Giddyup in Southern Spain


Where: Arcos de la Frontera, Spain

The bright festival gates in Arcos de la Frontera

Plate of Food: Here’s one for the great minds of our world (and this blog): is sangria a food? Now, don’t be hasty – remember that it has fruit in it….

Poor sangria has acquired a bad reputation (mostly from American students on Spring Break vacation from what I can gather) for being sweet, potent, and for under-age drinkers. The sangria we had in Spain was refreshing, pleasant, and tasty. We ordered pitchers of red sangria as we sat at an outdoor cafe late into the night. The air was warm and filled with music. We were surrounded by tables of Spaniards, who were animatedly talking, kissing, laughing – and they were all drinking sangria.

You can mix up a pitcher of sangria once you are back home, but the ingredients will fall short. There is something about drinking it in Spain that elevates this drink to an experience – a very happy experience.

For real sticklers who argue that sangria is not a food, we also ate churros: fried sticks of dough sprinkled with sugar. Spaniards commonly eat them for breakfast dipped in very thick hot chocolate. I like mine just on their own, warm and delicious. The satisfying crunch of the ridged exterior and the fluffy dough inside is very appealing. My only complaint is that it bothers me to have granules of sugar stuck on my fingers. It bothers me more to be armed only with single-ply napkin to tackle these sugar granules. Am I alone on this?

The best/Story that needs to be told: Arcos de la Frontera was supposed to merely serve its purpose as an overnight stop on our way through the hills of Southern Spain. As we entered town, though, we saw a number of men in traditional outfits on horseback, riding through town. How quaint, we thought. Then we started seeing women in colourful Flamenco dresses. How amazing that this town is so devoted to its traditions, we mused. We felt as though we had stepped back in time. It turned out that we had actually stepped into an annual festival celebrating San Miguel. The whole town was transformed and every person took part by wearing these beautiful outfits.

Down the hill from the main townsite, a carnival was set up with tents, games, and rides. The tents were all blaring Flamenco music to which every person knew the words. Women of all ages clustered around and danced, dust rising up in puffs from their espadrilles. Their dresses were exquisite and each one was unique: spotted, striped, ruffled, colourful, and stitched to fit their every curve. Great care had obviously been taken to match earrings, hair combs, fans and shawls to the colour of the dress. The complete outfits were beautiful. And these women could move: hands twirled, wrists flicked, eyes flashed and feet stamped. It was spellbinding to watch. The music was infectious and powerful. The beat was echoed by every pair of hands clapping and every foot stamping. These people must have heartbeats that keep time with Flamenco music.

Dancing up a dust storm!

The men, in stark contrast, sat stoically on horseback, looking very dashing and maintaining incredibly good posture. The horses all faced the same way and no one spoke. Young women stood nearby glancing at the men from behind their fans. Once or twice, through some unspoken arrangement, a man would reach down and lift one of the girls effortlessly with one hand onto the back of his horse. There she would sit, legs to one side, arranging the ruffles of her skirt. It appeared to be quite a statement of attraction, intention, and importance. Not sure how that rates as a date, though: you get hoisted to the back of an aromatic horse and there you sit. Every so often the horse would shuffle its hooves. Ah, the romance!

"I'll just stand here at these horses' rear ends and hope that Esteban notices me..." Tough dating scene in Arcos.

I was enchanted. The traditional clothes, the horses, the music, the setting sun – it all seemed like it was from another time. A time when men rode horses and wore high-waisted pants. A time when women danced and said everything with just their eyes. Matt promised that in another life he would have hoisted me on the back of his horse….but, he may have been swayed by the promise of the last churro.

We walked back and forth through the tents, soaking up the atmosphere, until the sun set. Then we climbed up to the top of the river valley and sat drinking and eating late into the night. We didn’t dare leave to return to our hotel room for fear that when we woke in the morning it would all have vanished like a dream. Our stop in Arcos de la Frontera was so magnificent in that it was wholly unexpected and completely magical. The fact that we stumbled upon it made it all the better. We didn’t orchestrate the timing or the festivities. It just appeared before us like a mirage and we enjoyed it for one night, then left, slightly stunned, the following morning with the colours still swirling in front of our eyes and the music still pulsing in our ears.

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”  Lao Tzu


3 responses »

  1. Where was Freya?? I love the notion of drinking sangria, and eating fried dough late into the night and then my bubble bursts with a ‘mommy?, mommy?, mommy?’ Was this a romantic trip for two?

    • Ah, as much as I would like you to think that I was trading her for churros, the truth is that this trip was in 2005, so well before Miss F entered the scene. Is it any wonder why I enjoy reminiscing about trips done without kids….? 🙂

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