This weekend I attended an event with the students that tops anything I’ve ever done for just plain crazy. The Festival of Saint Antoni, patron saint of animals, is celebrated in various villages around the area, often with a church service in which people bring their animals for a blessing. The AIP School arranged for an outing to one village (pueblo), La Vilanova de L’Alcolea, in conjunction with several other language schools in the area. Eight of our students, our guide Miguel, and I boarded a bus along with students from Germany, Italy, and Japan, and headed off into the night out in the middle of nowhere. When we arrive at the village, we see that brush has been piled up in the middle of every street (in some cases not more than 4 feet from the houses on either side). We watch a fireworks show in the town soccer field. Okay…fireworks, animals in the church…so far, nothing too far out.
We follow the crowd back into the streets, and in the middle of the crowd, a priest gives a prayer, a band comes through, and horses parade by. Suddenly, the brush is lit and the whole town is on fire. If that’s not enough, people start running alongside, and in some cases over, the burning brush. The horses, specially trained for this event all year, also run through and jump over the fire (I know, animal-lovers). Words fail me here…the entire town is running through the burning, smoke-filled streets. I lose my students for a while, and think “I’m done for…the smoke inhalation alone will get me.” Eventually, I catch up to them and we hold hands as we run along the street next to the fire. I’m serious…this goes on for two hours until the fires die out.
One of the students was run into by a horse (I don’t think our insurance covers this), and the rest were experiencing their inner pyromaniac; they had a blast. I was glad to get out alive. The bus left at 2 am and by the time I walked home it was 4 am. Wow…not on the bucket list, but definitely a once in a lifetime experience.