Why I Love Semana Grande, Part I

It's aste nagusia here in Donosti, known as semana grande in San Sebastián, known as Big Week in San Sebastchun.  Basically, it's a week and a weekend of fireworks, concerts, crowds, activities, tradition, and general revelry. And it's awesome. Why?

Well, for firsts, you can't trust me because I'm a guiri, and the locals will tell you one of two things if you rave to them about semana grande. They will either say, "Meh, it's for guiris (foreigners, especially light-complected ones)". Or the other standard response is, "The one in Bilbao is better." 

Hmph. As you can see above, the whole town turns out for the festivities, as much as they might trash-talk them. And they're incredible! They started last Saturday, and the main climax of each day is the fireworks at 10:45pm. Saturday I had the luck to watch them from a beautiful villa on Ondaretta beach....wonderful. Sunday, from atop Mount Ulia, on the porch of a friend's house. As another friend told me, you have to know how to 'montar la fiesta' for it to be truly grande.

Semana Grande is amazing (and we're only halfway through) because:

1)I'm a guiri. Which means I have a weakness for streetperformers, fireworks and crowds?

2)Basque tradition is out in full force, like at the pelota semifinals we attended on Monday. My first pelota (Basque handball) match, and I LOVED IT! Everytime they smack the ball with their hands it never fails to amaze me, and a really good match leaves you breathless.

3) Things like rows of trunks waiting to be chopped by professional athletes who have trained to do just that is...normal. There's a name for it in Basque, aizkolaritza, which one day I will be able to bring to my lips with ease.

4) There's no better scenery in the world than the Bay of La Concha, which was recently voted a top five beach by Travel & Leisure.

5) El ABORDAJE!!! One of the most wonderful things I've ever seen. Groups of young (and not so young) people build makeshift rafts with whatever they can find, and then the whole city gathers round to watch them make their way from the port to the beach.

Boats sink. Everybody's drunk. Laughs, like real, out loud ones, come out of you without you even expecting. Rafts break apart and the castaways try to climb aboard other rafts, whose inhabitants squirt and splash them with water.

So there's five reasons...five more coming at the end of the week.

If you get fed up with all the fiesta, you can easily escape like I did on Sunday. A friend and I rode through the countryside, through Beasain, Segura, Zerain, on a gorgeous, relaxing and sweaty tour of the Basque wilderness. Awesome.  Then back to the city by train (where of course I ran into some fellow Smurfs) , to another world, for the night's festivities.