Riding through flames and fury

February 1, 2013

San Bartolome de Pinares, Spain

By Sergio Perez

Despite its relative short distance from Madrid, around 100km (62 miles), I have never been in the small village of San Bartolome de Pinares. It is situated in the heart of a small valley surrounded by reservoirs and forest and is well known to trekkers and cyclists alike. However, a traditional night celebration which takes place every January 16th, known as “Las Luminarias”, is little known.

During the celebration, in honor of Saint Anthony, Patron of animals, revelers ride their horses through the narrow cobble-stoned streets to purify the animals with the smoke and flames of the bonfires.

The feeling when you arrive for the first time is that the whole village enjoys a festivity of which you are a part. Around two hours before it begins, all riders prepare their horses, bandaging the tail to protect them from the fire and decorating the manes of the animals.

When you take a tour through the main street, you will find bonfires at every step. They are built with branches collected by villagers a few days earlier in the forest around the village. The street lighting is dimmed to accentuate the almost phantasmagoric atmosphere around you. Just before the jumping begins, all riders take a tour around the village’s streets while the bonfires are lit. The villagers in charge of the bonfires throw damp branches and pour water on the fire to create a huge amount of smoke which engulfs all.

It was a great experience which confirms that, despite the deep economic and emotional crisis hitting the country, the friendly nature of the Spanish people rermains intact when locals share drinks with tourists and with everyone present, making the celebration extremely pleasant. But, as with many things in life, there is another side to this: you will smell of smoke for a long time.

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