La Vereda by Kevin
Early morning of 11th July, and when I say early I mean up at 5am to arrive at the stables by 5.45am!
Why would I want to ride a horse before the sun rises? Fiesta time in Moratalla. Bull Running is the main theme of this fiesta; a bit like Pamplona but on a much smaller scale.
Back to why 5.45am. The bulls for the fiesta come from breeders at Santiago de la Espada, la Risca and Zaén. This takes several days travelling across country to arrive in holding pens situated at the hermitage of Casa Cristo two days before the fiestas start.
We, ('we' being twelve riders from the stable of Pascualon Gonzalez Ruiz which is situated on the road to Camping la Puerta, about two kilometres out Moratalla), leave the stable at 6am to ride through the old town, hooves clattering on the cobbles of the narrow streets, the sound amplified by the noise ricocheting off the walls of the old houses. We make our way past the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall), where young revellers are gathering. We can hear the town banda playing in the distance, summoning the townsfolk to join in the day's festivities. Before the Bull Run can take place, the bulls need to be brought down from Casa Cristo, so on we ride, along Carreterra de Campo San Juan, past groups of people eating churros y chocolate from the vendors lining both sides of the street, past the deserted fairground.
Leaving the town we make our way up the mountain, the sun on our backs and the morning mist clouding the huerta below. The horses quicken their pace as if they know about the day to come. An hour of walking and trotting and stumbling conversations with fellow riders, (after ten years I still haven't mastered the language, but luckily they are patient and forgiving), passes quickly.
We arrive at Casa Cristo to be greeted by a large group of people who have made their way up by car or on foot. The same people accompany us down again to the town. While we wait for the bulls to be herded together by the vaqueros, (cowboys), we are offered a traditional drink which at first glance looks like cold black coffee and smells like coffee, but after one sip my brain starts to shrink and whatever it is that's making my eyes water I don't think it's coffee! Then we're off; riders, cattle, vaqueros and walkers. With the sun still low and the dust thrown up by hooves and feet you can imagine yourself on a ranch, rounding up the cattle. We leave the track to cross the main road where people gather to watch the horned beasts at close quarters.
Nearing the town we pass the house of a friend, a gathering place for the local Brits to meet and wave me on my way. We come to a large, open field where the cattle are herded together to rest before entering the town. Horse and rider also welcome the break. We find shade under the olive trees and look for refreshment. Water would be my choice, but alas only beer is on offer! It's 32º by now, so I pass on the beer. Thirty minutes later and we're moving again. We drop down to cross a river bed and then, closely bunched, we climb up the other side. As we approach the town a shout goes up and the cattle pick up their pace. You can feel the horse tense under you and then it's a gallop as we drive the animals into Carreterra de Calasparra. The runners are ready and waiting and as they see the animals approach they begin the race up to the Town Hall. This is watched by cheering crowds who are balanced on the top of the wooden barriers lining both sides of the road. The riders peel off and make their way back through the old town, avoiding cars and people alike.
As we ride, I feel privileged to be the only 'extaranjero' (foreigner) to ride down with these majestic beasts and to be made welcome by those who make the fiesta so special. We arrive back at the stable after four hours on horseback, saddle sore and weak of limb, but high in spirits. I lift the saddle off a steaming, sweaty back and as I look my horse in the eye, (his name is El Pinto), I thank him for another special ride. He's taken away to be hosed down, watered and fed. For him this is the first of a possible seven 'veredas'. For me, one is enough until next year!
Diana Floreada by Tina
I also had an early start as I play the piccolo in our town band and as the gate clanked shut behind me at 5.30am on 11th July I looked up into the star-filled sky and thought how quiet and peaceful it was living in the countryside. However, as I neared the town the first rocket crackled up into the sky, leaving behind its plume of smoke and then I could hear the thud and boom of the music coming from the peñas, (clubs) in the narrow, winding streets of the old town.
I walked up to the main square and one by one the musicians trickled in, wearing their brand new, bright yellow, banda T-shirts, many of them looking slightly the worse for wear having been up all night celebrating. The job of the banda is to rouse the sleeping members of the town so that they gather together in time to watch the first encierro, (Bull Run). On the dot of 6am we set off, up Calle Mayor, in our rows of five, following the main group of revellers who sang and danced in front of us. It took fifty minutes to walk the first hundred metres and during that time the revellers were doused with copious buckets full of water, thrown by well-wishers from the overlooking balconies. We played one piece of music, over and over again, (one year I must remember to count how many times!), 'Gacela'. The words to me are a bit of a mystery, but are well known by all the locals and are sung with great gusto and much punching of the air whilst holding a beaker of beer or a Bacardi and coke!
We had a pause for breath before entering the main peña zone. Here it was chockablock and we had to squeeze past the bystanders who were cheering us on. At times this can be a bit hazardous as it's difficult to see where you're walking while you're playing and you need to leave enough space to one side so that your instrument also has room to get through – I'm still learning!
We finally made it up to the Plaza de la Iglesia where dawn was just breaking. It was an amazing sight; the silvery moon, almost full, hanging over the lit-up cross of Jesú Cristo Aparecido on the mountainside opposite us; hundreds of swifts swooping and diving to catch their breakfast and over the huerta the sun rising, gradually unveiling misty layer upon misty layer of the mountains in the distance. What a contrast to the noise and hubbub lower down in the town.
After a short break to gather our breath we were off again, past the firmly closed doors and shutters of the houses, but accompanied by our loyal group of supporters, singing and dancing. A few people appeared, bleary eyed and pyjama-clad as we noisily made our way back to Calle Mayor to a small square where we played a final Pasadoble so that our followers could dance and sing along.
What a start to the day, and we had another seven appearances to go over the coming week, but what a wonderful opportunity to be a part of the traditions of the town and to be able to give something back to the community that has always been so welcoming towards us.