We’d already had one false start for the fiesta of San Abad in La Matanza when we’d got our calendar dates crossed and had nearly set off a week early. The weather that day had been atrocious and we consoled ourselves with the fact that it would be better next Sunday…it wasn’t. The day dawned as wet and miserable as every day had for the past 8 days. The rain I had so desperately wanted was now outstaying its welcome – big time.
Unsure if the event would go ahead, Jack took to the internet to see if there was any notice of a deferral but there was nothing, which meant either it was going ahead or, more likely, no-one had bothered to update the website.
So we donned fleeces, jeans, hiking boots and hooded jackets, collected our friend Bob and headed up to La Matanza.
We arrived at the steep climb to the village of San Antonio in persistent drizzle. Last year the roads here were jam packed with parked cars but this year cars were conspicuous by their absence.
For a moment we wondered if it had been a wasted trip, but there were two clues that the event was going ahead: firstly the road was cordoned off and secondly a trail of scattered goats’ droppings carpeted the tarmac.
Picking our way through the rain sodden manure, we joined a thin band of spectators stretching their calf muscles up 1in1 streets along which smoking barbecues lay ready to turn private garages into guachinches for the day.
The horse paddocks which in previous years have seen hundreds of magnificent steeds and a motley assortment of asses, donkeys and mules held only a couple of dozen wet horses tethered in the rain and a couple of Shetland ponies which were posing for photographs.
Making our way past the pens filled with wet goats and sheep, we arrived at the main square where several hundred head of cattle were tethered.
Strolling past them, we noticed that one or two of the bulls seemed to be eyeing Bob suspiciously. It was only then that we realised Bob had chosen to wear a bright scarlet fleece…to a show of bulls. We feared for his safety, and ours.
Stopping to admire the sheer size and power of the biggest and meanest of the bulls in their isolated pen above the main cattle, Jack was going in for a close up when he was gently but firmly moved back by the herdsman who told us that the bull would head butt anyone who got within range. We didn’t need telling twice and we kept Bob behind as we passed the pen.
The rain was still driving across the horizon and there was nothing else for it but to head to the guachinche and order some wine to take the nip out of the air.
A quarter litre of red vino del país arrived rather ignominiously in a used Pepsi bottle for the princely sum of €1.50 and the barman placed three glasses alongside. Bob remarked that it tasted better than the wine he’d paid €6 for in the supermarket the day before and we made short work of it. The second bottle tasted just as good.
By this time I was beginning to feel the effects of an early start on the alcohol and suggested some food might not go amiss. Jack spotted some farmers next to us tucking into a plate of bit-sized, gofio-coated something or other and asked the barman what it was.
“Chicharrón” replied the barman.
“Ahhh” said Jack, none the wiser and promptly ordered a plate.
It turned out to be pork crackling coated in gofio. Some pieces were soft and chewy, others were the rock hard variety sold in pubs in the UK. Bob and I weren’t keen. Jack, being Scottish and loving all things deep fried and preferably fatty, enjoyed them – or at least, he said he did.
Another bottle of pseudo-Pepsi arrived and I ordered some proper food – carne y papas, or spicy pork with chips.
Leaning on a plastic bar top in the rain, in San Antonio, surrounded by cattle, bulls, sheep, goats and horses with the air perfumed by wet goat, that carne y papas tasted marvellous.
While we ate, another bottle of wine mysteriously appeared on the bar and Jack said the barman had slipped it there behind my back with a conspiratorial finger to his lips.
By this time San Abad in the rain was turning into one of the best fiestas we’d been to and the bar area was turning into one big party. When the barman slipped another bottle beside our almost empty glasses we began to wonder if he was just being efficient and would ask for the bill shortly. But no, the wine was complimentary and as we got close to finishing what was in our glasses we decided we had better move away from the bar in the interests of still being able to walk.
This isn’t a fiesta put on for tourists. Other than ourselves, I didn’t hear another foreign voice all day. It’s a real, traditional agricultural fair with no frills or pretensions, just muck and animals. But it’s indicative of the good humour and friendliness of the Tinerfeños away from the main tourist resorts of the south who welcomed us into their community for the day with open arms and copious amounts of wine.
Roll on San Abad 2012.