I don’t know if I can adequately convey the all-out pandemonium that erupts in the sleepy fishing village of Santa Luzia the second week of every August. This past weekend we celebrated the Festa dos Pescadores. Today is the final—and for me BEST—day.
Festa dos Pescadores takes a year of planning and a week of physical set up followed by another week of tear down. Think about staging a Broadway show with the lights and the sound and everything that goes into that, and you basically have festa. Yes, of course there’s even choreography involved! We don’t stint.
Physical preparations start the Monday before with barricades put up to block off street parking. Large trucks that take up three-quarters of the road rumble down to drop off food and drink booths as well as all the rigging and platforms for the soundstage. The festa officially starts Friday night, but many vendors are set up and ready to go the night before, and happy to catch a few pre-festa sales.
The festa itself is four nights of carnival. The village population sits at about 1,400. That easily doubles during festa. The entire main street of town is blocked off. At one end, near the fishermen’s shacks, are the kiddie rides and the start of the vendor booths. There’s one of two pig roasting stands as well as my favorite vendors, the pizza makers. Their wood-fired oven is set up and they turn out pizza after pizza. Thin crust, New York style. It could use a little more char, but still… sooooo good.
Restaurants are full to capacity and many set up additional tables as well as drinks booths to make sure no one goes thirsty. (So considerate.) Actually, there are plenty of drinks booths scattered throughout, mostly Sagres beer, but some neat special pours and one booth dedicated to making Sex on the Beach. Sex on the Beaches? Sexes on the Beaches?
In my last post, I mentioned that the booths carry everything from cotton candy to shoes. Towards the center of the strip, there are civic organization booths, as well as some of the town businesses—the spa that just opened a month or so ago, the local real estate people. There are handcrafts like bracelets and beads and leather goods, as well as fully manufactured items like hats and shoes. Surprisingly, I did not see a t-shirt booth, though I could have easily missed it. There are pigs roasting over fires, burgers and fries, waffles and churros, ice cream made on a frozen surface from fresh cream and mixer ingredients. (Take that Marble Slab!) There are farm-fresh figs and homemade cheeses and soaps and babies screaming and kids with balloons. What’s not to love?
Sunday is the mass and procession down to the pier to bless the fishing boats and their crews. Statues of saints surrounded by flowers, carried on the shoulders of the men, a band playing a slow-tempo song, and at least 100 people following from the church to the pier. There was also a boat procession except that a procession implies an orderly line and that was not happening. The Tavira Channel has an incredible current with a mind of its own and if it’s following you, your boat is going to pick up speed. A lot of speed.
But Monday is my favorite day, and not just because it’s the last day. (Though after four or five days of noise, yes, that too.) Monday afternoon is the pole walking competition or rather the pole falling competition. A fishing boat is set up in the middle of the channel with a long mast extending out horizontally over the bow. There’s a flag at the end. The goal is to walk along the mast and grab the flag. Brave and perhaps somewhat drunk young people attempt to walk the length of the mast. The first year, I thought the mast was greased. Apparently not, but it is wet, which makes it slippery enough.
There’s a smaller fishing boat that rafts up alongside the main boat. The crew’s job is to replace the flag whenever someone has succeeded in grabbing it. The channel fills up with over fifty small crafts, everything from a pool float and jet skis to pricey cabin cruisers, but mostly, boats that actually get taken out and used. They circle about. Trying to stay in one spot requires idling the engine at a very low speed against the current, or throwing out an anchor. (These people know how to anchor a boat.)
The wind picked up today and the temperature dropped to a comfortable level. The current which runs at a fierce speed most days is outdoing itself today with the wind’s help. As I watch, an idling boat is swept backwards at a pace that makes you think the engine is engaged.
While the festival usually doesn’t get started until after 6:00 pm, the beer booths have opened early for the afternoon events. The waterfront is lined with hundreds of people, eagerly anticipating the mast walking and the boat race that follows it. I pour a glass of wine and get comfortable on the balcony, set for some high-level people watching.
The DJ boat shows up a bit late, but they have the music playing and the DJ announcing, bringing the party to a raucous level. I sit with a shit-eating grin on my face.
The event starts and the crowd is ready to cheer on their friends. Some of the mast walkers play to the crowd, waving their arms before attempting the walk. They have various techniques but for the first round, none of them makes it to the end of the mast. Some walk it like they are on a high wire. The experienced ones know to take a few running steps and slide as far as possible. I suspect the crowd cheers more for the epic falls. The trick is to fall to one side or the other, or your chances of having offspring diminishes substantially. There are a few times when the fall looks so painful that the crowd gasps and groans, a collective “oof” and then a head pops up from the water and gives a wave. And swims over to the boat to do it again.
There’s a monetary prize for grabbing the flag, a point system in place. One young man has managed to slide all the way out and snatch the flag. He waves it before falling backwards into the water. The crowd roars. More falls, more successes. The competition goes on for about an hour. The winners are announced and the crowd cheers. Monetary prize be damned—there is glory to be had here.