Thursday, April 9, 2009

Semana Santa I

As many of you may know, Spain is especially renowned for its "Semana Santa" (or Holy Week) traditions. Once again, Andalucía (the southern-most autonomous region of Spain where I currently reside) is home to the most glamorous celebrations (just like the Cádiz carnaval). Most pueblos and all capital cities in Andalucia participate in Semana Santa and have various processions that coincide with the historical biblical account of Christ the week before Easter. But within Andalucia, Sevilla is typically recognized as the most elaborate, and every year draws an enormous crowd of religious and simply curious onlookers. I will be one, as I am heading up to Sevilla later this afternoon to witness the processions of Maunday Thursday that go throughout the entire night until dawn.

However, I have already been fortunate enough to get a taste of Semana Santa, in my own Pueblo and in Cádiz. My experience in Cádiz, however, was the outcome of pure luck (or maybe pure bad luck?). Let me explain. After participating in a grueling 8 hour hike on Sunday (covering some 45 kilometers of mountainous terrain from Ronda to Ubrique), my roommate suggested I take a day to relax and head to the beach. So we hopped on the internet, and decided to venture to somewhere new: Puerto de Santa Maria. On Monday morning, we arrived at the Ubrique bus station at 8:20 am, 10 minutes early to catch the supposed 8:30 bus to Jerez. To our surprise (but it really shouldn´t have surprised us), the internet bus schedule was wrong, and our bus did not depart until 9 am. So, we took a half hour walk around town to kill the time, then hopped on what we thought would be a fairly quick journey to Jerez. Two hours and fourty-five minutes later (on a route that by car takes 45 minutes max) we arrived in Jerez where we ran across to the train station to catch the train to Puerto de Santa Maria. Once we arrived in Puerto de Santa Maria and stepped off the train, we anxiously looked around for the beach (or any sign of a beach). There was none. But we decided not to panic, and went to ask a passerby who informed us we needed to catch a city bus to the nearest beach...and if we wanted to catch it we should probably turn and start running since it was already at the bus stop. So we thanked her, took off running, and made the city bus with two seconds to spare. In another 30 minutes, we were finally at the beach. Total transportation time: 3 hours and 30 minutes.

Once at the beach, we realized neither of us had sunscreen. In order to avoid looking like lobsters, we decided to go buy some. How hard can it be, right? Well, that is a whole other story in and of itself. Long story short, we finallly bought some SPF, went back to the beach, and enjoyed the sunshine for 3 hours. At 4:00, we headed up to the bus stop to catch the 4:30 city bus back to the train station. We arrived at the stop at 4:15, and went into a store right next door to buy a drink. At the precise moment I was paying (4:18 pm), a lovely blue city bus drove by. Yup, there went our bus. Go figure, you take extra care to arrive 12 minutes early and you still miss your bus. So we did the only thing we could do, wait 30 minutes for the next bus. Once we hopped on the city bus, we anxiously rode around for another 30 minutes thinking that we were now cutting our connections very close...but still thinking we were okay. We arrived at the train station at exactly the same time the train (OUR train) was pulling up. So we sprinted across traffic, and ran to the ticket window and asked for the 5:30 train to Jerez. The grumpy ticket seller informed us we just missed it and the next one did not leave until 6:00 pm. However, we could not take that one because the last bus for the night departs Jerez for Ubrique at 6:00 pm. So we looked into our only other option: heading to Cádiz where there was a 6:30 bus. We bought our tickets to Cádiz, and in 45 minutes arrived with exactly 7 minutes to spare to run and catch the bus back to Ubrique. As we were sprinting (once again) out of the train station, I found myself unable to exit because the machine would not recognize my ticket. Since it was a valid ticket, I thought it would be okay to hop on over and continue sprinting. However, since I was not tall enough, I ended up just repeatedly inserting my ticket thinking it has to work at some point while my friend ran to get help and tell someone I was and unable to exit. Two minutes passed, but it seemed like a lifetime. I finally got out, and yet again, we did a full out sprint to try and make the 6:30 bus back to Ubrique. We arrived at the bus stop, and there was no bus. But we had not seen a bus while we were running either (and we ran along the route), so we decided it must just be running a little late. Finally we grew curious, went and asked a police officer, who apologized but told us he had not been paying attention to the buses. Finally a bus pulled up, and we asked about Ubrique. He told us the last bus left at 5:00 pm. Wait. Back-up. Excuse me? Fortunately for us, he was mistaking. However, so were we. There was no 6:30 bus to Ubrique on the weekdays (only the weekend), but there was one more bus back to Ubrique that left at 8:15 pm...which meant we had a little under two hours to fiddle around.

We decided to go back to the police officer and see what all the commotion was in the main Plaza. To our delight, it was one of the first Semana Santa processions of the week. Niether of us have ever been in Spain during Holy Week or seen a procession of the like, so we stuck around. It was quite elaborate, everyone dressed in white robes/tunics with pointed white hats, and some walking barefoot along the streets of Cádiz (in penance). The statues of Christ and the Virgin were incredibly ornate, and like all processions here, were carried through the streets at a snails pace, by a group of 30 or more men. This is no easy task, as these sculptures weigh hundreds of pounds. Following each statue is a band, that walks and plays behind the scultpures and penants. Lining the way for the scultpures, and scattered throughout the bands and the penants, are nazarenos (or people carrying processional candles and crosses). Little kids from the crowds often approach the nazarenos and ask them to pour wax from their candles onto a wax ball. Since the processions last hours (usually a minimum of 4 hours), the kids get bored, and making a wax ball that grows from year to year, is a way to pass the time and a tradition that has survived the years and getting even more popular. It was quite interesting to see.

Finally, at 8:15 our bus came, and we hopped back on...quite ready to return home. All in all, 6 hours and 30 minutes of transportation, for 3 hours at the beach, and 1 hour and 45 minutes in Cádiz viewing the procession. Needless to say, we were a little tired of riding on trains and buses by the time we got home. But were thrilled we got to see a Semana Santa pure luck? or bad luck? Still can´t decide.

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