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Stokies In Extremadura: Notes From The Countryside
Don’t order fish when you’re 6 hours inland. The night we arrived in Jarandilla, a town deep in Spain’s Extremadura region and well known pig country, for some reason I felt like fish. So, naturally, when I saw merluza (a type of bland white fish) in the bottom corner of the menu my eyes lit up. There’s no way this could be an afterthought, I said, as my compañeros pointed out that it ranked well below the other options – crispy pork crackling, juicy ribs, tender sirloin steaks, mind blowing potatoes, etc etc. But I love merluza. Suffice to say they’ve been making fun of me all week, and the fish had definitely been frozen a long time…
We killed a pig. The morning after a tasty dinner of pork (and fish) we were invited to watch la matanza – the killing of that days lunch. We knew it was going to be a bit gross and intense, but figured we’d better go – out of respect for the animal, and to prove we weren’t hypocritical meat eaters. This place is muy provincial, so when we arrived they were pretty shocked to see four foreigners nervously approaching. There were about 20 local dudes huddled around a shed, waiting to prove their manhood by witnessing this part of the day’s celebration. Most of them were wearing gum boots and overalls, completely at ease. We could not have looked more out of place. They shot the pig, and even though it was already dead, we kind of freaked out as it kicked and bucked (left over tremors in the nervous system) as they hung it upside down from the ceiling.
We ate a pig. The pig was then taken to the pub, hung from a tree, and the hair was burnt off with a flamethrower. Then it was butchered it for everyone to see, and cooked up on a massive BBQ. While this was confronting, as we munched on the freshly grilled cochinillo, the confused feeling that we felt was something you don’t get back home when you’re disconnected from how your food gets to your plate.
Spain is surprisingly mountainous. When you think of Spain you probably think of a sexier version of the wild west. Hot and exotic, but pretty well flat with the occasional picture-perfect playa thrown in. Well actually, it seems to have mountains everywhere, and this is reflected in the architecture of the Extremadura villages. Reminiscent of Sierra Nevada, they clearly built some of these mountain towns before cars had been invented (as we found out, in our wide, high-topped rental car), and boast beautiful (but incredibly narrow) streets, dirt tracks with sheer drops, and stunning scenery.
Extremadura doesn’t actually mean “extreme and hard”. We came expecting extrema and dura (hard) terrain, because that’s what it translates to literally, but our google translating skills were quickly dismissed by our guide Marcos, who told us Extremadura really means “end of the duero”, a river that runs through the whole region.
Los Escobazos are ridiculously big. The bundles of sticks we imagined would be roughly the size of brooms (to be lit on fire and smack people with – as part of a very serious, religious, non festive fiesta…) range up to about six metres long. Yesterday we checked out how they were made, with everyone working together in the town square to bind together material collected from high up in the mountains. We’re looking forward to tonight as we’re going to sink a few vino tintos and cervezas with our mate Marcos, and then head out to set whoever we can on fire.