Discovering Catalunya

I’ve had the most amazing time around Barcelona these past few weeks. After too many lonesome days I found myself packed day-to-day with outings and best yet, getting to know very kind people (99% immigrants) who shared with me laughs and their food, let me participate in their celebrations and meet their loved ones, and heard my story while also never forgetting to tell me theirs.

Fiesta de Gracia

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First, there was the Fiesta de Gracia. Barcelona is split up in districts and each has its own party during the year. La Fiesta de Gracia is known as one of the best held because neighbors deck out their streets with lavish and intricate decorates, competing among one another for the best executed theme. People from all over Barcelona flood the streets during the day to enjoy all sorts of free events (I watched a magic show and a pole dance routine back to back) and at night, there are live bands and Djs that people dance to as they drink a caña, or in my case a sangria.

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On one side, I love the idea of neighbors getting together to work on their street and having dinner together during the week of the fiesta surrounded by all their hard work. On the other hand, some of the themes were quite culturally appropriative or recreated racist images, and this is especially problematic because the Gracia district is inhabited by mostly White Catalan people, meaning there was no input by any immigrants/people of color in themes and more importantly, there probably is very limited day-to-day interaction between the neighbors and any people of color.

 

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I digress. Overall, I enjoyed la Fiesta de Gracia. The decorations were superb, I discovered a wonderful neighborhood that was drastically different than the ones I had experienced by living in center city, and dancing at night with my classmates and on a later day with Alex and her friends were unforgettable experiences I will cherish for a long time.

Fiesta de Santiago

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On that same weekend, my friend Modesta invited me to meet her Peruvian friends, who she was going to help cook for a party they were having. Little did I know I was going to show up to a Peruvian Cultural Center hosting a large celebration for Santiago. This celebration happens in the town of Huancayo, and it was brought to life in the outskirts of Barcelona with delicious food and homemade chicha de jora (a corn fermented drink) and traditional dances with costumes.

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I can’t describe the feeling that I experienced there. Everyone treated me like an old friend; sharing their plates of food with me and including me in their rounds of beer; introducing me to their family members and friends as “Mayra, mi amiga Mexicana”; explaining the cultural significance of the event; telling me their immigrant journeys; and giving me their phone numbers so I could stay with their families when I visit Peru. It’s by far the most beautiful and acogedor space I’ve been in a long time.

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Tibidabo

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Then this past week, my apartment mate, Alex, had a few days off from work so we planned three full days of trips. First, we went to Tibidabo mountain. Spiraling up the mountain while standing on a bus was all worth it when we reached the top and saw amazing views of the city. Plus, there was a beautiful church and an amusement park at the top. After our ride on the ferris wheel we enjoyed our packed lunches on a bench where I learned a lot about Alex, who is from Romania, and may be the funniest person I’ve ever met. We ended the day with a Caña at a nearby bar and then had large and delicious burgers before returning home.

 Cambril + Siurana

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The following day, we went to Cambril where we met one of Alex’s Romanian friends. Cambril is a beautiful beach town so after having coffee and a croissant overlooking the water, we headed to Siurana, a popular climbing destination. This may be my favorite trip so far. I was terrified as we spiraled up the mountain on a very narrow road but once we reached the top, the views were breathtaking. Moreover, there was a semi-abandoned, rundown town up there as well that was very fun to walk through and later sit down at to take a break to eat some patatas bravas.

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On the ride back down from the mountain, I noticed a lot of nopales with tunas along the road! My header is made up of nopales (cactus that is eaten in Mexico) with bright pink tunas (the fruit of the nopal). I never imagined I would find something I associate so much with Mexico in the middle of Catalunya.

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After our train ride back, Alex and I headed out to Plaza España to see the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc. As we got out of the metro, the scene from World War Z, where all the zombie-people are climbing up the Jerusalem wall popped into my head. There were people everywhere! On the street, on the stairs, on the walls – all moving or sitting or climbing something. We got a little wet from the fountain, then climbed up the stairs up to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and had a blast taking a bunch of ridiculous selfies. We finished up the night, lounging on some bed-like box inside a little bar near our house, drinking my Barcelona favorite, a clara (Beer w/ lemon soda).

Laberint d’Horta

Linda, a German student, recently joined those of us living in the apartment at C/Amargos 13. Alex and I met up with her and one of her German friends at Parc del Laberint d’Horta. My favorite thing about Barcelona is definitely its abundance of large and lavish parks. This one cost around 2 euros to get in but with its waterfall, bridges, and intricate maze I didn’t complain. It took us a while to figure out but we traversed that maze with ease eventually.

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Castellers


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The following day, I took my first Renfe train alone out of the city and went to Villafranca to see the famous Castellers.

During my interview with Paola the morning before, she mentioned that la fiesta de Villafranca was happening that weekend and that although she would be working, her I could join her boyfriend Enriq and finally experience the castellers.

They are human towers of people from all ages – the nens (children), as small as three years old are actually the ones who go all the way to the top and must raise their arm to deem the tower succesful! The Verdes, Rojos, and Azules were performing, and as Enriq assured me, Los Verdes proved to be the best.

It is truly unbelievable to watch the castellers. If I lived here, I would without a doubt join. Not only is their fitness on point and are all incredibly brave, but the teamwork that happens between people of all ages (from nens to grandmothers) must be as beautiful to experience as it is to watch.

I joined in on the pinya, which is the base of all the towers. Eventually other people were behind me, all of us packed in together very tightly to ensure stabilty. As you can see, there is actually another pinya on top of the one I’m at – they made a huge 9 level tower!

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Both the Rojos and the Azules fell. The Rojos were attempting an 8 person tower (with two pinyas), which they had never done before. Everyone was very excited for them so the crowd sighed after their first two failed attempts, where they stopped at the second level. Then on their third attempt, they decided to go for it completely. The tower was swaying a little as the tiny little girl climbed up. Enriq told me that many times the towers “fails” because the nen gets scared and climbs down before reaching the top and raising their arm.

Despite the shaky tower, the little girl made it to the top and raised her hand, causing everyone to cheer. It was all the Rojos were waiting for because within seconds, the tower collapsed. I got scared and ended up spilling most of my beer on my left leg. No one else got scared though, on the contrary, everyone was ecstatic because the Rojos had finished the tower for the first time.

Sure, there were some bumped heads and even a ripped shirt but the majority of the Rojos were cheering and hugging one another. Later it became evident that learning how to build towers correctly is just as important as learning how to fall correctly, because the Azules had a pretty bad fall. Enriq told me the Azules are a pretty new group with little experience. After their fall, many climbers had to be taken away on a stretcher.

I left Villafranca and as I passed by the Catedral before getting to where I live, there were other castellers getting ready to perform! These were the Barcelona castellers, teams Rojos and Azules. This experience was much different though, as it felt more like a performance. Most of the people watching were tourists and they gasped in fear as children climbed up 4 level towers. I suppose this is why the Barcelona castellers had many failed attempts at towers, since even the smallest fall might have made the tourists have some sort of nervous breakdown.

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