Roots or routes?

In early May, Sanlúcar de Guadiana and its neighbour El Granado held their annual Romería. It was our third Romería, and a few days after the fiesta, as I uploaded my photographs onto the laptop, I decided to take a look back at our two previous Romerías, in 2015 and 2016. Each year we have known more about the festival and have, thus, been able to participate in it more deeply.

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Spectators in 2015

In May 2015, we had been up the Rio Guadiana for less than two weeks when we came ashore one Saturday at lunchtime to watch this colourful local spectacle. We weren’t sure what it was all about or where everyone was going in tractor and mule-drawn trailers. We were hot and thirsty and, after taking a few photos and watching the procession set off, we returned home to Carina.

In May 2016, we knew more about this two-day event during which the people of Sanlúcar and the people of El Granado come together in a field mid-way between the two villages to eat, drink and party into the night. Lily and Katie dressed in their cheap tourist-shop flamenco dresses and we walked the road to the festival. But we went too early, overtaking the procession which went by a different route, and had eaten all our food and drunk all our water by the time the procession arrived. We stayed a little while, visiting the caseta of one family we knew a little bit.

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In the thick of it, 2017

In May 2017, Lily and Katie wore proper flamenco dresses, we rode in one of the trailers for the four hours it took to cover the three or so kilometres from Sanlúcar to the site of the Romería, singing and dancing, drinking and eating along the way. In advance of the festival, friends from both Sanlúcar and El Granado had invited us to eat and drink in their casettas. The girls and I set up camp with some English friends, where we had our own picnic, and then, as Saturday evening progressed, we did the rounds of the casettas to which we had been invited.

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Four hours of singing in the tractor-drawn trailer

Looking back over those three sets of photographs I realised that what had once been, for us, a colourful local festival in a quirky village filled with strangers had become a part of our annual calendar in our adopted village filled with friends and neighbours. Zooming in on those photos from 2015, it dawned on me that those strangers were now Lily and Katie’s schoolmates and their parents, the friends I chat to in my favourite bar, my English language students. These strangers are now people to whose houses I have visited, who have invited us to birthday parties, First Communion celebrations and Christmas dinners. They are strangers no more.

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Dance break by the side of the road!

Yachties frequently ask each other about their sailing plans. It’s the nature of living on a boat. There are times when I am envious when I see our sailing friends set off down the river. I want to set off for destinations unknown too. Our good friends aboard Pelagic are now sailing in the Pacific, having left the Rio Guadiana in spring of 2016. I read their blog and tell Lily and Katie about the wonderful adventures of their friends Ana and Porter  in places I’ve never heard of with names I can’t pronounce and part of me wishes we were out there too aboard Carina. Maybe someday we will.

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But there is also something wonderful about staying put, about getting to know a place and its people, about getting below the surface of those colourful and strange traditions  and about strangers becoming friends.

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Maybe we will still be here for next year’s Romería. Maybe not. Getting to know a place takes time. Understanding a community and its people takes patience. If we are here next year I am sure I will look back on May 2017 and marvel at my naiveté and lack understanding and my presumption at what I thought I knew!

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Fiesta de Virgen del Carmen

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Our sailing decisions are dictated by the weather. So, when the weather outlook suggested poor southerly sailing conditions after July 15th, we considered lifting anchor and departing the Ria de Muros, and sailing farther south while we had the opportunity. But that would mean missing out on the Fiesta de Virgen del Carmen in Muros on July 16th. Not convinced that we had made the right decision, we decided to hang around for the festival and leave sailing south for another time.

On the morning of the 16th we motored from our anchorage in Ensenada de San Francisco to the marina at Muros. Spanish flags hung from the balconies along the waterfront and fishing and pleasure boats were dressed in a carnival of flags. A huge fun fair had been set up along the seafront, as well as two huge stages and stalls selling everything from candy floss to handbags.

We met my friend Katie, who was joining us from the UK for a few days, and we all settled in for a day of fiesta fun. Throughout the afternoon the town was a hive of activity. A group dressed in traditional Galician dress played Galician pipes and drums in the square in front of the town hall. Families strolled the streets, and the cafes were all doing roaring business. Children were dressed beautifully in their best clothes – cute outfits and shoes that remind me of the formal dress that our parents and grandparents wore. The police and local civilian police were out in force, directing traffic as cars squeezed into every available parking space no matter how unsuitable. Towards high water, in later afternoon, we saw one car parked on the slipway with waves washing around the wheels!

At 6.30pm the ceremony began at the Catholic Church, however we didn’t attend due to our inappropriate dress. At around the same time, brightly bedecked boats – yachts, speed boats, fishing vessels large and small, dredgers – moved out of the harbour and around to the beach on the other side of the marina, where they jostled for space. One cruising family we know even decided to join the melee in their dinghy!

Some of us were more appropriately dressed than others!

Some of us were more appropriately dressed than others!

Shortly after 7pm the procession of the Virgen del Carmen departed the church and made its way through the town to the beach, accompanied by a mournful brass band. The Virgen, resplendent in gold dress and crown, and carrying the Child, stood atop a coffin representing all the fishermen who have lost their lives at sea, and was carried on the shoulders of men dressed in crisp white shirts and walking slowly in precise step with each other. Hundreds and hundreds of people followed the procession, many dressed in their best. The procession was accompanied by a deafening cacophony of noise from fireworks and the town siren sounding continuously. The brass band struggled to be heard above it all. The siren and fireworks grew louder and more persistent the closer the procession got to the waterfront where the boats, overloaded with passengers, awaited the arrival of the Virgen.

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Once at the waterfront the Virgen was transferred into one large boat, the brass band climbed aboard another, and the procession continued across the water, with all the boats following the lead boat carrying the Virgen as it did a loop across the bay in front of the town before returning, more than half an hour later, to its place close to the beach. The Virgen was then returned to shore and once again, amid sirens, fireworks and the sound of the brass band, processed through the streets once more and returned to her place in the church. It was a rousing and moving experience that appealed to my anthropologist and Catholic sensibilities!

DSCI4087By 9pm the party was in full swing. We strolled along the waterfront and this time, having budgeted some money for the fun fair rides, the girls found amusement. Close to 11pm the first band appeared on stage – a fabulous ensemble of salsa dancers and singers – covering a mixture of Spanish and English songs, and we danced along. Later, after the rest of us had long gone to bed, Julian stayed out and was entertained by a Michael Jackson tribute act! At midnight we were treated to a spectacular fireworks display of a standard that I’ve rarely seen outside Japan.

Shortly after midnight all of us, except Julian, were ready for bed, partied out and senses overwhelmed! Julian came home at 3am, and the next day told us that children of Lily’s and Katie’s ages were still packing out the fun fair rides! My kids are such lightweights!!

We had missed our southerly sailing window, but it was worth it. We (and our guest, Katie) had enjoyed a most spectacular fiesta and a delightful slice of Catholic Spanish culture.