25 June 2015 | Velas, Sao Jorge, Azores 38’40.82N 28’12.16W – Angra do Heroismo, Terceira, Azores 38’39.15N 27’12.97W
Most small boys love tormenting flies. They pull their wings off to turn the fly into… a walk; and then off come the legs and it is magically transformed into… a raisin (which of course is then added to all the other raisins in the cupboard to wait for some unsuspecting soul: sorry Mum). Now that we have grown up we’ve experienced a grown up version of the ‘tormenting fly game’, but critically in this version of the game the fly can bite back.
We arrived in Terceira, after playing with dolphins all day, just in time for the Sao Joao Festival. In place of the flies this festival seemed to revolve around tormenting horn spouting, half ton raging bulls and then setting them free to roam around the streets, looking for pray. If you survived the bulls then you were free to party with the 1000’s of people who danced in the streets.
Walking up the street into a sleepy Azorean hamlet we knew something was up. Every wall, window and rooftop was crammed with people and in the centre we could hear the pounding of horns inside a little metal box. Knowing that all hell was about to break loose we found a ‘safe’ vantage point on some steps behind a strategically placed piece of reinforced cardboard and waited for the ‘entertainment’.
The door on the box was raised and with vengeance snorting out of his nostrils out charged the bull. He ran at everything around him but seemed particularly attracted to the nutters in bright colours that darted past him, trying with all their might and bravery to tap it on the head. The nutters weren’t his only quarry as he seemed just as happy to bash into barricades, the cowering crowds and most worryingly for us, people hiding behind pieces of reinforced cardboard.
With the first bull tiring of the ‘game’ he was slowly coaxed back into his little box. Funnily enough he didn’t like the prospect of re-entering the space where he’d been previously tormented. Thankfully a rope was attached to his horns, apparently to make the game safer, and this was used to gently persuade him, along with the use of a very sharp stick, that the box was the place to be.
The entertainment not was yet over and after a mid bull, beer positive, interlude more bulls were let out one after another. As the evening progressed and the inter bull beer extravaganza continued the dutch courage showed and things got crazier by the minute. Thankfully as the last of the fireworks were let off, to let everyone know the coast was clear, there were no casualties and the bulls were all ‘happily’ contained in their little boxes.
One of the things the festival is renowned for are its parades. In our travels we’ve seen some pretty startling efforts; there was the 4th July fest in Hampton, Gay Pride in Halifax and the booty shaking spectacular in St Thomas, but night after night, Angra do Heroismo trumped them all. There were so many dancers and participants that we wondered how many residents were left back in the villages, but we did realise what they all did all winter. Practice.
While the parades took over the streets all night the days were once again reserved for the bulls. The running of them in the hamlet had simply been a prelude to the main affair, a run through the town. There were now no ropes, limited barriers and the bulls were now not alone, they were running en-mass.
The crowd scattered, as the bulls, complete with sharp pointy horns started to run a mock. No one knew which direction they’d come from or which way they’d turn and within minutes they were exacting their revenge. The sun was blotted out as runners were tossed into the air and landing under stampeding hoofs on the sharp cobbles. This was much more of a fair fight than the previous running; as the injured were carted off in meat wagons; these were not flies whose wings could be pulled.
The bulls owned the streets but they surely wouldn’t own our next venue. It was off to the bull ring for a proper contest. Here surrounded by pomp and ceremony horses would confront the bulls with expert riders sitting astride them. The energy and power of the beasts was palpable along with the danger that both felt facing off against each other. Each time the bull charged and the horse and rider countered; each time the skill of the caveleiro drove the horse sideways, backwards and around the bull and all within inches of deathly horns. Never have we seen such incredible horsemanship.
In all the battles between the bulls and man; man and his instincts to flee and the bulls with their instincts to attack there have been no winners and lots of losers. If there is a winner in all of this it is the horse with his trust of man, fleetness of step and fearlessness in the path of danger. So with the horse winning we’ll be going back to the safer pastime of tormenting flies and turning them into raisins; just be careful of the raisin jar!
There’s a dragon in Sao Jorge.
Iain finds that the deck drains are exactly the same size as 3 pegs
You’ve got to love a waterfall, if only we could get to it.
You’ve got to love dolphins, if only we could get to them.
Entertainment, Terceira style.
Where things get up close and personal.
And we’re only protected by a not so strong piece of cardboard.
The crowds assemble for the first of many parades.
The next step is the bottle for all these lovely grapes.
Larry is much heavier than he looks.
Dancing on cobbles for hours on end can’t be easy.
It a good job some of them come with their own ‘fortification’.
There are so many performers the villages must be empty.
The streets are as dressed up as the performers.
Fiona feels safe behind her reinforced bull proof wall.
Others opt for the protection of just steps..
And they’re really off now.
The first of many casualties is carted off.
They just keep coming.
And the punters get braver.
Now time for some pomp and ceremony.
Time and time again.
Things get really foolhardy in the ring with the ‘clowns’.