In 2014, we went to Jinotepe, Nicaragua with our church to build a small home for a local family. These are not the best images that I have ever taken but they certainly represent one of the moments from this trip that impacted me the most.
The area that we were working in did not have trash pick-up so we had to drive outside of the city to the local garbage dump,La Chureca, to dispose of the trash. Our host briefed us prior to the trip about the homeless population that lived within the area but his warning fell on deaf ears. As a social worker, we see the worst that humanity has to offer. I felt no hesitation or fear about what I might see and yet…nothing I have ever experienced was adequate preparation for what I was about to witness.
This was a type of hopelessness that I have never encountered before.
I had limited time to document what I was seeing but as I looked around, all I could see was an endless wasteland of garbage and burning excrement. The air was thick with a black smoke that choked out all sense of light. My mind could barely process what was around me. Even now, years later, I struggle to find the right words to describe it. The loss of human dignity was overwhelming to me.
Hundreds of families live in La Chureca. Some work in the dump sorting trash from recycling; others live there, but work elsewhere in Managua. Some decades ago, city officials negotiated an agreement with the owner of the dump’s property as well as several hundred people that were squatting there: the families could continue to live in La Chureca and work sorting out recyclable materials, for which they could sell and earn income from. In return, the city would rent the land from the owner, sanction the squatter communities on private property, providing potable water to the residents.
As we entered the gate, our van was greeted by those that live within. They helped us empty the van with smiles on their faces and then immediately proceeded to search through the bags. Bags that were filled with food scraps, empty cans and used tissues that had been saturated in human waste.
They live off of the leftovers of those that barely have anything themselves.
There are countless things to do and see during the Las Fallas festival but “La Ofrenda” was the most immersive cultural experience we’ve ever been part of.
La Ofrenda takes place each year on the 17th of March. For two days, from 4 pm- 1 am, the entire city is an endless parade of color, music and intense emotion as the people of Valencia and surrounding regions bring offerings of flowers to the center of Old Town Valencia to pay homage to their patron saint.
During the week leading up to the Offering, a huge wooden monument is built in the center of the Placa de la Virgen, representing the Virgen de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Forsaken) .
The parade begins on the 17th of March and runs along La Paz and San Vicente Streets. One by one, each representative, accompanied by marching bands and dressed in traditional costumes, parade through the city towards the plaza, to offer a gift to the Lady on behalf of their community.
The flowers are gathered up and placed into the framework “cloak” by teams of volunteers who arrange the flowers into a design (that is kept secret every year).
The processions last for two days and are incredibly emotional. We saw many of the falleras moved to tears as they finally approached the square to pay their homage.
We returned to the plaza several times each day and every time we entered the square, I would have an involuntary emotional response. All at once, you are baptized by the color and fragrance of thousands and thousands of flowers, coupled by the intensity of brass bands, random explosions, and raw emotion. It’s an overwhelming feeling and one that I will be forever grateful to have had the chance to experience.
For my fellow history dorks, check out part 1 for more detail about the Las Fallas festival.
Spain was never a “must” for me until I stumbled upon a random article in 2019 about the Las Fallas Festival. Within moments, the country became an obsession. The “burning man of Spain”, Las Fallas is one of the most popular festivals in Europe. A five-day continuous street party with spectacular fireworks, traditional costumes, live music, parades and street art that culminates with everything being ceremoniously burned to the ground on the last day of the festival.
Sounds like a Dhooge Den Adventure to me! And this time, we brought our son and daughter-in-love along with us!
Want to learn more about the festival? This post is going to focus on the 2023 Fallas but here are two great blogs to check out that will give you all of the details about the festival itself. Click HERE and HERE
For my fellow history dorks, here are the cliff notes about the festival:
There is some healthy debate about the true origin of the festival; however, no one seems to dispute the fact that the festival is hundreds of years old. The most common explanation that I have come across is that some time in the early 1700’s, the Carpenters of Valencia began burning the unusable scraps of wood lying around in their workshops, to celebrate the feast of their patron saint, Saint Joseph. It wasn’t long before the “event” became a friendly competition for the biggest bonfire. To engage the crowds, Carpenters began crafting shapes and characters out of wood and papier-mâche. The creations became larger and larger and were referred to as “fallas”.
According to Valencian historians, the first recorded documentation of this tradition is a municipal decree that dates back to March 1740 and clearly prohibits the burning of these monuments in the narrow streets of the city. The very fact that the city needed to address this formally tells us that at this point in history (1740), a tradition had already been established. This means that the people of Valencia have been celebrating Las Fallas for over 283 years! To put that in perspective…36 years after the City of Valencia put a safety plan in place, the United States of America declared our independence as a nation.
Why did they call them “fallas”? Great Question! The word falla in medieval Valencian, literally means ‘fire torch’; however, over the centuries, the meaning of the word evolved. In the 16th century, falla was a reference to a bonfire that was lit to burn old discarded objects. In the 18th century, a falla was a fire lit to burn ninots (puppets) used in satire. Eventually, the puppets themselves came to be known as fallas.
Today, the word fallas has many different meanings: it may be used to refer to the festival itself, the bonfires at the end of the festival, the monuments that are built and later set on fire, or the communities of neighbors who manage and carry out the construction of the monuments.
Now, back to the festival: over time, entire neighborhoods (barrios) began contributing to the creation of these monuments that would represent their community in the annual competition. By the late 18th century, the fallas monuments began to depict satirical scenes, parodies of political or contemporary personalities, and current events that were relevant to each community.
Fast forward a couple of centuries and Las Fallas has transitioned into a massive celebration and tourist attraction that brings at least one million visitors to Valencia each year.
Las Fallas was declared an “intangible heritage of humanity” by UNESCO in 2016.
RANDOM FACT: the festival has only been cancelled seven (7) times throughout history and was most recently cancelled in 2020 because of the global pandemic. After two years, the festival resumed again in March 2022.
Alright. Enough detail…let’s get to the fun stuff: the Fallas of 2023
Every year, on March 15, the “La Plantà” begins. More than 400 enormous ninots (puppets or dolls) are set up around the city. All fallas must be completed by dawn on the 16th. Most roads are cut off to traffic, making way for all the people and activities that will fill the streets during the days and nights the fiesta.
The Fallas monuments are incredibly lifelike. Many are several stories tall, and cranes are needed to move them into their final locations in Valencia’s parks, plazas, and intersections. Over the course of the festival, people walk around the city, admiring the artistry and multi-faceted detail of each masterpiece until the evening of March 19th, when all of the fallas are set ablaze during the “La Cremà (the burning)”.
Important note: While every falla will burn on the final night of Las Fallas, one smaller falla, called a ninot, will be spared from destruction and placed in the Fallas Museum along with the other favorites from years past.
Want to see some of the ninots that were saved from the flames in years past?
If you ever visit Valencia, block off an afternoon so that you can visit the Fallas Museum.
I mentioned earlier that some time during the late 18th century, the fallas monuments began to depict satirical scenes and parodies of political or contemporary personalities. The festival became a safe space to freely express frustration about current events that were relevant to each community….and freely express they do. Some, a little more blatantly than others.
The Special Section
Fifteen of Valencia’s 400 Fallas are in a category of their own: the “Special Section” (ie: Fallas Especiales) and are far more impressive than the rest. Representatives from each barrio spend months meticulously planning the monument. They cost thousands, are created by the best artists and compete annually for the first prize.
As we walked around the city, the details of each display were breathtaking. It was heartbreaking to know that these magical works of artistry were just moments from being burned to the ground. Here were a few of our favorites from 2023:
Falla L’Antiga de Campanar | “Som de Colors” | Artist: Carlos Carsí
“The world is colour, we are all colours…long live the tonality of our diversity.“
“Here are these goddesses of universal color, who, tempting us, make promises in a heavenly way. Some carry our glory, others carry illusion, some are mortal error and others are perdition. And one color will remain… ‘the one with the fire in the cremá!”
Want to see more details about this falla? Click HERE.
Falla Convento Jerusalén | “a fist full of euros” | Artist: Pere Baenas
“History is written by the victorious…”
The Convento’s Fallas 2023 monument is inspired by the old west , and aims to remind us that, on the 75th anniversary of Human Rights, they remain unfulfilled. The most sustainable and expensive monument in the Special Section According to Valencia Extra
Want to see more details about this falla? Click HEREand HERE.
Falla Ribera i Convent de Santa Clara | “Mother” | Artist: Miguel Santaeulalia
This falla wasn’t even considered part of the “special section” but still landed a special mention from the Dhooge Den. “Mother” represents the passage of time through three generations.
Want to see more details about this falla? Click HERE. Want to watch the ceremonial burning of this falla? Here you go:
Falla Exposición-Micer MascóRibera | “Kromatica” | Artist: David Sanchez Llongo
“…the land of the origin of colors”
Our son saw the sketch of this falla on the map and immediately announced that this was his favorite one. This falla is located quite a bit further from the others and we were not exactly thrilled about the idea of walking any further that night. We exhausted all of our powers trying to persuade him to wait another evening but he insisted that he had to see it. During our visit to the falla, the club heard that Kromatica won first prize in the Special Section and we were able to watch the celebration! This was the first time in history that Falla Exposición has won first prize in the Special Section.
Want to see more details from Kromatica? Click HERE. Want to watch Kromatica burn during the Crema? Click HERE.
“El ciclo de la Life presentamos con todos sus detalles. El poder de una madre frente a todas las adversidades.”
Translation: Here, we present the cycle of life in all of its detail. The power of a mother in the face of all adversities…
Two words about this falla: HYPNOTICALLY. BREATHTAKING. Photos do not do it justice. We returned to “Life” four times during the festival and just stood in front of it with our mouths gaping open. The falla represents “the evolution that each person experiences throughout their lifetime: childhood, adolescence, maturity…until we reach the end of existence.”
Want to see more details from “LIFE”? Click HERE and HERE
Falla Sueca-Azorín | “Asia, where are we going” | Artist: Santaeulalia Tematización
“Did you know that the word ‘crisis’ in the Chinese language is the same word used to communicate the word, ‘opportunity’? So it is that a crisis always brings with it an opportunity to change and improve.”
Want to see more details from this falla? Click HERE.
Falla San Vicente | “The Great Battle” | Artist: Pau Soler Marchante
“Another favorite from the Dhooge Den that was not included in the special section: “the great battle”
The elephant, a symbol of strength for all fauna, makes its way through nature together with Mother Nature and the four elements (air, earth, water and fire) represented by the girls, who sit beside her, as they attempt to repair the damage caused by humans.
Want to see “the great battle” burn during the Crema? Click HERE.
I did my best but this post doesn’t even scratch the surface of what we experienced during the festival. It was like drinking from a fire hose. We plan to return to Las Fallas as often as we are able to. We are HOOKED and are already making plans to attend next year’s festival! JOIN US!!! You can click HERE to start planning the details of your trip…
For more on our adventure at the Las Fallas Festival, click HERE for part 2: La Ofrenda
On Day 3 of our adventure in Havasupai, we took on Mooney Falls! (You can read about the first part of our adventure here)
Although there is actually a waterfall named, “Havasu Falls”, it is not the only waterfall on the reservation. The “Havasu Falls” are made up of five different waterfalls that are located within Havasupai. Mooney Falls was our third stop along the way.
Havasupai. [big sigh]. People of the blue green water. Our last visit was in 2011 and it remains one of our most favorite adventures EVER. Absolutely breathtaking. It is literally an oasis that is tucked within the canyon far, far, far within the middle of the desert.
“Havasu Falls” is made up of five different waterfalls that are located within the Grand Canyon. They are not actually part of our National Park, therefore we are not able to just visit them whenever we feel like it. The falls belong to the Havasupai Indian Tribe and are part of their reservation. A permit is required to enter the reservation and the tribe administers all of the permits.