This past weekend I traveled inside of Spain with a few friends from my study abroad program, and headed towards Valencia for the famous Fallas festival.
Fallas is an explosive celebration, and I mean that literally. If you think of the Fourth of July when you think of fireworks, Fallas tops that.
When you go to Valencia for Fallas, there are firecrackers going off everywhere. Children set small ones off in the same streets that massive crowds are walking through. More than once I was less than three feet from an unnoticed and exploding firecracker.
Even though they’re small, they’re loud, and they’ll pull a curse word or two from your lips. And children run wild with these fireworks. The kind of caution that most U.S. citizens practice is unknown and unheard of, but strangely enough, I was more wary of the drunken, English speaking tourists who were setting them off.
But for me, the mascleta started my Fallas festivities. The mascleta is just like any fireworks show you might experience on the Fourth of July, except that it isn’t like the Fourth of July at all.
Firstly, it begins in the middle of the day, and secondly, it’s not as much about the lights as it is about the sound. The fireworks are set off to create a special rhythm, and the pounding is almost deafening. Towards the end you can feel the explosions in your chest. There was so much soot in the sky, the sun turned blood red and everyone lost their minds cheering for it.
Things quieted down more or less after that, and without really knowing what was next, we stumbled upon a parade of hundreds and hundreds of Valencians wearing traditional dress.
The women wear beautiful embroidered dresses with full skirts. The men wear wide shorts, vests, scarves on their heads, tall socks and sandals. And the colors are so vibrant, you could easily watch them glide past all day. And you actually could if you wanted to, because the parades continued into the night (and of course, the pop of the pedestrian’s firework continued all day and night too).
The Valencians don’t take the traditional clothing off, either. I saw a few women who, once they’d finished parading through the streets, were seated at cafes with lighted cigarettes.
Eventually we too found ourselves at a restaurant. You can find paella, a delicious rice dish, anywhere in Spain, but when you’re in Valencia, the paella is at it’s best, and that was exactly what we intended to prove. We found that it was no lie, either.
Throughout the night, of course, we walked around the city looking at the actual Fallas, big structures made of wood, paper and styrofoam that are meant to burn at the end of the festival. There were little ones and big, one enormous one as tall as the buildings surrounding it, and all were extremely close to the buildings.
We didn’t get to see these Fallas burn, unfortunately, thinking they were supposed to burn the first night when they were actually meant to burn the next. Our Airbnb was in a town about an hour away (another mishap that we didn’t plan for!) but not all was lost.
Many pueblos around Valencia also follow the tradition of Fallas, and although the Fallas in Puerto de Sagunto were much smaller than Valencia’s, that isn’t a disappointment at all! The Fallas there were still incredibly impressive, and the crowds incredibly reduced. We were able to watch four Fallas burn, and we able to stand a lot closer to them than I would have expected.
And when I say the Fallas burned, I really mean it. Prepped with all kinds of festive explosives, the Fallas spray fireworks and spit beautiful blooms of light into the sky.
Firefighters spray surrounding buildings so that nothing will catch fire. And then the entire sculpture catches ablaze, and the heat was so much more incredibly intense than anything I’ve ever experienced. I had to cover my face with my hands to be able to stand the blaze.
Truly, Fallas was an experience I’ll never forget.