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Feria at Sierra de Yeguas

As some of you will remember, I once wrote an article about the exciting and memorable fiesta in the little mountain village of El Burgo… I’ve moved on since then and after a fiesta at La Roda (just 11 km away from here) last year we now live in the province of Málaga again, in a small town called Sierra de Yeguas. No wooden bulls here – but…

Now Sierra de Yeguas is famous for… well, nothing really. It does give its name to the tiny three-mountain range bearing the same name and overlooking the town (Sierra means “saw”, describing the jagged shape the range has), it also gives its name to the Yeguas river, which slugs (accurate description) its way round the outskirts of the town and immediately behind our house. It also is the recipient of the sewage that comes down three large pipes at the north and west of the town and stinks to high heaven when there is either no wind, or when the wind blows from the south and into my house!

I didn’t know this when I viewed, of course, as the wind was in its normal prevailing state of blowing from the north-west. (I was astounded to find, after moving in, that our sewage goes straight from the bathroom through a short pipe and into the river! This is in a newly reconstructed house built with all regulations adhered to!) There are plans for a new sewage control centre – within two years – so we may see a clean river one day.

Anyway, as I said, Sierra de Yeguas is not really famous for much… But it does have its annual fiesta and feria. Sharing its date with the (now fabled) El Burgo fiesta, it arrives at the end of August each year and is responsible for a lot of changes.

First of all, its dates are listed as 23-26 August. That’s four nights, and so far everything is as at El Burgo. BUT… this one actually opens the Saturday before, when the fair hits town, and lasts until (officially) Sunday 27th. However, unlike all other fiestas the Sunday celebrations do not stop on Sunday morning…Oh no! They continue until Tuesday morning, about 7.00 am.

This suspension of time exists, too, in the programming, as the shows and bands and dancing displays are all listed as starting at 11.30 pm. That much is traditional in Spain, as it is cooler then… so at around 11.30 the first band will come on and play through for a couple of hours, then there’ll be another band come on immediately (sometimes with a five minute break, though usually not). That band will also play for a couple of hours and then they’ll swap again. The music won’t stop until 6.30 or 7.00 in the morning, when the people will wind their ways home to sleep… except that at 10.00 am there will be the traditional children’s events… and it’s imperative that every adult attends! This, too, is tradition (and a custom that could usefully be applied in Britain, where community events are often poorly attended).

What is surprising (even after four years here) is the number of people who attend the whole thing. Ages range from babies (one was born in one of the tents on Friday night – her name is María Agustín García Gonzales) to people over the age of one hundred. There are twins here aged 101, whom I saw every night well into the early hours. All ages mix and enjoy, a lovely experience.

It is different from the usual fiesta arrangements we have suffered (sorry, enjoyed) as they have yet another “tradition”… that of the water fight! This happens, so I’m told, every year and no respect is given to dress, age, sex or infirmity. EVERY person gets wet (and I mean WET!). People in wheelchairs, people on crutches, the two aged twins, me, the vendors at the stalls, the policemen (they have more than one in Sierra de Yeguas), the mayor, the dancers… Everybody!

Most people seem to enjoy it, but there were some that didn’t. Unfortunately two of these were other expats (British) and a group of German expats (who, in fact, called the local police to complain – but as the policeman was standing dripping water from everywhere and laughing his head off, they didn’t get very far!). So the rest of the fiesta was minus these individuals. (I really missed them… hmmm!)

In the day was a terrifying display of horsemanship when a group of local caballeros saw fit to race down the main street and into the square at full gallop and wait until the absolute last second (it’s a macho thing) before scraping and clattering to a “just out of control” stop before hitting the barriers, behind which the crowd cowered, applauded and jeered. Any rider who stopped too early was considered a wimp. I don’t know what the Spanish for “wimp” is, but there were catcalls and insults, such as “maricón“, called whenever a driver was considered too wimpish! (maricón is another word for an especially effeminate homosexual, so each rider would be honour-bound to go back for another go.) Several riders didn’t stop in time and crashed into, or even through, the barriers and into the crowd. Amazingly no-one appeared to be injured (though that might be down to the macho pride thing again). These riders would also be catcalled for their lack of control, so it’s a pretty “no win” situation for them all. I watched from the relative safety of the church steps.

Food at fiestas is a necessity, but unless you were keen on churros and chocolate (a kind of doughnut mix, served with drinking chocolate) you were almost bound to be disappointed. There was (on the third night) a burger bar, selling, apart from burgers, bacon butties! Not quite the same as British ones, being served on freshly baked French sticks, but very welcome all the same.

The rest of the fairground was as any other, including the Zarzuela ride (a zarzuela is a casserole dish), where the object of the game is for the operator to try to kill or severely maim the riders. The device is a huge bowl which can tip to about 45°, spin at high speed, stop VERY quickly, flip the occupants a considerable distance and start again almost as quickly. (Thankfully none of the “riders” even remotely approached my advanced age.) The aim is to stand up while the operator spins them round. There are seats all round the outside where sensible people should sit and hold on to the rail, but the machismos (and feminine equivalents) insist on trying to stand for as long as possible. The operator is honour-bound to try to kill them (and very nearly succeeds). Several legs were broken this year and heads were banged violently as the machismos were flung across the bowl to hit the (supposedly safer) people who were sitting down. It is apparently a badge of honour to have broken something at the Zarzuela. Not for me, thank you.

The firework display on the closing(?) night of Saturday started at exactly midnight and woke everyone for around thirty kilometres! First up was a huge salvo of about fifty rockets which exploded with considerable energy and treated us to a magnificent display of colour and shimmering lights. The whole display lasted about fifteen minutes and if you thought the opening was big, you should have seen the closing explosion of rockets. I didn’t actually count them, but there must have been upwards of two hundred rockets. I’ll bet that display could have been seen from the moon! It was certainly heard from La Roda (11 km away).

Fiesta time is the main “relaxing” event for the year. People save their money so they can drink, eat (provided they like churros) and generally enjoy themselves exhaustingly until the whole thing is over. When they actually sleep, I’ve no idea; probably in the afternoon when it is just too hot for much activity.

Overall we enjoyed the Sierra de Yeguas fiesta, but we think we’ll take the trip back to El Burgo for next year.

Bob Fretwell

Sierra de Yeguas, Málaga

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