to the town square, where it was all set up with long tables and chairs with your year written on it.  This was the 'feeding of the 5000' so to speak, with one giant paella (see photos!).  We couldn't belive it!   They fed the whole town and I'm talking table service, with big plates of hot paella, and as much beer, wine and water as you wanted.  This was all free, and it was outstanding.    Can I add, incident free as well.   Again, I say, only in Spain!

On the Saturday evenings/Sundays at the beginning and the end of the week, the churches were filled, where the residents dress in all their finery, and they are so proud.  Some woman wore the costume of black, with extravagant lace headpieces etc.  Quite a spectacle.

The whole week, costs the council 400,000 - 500,000 euros (1 mill kiwi), and is planned 12 months in advance.  Whether it is 'right' to spend that sort of money on, what is basically a big party, while other things go by the wayside, is open to debate, however, we enjoyed every concert, firework and tasty morsel.  We were grateful for the drink, the food that was so kindly provided to us, for the fun, the professionalism (dare I say it, the programme ran to time), the experience, the people .... another event for our memory bank, and we hope one of many more to come.
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