Spain is famous for being a noisy country and this can be quite a culture shock to a foreigner. According to a survey, Spain is the 2nd loudest country in the world, with the highest rate of the population exposed to noise levels beyond World Health Organisation limits, particularly in Madrid and Barcelona.
Wander into any local bar or market and you´ll find staff shouting orders and friends all talking at once, each raising their voice even louder in an effort to be heard above the din.
And nowhere is the love of noise better demonstrated than in the thousands of fiestas throughout the year that Spanish people love to celebrate. Here in Jávea and Alicante region, the annual 2 week midsummer “Hogueras de San Juan” bonfire celebration is just concluding, perhaps the loudest, craziest festival of them all!
The hogueras and ninots remain in place for several days until the night of la cremá (the burning), the high point of the fiesta when they are stuffed with fireworks and then razed to the ground. Locals try to get as close to the front as possible as the local bomberos (firemen) shower the fire and the crowd with water. Each year one ninot is spared from it´s fate, based on a public vote.
Aside from the hogueras, there are also many other activities going on during San Juan, many of them revolved around noise and mayhem!
Each day starts at 8am (early by Spanish standards) with La Despertà (“the wake-up call”). Brass bands march down the street, followed by the fallers who throw large firecrackers onto the ground as they walk.
At 2pm the mascletá takes place, a pyrotechnic extravaganza of noise which symbolises the madness of it all. Crowds stand in the heat fanning themselves while they wait for the start of the mascletà, signalled by 3 loud bangs. Once the explosions start, the level of noise is hard to describe. In fact, it´s more of a feeling as your chest vibrates as the noise thunders through your body (my Spanish friends talk about it with some emotion). As it reaches a crescendo the crowd of all ages raise their arms and roar in appreciation, almost like being at a rave.
Even little children are given mini “training” firecrackers to throw down on the pavement and alarm unsuspecting tourists as they walk by. Strangely, I´ve noticed that Spanish dogs walk by quite unperturbed as firecrackers are set off all around them, so I can only come to the conclusion that Spanish dogs are a bit more relaxed (or possibly deaf).
Each night friends and neighbours meet in their local racó or barraca, a temporary pop-up bar, to eat and drink and party, with the celebrations going on until around 5am each night. I have discovered a love of ear plugs during this time!
And next day the revelry begins all over again. The fiesta also includes many other events such as processions, flower offerings, fire-jumping, and enormous paellas.
With all this noise, then perhaps it's no surprise then that quietness is demanded during the afternoon siesta time. Wander through many neighbourhoods at this time and it´s like a ghost town. In fact, many local authorities even prohibit excessive noise during the siesta in summer months.
Over time, however, your eardrums will adjust and you´ll embrace the lively atmosphere of this warm and friendly country.
Viva la fiesta!