Despite the existence of the internet, the best way to learn about obscure, little-known fireworks events is still through human connections. When we visited Cangas del Narcea for the Decscarga, we met a couple of local fireworks enthusiasts, who clued us in about something called Operación 2000, celebrated every January in a tiny town called Villarta de San Juan, in Castilla-La Mancha. When we promised that we’d meet them there, I’m sure they didn’t think we really meant it!
On the morning of January 24th, we hopped in a car and drove three hours from Valencia to the tiny Manchegan town of Villarta de San Juan. The plains of La Mancha were snow-covered and flat, quite a difference from the coastal region we live in, but it made for easy driving. Since it was a clear day, our line of sight extended uninterrupted across the terrain, and we noticed little plumes of smoke way off in the distance. We knew that must be Villarta San Juan, and decided to pretend that they were setting off some fireworks early to herald our arrival!
Here’s the thing with Spanish festivals. If you’re going for the first time, you’re likely to feel a bit lost. Everyone in town already knows what’s going to happen, because they’ve been celebrating the same event for their entire lives. And it doesn’t occur to them that visitors might not instinctively know the schedules in the same way. To a local, it seems absurd that somebody might not know where their annual parade begins (at the big church of course!) or where it ends (at the other big church!) When we saw that the churches were only two blocks away from each other, we wondered why the parade was slated to go on for hours — but at this point, we had decided to stop pestering locals with our questions and just go with it.
After the Virgin emerged from the church, the fireworks began. About a dozen peñas coheteras (“rocket groups”) were marching in the parade, shooting firecrackers from their hands into the air. The rockets are attached to long reeds, and each group had someone whose job was to distribute them to the members, who would light, aim, and shoot them. And then get another, and another, over and over. This went on for over two hours, as the parade moved (literally!) at a turtle’s pace down the road. Thousands of rockets were lit, and not all of them went straight into the sky — some would bounce off buildings in the narrow streets and explode under people’s feet. We didn’t see any accidents or injuries, but it wouldn’t have been surprising!
Once the virgin arrives at the second church, she’s set into place to watch the Operación 2000 — a huge firework display, where about 24,000 rockets are fired off within one single minute! This was a violent, epic conclusion, which was almost disconcertingly brief, especially after the never-ending parade. Our ears ringing and hearts still pounding, we walked the two blocks back to our car, and put Villarta de San Juan in our rearview. Quite an event … it always amazes us how even the smallest villages in Spain have incredible (and usually incredibly loud) surprises up their sleeves!