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  • Articles by Carmel

    Alicante: Beaches and Bonfires - The Festival of St John


    Wandering around Alicante at the height of festivities for the Bonfires of St John is not for the nervous as an astonishing array of noises, thundering drums and the cracks and bangs of firecrackers seemingly erupt from nowhere.  Sulphurous clouds and the smoky smell of brimstone fill the air as boys dressed as devils lob fireworks at each other.

    The Bonfires (Hogueras in Spanish or Fogueres in Valenciano) take place in June (from 19th to 26th) so visitors can spend days relaxing on the beach recovering from the noisy excesses of the evenings.

    We arrive in the city on the 23rd of June, in time to see the finishing touches being put to the huge papier mache figures, known as ninots, which are erected all over the cityThese political and satirical displays are burned at midnight on the 24th. 

    A hugely impressive ninot stands outside the bus station and we stop to admire its glowing primary colours.  These cheesy figures lament the passing of traditional educational values and old-fashioned games while satirising square-headed, goggle-eyed youths, drooling (literally) onto laptops.

    Grabbing a map from the Tourist Office beside the bus station, we rush off in search of more ninots and find an anti-war display featuring scenes from paintings by Picasso and Goya. 

    The streets are also filled with barracas - enclosed areas for street parties where eating and drinking continues late into the night – the entrances are often luridly painted mouths of Hell.  These are for locals but visitors are welcomed in the public barracas along the seafront on the Explanada de Espana. 

    As evening draws on, the noise intensifies and it is a relief to escape into the busy bars to snatch a drink here and some tapas there.  When the bands and processions start down Rambla de Mendez Nunez at 9pm, they seem almost low-key in contrast.

                                                                                                       

    Packs of girls dressed in traditional Alicantarian costumes (imagine brocade princesses) have been roaming the city all day.  Earlier, I encountered a group of three older princesses sprawled on the floor of a hotel toilet, sharing a fag.  They greeted me politely, if guiltily, with a chorus of “hola”s and went back to their cigarette.

    By mid-evening, all the princesses have been corralled onto wagons and are being paraded through the streets to the accompaniment of traditional instruments: more drums and a shrill, reedy, pipe resembling a sawn-off clarinet. They are followed by huge, sinister, papier mache heads dancing stiffly to the eerie music. A hideous old witch stalks a king and queen and other characters from fairy tales.

    Meanwhile, on the beaches, teenagers are dancing around bonfires and jumping over them.  Amazingly, apart from a few stumps of charcoal hidden in the sand, nothing remains of these celebrations for us to find the next day on Postiguet Beach, as a huge clear-up operation takes place from dawn.

     Playa del Postiguet is the town beach at the foot of Castillo de Santa Barbara, perched on its rocky hill, overlooking the city.  It’s not too busy in June but for a quieter (but by no means deserted) beach, we take the hourly Santa Pola bus from the station and get off at Carabassi beach.  It takes about 25 minutes and costs just 1.35 euros. 

    There’s a chiringuito selling snacks and drinks and, unfortunately, pumping out drum’n’bass but it’s easy to find a quieter spot to lie watching the lively little sparrows hop up and down the beach while snoozing in anticipation of another late night watching the ninots burn. 

    By evening, bars and restaurants are teeming with people determined to eat before the Hogueras.  As midnight approaches, we join the crowds rushing to their favourite ninots and we head for a giant wicker woman in the central Plaza Gabriel Miro.  At midnight, fireworks set off from the Castillo signal the start of the Hogueras and the wicker woman goes up in a flurry of sparks.

    Bomberos (firemen) dowse the flames to keep them under control.  The heat becomes intense and, as is tradition, the foolhardy souls who are pressed against the safety wire cry out, “agua...agua” (water) to the bomberos who begin to dowse them also.  

    The heat plus fear of a soaking drive us back and we take shelter for the second evening in En Clave, a friendly little bar with a welcoming, alternative, vibe and a complete mix of customers, on Calle de los Labradores.  Maria Jesus, the owner always makes time to chat to new faces.  Tonight she is indulging her passion for 60s music and some students are dancing round the tables while an old hippy sits in the same place as last night - for all we know he never went home.

    The next day, not a sign remains of the bonfires except a few stains on the roads.  In the morning, the city hums with life although there must be sore heads a-plenty.  By siesta however, the streets are silent and it is an ideal time to explore the colourful lanes and squares of the high part of the old town, el barrio

    The heat is oppressive and the smell of frying sausage fills the air: cats bask in its fragrance.  Women sit outside their pastel-coloured houses fanning themselves and watching their washing dry.  There is a sense of anti-climax.    

    Tonight and tomorrow there will be more fireworks from the Castello and then the fiesta will be over.  But there is always next year.  In the meantime, we head for the beach.

    Easyjet fly to Alicante (El Altet) from ten UK airports. 

    Relatively inexpensive accommodation is still available in the streets surrounding the site of the old bus station – now razed to the ground – the new station is about five minutes walk away.  The Abba Centrum (four-star) Hotel on Calle Pintor Lorenzo Casanova 31, costs from 85 euros a night for a double room at Fiesta.  Less luxurious Pension Portugal on Calle de Portugal 26 is 46 euros for a double room with bath in high season without air-conditioning.

    Buses from the airport cost about 2.50 euros and a taxi, about 18 to 20 euros.     

    http://www.pensionportugal.es/

    http://www.abbacentrumalicante.com/en/

    CARMEL


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