San Roque: fiestas in our pueblo, Calatayud (the REAL Spanish fiesta)


Ask any native or true Expat about the legitimate Spanish fiesta and you won’t hear the word “discoteca” once. In the fiesta’s host city, there won’t be a metro, or a double-decker tourist bus. The population will most likely be under 25k and the hype before the fiesta is almost as exhilarating  as the party itself. For an authentic Spanish fiesta experience, once must go…. to the PUEBLO.

NUTHSELL: What fiestas del pueblo have in common with the the often overrated discoteca rager is that the party will most certainly go on until 7am.  But in the pueblo, it doesn’t stop there. Cuz breakfast/third dinner depending on whether you prefer sweet (churros con chocolate) or savory (huevos con chorizo), is a must. And you will need that nourishment. A last push of energy is required to get your drunk ass to “vaquillas” at 8am (or is it 9am?). Everyone stumbles into the bull ring with the first morning light and depending on how much liquid bravery you still got left flowing through your veins, you might either a) sit your sleepy ass down in the shaded grand stand or b) throw your crazy ass into the ring. So what are vaquillas? Baby bulls. ONLY in the pueblo will they let drunk adolescents, together with their parents, run around trying not to get rammed by a baby bull. Baby bulls at some point in their life will be bulls, just. Huge, strong animals that unfortunately are not respected by most non-Spaniards. (San Fermín, Pamplona –running of the bulls.. sound familiar? Tourists have the tendency to run with the bulls for shits and giggles without understanding the hazard of it all. The problem is, they put everyone else’s lives in danger, as well as their own. Spaniards train year after year for the honor or running and dodging those bulls. And drunk tourists have the tendency to show up and ruin the party). But vaquillas… they have protective cones on their horns and yeah, people can get banged up and bruised but it aint sooo bad. It is a fucking spectacle. And I love it. The best part for me is that after “vaquillas” comes bedtime. Finally. Really it’s like an extended siesta cuz your ass better be up and showered, and your cooler better be loaded with cold beer cuz it’s back to the bull ring for “corrida de toros” or what English speakers know as a bull fight. Yes, the 5 o’clock Spanish sun in August is pure torture when you’re trapped in a crowded ring with no air flow, BUT they hand out free bocadillos and the marching bands are so distracting that you don’t even notice there are bulls being cruelly lead to their death (YES I have an opinion about bull fights. They are terrible). And so the cycle begins again. Live music all night. Breakfast at 7am. Vaquillas at 9am (or was it 8?) and if you’re lucky, your house keys will still be in your fanny pack and around 11am you’ll look up at your ceiling and wonder how you even go into your bed in the first place. The penultimate night has a 5am intermission from live music and dancing to a hike up the highest hill around, where atop sits San Roque chapel. Cocktail in hand, the San Roque anthem is belted out in chorus, and on the way down the hill, you are rewarded with hot chocolate (the Spanish kind, not the watery stuff) and churros or muffins or mini cakes. And the marching bands are right there by your side, suffering along with you. It’s a beautiful end to an exhausting 4 or 5 days.

The end.


So this is San Roque, fiestas in OUR pueblo. And it’s a life changing experience. Ask my cousin. Or my brothers. Or ask Emily Thompson to tell you a story about that one time I shaved my long, blonde hair my very first San Roque. Took a razor and buzzed that shit off. To zero. Fiestas del pueblo are nuts.

Currently we are living the hype. Fiestas start in one week and one day. And tradition here is to walk up to the chapel the 9 days before the official start of the fiestas (which is worthy of another post. And it will have its own). So we started yesterday. After dinner anytime between 8 and midnight, the bell of the chapel will be tirelessly sounding with each pull of the rope. It’s called “la novena” which means “the ninth”. And you’ll run into everyone you know. Mary, Pablo, Miguel (the cousin of Silvia, my neighbor who has the pastry on the corner behind the gastropub) etc etc etc. The bar patios are filled with bodies pre and post hike, consuming beers, horchata slushies or ice creams, anything to beat this damn heat. If you aren’t in a Spanish coastal town during the summer, your skin is always about 2 degrees from melting off.

Up we go… with my oldest niece and nephew


The hike is short but it’s a decent uphill climb. Some locos go on bike. Others run. Others walk. But the OG tradition is strongly rooted in faith and Catholicism/the church… the latter doesn’t spark my interest but the personal faiths which inspire people to walk up the rocky terrain barefoot as penance is moving and quite curious. This is the first year that I decided to try out another cultural experience. I’m a strong believer in science, not a fan of churches in general, but I am spiritual and probably don’t consider myself an atheist. Anyways, this is the first year I’m doing “la novena” barefoot. I haven’t decided why I am participating in penance, but I’m far from perfect and I’ll have a more concrete answer to which of my sins are worth the torture should I have a long moment to ponder.

This is Elsa, my very first niece. She braved the barefoot climb with Tía Karlita! Such a rockstar


Get all that? Walk uphill. Sing song with the strangest, most non-rhythmic Catholic song about Saint Roque, his dog (Rouna) and their travels. Walk down. Drink beer. Sleep. Work. Repeat. Sounds like a lame pre-party, but the energy is undeniable. A casual build up for the most EPIC opening party ever. I can’t even get into that right now. It will have its own post. For now, photos.

Destination: San Roque chapel! She’s an adorable one!


while some walk up..


…others bike
Sunset views are gorgeous up here!
San Roque Chapel at the golden hour


The only way to get the kids up the hill! Tradition is you pull the rope to ring the bell for as many times as you’ve made the hike. If you complete “la novena” you’ll ring it 9 times on your last night!


Our Wednesday evening crew


Inside San Roque chapel. It’s usually this empty this early in the evening, the masses make the climb between 10pm and midnight.


Views from San Roque of the 9th century castle sitting majestically above the pueblo


Inside the chapel. San Roque and his dog Rouna.



Beer time!


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