Spending the Las Fallas festival with Somi and Yeji, our two Korean friends we met at a wine tasting in Porto, meant a whole world of new experiences to us. We learned something about the world and a great deal about our own selves. We even opened a Couchsurfing account because of all the wondrous stories Yeji and Somi told us about their trip!
That's me in the middle, with Yeji and Somi...
Yeji and Somi were so much fun. And they even prepared South Korean dishes for us. Unfortunately we couldn't find the original vegetables they use in Korea, so they had to improvise. However, the end result was sooo delicious.
I still can't believe I caught the flu exactly during the festival, and every night after the sun went down and the air chilled I lost my voice to the point I could only whisper. Which is kind of counterproductive when there are firecrackers and noisy people all around you. I had to communicate through an improvised sign language only my husband could understand and he became by voice. That was so embarrassing...
We held tight to Yeji and Somi, as the streets were cramped, and the fastest way to get from point A to point B were the backstreets. There are so many people in Valencia during Las Fallas that the pedestrian traffic almost comes to a halt. All car traffic in the city center vanishes as the police blocks the streets during the last days of festivities, but even so, with people taking over both sidewalks and roads, the city simply becomes way too crowded. From this point of view, thanks God Las Fallas are only once a year!
What better pastime for the kids than play with firecrackers in the middle of the road can there be? The smaller the child, the less dangerous are the firecrackers parents buy. Bigger kids can play with noisier ones. It is really intriguing to see toddlers that only recently learned to walk, throwing firecrackers. And that makes them so happy! The locals really have a taste for gunpowder from a young age. People coming from other parts of the world are really puzzled by this attitude.
Children are taught from a very young age how to throw firecrackers so they won't get hurt. But this is a fun reserved only for once a year, during the Fallas festival. Otherwise it is illegal to play with firecrackers, except for weddings, anniversaries and other major parties and festivals, but these are usually organized by the pyrotechnic companies.
During the last days of Las Fallas, Valencia literally smells of gunpowder. I don't know if this is wrong, but I kind of like this smell. Because for me it means PARTY and FUN. I know that for people who lived through a war this smell spells danger, but I guess it all comes down to our own personal experiences.
On the last day of the festival, after seeing and especially hearing the big mascleta in front of the Town Hall, the four of us went to see the winning falla. On the way, we stopped to see a smaller mascleta, in one of the neighborhoods. I have no idea what the guy in the picture above wanted to do with the cigarette. Lit up the mascleta before time?
Anyways, as the pyrotechnicians were getting everything ready and the crowds gathered were whistling and encouraging them to start making some noise, this family of falleros came and made the honors.
We were even closer to this mascleta than we were to the one in front of the Town Hall. Because is was a smaller one, we were just across the street from it and I had to cover my ears, that's how loud it was. My husband didn't have this luxury as he was taking the photos. I also covered my head with the scarf, as just minutes before, in front of the Town Hall, a woman standing next to us got hit in the head by one firecracker piece that fell from the sky after exploding and she instantaneously started bleeding.
One of the most unusual sights during this festival is spotting dozens of people cuing in front of the pyrotechnic shops. It's like firecrackers became all of a sudden vital to our existence.
Many people complain that they can't close an eye during Las Fallas, that's how noisy it is. I don't know if it's because when I was little I used to live next to some railway lines or because I've got used to it or because I have a deep sleep when I'm tired, but I was never bothered by the noisy people throwing firecrackers till 3AM. I actually go to bed after that, and till next morning at 8AM, the streets are pretty quiet, except for the occasional party goer. Probably one good piece of advice for the light sleepers is to book a hotel a bit outside the city center.
One thing I always liked about Las Fallas is that not only the young and the beautiful get to participate in the event. The lady above was probably a fallera her whole life, and you can tell she used to be a beauty not so long ago. Once a fallera always a fallera applies.
And there's never too early to be a fallera either. Nor to have fun while being one. Being a fallera is a journey, not a destination.
The young woman in green is the Fallera Mayor de Valencia, the Queen of this year's festival. She will represent the city in many official events during the months to come. Here she is handing in the prized for the best fallas.
And this other young lady is the Queen of the festivities from Castellon. Though the biggest party goes on in Valencia, Las Fallas are celebrated in other cities of the Valencian Community too, always with a bit of local twist.
For two days in a row, the streets of Valencia are flooded by falleros and falleras taking flower offerings to the Virgin. Her dress is always tailored out of white, pink and red carnations, but the patterns change from one year to another. I get the feeling that lots of hopes, dreams, and wishes are entrusted to these flowers.
It's always a delightful sight to spot people dressed in traditional costumes carrying a piece of modern technology, like an ultra modern cell phone or a DSLR.
Somi and Yeji greatly enjoyed the buñuelos and churros.
While I would like to say that all street food is fresh and yummy during Las Fallas, the sad truth is that some stalls just don't get the recipe right, or they make them too oily. There's no way to tell, just by trial and error, but this year was almost the end of pumpkin buñuelos for me. After two failed attempts, luckily we gave them one last try and fortunately our two friends from Korea got to taste some very tasty buñuelos. Unfortunately, what the Internet says, that you have to look for the food stall where the locals are cuing, doesn't apply here, because there are so many people that all stalls have a cue.
On the 19th of March after sunset, there is an one hour fire parade. Pretty interesting, but the crowds on the side of the road are tremendous.
And just as they start burning the fallas, a huge crowd gathers to see the one in front of the City Hall burning. There's a big plaza there, and lots of people can fit in, crowded like sardines in a can, some say even 1 million people. We were late and didn't fit in anymore, as we previously saw another falla burning. But could hear the fireworks and firecrackers show just before the bonfire, and we even spotted a fraction of it.
First the sky went like this from the fireworks...
Then the sky went like this from the firecrackers...
And eventually everything went dark and the fire began.
And just because I couldn't leave this photo out, this must be the best. Las fallas. T-shirt. ever.