It finally came. I’d been hearing about las fallas since before Rob and I even arrived in Valencia. About how wild it was, about how they spent all year working on these structures, about the crazy parties in the streets. With that much build up it was hard not to get really excited. At the end of it all, on Monday morning when the smoke cleared and the lights were being taken down, I actually kind of had mixed feelings about the whole thing. Before you start attacking me about not embracing Spanish culture, allow me to explain my love/hate relationship with Las Fallas a little more.
First of all, the actual fallas (also known as ninots) are incredible. They’re bigger than I ever expected, more detailed than I expected, and more beautiful than I expected. There were a couple that I seriously could have just hung out next to and stared at for hours. The artists that make them work on them all year and it shows. You could spend an entire day just walking around the little side streets throughout Valencia discovering new fallas around almost every corner.
Also, the churros! I loved being able to go get fresh churros for dirt cheap whenever I wanted. And they come with this awesome chocolate dipping sauce. It was thinner than fondue chocolate but thicker than the kind of hot chocolate you would normally drink. So you use it as a dip for the churros and then drink the little bit that’s left. So delicious. I generally try to eat a little healthy when I can but I will admit that there was a day during las fallas where I went to one of those churro stands three different times throughout the day. I actually don’t think I would be able to handle the responsibility of year ’round access to those bad boys. Luckily, las fallas comes but once a year.
I did also like the way they set up stages in the middle of the streets at night for their dance parties. A lot of festivals have a designated section with a stage and big area for dancing (at a park or something). While I like that style of venue as well, las fallas just has different stages set up around the city with the actual street acting as a dance floor. This is great for a few reasons. Firstly, no waiting in line to get into the dancing area. You like a song that’s playing and you’re walking by? Run over and start dancing! Can’t stand the song that comes on next? Move on, go grab a to go drink at one of the many little pop-up bars, or grab some churros (there’s never a bad time for that). When you wait in line for a long time to get in somewhere you feel obligated to stay. And what’s worse than standing in line and hearing them play your favorite song inside and knowing that now you aren’t going to get to dance to it? It’s also fun to take a little break from dancing, go for a little walk-about, grab a drink, and find another dance floor on another street. I really liked this aspect of las fallas.
And the streets are beautiful at night! In the Ruzafa neighborhood there are arches and arches of lights built up over the streets. It’s really impressive, the night before everything really started up my friends and I spent the evening just walking around and admiring it all. It wasn’t crowded at all and we had a great time seeing everything before the madness began.
The flower display in the Plaza de la Virgen is also really beautiful. A big, maybe 40 foot tall structure of the Virgin Mary is covered completely by flowers by hand. As in, people climb up the side and catch bouquets of flowers from people below them and slowly fill the entire dress of the structure in flowers. It’s quite a sight to see, we found out about it on the online program here. There’s a lot going on during the fallas but in order to know what’s happening when you either need to be a local and ‘just know’ or find a program like the one I just linked above 🙂
I think the mascletas is a good way for me to transition from what I loved about las fallas to what I wasn’t so crazy about. The mascletas are basically a five minute long, crazy loud firecracker show that starts everyday at 2:00 in the afternoon at the Plaza Ayuntamiento. And it’s badass. You’d think that listening to a bunch of loud banging in a crowd full of people would not be enjoyable, and I’m sure there’s some that would find it destructive and annoying, but there’s something really fantastic about feeling your insides shake with a bunch of other people and cheering and drinking beer in the sunshine.
With that being said, there were a lot of things I noticed during the mascletas that really turned me off to them. First, of all the crowded events and concerts and what not that I’ve been to in my life, the pushing was really over the top. This was not just at the mascletas but around the more popular fallas during the busier times, and I also had a grown ass man (like 50) grab my purse and throw it at me and then push me in a crowded area by one of the street dance floors. Still not completely sure what inspired his behavior, but I was not impressed. I was just thankful that he wasn’t trying to steal my purse! Las fallas crowds seemed particularly pushy, aggressive, and often times rude in my opinion.
Another thing that left a kind of bitter taste in my mouth was the littering. At the mascletas everyone, not just one guy next to me but everyone, was just dropping trash on the ground. Someone’s finished their beer? They just literally throw it on the ground next to them and open another one. Not in a sneaky, ‘I’m kind of ashamed but don’t feel like finding a recycling bin’ way either. People throwing garbage on the ground with conviction and then creating more garbage and doing it again. Yes, I know large groups of people create garbage, but this was well beyond your standard summer music festival.
City workers with push brooms were there to comb over the entire area everyday after the mascletas (and I imagine all other popular events) so the city stayed clean throughout. But what about all those cans that could have easily been recycled? Maybe the Seattle girl in me just can’t stand to see so many people openly trashing their own city day in and day out, if I saw someone back home doing what I saw entire crowds of people doing during las fallas I would have yelled at them to clean up after themselves. It was a bummer to see that in 2017 so many people couldn’t be bothered to clean up after themselves and recycle.
The last negative thing I want to say is really more of a warning for future fallas visitors than anything. It’s in regards to the firecrackers that people set off on the streets. They’re usually pretty small, so much so that you can’t even see them. And the kids are sneaky as hell about it. They walk down the street, light a firecracker, drop it on the ground next to them and keep walking. I also saw adults doing this. Maybe this is somehow fun? I mean it’s not my style but to each his own.
Those suckers are loud though! And it seems that the people setting them off are actively trying to scare the hell out of people. I’m in my late twenties and can handle a little prank or scare here and there, but this was intense even for me sometimes. I saw an elderly woman get knicked in the leg with one and singe her nylons one afternoon, and also saw another woman having what I think might have been an anxiety attack? She was covering her ears with both hands, closing her eyes, and rocking back and forth. When I think about it I actually feel awful for not stopping to see if she was ok. It was just a lot of chaos at once.
I don’t want to be the old man yelling at little kids to get off his lawn or anything like that, I only want people who are thinking about coming for las fallas to know what they’re signing up for. It’s easy to look online and see the beautiful pictures of the Falleras and the ninots and think that this is going to be a lovely festival full of the relaxing Spanish culture you see on the travel channel. Las fallas is not relaxing. If you have sensitive ears, a heart condition, PTSD, or just don’t like when sneaky little shits try to blow your toes off you probably won’t enjoy this aspect of las fallas. It was fun for me at first, but I’m also kind of a sicko that enjoys a little chaos and explosives now and then. By the third day I was ready to start chasing people down that dropped firecrackers in front of me.
So yeah, las fallas and I have a complicated relationship. There’s so much awesomeness to las fallas, and since I can be a wild little banshee at times I really had a good time for the most part. But even this wild one was at times pushed to her limits. And maybe I’m getting old but I do think a little more about things when I travel nowadays beyond getting drunk and partying (not that I don’t thoroughly enjoy both of those things). The environmental impact of the fun I’m having, or if other people are also or could potentially enjoy it for example. So before you plan a trip to las fallas, be very honest with yourself about the type of traveler you are and the type of trip you want to go on. And maybe prepare for it the way you would prepare for a trip to Vegas. Because you aren’t going to be sleeping, and you’re going to need a lot of alcohol to deal with some of the more stressful parts.
The beauty of the fallas sculptures and the food and fun definitely outweigh the irritations I had with certain aspects of the celebration. I would still encourage people to see it once in their lives, I’ve never seen anything like it and it really is incredible. There is really so much about this celebration that makes it unique and special to anywhere else in the world. They’re kind of like an explosive ex: first you fall in love, think they’re craziness is fun and beautiful, realize that their craziness is no longer fun but obnoxious and probably dangerous, end it, and then when you get bored start thinking ‘but maybe in the future…’. It’s alright that I have a complicated relationship with las fallas, I can always take a break, try to cross paths with her next spring, and fall in love with her and all of her crazy all over again.