Today I woke up and said to myself, I want to run underneath a rearing stallion and touch its heart for good luck, so I headed off to Menorca’s capital, Maó (Mahon), for one of their most popular annual festivals.
The cycle from Sa Roca to Maó was incredibly pleasant; there were no steep ups and downs and as I’d left before most Spaniards had woken up, the roads were quiet and the sun wasn’t sizzling my shoulders.
The entrance to the harbour isn’t the prettiest greeting; there’s a large power station on your left and some new-ish, but not particularly attractive apartments on the right. Tootle along a little further and it’s not long before you start to encounter Maó’s beauty.
This one of the largest natural harbours in the world which serves as a picturesque entrance gate to the island.
To your immediate right there’s a steep slope up the cliff-side that leads you past the huge old church of San Francisco, along to the town hall and then the grand museum building with its incredibly beautiful cloisters that watch out over the bay.
Les festes de la Mare de Déu de Gràcia
Maó celebrates its patron, Our Lady of Grace, with a pilgrimage to the chapel dedicated to her, followed by parades and horse races in the streets. I’d arrived one hour before the next event but the cobbled streets leading towards the centre were so hushed I thought I was in the wrong place.
I turned the corner into Plaça de la Constitució and it was like walking into another dimension.
My eardrums were clobbered so hard by the chiming of the bells of Santa Maria that I think I developed tinnitus in an instant. And if that wasn’t enough to make me enrol for sign language lessons, the band of Es Migran were blasting out marching music on their trumpets and trombones serenading me into deafness one toot at a time.
My timing had been exceptional and I found myself accidentally being part of the procession leading into the church. I couldn’t tell if I was at a wedding, a funeral or joined a cult but I carried on walking with them regardless.
Up front were rows of men and women in traditional wear; black boots, cream jodhpurs, white shirts, black blazers, black bow ties and black hats. Just in front of me was a little old man in a white gown with some sort of red crown contraption on his head, carrying a Jesus statue above his him like he’d just won the league. I thought it was the Pope at first, but I guess security might have been a bit tighter if it was, and they probably wouldn’t let some blonde idiot tourist in her active wear march gormlessly along with them.
I decided to dip out of the march and run ahead to get a better view. I stood right over the other side of the square from the bell tower of Santa Maria and took probably my favourite frozen memory (a photograph with your eyes not a camera) of Menorca so far.
The skies were clear blue and the sun was inching its way from behind the white stone steeple, everything above me was silently still in comparison to the raucous crowds below it, clapping, chanting, singing and laughing. The cavalcade of clergy marched diligently into the church one by one like the beautifully clad little lemmings they were as the crowd watched and nattered amongst themselves. When the paraders had all gone inside, the bells continued to chime a little longer and a snowstorm of white and pink confetti poured from the bell tower down onto the streets.
It was magic.
It’s Fiesta Time
It was midday and Maó was alive with a fiesta atmosphere. People were knocking back paper cups of the local’s favourites; pomadas (gin and bitter lemon) and cañas (small beers), while kids played in the sand that had been poured over the cobbles to help the horses trot gracefully over them.
Bars and cafés had opened up pop up stalls out front and although all of the shops were closed, they’d decorated their windows beautifully in honour of their special day.
Wandering the streets solo and watching people having fun together can be just as entertaining as being right in the middle of it all, if not more. Their enjoyment is contagious, you smile without realising and it’s almost like everything is in playing out in slow motion for you to take it all in.
The cavalcade of caixers (horse riders), was touring the city slowly giving people the chance to see how their manes and tales had been plaited with ribbons and bedecked with flowers and bows . I was sat on the street corner eating an orange and waiting eagerly for the Jaleo; a spectacle that’s not seen anywhere else in the world
A Jaleo is where the big black beauties put on a show for the congregation by dancing to the sounds of music. The Bot is everybodys fabourite move, it’s when the horses stand up on their hind legs and people run underneath and touch their hearts for good luck.
I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t close enough to have a go, but I guess there’s more fortune in the fact I didn’t end up in A&E with a horse’s hoof print on my face.