Bous al carrer in Picassent last year was probably one of the most bizarre experiences of my life.
For two weeks of the year the normally sleepy village of Picassent transforms itself into party central; a hub of dancing, drinking, sweating and trotting… The pueblo, which lies 17km south of Valencia city and is surrounded by orange groves, welcomes hundreds of visitors, various peñas taurinas and, you guessed it, about a dozen bulls ready to freely roam around the town centre.
Let’s go back to last July when, of course, I had no idea what was about to happen. «Wear old clothes», they said, «Put your bikini on underneath», they warned. Suspiscious of what the day might bring, I begrudgingly dressed in an old T-shirt and shorts and headed to the metro stop.
Things started to get strange during almuerzo. It all began when one particularly intoxicated, sniggering man armed with a bottle of water snuck up behind one of his fellow dinees at the table next to us in the bar. Dressed in matching “Drinking Team” tshirts with drunken bulls emblazoned across the front, the calm (albeit relatively rowdy) table erupted into a frenzied, full blown water fight. None of the other bar-goers seemed fazed. Throughout the day we would see many of these peñas; groups of friends, neighbours and families all dressed the same so as to not lose each other amongst the swarm of bodies that awaited us just a few streets ahead.
We left the bar and ended up following the Blue Shirts who were shouting and dancing their way up the street towards a raucous local. The main street was lined with these planta bajas, normally used for Fallas and family congregations. Inside each of them was a bar offering music, cheap beer, mistela, cazalla, cubatas…and makeshift water sprinklers attached to the ceilings.
The barmen would also intermittently spray revellers with a hosepipe from behind the bar. Even neighbours who had decided to stay within the safe, dry confines of their homes were joining in the fun – just outside one of the main locales a group of boys were getting very excited at the prospect of a cigar-wielding old man spraying them with a hosepipe from his terrace. There was no way you were going to Picassent that day and not getting wet. It didn’t even have to be water – people often just bought beer (conveniently priced at €1/caña) so that they could pour it down the back of an unsuspecting friend. Puddles of water and beer formed on the floors of the bars and almost immediately dried in the midsummer Valencian heat, only to be drenched again 5 minutes later when the rudimentary alarm sounded signalling the imminent switching on of the sprinkler systems.
Oh, and what’s that. Every now and again the doors to the bars were heaved shut just as a hoard of people sprinted past the window followed by BULLS! That’s right. Bulls trotting around the town centre. Surrounded by drunk people. Forget everything you think you know about health and safety regulations.
It seemed that the bulls were only released round the town centre during specific times of the day. If one came running down the street, it was your job to get inside a bar or behind one of the many metal gates that had sprung up around the town – and sharpish. The party continues until the late afternoon – music blasting, liquids being drank and thrown…Later in the evening a bou embolat, a bull whose horns area set on fire, is also released into the cordonned off areas of the town. I saw this somewhat questionable tradition in Segorbe last year.
And so it came to be that, there we were, drenched and drunk, dancing “the night” away in a club and becoming confused that it was still daylight when we decided to catch the train back to Valencia.
One of the strangest fiestas I’ve ever been to, but also one of the best.
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