Following the summer fete atmosphere of Corpus Christi, the Romería de San Isidro Labrador and Santa María de La Cabeza in La Orotava was a much more rumbustious affair. We’d been to the San Roque Romería in Garachico before, but this was a much bigger event. Up to 75 decorated carts pulled by lumbering huge beasts, rumbled and rolled through La Orotava’s quaint streets, followed by an assortment of gaily dressed men, women, lads, lasses and various donkeys, horses and other creatures.
The first surprise was seeing the fiesta queens leading the parade on the backs of a couple of camels (or were they dromedaries?). Where they looked elegant at the flower carpets a couple of days previously, here they looked decidedly edgy and smiling for the cameras came second to actually staying on their irritable carriages .
From 13:30 oxen drawn carts filled the streets. Children in traditional costumes leaned over their wooden sides handing out papas arrugadas (delicious salty potatoes), gofio cakes, eggs, almogrote sandwiches and, bizarrely, bags of popcorn. However, the real goodies were to be found at the back of each cart where the men folk turned savoury chistorria sausages, pork kebabs and slabs of meat on makeshift barbecues, filling the air with smoke which stung eyes and teased nostrils. Vino del País (potent country wine) was also being distributed from the backs of the carts; a fact which sort of explains why the longer the romería lasts, the livelier it becomes.
One of the things I love about the fiestas here is that they’re not exclusive. If you’re there, you’re part of it and nobody minds that you’re clicking away with a camera; quite the opposite in fact. Everybody wants their photo taken. I tried to focus on a ridiculously cute donkey and four girls jumped in front of the camera.
“Saca un foto, saca un foto,” they screamed.
Two lads in scarlet embroidered waistcoats, breeches and designer sunglasses didn’t want to be left out.
“AQUI, AQUI,” they shouted.
As Canarios danced and sang (I could be way off base here, but it sounded to me that there are only about three songs in the Tinerfeño repertoire) their way through the afternoon, the distribution of food and wine became more enthusiastic. At one point I thought I saw a man kissing a guinea pig. It turned out he was quaffing wine from a goatskin pouch. I have to admit to being disappointed, but I lined up the camera anyway. As I did, a hand grabbed my arm.
“Vino, vino?” A smiling young man held up a bottle of red wine.
“No, gracias,” I replied, but he wasn’t having any of it.
“Si,” he insisted, pushing the bottle my way.
“Pero, no tengo un vaso(but, I don’t have a glass).”
Apparently that wasn’t a problem. The bottle was at my lips before I knew it. By this point it would have been seriously rude to refuse, so I opened my mouth and swallowed for what I was worth, hoping that I wasn’t going to drown in his generosity.
“Bien,” he shouted after he’d poured about a quarter of the bottle down my throat. He laughed, patted my shoulder and moved on to bestow his gifts on some other unsuspecting soul.
It occurred to me that my British trait of thinking I was being polite by not accepting everything that was offered to me was way out of place here. In fact it’s rude not to accept the overwhelming amount of food and drink that comes your way, even if it means that by the end of the day you’ll be a fat, but happy drunk. Okay, I can sign up to that, but next time I’m bringing a glass.