And so the night went on, until Lorena stood up suddenly, as if the coach would soon become a pumpkin, and invited us to follow her outdoors. She wanted to “shoa” us “someting”. Still clutching our bottles of beer, we followed her outside, down some steps where a musician sat playing Spanish guitar. We continued, until an enormous square opened up below, a set of stairs separating us from the sight beneath.
About fifty figures moved like night elves in the half light, some rhythmically swinging lengths of colourful thread or cloth, weighted at the ends, called poi. Juggling pins flung through the hands of the others, and I spotted a unicycle propped against some suitcase of tricks. Lorena waltzed down the steps, took charge of a friend’s poi, and performed a few sequences, glowing, back in her natural habitat. Drums lined the steps, violinists and guitarists sprung up spontaneously, and Lorena gyrated through the motions of Flamenco. Charlie watched, in awe, as her innate Spanish sensuality unfolded before him.
A couple of hours had passed when Iain and I eventually got up to go back to the hotel. Only about a quarter of the twilight people remained in the square, partaking in their subcultural ritual. It was four o’ clock in the morning.
The next day, we returned to Pontevedra, feeling uncanny as we headed back to Hotel Peregrino. Not once on the trip had we gone backwards. To arrive at the known, rather than the usual unknown, resembled a homecoming of sorts. Our favourite spicy sandwich joint was the obvious choice for an early supper, and it was sitting outside there, on the square, that we noticed the first signs of strange behaviour.
A group of ten or so people in their early twenties, wearing the same bright orange t-shirts, adorned with fierce looking cartoon bulls, ran through the square, shrieking, soaked in a murky coloured liquid. They clutched luminous water pistols, huge things, more like water rifles really, but seemed to be retreating, defeated. A couple of minutes later, another group appeared, all donning green t-shirts, a bull that appeared to be drunk printed on their backs. They were more or less the same age, but were mostly male, and chased the orange team with their water rifles, clasping half empty five litre bottles of maroon liquid by plastic handles.
We had noticed posters advertising two bullfights, scheduled for that weekend, all round town, and realised that the late afternoon event had obviously just finished, releasing several hundred spectators from its arena, half explaining the mania around us.
Following the general direction of the action, the number and assortment of t-shirt wearing teams grew around every corner. The streets narrowed as we entered the heart of Pontevedra’s old town, the crowds condensed, and we found ourselves amidst pure mayhem.
T-shirts teams traipsed past us, between us, from every angle. Every third person clutched a five litre bottle, modern day wine skins, swigging sangria from plastic cupfuls that they splashed out the bottles’ stout necks. Shrieks were followed by people running through the streets, drenched in the watery wine. We bumped through the hordes, stepping over the river of red stained boxed wine cartons. I tiptoed over the shards of glass in my flip flopped feet.
The occasional stereo blasted pop music into the crowds and the tunes merged with the bellowing masses. Outside one of the street bars, a man slept in his chair, oblivious, a wine glass precariously grasped in his fist, his stripy shirt untainted.
We went in search of some alcohol of our own, to ease us into the festivities, and found a bar willing to sell us a litre of surprisingly pleasant boxed wine for the take away price of a euro. Across the road, a set of steps beckoned. It was a bit calmer and cleaner there, so we planted ourselves in view of the goings on.
I heard a loud grinding noise in the distance, getting rapidly louder and louder. People’s faces paled as they looked up the street at something I could only hear. Seconds later a trolley screeched into view, racing down the sloping street before us, a terrified passenger sitting inside it, holding on for dear life. The clamour of its wheels was enough to send people running, ducking into side roads, dodging its path. We followed its path, alarmed, until it halted upon colliding with a parked car, some 50 meters later. Several supermarket trolleys had been hijacked, trophies in the ruthless game they had been volunteered to play.
The next morning, we took a walk through the streets, wondering whether the layers of filth we had waded through had already been cleaned up. Nothing remained of the piles of crushed packaging, empty bottles and rubbish of the night before, save for a few overlooked cigarette butts. The work that must have gone into such a clean up was staggering, and we couldn’t help but wonder why the fiesta, a non profit event requiring such a thorough cleanup, was tolerated.
The victory of another bullfight brought with it the flood of fiesta again that night, and so the cycle of raucousness and repair continued. Iain and I thought we had experienced some fairly debauched gatherings, but Pontevedra managed to casually stun.