Entroido! Carnival Celebrations in Laza, Ourense

Laza

Carnival is my favorite Spanish holiday! It’s the wonderful combination of Halloween’s costumes and Spanish fiesta hours (as in, sunset to sunrise). This year, my friends and I went adventuring off to the southeastern corner of rural Galicia to enjoy the oldest Carnival in the penninsula: Laza’s Entroido.

First, a word needs to be said on the history of Entroido in Laza. It is the longest running Carnival in Spain. Which in and of itself makes it awesome. However, the story of Laza’s Entroido is also an example of Galician bad-assery.
The fact is, during the Spanish dictatorship, people who defied the central government had a nasty tendency of being arrested or just disappearing. And the central government banned Carnival celebrations, with specific prohibitions on some aspects of the traditional Galician celebration.  But Laza’s celebrations continued, passing under the radar by virtue of the village’s small size and out-of-the-way location. Also,  the people tended to go hide deep in the woods to celebrate.  Photo © 1993 by Cristina García Rodero.

Now, my experience with Entroido started with a nice long, long bus ride to what I fondly dubbed the “ass-end of Galicia.” We arrived on Sunday evening, which is apparently before the official festivities start. However, this is Spain and so the entire village was out and about, ringing in the Carnival with booze and music and the pelequieros.
Ahh the pelequieros…See, this is how Spain does a fiesta. First, take 20-odd local guys and dress them up in epic outfits–complete with white tights, fluffy bloomers, and embroidery everywhere. Seriously, the work that goes into these clothes is fantastic. Add a giant hand-carved mask with a giant smile and really bad peripheral vision (more on that later). And then, give the pelequieros whips and send them running through the streets of the villages. Yeah, send guys with leather whips through a village of drunk people…Surprisingly this works out. Mainly because one of the main tenents of Entroido is respectar a los pelequieros. Or else. The “or else” being, they will chase your ass through the town, beating you. And absolutely no one will help you. (Saw it. Laughed hysterically).  
Pelequieros

Do you see the rack of cowbells? They make a ton of noise–noise that says, get out of the way, borrachos!
My friends and I danced in the snow, yeah it was snowing, drank a lot of cheap beer and homemade liquors, yum yum, and made fun of Charlie’s King of Spain costume.
Es el rey! Hola cabron, has matado elefantes?
Backstory: the king of Spain went elephant-hunting last year. Which pissed off many people, as the country is in the middle of a huge-ass recession.
So, after more dancing, we crashed about 5 a.m. and woke up panicking that we’d messed the giant mudfight. Yeah, mudfight… Monday is the best day of Laza’s Entroido. It is also the day that’s going to ruin your clothes.
First, there is the farapada, an awesome mudfight in the center square. Apparently it starts with one sneaky person hurling a mud-soaked rag at someone’s face, and turns into a chaotic war from there. We happily entered the fracas and started flinging mud-rags at everyone within range. I quickly remembered long forgotten dodgeball skills, after getting slammed in the face 3 times in a row (My nose was slightly bruised for the rest of the week). There was no real organization, though the fighters had broken up into two teams, sort of. And occasionally the flying rags would pause to allow the pelequeiros to race through, because woe to the idiot who accidentally pegged one of them. Or we would pause to let the “Cleaning Wagon” race by; this was a group of drunk dudes who’d hooked a leaf blower to a bucket of soapy water and were “cleaning” the muddy plaza. At some point, the muddy rags started to lose their muddiness, so the enterprising people of Laza started picking up random people and throwing them into the mud-filled bathtub. Lucky for me, I have nice friends, who were busy trading in their mud rags for beers.
At the end, I was completely covered in mud, from hair to shoes. However, due to legitimate concerns about the muddy death of my camera, I did not take pictures during the farapada.

In the evening, the real chaos begain: Las Formigas y Farinha! Basically, the ceremony known as the Lowering of the Morena (a giant fake cow) is characterized by flour and ant-throwing. Yeah, they do that.
Laza people
While we waited for the chaos, my friends and I drank cheap Laza drinks and joked about how hard the infamous ants were going to bite us. Apparently, the ants doused with vinegar to wake them up, and make them hungry…
When the festivities finally began, it was with a huge crowd of Gallegos beating everyone with gorse branches, ouch! And then came more people chucking flour everywhere. And then people with mysterious plastic bags filled with a lovely mixture of dirt and ants! I stayed in the thick of the chaos and gave up my hair as a lost cause. At many points I was blinded by the flour that got stuck under my contacts, and felt pinches on my head, which were both bits of gorse and hungry ants…

For further amusement, check out a Youtube video of the Laza Ants, complete with flour and gorse attacks. I’m probably in there somewhere, but among thousands of people.

Lisa and I, after flour
We made quite a few new friends in the aftermath of the Ant Attack. Most everyone gave up on being clean ever again and continued to drink while covered with flour and ants. One of my new friends introduced himself as the mayor of Laza, which could be true for all I know. Another one came up and asked the mayor something in Galician–which she followed up by stuffing her ant-bag onto his head. It wasn’t empty…
And then we got free dinner from yet another friend. Which took the form of a boiled pig’s face with bread and wine.
Dinner!
We got this delicious treat from a group of shirtless boys on a float, who were apparently distributing pig’s faces for public consumption. It actually wasn’t half bad, just a little fatty.

After the chaos of the Formigas, we continued to dance and party with the town and didn’t get to bed until around 6 a.m., ay Entroido.

Tuesday is official end of Entroido in Laza. To that effect, they have the closing ceremony that for some reason involves a donkey and a guy reading Galician poetry about the events of the past year. As he had a really thick south Galicia accent, I could only guess about what he was talking about, though I heard the words “king” and “elephants” at least once. Afterwards, we danced a bit more and then ended the festival…

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