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La Semana Grande in a Small Town


SPAIN | Friday, 15 May 2015 | Views [105] | Scholarship Entry

We arrive in Castro-Urdiales to find something going on; the nature of which at first is not clear. Castro-Urdiales is a delight; with its oversized church overlooking the harbour surrounded by golden sandy beaches and green mountains, the setting is idyllic. This whole stretch of Northern Spanish coast has been the unexpected highlight of this cycle trip. We’re in town by chance because finding hotels has tricky for a couple of ad hoc travellers in high season and this place had a room free on the harbour front. It turns out that windows were not included in the price, but, hey... beggars... and all that.
August is the month of La Semana Grande: in Northern Spain with almost every town holding a 7 day party. San Sebastian, Santander and Bilbao all have well established 'Big Weeks' and we’ve accidentally happened upon another less known one. Castro-Urdiales’ La Semana Grande climaxes in a competition to see who can cook the best ‘Marmita’: a tuna, potato and pepper stew cooked by teams of local people in the open air along the harbourside. As well as their own cooking area, each team has their own individual plastic dustbin full of sangria to help the culinary process along. As visitors, our participation is purely observational; this is a local contest reserved for local triumph. The judging process and winner remain a mystery, and judging by the all round raucous atmosphere, I’m not sure anyone cares.
In preparation for the cook-off, there was a party last night, so everyone was already hungover before the cooking and drinking began. By mid-afternoon the cooking (and eating) has finished and the entire town moves on to singing, canoe racing and the opportunity to climb a greasy pole attached to the harbour wall which results in an inevitable plummet into the sea to the cheers of a good-natured crowd. The evening’s entertainment wound up with a performance by Spanish Beatles tribute band, Los Cheatles singing the Fab Four’s classics with a strong Iberian twang. 'Love Me Do' will never be the same again.
Our day ends with churros - delicious, long, thin donuts - dipped in thick, sweet hot chocolate from a churreria on the seafront. It’s these days when unexpected adventures come your way, that travel makes the most sense and brings the greatest satisfaction. We close our door on the packed laughter-filled streets, with the sounds of ‘Yesterday’ hanging in the warm night air, wondering when the Spanish ever sleep and exactly how many churros are too many.

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship

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