Normally Castro Caldelas lies peacefully on a hill guarding the Ribeira Sacra. If you follow the long winding road, always uphill, you finally arrive in Castro. When you parked your car, its just a very short walk to explore the well restored old town, its castle and believe me the view from graveyard is second to none.
Our friends , Anna and Lluis – sorry for the plug – natural hand woven textiles and traditional baskets – reminded us that there is the fiesta «of fire» or Fiesta dos Fachos and we should wear suitable cloth. Cloth that don’t mind the odd burn mark, the chorizo might dribble and the red wine slober, etc, etc, as it is the festival of fire. Little did we know.
When we arrived it was just getting dark. A huge pyre was erected in front of the church and the local band started to play entertaining the growing crowd.
Following an irresistible smell we found, to the left of the church, a huge stand where council workers where busy preparing grilled chorizos.
And yes, I’ve never seen this ingenious way of preparing chorizos to feast a large crowd.
It’s not shovel it in – it’s shovel it on!
Great idea and I can tell you these chorizos with fresh bread – Delicious.
As the church was open and lit, we paid it a quick visit to see where San Sebastian lives.
We where told to go to the front and to the right or left and look up…. – Great play on perception, as the round cupola looks oval when you look up from these positions – but it is round.
There was a wagon parked full of torches made of long straw and, upon meeting our friends, we got the explanation.
This fiesta is one of the oldest in Galicia, first recorded in 1750. On the day of the local Saint – San Sebastian – neighbours wove giant worms, the biggest won the day . With torches made of the long straw these burning worms where paraded round the old town. Later they agreed to do just one and this years was about 30 feet (10M) long.
When the time drew nearer, the straw torches where given out and our friend Anna just passed one each to us and simply said– «light it when the big one comes through and just follow the crowed through the old town» -.
Cheers went up -» San Sebastian….» -. Two fully clad firemen carried the burning front, whilst a lot of volunteers carried the rest of the long straw worm. You either lit your torch from the front or from some of the other followers who already had a burning torch.
Off we went following into the narrow and dark confines of the old town. It is an experience like no other. Cheering people, torch light, biting smoke and one is torn between looking ahead, close the eyes as the smoke stings, whilst gasping for breath and trying desperately not to stumble. At the same time everyone looks out for everyone else, as burning bits of straw float through the air. The straw torches are waved frantically to keep them burning or light them again and everything fades to vague shadows pierced by the yellow smoking light of straw. Unbelievable if you haven’t been in the middle of it all, unforgettable if you have.
The worm and the crowd, including us, spilled out of the old town – fresh air never tasted so sweet – and what was left of the straw worm was used to light the bonfire and all the torches, or their remainder where thrown onto it.
Then, warmed or should I say roasted by the fire came the great crush towards the chorizos. If you want to get close to people – that’s it. Although totally unorganised, it is a friendly crush of people, laughing, joking and wriggling towards the concello workers that hand out a chorizo in a bun at an incredible speed.
Once the sustenance was obtained, a leisurely walk to yet another stall, where a good slug of local red wine was given out – All Free! – and what better way than being fed on a «national» dish whilst standing in groups, greeting people one happen to know and chat with friends whilst watching the fire burn.
It was an experience and if you around this time of the year mark the 19th of January – you have been warned!
A big thanks to the concello and all the coluteers who make this possible and keep the tradition alive.
Here is a good video that I foun don YouTube that shows it in motion – Fiesta dos Fuchos – Castro Calderas